UFC wins help Eric Spicely build confidence

Updated June 1, 2017 - 8:50 pm

UFC middleweight Eric Spicely hopes a win Saturday will set up a fight for a belt, even though he’s not near title contention.

Spicely is still fixated on challenging Dan Kelly for the fictional “best nonripped 185-pounder” title.

He knows he has work to do first.

“I’ve got to get through (Antonio Carlos Junior on the UFC 212 card Saturday in Rio de Janeiro),” Spicely said after a workout at Syndicate MMA in Las Vegas last week. “Dan Kelly’s got to get through Derek Brunson. But I want to fight him, and I will bring the belt.”

Spicely proposed the faux-championship bout after his win over Alessio Di Chirico in January. It’s unclear what sparked his rivalry with Kelly other than a cosmetic distaste for watching his fights.

“I just don’t like him,” said Spicely, laughing. “He’s tough to watch.”

Spicely needs to be careful if he wants to stay eligible for the belt. He’s in phenomenal shape after an extended training camp in Las Vegas to prepare for his fight against “Shoeface” on Saturday.

While Spicely has enjoyed his time at Syndicate with head coach John Wood and several of his fellow castmates from “The Ultimate Fighter,” he’s unsure of whether he will make the move to Las Vegas permanently.

It’s something he might consider more closely after the fight, but he knows the challenge that lies ahead.

Carlos Junior is an elite grappler who won the Brazilian edition of “TUF” as a heavyweight and is 3-1 with a no-contest since dropping to middleweight.

Spicely is on a two-fight winning streak since suffering the first loss of his career and has submitted each of his past two opponents.

He’s excited for the challenge.

“He’s a multiple time jiu-jitsu world champion with pretty heavy hands,” Spicely said of Carlos Junior. “He won ‘TUF’ as a heavyweight, so he’s a pretty big guy. It’s an interesting fight, because I have a pretty good grappling-based style, but it might take me out of my comfort zone a bit. It will be a different fight than I’m used to because I usually have a pretty good grappling advantage in my fights.”

Spicely isn’t sure that’s the case this time, but he wants to find out.

“He has better credentials than I do,” Spicely said. “I’m not saying I’m a better grappler, but I do think there are ways to beat him, especially over the long game. He cuts a lot of weight, and he does get pretty tired. My plan is to beat him in the second or third round.”

It would be a huge win for Spicely, who continues to gain confidence in his skills. After dropping his UFC debut to Sam Alvey for his first career loss in July, Spicely wasn’t sure how long he would be around in the UFC.

Now he’s on the verge of a three-fight winning streak and making a leap in the rankings.

“I went from almost being cut to beating a ranked guy to beating another tough opponent,” he said. “I feel like I’m on a hot streak, and I want to keep it going.”

The bout is part of the preliminary card on Fox Sports 1 that airs live at 5 p.m. A featherweight title unification bout between champion Jose Aldo and interim champ Max Holloway headlines the pay-per-view card, which begins at 7.

More MMA: See more MMA and UFC coverage online at CoveringTheCage.com and @CoveringTheCage on Twitter.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-277-8028. Follow @adamhilllvrj on Twitter.

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