The road crews are already hard at work turning CenturyLink Arena into a national stage for MMA fighting on Friday night when Bellator makes its debut in the Treasure Valley. And on a night when eyes around the country will be focused on Front Street and a list of Boise’s best to go along with one of the biggest fight promotions in the world, it’s only appropriate that one of the sport’s rising stars, a Boise native, will take to the cage as well.
You would be hard-pressed to find a talent evaluator who doesn’t believe that undefeated 27 year-old Ricky “The Karate Kid” Steele has a chance to be the next big thing out of Idaho on the MMA scene. Steele heads into Friday night’s event 5-0 in his professional career as he prepares for Eric “Kid Crush” Cronkhite, who is 2-1 in his professional career.
A Boise native who cut his teeth with wins at Front Street Fights 1 and Front Street Fights 7, Steele is ready to prove himself on yet another high-profile stage and to do it in front of his hometown fans.
“It’s great because it’s been a long hard road for us Idaho fighters,” said Steele during an open workout on Wednesday morning. “We don’t get too many opportunities and we always have to travel. What Front Street Fights has done for us over the last two years is build up a fabulous foundation for us to showcase our skills and open up these opportunities.”
“Bellator is the second-largest fight promotion in the world. Boise is in for a real treat and, as a fighter, I’m hoping I get to go up soon so I can chill out a bit and watch the rest of the show as well and hopefully celebrate a victory. It’s going to be an awesome lineup.”
The lineup will feature numerous Front Street favorites in the preliminary event, as well as some of Idaho’s most successful fighters. That includes Jesse Brock, 21-8 in his career heading into Friday’s bout with Olly Bradstreet and with professional fight experience with the larger promotions that includes Bellator. It’s fighters like Brock that have helped to shape Steele’s growth as a fighter, and it’s a class of athletes Steele hopes to count himself among soon.
“The real pioneers of the sport like my coaches, Jesse Brock and Scott Jorgensen, I think soon enough my name can be mentioned among them as well. I’m one of the few fighters outside of those two I mentioned to be signed to a bigger promotion,” said Steele, who is a contracted fighter with RFA. “I’m very proud of what we’ve done so far and I’m looking to keep striving and take it to the next level.”
Bellator certainly represents that next level, and fighters and promoters alike have framed the evening as a tremendous opportunity to not only entertain the fans, but to impress Bellator trainers and promoters in attendance. While that pressure is a reality for Steele, all the extra attention isn’t something that will be on his mind when the cage door closes.
“Any time you step into a fight it’s the scariest, most nerve-racking thing,” said Steele. “So if there are a couple more eye balls on you in there, it doesn’t matter because you’re in there alone. You can’t take anyone else in there with you so those extra eye balls don’t mean anything.”
And if the mentality for an undefeated pro doesn’t change in the cage, it certainly does not change leading up to the fight, regardless of the stakes.
“We’re constantly learning and making small adjustments, and obviously everything we’re doing so far is working. But you’re always trying to learn more and train more, using the science and your experience,” said Steele. “But as far as the individual test, I look at them all as though I’m fighting a world champion. You can’t train any harder than I have.”
Steele’s training regimen and preparation have certainly been a key to his professional success. In a sport where some fights can be over in the blink of an eye, all five of Steele’s victories have required him to be patient, as well as superbly conditioned. All five bouts have gone the distance, three five-minute rounds, with Steele earning a win by unanimous decision in each.
“Experience plays a huge part because you have to be able to stay calm in there. It doesn’t matter how good your cardio is if you can’t control your heart-rate and the adrenaline in the ring. I’m feeling more and more comfortable each time.”
Bellator will be a spectacle for all, from the most ardent fight expert to the youngest fan getting his first taste of MMA. It’s a fan event for the fighters as well to an extent, with Steele excited to watch his four teammates in their fights and just as excited for the main events. Steele mentioned Pat Curran, who will be squaring off in the co-main event against Georgi Karakhanyan, as one of his favorite fighters and a tilt he’s looking forward to seeing in person.
And yet, these athletes are about winning first and above all else. Steele will enjoy Boise’s most star-studded fight promotion ever, but he’ll do so after he’s taken care of his own business.
“I’m a tough act to follow, so I’ve got news for the other dudes,” said Steele. “There’s so much talent on this card, but I’m bringing the heat.”