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Former UVU Wrestler Motivated After Disappointing 2018 Season

Ramsey Nijem warms up before facing James Krause during the filming of The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption at the UFC TUF Gym on February 22, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – It’s been a year since a former wrestler from Utah Valley University was knocked out in his first regular season bout in the Professional Fighters League.

After the fight, the State of Illinois Athletic Board gave Ramsey Nijem a 90-day medical suspension due to the injuries he sustained in the fight. The three-month suspension forced him to miss his second regular season fight that was schedule for just two months later.

Nijem has been fighting through the ranks of mixed martial arts organizations for over 10 years, but after a disappointing , the Utah transplant is focused on one thing entering the second season in the PFL. Winning the lightweight championship.

The loss didn’t sit well with Nijem. The forfeit of the season forced him to compete in the postseason as an alternate. According to the rules, if he won that bout and a fighter already in the playoffs couldn’t compete due to injury, Nijem would earn the right to replace the fighter. He won that alternate fight, but no one pulled out of the competition.

Ultimately, that knockout fight at the first of the season cost him the rest of the year.

“That fight, I was too emotional,” Nijem told KSL Sports. “I won the first two rounds, but going into the third round I wasn’t as present as I should have been. I definitely learned a big thing from that. Yeah, I might have gotten hosed by the Illinois athletic commission, but everything happens for a reason. Since then, that has really lit a fire under me.”

Deciding To Stay In Utah

Born in Concord, California and raised in Mill Creek, Washington, Nijem called Utah home after he attended Utah Valley University and wrestled at the school from 2006-09. He has stayed in the state while pursuing his MMA career and sees himself starting a family as a Utahn.

He is proud to be considered from Utah and represent the state when he is on the big stage.

“It means a lot,” he stated. “This is my home, I chose to live here, I love this state and I love Salt Lake City. I opened up a gym here because I plan on living here, starting a family, buying a house and it’s cool to represent our state. I believe we have great wrestling and great fighters here.”

“The Pit SLC” located in East Millcreek, Utah is owned by Nijem, which features training and coaching from he and his team as well as a place where anyone can better themselves.

Wants To Be A Champion

Ever since he started fighting, all that was on his mined was to win a championship.

“When I first started fighting, my initial goal was to become a champion,” said Nijem. “Everything I do, I just want to be the best that I can do and I believe I can be a champion, so that has always been my mindset.”

After fighting for local promotion “Showdown Fights” from 2008-10, Nijem had a great opportunity to appear on the television series “The Ultimate Fighter” which is ran by the Ultimate Fighting Championship that gives young fighters a chance to get a contract with the UFC.

They put all of the fighters into a big house in Las Vegas and through a tournament style format, they compete to appear in the season finale and be crowned the Ultimate Fighter and receive a guaranteed contract with the organization.

Ramsey Nijem sits in his corner after facing James Krause during the filming of The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption at the UFC TUF Gym on February 22, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Nijem had five professional fights in the local Utah promotion, where he posted a 4-1 record. He then had to win his first fight in 2011 on the Ultimate Fighter just to get into the house. He submitted his opponent in the second round to win the preliminary bout. Going on to win the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds of the show, Nijem appeared in the finale against Tony Ferguson, who was recently the Interim UFC Lightweight Champion. Nijem lost the finale, but received a contract with the UFC.

PFL’s Unique Format

After 10 fights and a 5-5 record in the UFC from 2011-15, Nijem was released. In 2017, he appeared on “The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption” season, splitting his two bouts on the show. Nijem then signed with the PFL ahead of their inaugural season in 2018.

The league features a unique format in combat sports, a two-fight regular season that is supported by a point system to qualify for the Playoffs with the winner of the postseason being crowned the weight class champion and earning $1 million.

It took Nijem some time to adjust to the new format, but he likes what the PFL has come up with.

