UFC. Ricardo Lamas: Dream comes true
During the Hispanic Heritage Month celebration (September 15 to October 15) Chicago-based UFC fighter Ricardo Lamas met with kids at Ultimate Kicks Tae Kwon Do Chicago Gym to talk about the importance of heritage, living a healthy lifestyle, dedication, hard work and life overall. In the beginning of November he is flying to Mexico to take part in the historic first-ever sold-out UFC event in Mexico City. “Russian Chicago” caught up with Ricardo to talk about his roots, heritage and traditions and the upcoming lifetime opportunity on November 15.
Ricardo, Hispanic Heritage Month (HHM) begins each year on September 15. How important is this celebration for you?
It is very important. I was brought up with very strong Latin roots. My father was a political exile from Cuba; my mother came from Mexico when she was very young. So I am the first generation here. It means everything to me to be a part of UFC organization and be able to travel around and meet all these kids who want to meet us [fighters]. It is something that I am going to take with me forever.
Well, are you more Cuban or Mexican?
What I would like to say is I take the best from both. I like how Latino families are – we are very close. We do everything together. And I am talking about the WHOLE family, not just my brothers and parents; I am talking about my aunts, uncles and cousins. My mother is one of eight children. All of her brothers and sisters have children, so I have a lot of cousins. I am one of six boys. There are just a lot of us! We get together frequently and celebrate each other’s birthday and special occasions. And, of course, I love Latino food! How you can not love the food?!
Who does not love Latin cuisine! But let switch to something else also dear to your heart – fighting. You next bout is coming up on November 15th at UFC 180. It will be the first-ever event in Mexico City. What does it mean for you to be a part of that historical moment?
It is a dream comes true. When I started in this sport, I have some goals in mind. One of them is to be a world champion, the other is to fight in Mexico and the third one is to fight in Cuba. Well I don’t know if I am able to do the last one in my lifetime. But hopefully I am getting one of them out of the way in November.
Is it part of your bucket list?
Definitely. Especially being a part of the first event in Mexico by the UFC. It is huge; it will be a historic event.
How much time did it take, before you said, “YES!” agreeing to fight there?
I was the one who was bugging UFC about it. As soon as I found out they are going to Mexico my brother, who helps managing me, was on the phone with UFC reps. I kept telling him to call UFC and make sure, they know I want to be on this card. So they were the ones who said yes, not me.
How often do you get a chance to travel to Mexico?
The UFC brought me the opportunity to travel down there three times in the past year. Before that I have not been to Mexico since I was four years old. My father’s side of the family lives in Miami. When we are going on vacation, we usually go down south to visit them. Coming November it will be my fourth time flying there. I am very appreciative of that opportunity.
Do you have any concerns with acclimatization process?
Mexico City is located at a higher elevation. So that is the one thing that might concern me. I am planning on flying there a week earlier before the fight to acclimate and get used to the elevation.
What language did your family members speak while you were growing up?
It was half and half. When I was very young (before I started going to school) my parents only spoke Spanish to me and I spoke Spanish back to them. When I got older, my elder brothers spoke only English, so I started picking it up. At home it was completely weird: my father was the one who mostly spoke Spanish to us, but we would answer him in English. It made my Spanish suffer a bit. So I made a point when I got to college to improve my Spanish. I minored in Spanish, and the language came back to me very fast. When I started to train in Miami, everybody spoke Spanish down there. When UFC sent me to Mexico, it forced me to use it more as well. With the language, you know, it you don’t use it, you loose it. The more practice I get, the better I am at it. My Spanish is not perfect, but it is improving. And I am very glad.
Did you have any role models while growing up?
My father was a big one, for sure. Just seen how he came from Cuba with literally nothing and built himself up to a very successful person. When I was younger, it wasn’t something I really understood that well. But as I got older, I understood what he went through, how hard he worked to get where he is at. He definitely inspires me. Bruce Lee was a huge idol of mine while growing up. He is the one who inspired me to get into martial arts.
Because of his movies. I would watch it all the time. Lee was a small guy like me. I was very small as a child too. I like small tough guys and Bruce Lee was probably the smallest toughest guy on the planet I knew about.
Well now you are a role model yourself!
Yes. It is a blessing to be an inspiration! If I could inspire just one person, it makes everything worth it. Hopefully I inspired more then that, and I am going to continue to do so. When people come up to me and ask for my autograph, it doesn’t still sound true to me, it still doesn’t click. I always get surprised and say, “You want my autograph?! I never knew I was that cool.”
What is biggest challenge you have to overcome being a child of the mixed parents? Immigrant parents?
I grew up in the neighborhood and went to school where I was pretty much the only Latino around. I definitely put up with people making jokes here and there about my background and being Mexican or whatever. When people came up and did that, I stood up for myself every time. They were sorry when they came and picked on me. I think that is something that everybody should do. Nobody should be anybody’s punching bag. Nobody has a right to put anybody else down. I think it made me develop tough skin.
Do you think exactly that helped you to develop as a fighter or fighting came in your life through a different door?
I think it was in my blood since the very beginning. I was the youngest of six boys. I got bit up every day. I had to learn to defend myself in order to survive in my house.
Now your brothers get the payback?
For sure! Now they don’t like to play with me anymore. Now I am the one picking on them. It came a complete 180 in the house.
What is the biggest lesson you learnt in life so far?
My father taught me to stand up for myself all the time, to continue believing my own beliefs and don’t let anybody take my pride away.
Pride moment that nobody will ever take away from him and many others who are taking part in UFC 180: Velasquez vs. Werdum comes on November 15. The first-ever UFC event in Mexico that was sold out in eight hours will make history and Chicagoan Ricardo Lamas will be a part of that something really special. Do not miss it!