With his shades and icy cool demeanour, Montreal's Mike Ricci has looked more like he's chilling on a cruise than battling for his MMA future on recent episodes of "The Ultimate Fighter."
But the 26-year-old, who is slated to fight in the episode of the reality TV show that airs Friday, confesses to bubbling emotions below the surface.
"I was the guy that had the least going on — on the surface," Ricci said in an interview Thursday. "But inside I think I might have had more going on than anybody."
The format of the show has 16 fighters locked up in a Las Vegas mansion, with no contact with the outside world other than to train and fight.
The prize is a contract to compete in the UFC.
There are no phones, TV, computers or any other distractions. Just the stress of knowing you might have to fight any time.
"That house was something new to me that I had never experienced and it was pure torment," said Ricci. "Inside, internally I was always struggling with something. I spent a lot of nights where I didn't sleep, not even a wink.
"The thing is when you're there, thoughts enter your mind. If they're good, that's cool. But if they're bad then they can eat you up."
But he didn't let it show and today thinks he concealed his discomfort more than the others.
"I think everybody was troubled in some way while they were there. But a lot of guys, it broke them down. For me, it just angered me."
The very nature of the house is hostile, with fighters constantly sizing up rivals and trying to search out weaknesses.
"You don't know who you're fighting or when you're fighting them and everybody's going insane," Ricci explained. "You're missing home, you're missing your people, you don't know what's going on with them. You can't contact them.
"Your mind wanders. You think bad things about your parents, your friend, your girlfriend. There are so many things that are going on in your mind. It's a heavy load to deal with."
Ricci said it even took a while to get back to normal after leaving the show.
"Definitely. The house can break people down. I've seen guys come into that house and be absolute monsters and within a couple of weeks (become) just pathetic nothings."
"Guys break down, guys quit, guys cry ... so many things play with your head," he added.
Ricci said he just found a way to adapt.
"With my situation I just forced myself to become OK with what was going on."
Ricci's bout against Dom (Shonuff) Waters was the last of the initial round of fights, meaning the two had to wait several weeks before stepping into the cage after registering the necessary victories to make the final cast.
At least Ricci did not have the worry of having to make weight on short notice. He normally fights at lightweight (155) pounds and was walking around at 174 pounds during the six weeks of taping.
So making welterweight (170) was not an issue.
"I'd wake up in the morning, skip breakfast and make weight," he said.
Waters, the first pick of coach Roy Nelson, is a different story. Ricci, the third pick of coach Shane Carwin, estimates his opponent comes into the cage at about 190, 195 pounds.
Michael Hill of Kelowna, B.C, the other Canadian in the cast, won a split decision over Matt Secor in an earlier episode.