Nearly two years since making his UFC debut against Tony Ferguson in the Ultimate Fighter season 13 finale, Ramsey Nijem is 3-1 in the Octagon with a big fight against unbeaten Myles Jury coming up this Saturday in San Jose. But when you remind him of his stay in the organization, he almost can’t believe it.
“It actually only feels like six months to be honest,” he said. “I’m like holy hell, I’ve been in the UFC two years now? That’s crazy. But I’ve had a couple injuries and haven’t had that many fights, so it really doesn’t feel like two years.”
He’s had enough to make an impression though, as he bounced back from a loss to Ferguson in the TUF 13 final to defeat Danny Downes, CJ Keith, and Joe Proctor in succession, building himself a solid reputation in the notoriously tough 155-pound weight class.
“I really think I’m starting to get the hang of this, and I’m developing and becoming a better fighter each time,” he said. “I’m starting to be able to throw punches, get takedowns, use jiu-jitsu, and do everything together to become a complete fighter. And though I’m working towards that, I still focus on one fight at a time. Each time I’ve got to in great shape because I’ve got to be ready for a war, and I think with that attitude, it’s helped me get those three wins in a row.”
It’s been a wild ride so far for Nijem, one that truly began on TUF, as he practically came out of nowhere to finish Charlie Rader, Clay Harvison, and Chris Cope, punching his ticket to the finals in the process. With the recent season of the reality show in the books, the 25-year-old reflects on the whole experience, from being in the house for six weeks to his first UFC fight week.
“The first time you have a fight week it’s a weird experience,” he said. “I was fighting on small, regional shows, and the first time you go on a big fight week you’re there four, five nights ahead of time, people want your autograph and it’s a weird thing. But now I’m starting to get used to it and it becomes part of your fighting lifestyle.”
Nijem entered the house with just five pro fights, and even though he showed promise on the local circuit, being able to fight full-time at that point was a pipe dream at best.
“Most fighters aren’t able to train full-time until you’re in the UFC, and even then some don’t,” he said. “So the first time going into the TUF house, it was the first time I ever trained when I wasn’t working, going to school, and dealing with all these other responsibilities, so it was kinda cool to be able to train twice a day really hard, relax between workouts, and think about nothing other than training and fighting. So that was a cool experience and it definitely helped me develop as a fighter early on in my career faster than any other way.”
Add in his work with The Pit team both in Utah and California, and Nijem has reached the point where nothing that can happen in a fight can be worse than what goes on in the gym.
“When you have a hard fight camp, you’re like man, the fight’s gonna be a heck of a lot easier than this,” he said. “We’ve got UFC vets and a bunch of young, hungry fighters coming out of our gym, so we’ve got a good mix. The young guys come at you, the vets put it on you too, so you never get an easy day or a day off. That’s how you become a better fighter.”
And unlike his opponent this weekend, Nijem got the “0” off his record early, losing in his second pro bout to Gordon Bell in 2009. You might not think that’s a big deal, but Jury is likely dealing with more questions about his unbeaten record than his opponent, and that can add pressure to any fighter’s pre-fight prep as he looks to keep that slate clean.
“One thing that (former UFC heavyweight champ and his coach on TUF 13) Junior dos Santos said was ‘once you lose, you lose the fear of losing,’” recalled Nijem. “And it helped. I’m more relaxed because when I fight what’s the worst that can happen? I can get knocked out on national TV again? (Laughs) That’s not that big of a deal anymore, and it definitely helps with the nerves. Some people build up the hype of fighting an undefeated guy, but it will actually be the third undefeated guy I fight, so I’m not too stressed about it. You have to take each fight as they come, and I think it’s a good fight for me and I’m gonna give him his first loss.”
Is the affable Nijem showing a mean streak?
“I like being the spoiler,” he laughs. “It’s fun going out there and being the underdog and putting it on someone and having them be like ‘oh damn, he’s better than I thought.’”
With the way things have been going, don’t expect Nijem to be an underdog much longer.
“I feel like I’ve made a name for myself at ’55,” he said. “I had a couple dominant wins, and this fight is a good fight for me. Once I go out there and put it on Myles, people are gonna start being like ‘oh, Ramsey deserves a top 15 or top 10 opponent.’ A win like this over someone with so much hype around him should put me in the upper tier of the ‘55ers. I feel like I deserve to be there and that’s where I want to be.”
Ramsey Nijem: A Long Way from the TUF Days
"I really think I’m starting to get the hang of this, and I’m developing and becoming a better fighter each time." - Ramsey Nijem