Ryan Spann isn’t one of those athletes who loves to fight so much he’d do it as long as anyone would give him the opportunity. It’s more of a means to an end for him, a way to seek out financial security and set up his family for its future.
“I don’t do this to show off,” Spann said of his MMA career. “I don’t do this to fight for no reason. I want what I want so I can get out when I can get out. I want to get in and get out. The longer it takes me to get there, the longer I got to stay.”
There, of course, is the UFC light heavyweight championship. The biggest money in the UFC generally comes when a fighter wins a championship.
Spann moved to No. 8 in the UFC’s light heavyweight rankings, two spots behind Nikita Krylov, whom he’ll fight on Saturday at Apex in Las Vegas in the main event of UFC Vegas 70.
He’s 21-7 as a professional in MMA and 7-2 in the UFC but in a way, the Krylov fight is like his second. That’s because, after years of nagging from his coaches, friends and family, Spann has opted to put his heart and soul into training and work at the sport full-time.
He earned a UFC contract on Season 2 of “Dana White’s Contender Series” on June 19, 2019, and showed the skills, athleticism and dynamic finishing ability that led him to be signed to the promotion in the first place.
But his record subtly tells a story about what may have been holding him back. Jamahal Hill became the first DWCS alum to win a UFC belt, but Spann knew it could have been him. However, 20 of his fights finished in the first round, and he went 16-4 in those. He was going wild early in his fights because he knew somewhere in the back of his mind that he wasn’t conditioned enough to go the distance.
His brother would joke that he’d retire after fights, as Spann would balloon way up in weight. Eventually, Spann decided he needed to change.
“I wasn’t getting the results I wanted,” Spann told Yahoo Sports. “My skills have always been there. My athleticism has always been there. I just didn’t have the tank to keep up with what I needed to do.”
So before he fought Dominick Reyes at UFC 281 in New York in November, Spann made a commitment to himself, his coaches and teammates at Fortis MMA as well as his family that he’d fully commit to training.
The result was another first-round finish, this one a knockout of ex-title contender Dominick Reyes in just 1:20. It’s always good for fighters to end fights early since they get paid the same whether they fight one round or five, but the quick finish didn’t allow Spann to show off his newly found conditioning.
Spann, though, seems almost oblivious to public opinion. He did the work because he knew it was the right thing to do and not because he was trying to make a statement. To give himself the best chance to achieve his goal of becoming a champion and getting out of the game as early as possible, he realized he needed to devote himself completely to it.
But knowing he’s done the work necessary has made him more confident heading into his bouts.
“I’m not trying to prove nothing to nobody,” Spann said. “I know what I’ve done. My team knows what I’ve done, and that is all that matters. I 100% have improved my confidence. I used to go into fights with a lot of anxiety and a lot of pent-up ‘what ifs? Can I get him before I get tired?’ Basically, I used to think like, ‘Can I get him before my fatigue gets me?’ Now, I’m not worried about it because I know I’m not going to get tired. I know the work I’ve put in and the rounds I have done. I know the work me and my coaches have done and they’ve invested a lot in me.
“My past, it was 100% not getting the results and knowing I needed to do more. Like I’ve been saying all day today, you have to do champion s*** to get champion results. You do F- s*** and you’re going to get F- results. So I decided it was time to do champion s*** and we’re trying to get champion results.”
He said he’s unfamiliar with Krylov’s style and how the Ukrainian may try to attack him. It’s all up to him.
Training the way he is now, he’s almost a different animal in the Octagon. He believes deep in his core that he’ll win. He doesn’t know just how, exactly, he’ll do it, but he knows he will.
He’s been doing championship stuff, after all.