Forget everything you think you know about Luis Felix. After years of treating mixed martial arts like a hobby, the Providence-based lightweight is ready to go "all in" as he prepares for the toughest test of his career Friday night at Twin River Casino.
"No more excuses," said Felix (10-7, 3 KOs), who'll face seven-time Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) veteran Drew Fickett in the main event of "CES MMA XXII" on Friday, March 14th, 2014.
"I've pretty much put everything aside to focus on fighting and make a run at being elite and making it to the next level. This is all I do now. No more secondary job. I'm pretty much all in at this point."
Despite a tremendous wrestling background, which helped him become a state champion at nearby Cranston East High School, and his willingness to fight anyone at any given time, the knock on Felix through the years was his conditioning -- or lack thereof -- and whether or not he took the sport seriously.
"In the past, I wasn't always all in," he said. "It was always fun, but I used it as a hobby."
It showed. Felix spent the first three years of his professional career teetering on the brink, never winning more than two consecutive fights. A loss to Joe DeChaves in 2010, which, to this day, Felix says was "the biggest fluke," pushed Felix to jump right back into the cage less than a month later against then-unbeaten prospect Joe Proctor. Felix pulled off the upset, knocking out Proctor in the second round.
"I had been fighting every month, so I was in great shape," Felix said. "By the time I stepped in with Proctor, I had gotten much better as a fighter."
Proctor eventually made his way to the big stage two years later, starring in Season 15 of The Ultimate Fighter, but the fight paid more immediate dividends for Felix, whose career path changed dramatically after handing Proctor his first career loss. He suddenly realized what he could accomplish when motivated.
"I really started taking it more seriously after that," he said. "All the hype was behind [Proctor] at the time and where he was going. After that fight, I started talking with [UFC veteran] Jorge Rivera and a few other coaches and really began buckling down. Ever since then, the way I go about this has been completely different."
The win over Proctor was merely a precursor to what unfolded over the next three years. Since then, Felix has won four of his last five fights, including a win over another UFC vet, Marc Stevens, earning Felix the reputation as a fighter who saves his best for his biggest fights. Felix also upended Boston-based prospect Lucas Cruz in December. Cruz was 6-1 at the time and owned wins over Pete Jeffrey and John Ortolani before losing by split decision to Felix.
"For me, it's a challenge, like when they're saying, 'Oh, this guy is that good,' or, 'This guy is better than you,' or, 'This guy has done this,'" Felix said. "Having that kind of challenge in front of me is motivation enough for me to get after it."
Facing Fickett (42-20, 3 KOs) is a similar challenge. At his best, Fickett is one of the most dangerous fighters in the sport, having beaten both Kenny Florian and Josh Koscheck, but his own self-destructive past -- alcohol abuse, etc. -- has put him in a similar "do or die" mode where every fight could be the end of the road or the beginning of a new journey.
"Knowing someone like him, who has been at that level and fought some of the best in the world, I know where I want to go and where I want to be in this sport," Felix said. "To fight someone of his caliber is just another challenge.
"I don't know what it does immediately for me, but I know what's at stake for me personally and where I want to be. This fight for me is everything. I'm not looking past it. I'm not looking at where it will put me. I'm just focusing on this challenge in front of me."
Just how serious is Felix these days? Not only is he working with Rhode Island-based boxing coach Vic Fagnant, who he considers "the biggest blessing" in his career the past two years, he's also been working on his strength and conditioning with former CES MMA lightweight champion Mike Campbell, who pressed Felix to train with him for five years until he finally decided to take his advice in preparation for this upcoming fight.
"That's been a whole new spectrum for me," Felix said. "I never really lifted weights or did strength training. Working with Campbell and seeing the things he's done as an athlete really opened my eyes. I already feel such a big difference in my explosive strength in a short amount of time.
"From the first day I went in there, it was like learning something new. Now I look forward to going in there and training and getting my ass kicked."
Felix also has a manager, Patsy Sperduto, who has helped keep him on track. Having a trustworthy inner-circle with people looking out for his best interests is a far cry from the days when Felix simply agreed to take fights just to stay active. It's a new look for a fighter hoping to make that final push toward being elite. No more excuses. He's finally "all in."
"I'm taking this as a career and trying to move forward with it," Felix said. "Being dedicated and putting in the training I need has really helped me."
Tickets for "CES MMA XXII" are on sale now at $40.00, $55.00, $100.00 and $125.00 (VIP) and can be purchased online at www.cesmma.com or www.twinriver.com or by phone at 401-724-2253/2254. All fights and fighters are subject to change.
Several undercard bouts at "CES MMA XXII" could steal the show, including the highly-anticipated middleweight bout between UFC vet Thomas Egan (7-4, 6 KOs) of Dorchester, Mass., and Plymouth, Mass., veteran Chip Moraza-Pollard (7-6, 4 KOs) a former Reality Fighting and Bellator contender. Egan, born and raised in Kildare, Ireland, starred on UFC 93 in Ireland.
Looking to keep the momentum going from his win over Chris Woodall in November, former TUF vet Chuck O'Neill (12-6, 4 KOs) of East Bridgwater, Mass., will battle Dade City, Fla., welterweight Roger Carroll (13-10) in a three-round bout. Caroll has won 11 bouts by submission. Lightweight contender Andres Jeudi (5-2, 1 KO) of Somerville, Mass., will face Brendan Rooney (5-1) of Shelton, Conn.
Also on the undercard, rising featherweight star and Johnson & Wales alum Charles Rosa (6-0, 3 KOs) of Boynton Beach, Fla., will return to Twin River for the fourth time in a three-round bout against Philadelphia veteran Brylan Van Artsdalen (9-9, 1 KO), an eight-time Bellator veteran.
Marshfield, Mass., featherweight Brendan Fleming (3-2) will take on Baltimore's Robert Sullivan (3-1); fellow featherweight Josh LaBerge (8-4, 3 KOs) of Fall River, Mass., will battle Philadelphia's Steve McCabe (6-14, 5 KOs); Tommy Venticinque (0-1) of Warwick, R.I., will face Rick Rivera of Springfield, Mass., in a welterweight bout; and Winthrop, Mass, featherweight Kyle Bochniak (1-0) will aim for his second win of the year when he faces Marius Enache (1-2) of Philadelphia.
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