Mike Nickels looks back on 2006

The year 2006, for me has been dream come true. I was fortunate enough to find my way on to the third season of the Ultimate Fighter show in Las Vegas. I knew I was short on experience, but long on heart. The first few days we met the coaches, Ken Shamrock, Tito Ortiz, and the other competitors. We were to embark on journey of new experiences, intense training, and friendships that would all lead to the octagon to test ourselves in front of our peers and several million cable viewers.

Part of my philosophy in my martial arts training is to avoid frustration, and fixation on winning, in place of learning. My goal is to get better in each arena as fast as I can. To achieve this, I have to be challenged, and that is exactly how the show ended for me. I was the last preliminary fight of season 3, and my opponent would be Matt Hammel, a 3 time world champion in Greco Roman, and free style wrestling; also a 2008 Olympic hopeful.

The bell rang and within minutes my nose was broken, and the moment I had waited for was at hand. Hammel was the strongest competitor of the show, and his overwhelming strengths, and 27 years of athleticism, would prove to be my toughest test to date. After the end of round one, I gathered my senses and fought with what I had left only to lose a decision. Matt hit me a lot, but I hit him hard, and he had to be carried to the ambulance after the fight, and recovered for a few days in the hospital. I learned so much in that fight and I’m thankful to have faced such a warrior. I have ultimate respect for Matt, but at the same time I wasn’t myself in that fight, and I would come to prove that in my next fight for the season 3 finale against the undefeated Wes Combs, who held a perfect record of 12-0.

Fighting at the famous Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas was the first time the dream would seem real. This was one of the proving grounds for the UFC, and I was here to fight. After season 3, I had taken a lot of new training ideas and work ethics with me, and had doubled my regimen. After my war with Matt Hammel I was ready for anything. The bell rang and I landed a stiff jab to Combs’ nose. He followed with some wild punches that missed their mark, landing a leg kick and a few uppercuts he found his back against the cage in my Thai clench eating knee after knee to his ribs. After a short scramble I was on his back, and before too long I was wailing away at his head until he gave me the choke. That was it. In only 3 minutes and 30 seconds of the first round, I had won my first fight for the UFC. Beating the undefeated Wes Combs put me in line for my next fight with “The Dean of Mean” Kieth Jardine from season 2.

To prepare for this fight I took my body to its limits, increasing my workout to include swimming, plyometrics, and sparring with kickboxing champion Duane Ludwig, and Jiu Jitsu black belt, Eliot Marshall. Three weeks before the fight, Keith had injured his knee, and the fight was postponed for a month. In the mean time, I kept training full speed. Two weeks before the second scheduled fight, I slipped a disk in my lower back. I did everything I could do to rehab it before the fight. Not wanting to miss my opportunity to fight Keith on Pay per View, I tried electric stimulation, physical therapy, chiropractic adjustments, massage and even three injections into my spine. The night before my fight I went to the training room to check my recovery and found I couldn’t effectively punch, kick, or work my guard. I have never pulled out of a fight before, and to miss this opportunity was the worst part of my year.

Three months later I began my strength and conditioning program, and have now made a full recovery. Training smarter, and focusing on nutrition has increased my endurance and added explosiveness to my standup. I have new goals and expectations, 2007 will be the greatest episode of my mixed martial arts career. My motivation is at an all time high, and the overwhelming support of my family, friends and fans wakes me up every day to train.

Special thanks to my manager Sven Bean, and my sponsors for blessing me with such an adventure; and to my coaches, David Ruiz, Oscar Martinez, and all the guys at Colorado Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu. Thanks to everyone who has written me letters of support, and every one who loves to watch us bang.

Fight to win, and never give up. – “Big” Mike Nickels

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To contact Mike for appearance or sponsorship opportunities, e-mail Sven Bean at:beanz4@msn.com

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