SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Ricky Simon has had a busy week.
When he’s not training with his head, conditioning, or boxing coach, there’s a good chance he’s talking to the press and signing posters, for a good reason.
The Pendleton-born mixed martial artist enters the arena on Saturday in Sacramento, Calif., to compete in the UFC Fight Night 155. He’s slated to face Urijah Faber, who will be coming out of retirement to compete in his hometown once again.
The two are on a five-fight main card that will air on ESPN+, and the significance of the upcoming bout hasn’t been lost on Simon.
“As far as the placement on the bill goes, it’s the biggest it’s been for me so far,” said Simon, 26. “I’m actually on the poster this time. Depending on how many people come out, it could be big. There’s going to be some (Faber) fan hostility. I’ve fought in front of sold-out crowds in the Staples Center last August and in Australia in February. I’m getting used to the big crowds. I love the energy.”
Although his skills in the cage have sent him all over the globe, Simon’s roots are in Eastern Oregon. He spent the first four years of his life in Pendleton before he and his family moved to Vancouver, Washington.
“I still have family in Pendleton,” Simon said. “I drive through every summer to see my grandma, aunt, and uncle. We’ll stop and get coffee, and catch up. It’s something I’ve always done.”
It was in Vancouver that his love of wrestling and MMA began to take shape.
“My dad was always watching fights,” Simon recalled. “I’ve always been a big fan. My parents bought boxing gloves for my (three) brothers and I. They had us solve our problems with those. We fought each other all the time. We were raised in a tough family. Now that I think about it, it’s not surprising that I ended up with this career.”
Simon started wrestling in elementary school and stuck with the sport all throughout high school. After graduating from Union High in 2010, he sought to continue his wrestling career at Clark College in Vancouver, but it was a goal that never came to be.
“I went to (Clark) just to figure out what the hell I was going to do,” Simon said.
Simon soon got a second chance, however, when he happened upon the Gladiator gym in a local Vancouver mall.
“It was a full-on MMA gym with a cage,” he said. “It was pretty unique. We’d be in there sweating and training while people shopped at Nordstrom across from us.”
From there, Simon began his amateur MMA career, which lasted from 2011 until 2014. In that three-year span, he was undefeated.
“There’s no blueprint in fighting,” he said. “You’re just fighting in a regional circuit. You’re not getting paid a lot, and you’re paying to fight. You have to scratch and claw your way in. Once you do, it’s very rewarding.”
A chance to turn pro with the UFC soon followed. For the past year and a half, Simon has been signed with the California-based Iridium Sports Agency, which helps him secure gigs like his upcoming fight against Faber.
“When the UFC calls you, you have four to eight weeks to get ready for the fight,” Simon said. “I train three to four times a day, six days a week. It’s MMA — you gotta have all of your bases covered.”
Cage fighting isn’t the most glamorous sport, but it’s been kind to Simon so far. He currently holds a 15-1 pro record. His lone loss came via submission against Anderson dos Santos at the Titan Fighting Championship 37 in 2016.
Outside the cage
Although he’s since left wrestling behind for something more extreme, Simon still makes it a priority in his life. He’s coached teams at Vancouver’s Covington Middle School for nine years, and at Heritage High School for two.
“I love it,” he said. “I’m in the same community I grew up in. Wrestling had a big impact on my life. It’s been a passion of mine.”
His opponent isn’t the reason his Saturday night fight is significant — it’ll also be his first as a married man.
On June 28, Simon wed his longtime girlfriend Jade, 24, in a ceremony held in downtown Portland. The two met at Union High School and began dating after graduation.
“I remember telling her that I was going to try to do this fighting thing,” Simon said. “She’s been fully supportive ever since.”
Jade is so supportive, in fact, that when the couple discovered that Simon’s upcoming fight landed on the same night as their scheduled honeymoon, she had just one thing to say:
“She said, ‘Let me start canceling this honeymoon,’” Simon said.
In this corner...
At 5-feet, 7-inches and 135 pounds, Simon doesn’t differ much from Faber — at least on paper. The two will go head-to-head in the main card’s bantamweight event.
“It’s a huge opportunity for me,” Simon said. “(Faber) is a trailblazer for my weight class. He’s a hall-of-famer.”
Faber, 40, retired three years ago, but decided to step back into the cage sooner than expected.
“He decided he still has it,” Simon said. “I didn’t know the fight would be this big. The division was tied up everywhere else. Our matchup made sense for the UFC. It’s like I’ll be welcoming him back to his hometown.”
Faber (34-10-0) stands at 5-feet, 6-inches and weighs 135 pounds. He won the World Extreme Cagefighting Championship at WEC 19 in 2006 and held the title for over two years.
Simon and Faber’s fight, held at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, will air on ESPN+ on Saturday evening at 5 p.m. They share the main event with the women’s bantamweight match-up of Germaine de Radamie and Aspen Ladd.
“I think I match up great,” Simon said. “We’re very similar in styles. But he’s 40 years old. He’s retired already. This is a young man’s sport. He’s not looking for an easy fight, and I’m not giving it to him.”