Bellator 219: David Rickels On Silencing His Critics, Origins of the Caveman

Bellator MMA David Rickels
David Rickels Credit: Keith Mills/

The Caveman is back at Bellator 219, as David Rickels seeks out his second straight win while tuning out the naysayers.

David Rickels is one of the true characters in MMA. The most active fighter on the Bellator roster, the personable Caveman returns this Friday at Bellator 219. Taking on A.J. Matthews, Caveman Rickels is looking to make it two in a row following a strong win against ‘Bomba,’ a.k.a. Guilherme Vasconcelos, last time out.

The ‘Bomba’ fight might have silenced some critics after Caveman’s tough loss to Michael ‘Venom’ Page at Bellator 200. But, as he told Cageside Press, “the only critics I care about anymore is me and my coaches and the people around me.”

For good reason. Fighting has its ups and downs, wins and losses, Rickels pointed out. Those are lessons you have to learn. The other stuff, that’s more likely to drag you down.

“I used to be one of those people that read everybody’s comments about everything that had to do with my fights,” admitted Rickels. “That sh*t effects you, bro! I’m not going to sit here and pretend like it doesn’t. That’d be great, but I’m also human. That sh*t would weigh on me.”

Fighters, at the end of the day, want to perform well, he’d state later. They want to have a good fight, and jumping on Twitter after a win, sure you hear good things. After a loss, well, the negative voices can be awfully loud. And it’s a “natural human instinct” to care.

“I just finally got to a point where I don’t even look at what people say,” continued Caveman. “I just don’t care to even know what anyone’s saying about my fights anymore, except for the people that are close to me.”

Including himself. The Bomba fight was “very important to me though, as my number one critic, because I am very critical of myself.” It was key for Rickels “to go out there and perform well against Bomba. Because it was kind of like ‘f*ck man, you just had that piss-poor fight against MVP, do you still got it? Do you still have what it takes to be a fighter, fighting at the highest level?’ So I was like, alright, we’ve got to turn it up.”

Question answered. Caveman earned a unanimous decision win over the Brazilian at Bellator 210. “I feel like we had a really good fight against Bomba, and I feel like I’m going to have a really good fight against AJ as well.”

Ahead of his last fight, Rickels was looking to find balance in his training and sparring. He thinks he’s found it now. “I feel like I kind of figured out what I needed after the MVP fight. I just kind of took my cumulative years, and put together another game plan,” he explained. “You take a game plan, and you see how long it works. So it worked for Bomba. So I’ve taken the same game plan, and I’ve applied it to AJ.” If that works out, he’ll keep it going.

At 9-8, opponent A.J. Matthews’ record is deceiving. He’s fought a lot of top names, including UFC standout Belal Muhammad, Anatoly Tokov, André Fialho, and the undefeated Logan Storley. He’s a better fighter than his record shows, Caveman agreed.

However, Rickels added that, being honest “about one thing with AJ Matthews, I think that he’s a talented striker, but he’s not a super well-rounded fighter, as far as mixed martial arts goes.” Matthews, he believes, “has his faults as far as MMA goes. But man, you look at his striking, it’s crisp and it’s clean, he clearly knows what he’s doing.” As a result,  Rickels suggested, Matthews is capable of catching anybody.

So when it comes to what Caveman expects at Bellator 219 this Friday, well, “this is a fight that he wanted, he’s really asked for it, so I think that he’s motivated for it. I think that we really will see a fine-tuned version of A.J. who’s got his back to the wall and knows he needs a win.”

Rickels vs Piccolotti
David Rickels vs Adam Piccolotti. Credit: Bellator MMA

Although Matthews has fought some very good competition, David Rickels feels his back is against the wall too. For another reason. “For the first time in god damn history, I’m on the prelims. What’s going on with that?!” he exclaimed. “I dunno, it’s kind of crazy, 22 fights for Bellator. You know I never have a boring fight.”

Rickels is taking it all in stride, however. “I’m a positive person, I’m seeing it as, they’re just trying to get more views for DAZN, that’s what they’re doing. They’re like ‘oh sh*t, we’ll throw Caveman on DAZN, get some views that way.'”

Either way, all is well in Caveman Land. “My paycheck is the same at the end of the day. I might make a couple thousand more bucks on sponsors if I was on the main card. But for the most part, my money’s unchanged. My core sponsors aren’t going to not sponsor me just because I’m on the undercard, so I’m in a good spot.” And then there’s the honesty and sense of humor fans love about Rickels. “Plus, I can get to beer way faster if I fight earlier in the night.”

Much of Rickel’s newly adopted welterweight division is tied up with the grand prix right now. Should he come out victorious at Bellator 219, however, he’s not worrying about what’s next. “I’ve always been kind of a Bellator guy, a company man. I try not to worry too much about my match-ups, although there is one I really want, one of the ones I said I’d drop weight to go do.” And to be clear, he added, he never really wants to drop weight again. But for this fight, well…

“I really want to fight Ben Henderson. Just because he’s a legend, bro. I’ve been watching him forever, and I think it’s stylistically a good fight.” It’s a fight Rickels has asked for before. “Or Roger Huerta, same exact scenario.”

Those are legacy-building fights to be sure. What Rickels really wants his legacy to be, well, that’s as an entertainer. “At the end of the day, if people could say ‘dude, you need to watch this guy. He is entertaining, he is fun to watch.’ That is how I want to be remembered. I don’t care to win every single fight, obviously I haven’t done that, right? And I don’t care to be the title holder.”

Instead, he wants that legacy of being a fun fighter to watch. And a fighter’s fighter. “When fighters want to watch me, that’s a compliment.” Ultimately what he wants to hear is, “Dave Rickels is fun as f*ck to watch.”

Rickels of course is fun as, let’s say heck, period. Prompted for a Caveman origin story, he quipped, “birthed from a Neanderthal having sex with a saber toothed tiger!” The real story of the Caveman nickname, well that involves “a lot of booze, drinking, wild nights.”

“The Caveman— I was just wild as a kid. I had this scraggly, crazy hair. I was 17 when I joined a gym,” David Rickels recalled, “hanging out with a bunch of 25, 30 year olds who were taking me to the bars. And I had a beard. So they would say ‘oh, my buddy with the beard, he can get into the bar can’t he?’ I’d get into the bars with them, we just had a lot of wild nights. Caveman kind of came through that.”

“It originated before the whole fighting thing,” he finished.

Caveman Rickels returns this Friday, March 29 against A.J. Matthews at Bellator 219 at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, CA.