The last few years have seen a new breed of talent invade the MMA scene; from your Sean O’Malley’s to Edmen Shahbazyan’s, the future is looking exceedingly bright for the sport. As the young, fruitful fighters flock towards the big leagues and make names for themselves, it becomes apparent that many once considered “high level” athletes are left frolicking in the dust. Out with the old and in with the new is what they do say, after all.
Many have forgotten names such as Sean Sherk and Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto, purely due to new generations of fighters capturing the attention of the fanbase with their flashy offense and brash personality’s. One man, who still happens to compete at the highest level presently, has somehow escaped the minds of even the hardcore fan, who are responsible for keeping the legacy of your Kevin Randleman’s and Miguel Torres’ alive. He has battled some of featherweights toughest over the years, with a list of prodigious names that include former champion Max Holloway and the best 145-pounder to ever do it, Jose Aldo. I present to you, the tale of Ricardo Lamas and his overlooked ability to fight.
Lamas is one of the most under-appreciated fighters of the last generation. Many new fans recognize him as the guy who was recently cracked by the merciless fists of divisional dark horse Calvin Kattar, but I promise you he was much, much more than that.
“The Bully” first burst onto the scene back in the WEC where he fought at lightweight, compiling an overall professional record of 9-2 against the considerably larger opposition before representing the UFC. Even early on he displayed the mentality of a bully, often opting to rough up his adversary’s against the fence in order to find the opening for a double leg takedown, a maneuver he has favored throughout his lengthy career.
Since his inception in the UFC, Lamas has scored victories over some of the weight classes toughest that include Cub Swanson and Charles Oliveira.
It seems as if Ricardo Lamas’ name has been buried by the substantial tidal wave of new featherweight talent, and undeservingly so. As he makes his Octagon return on May 2, he’s fighting for more than just a W – he’s fighting for legacy. Once a bully, always a bully.
Undervalued ground game
The initial facet of Lamas’ game we are going to scour into is his wrestling. A wrestler at heart, Lamas instinctively keeps his frame low in order to fight off incoming takedowns as well as be in an advantageous position to score one of his own. This allows him to consistently remain a threat to his opponent, specifically when they rush into the pocket with wild strikes. In the video below, taken from his 2018 bout with Darren Elkins, you can see Lamas exercising his offensive wrestling ability.
As Elkins throws his jab Lamas counters with a perfectly timed double-leg takedown; this is just one of a magnitude of times the Chicago native has displayed his prompt capability of changing levels. Immediately after he transitions to side control, a position that allows him to rain down strikes while hunting for a more dominant position, such as mount. This takedown is Lamas’ “go-to” since being the UFC. He is best landing it in the center of the Octagon where he has more space to work methodically.
Cub Swanson rushes towards Lamas wildly, attempting to score the knockout with a series of right hands and head kicks. Lamas leaned on his wrestling to escape the danger, which worked a treat, as he urgently slammed Swanson to the mat with what started off as a double leg takedown. Once on the canvas, Lamas went to work, eventually sinking in a deep arm triangle submission. This chokehold was strenuous to pull off due to the cage leaving little to no space for him to climb to the side of Swanson and squeeze; Swanson was desperate to survive, and due to this made a critical error of not turning toward Lamas, which would’ve released the tension ever so slightly. Nonetheless all props to Lamas for having the expertise to finish the fight (after all, he is a BJJ black belt).
Earlier in his career Lamas went five grueling rounds with the best featherweight to ever do it, Jose Aldo, in what proved to be a test of heart more than anything else. Throughout their 25-minute championship encounter, Aldo displayed a striking masterclass, tearing up the lead leg of the retreating Lamas.
Not finding success on the feet, Lamas looked to take the fight to the ground, but was not able to do so until the fifth and final round; Aldo is cited to having some of the best wrestling and grappling defense in Mixed Martial Arts history, and because of this many were surprised to see the clearly battered Lamas escape mount and fall right into the Brazilian’s guard.