“That was definitely a learning experience,” he said. “At first when you are fighting, it’s kill or be killed and that’s the only mindset you would have. Now with the PFL, I know what I need to do to win the championship. The way you fight and the way you have to score points, it reminds me of wrestling in college at UVU. It makes me feel like I have control over my own destiny.”

The PFL is different from the UFC because the PFL format is plain and simple in rewarding fighters who just win. The UFC selects the fighters that are going to draw pay-per-view buys or who might be on a winning streak. Nijem likes the fact that he can just go out and fight and not try to gain popularity.

“I have been on big win streaks in the UFC and you just don’t know what that means,” Nijem said. “I am excited to be at a place where you can express your full self. It’s fun to just worry about competition and that’s really what I got in for. When you are in a fight, it is just you and yourself in your head. Whether there are a million people or just four people watching you, it still feels the same and that feeling is what’s important and that’s what I am focused on.”

When the PFL began last year, some fighters were hesitant on if the league was real or not. Like most start-up leagues in sports, it takes time to gain traction and won’t last very long most of the time. Nijem wasn’t worried about the PFL when he signed his contract.

“My manager Ali is pretty well known in the game and he is the most honest and most straight forward guy I know and he told me that everything is legit and is going to work out so I trusted him,” he stated. “So, from day one I knew this was real and was going to happen. Ray Sefo is a great president, who knows what he is doing and makes great matchups. I believed in it from the get go and I am grateful that we are on season two. I can see this league really taking off and getting bigger and bigger.”

Last Year’s Loss ‘Lit a Fire’

When Nijem was handed the disappointing medical suspension from Illinois, that motivated him to train more and harder than he has ever trained in his career.

“I spent my whole off-season training and that’s all I have been doing since October,” Nijem said. “I put on muscle, have been running everyday and doing all the things that I need to do to win. So, I am grateful for that whole situation because at the end of the day it has made me tougher. It has made me this tenacious fighter that I am going to be this year. I am 31-years-old and have been fighting for over 10 years so I feel like a master of it. I am excited to go out and perform and have fun. It’s hard to describe a fight to somebody, but it is one of the most real things to happen to you.”

When training in Utah, he takes advantage of the altitude so when he fights in other states like New York on Thursday, he is very well conditioned.

“I run a peak a week here in Utah, then I go to New York and fight and I can run for miles and don’t get tired,” he said.

Nijem is considered a contender to win the lightweight division. Former PFL light heavyweight champion, current play-by-play broadcaster and KSL Sports columnist Sean O’Connell knows that his friend has the tools to hoist the belt like he did on December 31, 2018.

“What makes Ramsey a real contender is that he is old-school tough,” O’Connell told KSL Sports. “Like the kind of dude who doesn’t need to be super elite in any one area because he can push you to your breaking point no matter where the fight goes. Very few holes of weakness in his game,” he added.

O’Connell and Nijem talk frequently, but the former champion didn’t need to give the former UVU wrestler much advice heading into the second season.

“I haven’t given Ramsey any advice,” he stated. “He is a true fighter, works endlessly on improving his craft and he deserves this PFL opportunity. I think he will be the third Utah fighter to make it to the PFL final.”

Watching O’Connell win the title last season has motivated Nijem and gave him the confidence to accomplish the same feat in the lightweight division.

“It’s awesome because Sean is a good friend and I have known him for a long time,” Nijem said. “We used to fight together on Showdown. It’s cool to see him win and it is really motivating to see him do it which really makes me believe in myself as well.”

If Nijem appears in the final, he would join O’Connell and Orem native Steven Siler as fighters from Utah to make it to the final. Siler lost to Lance Palmer in the featherweight championship on New Year’s Eve, while O’Connell defeated Vinny Magalhaes.

Nijem will face Brazilian Ronys Torres in PFL 2 in Long Island, New York on Thursday. The card begins at 5 p.m. on ESPN2, He will be on the main card, which will start at 7 p.m. on ESPN+.