Chasing down a title shot in the UFC is an uncertain and chaotic process.
In the past, the formula was simple: If a fighter collected a series of solid results, the opportunity to compete for championship gold presented itself.
While elements of the tried-and-true equation still exist, the current landscape in the UFC has shifted to a place where it is possible for a high-profile draw to trump a contention-worthy winning streak.
These scenarios throw a wrench in the works of a divisional picture and push title opportunities further off into the distance for would-be contenders.
In the case of surging featherweight Ricardo Lamas, being passed over has only served to provide further motivation. "The Bully" is on a mission to prove he is the legitimate No.1 contender in the 145-pound weight class and is looking to keep the momentum rolling toward a title shot.
The Team Top Notch fighter has put together an impressive four-fight run where he has defeated a collection of the division's best. In his most recent outing at UFC on Fox 6 in Chicago, Lamas dismantled former No.1 contender Erik Koch with a brutal display of ground-and-pound that led to a second-round TKO victory.
In the aftermath of his dominant showing in Chicago, a bout with champion Jose Aldo seemed to be a certainty. But after lightweight contender Anthony Pettis put in his bid to face the Brazilian phenom, Lamas once again found himself bumped out of the conversation for the time being.
Nevertheless, the 30-year-old Chicagoland native hasn't allowed decisions beyond his control to knock him off course. Instead, Lamas has chosen to focus on what he can directly effect—continuing to win inside the Octagon.
His next challenge will come against fellow contender Chan Sung Jung at UFC 162. Lamas sees the "Korean Zombie" as the last obstacle standing between him and a long-awaited title shot, and he believes a victory in Las Vegas will leave no questions on the table.
"I wanted to fight the 'Korean Zombie' because the UFC really holds him in high regard," Lamas told Bleacher Report. "Dana White is a fan of his. You see him wearing Korean Zombie shirts, so what better guy to go up against? I really want to make a statement in this fight and get that title shot. At the same time, all of my focus is on Chan Sung Jung. He is a dangerous fighter and I'm not looking past him for one second.
"I think he's a very well-rounded fighter, but at this level, everybody is well-rounded. I don't think he's bringing anything that I haven't seen before. He has a good submission game, but I roll on a daily basis with world-class jiu-jitsu guys, and it's not something I'm afraid of at all.
When the two featherweights lock up in Las Vegas, 13 months will have passed since the 26-year-old Jung submitted Dustin Poirier at UFC on Fuel TV 3 in Virginia. Following the bout, Jung was forced to the sidelines with a shoulder injury which required surgery, which put his rise to title contention in neutral.
Despite being absent from the divisional race for a year, Jung's status as one of the top fighters in the weight class has remained intact. Whether ring rust will play a factor in the fight remains to be seen, but Lamas is looking to face the best of what Jung has to offer.
"It's always hard coming back from a long layoff, and it could be a good or a bad thing for him," Lamas said. "You are getting back into it, and that feeling of being inside the Octagon is something you haven't had for awhile. On the other hand, the long layoff could make him very hungry and motivate him to train harder than he ever has before. It just depends on who is going to show up on fight night. I'm preparing for the guy that is going to train 100 times harder, and that is who I'm looking to see."
The bout at UFC 162 represents what should be the final hurdle on the path to a title shot for Lamas. Since coming over from the WEC, the former wrestling standout from Elmhurst College has made an impact with each and every performance, and he plans to put it all on the line when the cage door closes in July.
"I'm bringing fireworks," Lamas added. "I am going out there to make a statement. I am going out there to finish the job. I think I have to finish him to really impress the UFC. I'm always looking to finish, but this is my chance to make a huge statement. I'm working harder than I ever have before, and people are going to see a caged animal when I step in there."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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