For the last two minutes, Lamas attempted to go for the kill with hellish elbows, not allowing the champion to breathe for an instance. Despite ultimately coming up short, Lamas put on an admirable performance at UFC 169, stealing the final round on all judge’s scorecards. This would be his first and only chance at a major world title.
When on the ground, your last wish is to give “The Bully” space as his striking output and greed for submissions are incessant. Many found this out the hard way, including current top 10 lightweight Charles Oliveira, who currently holds the record for most submissions in UFC history: regrettably, for Oliveira, Lamas seemed to neglect his grappling prowess when the pair met in 2016, as he fished for chokeholds of his own. Minutes into the second round, Lamas secured an air-absorbing guillotine and forced the jiu-jitsu ace to tap; if you live by the sword, you die by it.
Lamas has relied on the guillotine many times over the course of his career, with it’s most satisfying victim being former ranked featherweight Dennis Bermudez, who will also feature later on in the article. After dropping Bermudez with a picture-perfect jab, Lamas hopped on his prey and secured a mounted arm-in guillotine choke.
Lamas exploits his stunned counterpart, wrapping up a tight guillotine in mere seconds. After initially latching onto Bermudez’s neck, he is able to roll him over, achieving mount with relative ease. As this is taking place it becomes aware that Bermudez’s left arm is trapped; this is down to the “fight IQ” of Lamas, who wants to close every means of escape his opponent can find. Following this Bermudez made the smart decision to tap, not wanting to risk being choked unconscious by the hands of Lamas.
Overall, Lamas owns adept wrestling and has transferred his skills from the mat to the Octagon successfully; his defense outweighs his offensive output since being in the UFC, as he typically defends more takedowns than landed. Lamas shines when the fight officially hits the canvas thanks to his jiu-jitsu aptitude, which has seen him tap out the aforementioned submission artist in Charles Oliveira.
Although he doesn’t have the best grappling in the division, “The Bully” has proven he has the ability to hang with featherweights perennial ground maestros – an ability he will have to bring in his return fight versus the divisions best jiu-jitsu practitioner Ryan Hall.
Despite his NCAA division 3 All-American wrestling, Ricardo Lamas has always prefered to keep the fight standing. He boasts fairly competent boxing, however, his real strength lies with his kicks; he relies on the calf kick heavily, a strike he has used routinely in every career win. Asides from this method of attack Lamas utilizes the switch kick extremely well, which played a pivotal role in his victory over Darren Elkins.
In 2010 Lamas claimed his last WEC victory at the expense of Dave Jansen, a fierce wrestler who pressed the action with his ability to always press on. Throughout the back-and-forth bout Lamas mixed his combinations on the feet to force his opponent into the clinch, where he was subsequently taken down a handful of times. He countered this with a variety of submission attempts, such as a kimura and his patent guillotine choke.
Lamas moves laterally towards the opposition, feinting an attack to draw a reaction. Jansen shuffles backward out of range, evidently not wanting to risk being hit; unfortunately, his opponent did not have that in mind. Lamas uses this created space to briskly re-establish himself before disrupting the rhythm of the contest, digging a robust lead hook to the body before following up with the aforementioned switch kick; as the kick is coming from his lead leg, opponents typically do not anticipate it; often before they realize what’s coming, it’s already hit them. This short burst caught Jansen off guard, and despite narrowly missing the jaw, displayed once again why his kicks should not be taken lightly.
In the clip above, Lamas is able to narrowly avoid a straight right with his head movement, and after realizing he’s backed up, shuffles to avoid being cut off any further. He decides to put Elkins on the defensive, stepping in with a swift upward elbow which lands flush; this is another example to show Lamas works best when momentarily jolting forward into the pocket (the cardio it takes to do so on top of being an active fighter is profound). He is able to hit while not getting hit, the ultimate goal for all combat sports athletes. As someone who excels at quick bursts and stepping in and out of the pocket, Elkins was the perfect opponent for Lamas to look good against, as he casually marches forward no matter the opponent. This fed right into his style. His kryptonite is aggressive, pressure-style fighters (cue Calvin Kattar) who bring the fight to him. The fact he holds his hands quite low and adopts a wide stance has allowed his defense to become extremely penetrable at times.
Lamas went on to defeat Elkins via third-round TKO, ground and pounding him into oblivion before referee Keith Peterson had seen enough punishment dished out. This win currently remains his last, however “The Bully’s” performance that night was one to remember.
On top of possessing great kicks and the skill to burst into the pocket, Lamas loves a post-break shot. You might be asking, what exactly is a post-break shot? A post-break shot is where a fighter throws a strike upon breaking from the clinch, or any act of grappling. A memorable example of this is Mike Perry’s knockout over Jake Ellenburger, in which he landed a thumping elbow immediately after the two separated.
Lamas has pieced together many fine post-break shots of the course of his decade long career, but one of the most beautiful emerged from his 2018 bloodbath with Elkins (forgive me for using the fight yet again, blame it on the clinic Lamas put on that night).
“The Bully” is controlling the action against the octagon fence, pushing his weight about and unleashing short yet stinging strikes. He grabs the wrist of Elkins with his right hand, resting his opposite arm upon his opponents to decrease mobility and render him defenseless for the upcoming attack. Lamas capitalizes on this, hurling an elbow into the nose as Elkins grabs the single collar tie.
Taken from his 2014 bout with Dennis Bermudez, Lamas can be seen dropping him with a stiff jab. It may seem like a simple enough maneuver to pull off, but the real genius is, in fact, the timing. Lamas, as previously mentioned, steps into the pocket (which may as well be Bermudez’s entire range) and fires a jab; while doing so, he plants his lead leg onto the canvas, hard, enabling the shot to pack more power than Bermudez could predict. As this is done, Bermudez decides to retaliate with a jab of his own, however, he is caught flush on the chin by Lamas’. Note that when Lamas’ jab lands, the opposition has literally *just* become flat-footed, meaning there is no stability whatsoever.
Lamas has replicated this style of jab many times, almost always finding success with it. The speed and precision at which he snaps it are compelling, considering this is an aging veteran.
One aspect of his striking (which is a rare occurrence nowadays) that has led to portions of success during his stints in the WEC and UFC is spontaneity. Lamas’ impetuous faculty of unloading fan-friendly yet threatening attacks have always managed to catch his adversary’s off guard. Take a moment and observe his WEC 47 bout with Bendy Casimir, where the Chicago native threw an unforeseen flying knee in round one to claim the knockout. It is simply spectacular.
On the whole, Lamas boasts underrated boxing topped off with tremendous kicks; his ability to rush in and out of range, as well as the pocket, is incredible. Albeit having distinct weaknesses, the 38-year-old (when being the aggressor) still proves to be a danger on the feet for most featherweights outside of the top 15; Alex Caceres would struggle with his accurate jab and high level of volume.
Ricardo Lamas is set to return on May 2 against featherweight’s boogeyman Ryan Hall, who struggles to find opponents due to his menacing jiu-jitsu game and undervalued stand-up. However you can always rely on a veteran, and Lamas is set to prove this in a matter of months.
As the new generation swarm the ranks of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, it is pivotal to support those who were once rulers. Those who were once formidable forces with performances as picturesque as the sunset. Lamas, in many ways, is one of these forces. On his best day he lives up to his nickname, and for more than four years bullied his way into the top 5 of the 145-pound division. Despite failing to sit upon the throne with his single shot at the title, Lamas battled and is still battling, many of the divisions best.
Whether his scheduled bout with Hall is his last, it’s been doubtlessly entertaining to witness him inside the octagon. From his always dynamic standup to the five impressive submission wins under his belt, Lamas has amassed an intense collection of highlights throughout his 12-year career; it’s a necessary task for us fans to keep his fighting endowment alive, even while he’s still competing.
Ricardo Lamas should be admired for what achieved, not what he’s achieving this current day; sticks and stones won’t break your bones, but Lamas will always hurt you.