The XFC welterweight division kicks off its championship tournament this Wednesday in Atlanta, Ga. XFC 43 will feature four welterweight bouts, with the winners advancing to the tournament’s semifinals at XFC 44.
In one of the night’s best matchups, Powell River, B.C.’s Michael Hill (11-5-1) will face Hamilton, Ont.’s Ryan Dickson (10-5). The bout will be a rematch of their 2014 fight at WSOF Canada 1, when Hill, 33, defeated Dickson, 31, via unanimous decision.
“I’m not looking past Dickson,” Hill said in an interview with MMA Empire.
“It’s essentially me versus me. I’m doing everything I can to show up and be the best version of me, and the best martial artist. I know I’m one of the best fighters in the world.”
Dickson’s last fight was a second-round loss to Nah-shon Burrell in November 2015. After the fight, Dickson reassessed his MMA career and decided to pursue other endeavours.
“I lost three fights (in a row); I thought that this fighting career (wasn’t) very secure,” Dickson said in an interview with MMA Empire.
“I thought I should take a step back and reevaluate myself.”
After his loss to Burrell, Dickson began a career in firefighting. He still works part-time while balancing MMA training, which he claims improves his conditioning.
“I never really got out of shape because I had to be in shape for (firefighting),” Dickson said.
“Right before lockdowns started, I started jiu-jitsu training and had a submission-only fight. I trained 12 days for that (fight), so that kind of got me back into a competition mindset.”
While Dickson hasn’t sparred much in the past five years, he said the break was beneficial for both his mind and body. In fact, he feels more prepared for Wednesday than any other fight in his career.
“I sparred once in five years. I was doing jiu-jitsu (workouts) a couple times a week. I dove right back into (sparring) when COVID hit, but I feel better than ever. I’ve been sparring better than I’ve ever sparred,” Dickson said.
“A lot of my injuries from training and competing wore me down quite a bit. I feel that stepping back and learning new things—even with firefighting— (has helped) my ability to learn. When I’m practicing something new, I’ve got it after one or two sessions. My game just keeps evolving.”
Hill’s win over Dickson in 2014 propelled “The Mercenary” to 6-2, while Dickson learned from the loss and went on a four-fight win streak.
Both fighters are looking to make a statement on Wednesday night—especially Hill, who is coming off a unanimous decision loss to Bobby Lee at CFFC 85.
“Training during the pandemic—it wasn’t the same,” Hill said.
“After (Bobby’s) first leg kick, it was a mental battle after that. I could tell I didn’t do the hard work (before the fight). I knew after that; I was training easy. I’m back in Toshido (MMA Academy) now.”
Dickson has worked on all aspects of his game to prepare for this rematch, improving his jiu-jitsu rank and giving special attention to striking techniques.
“I’m going to be more well-rounded (this time),” Dickson said.
“Last time I fought, I was a brown belt. Now I’m a black belt. My wrestling is next-level, and my striking feels great. I’ve never felt this confident with my striking. On my feet, it’s not even going to be close. Last time, he was very good at keeping me on my feet, but with my wrestling and clinch takedowns I’ve been working on, I think he’s going to be hard-pressed to stay on his feet.”
While Dickson has altered his approach for this rematch, Hill isn’t changing anything.
“I’m not doing anything different for Ryan Dickson. The only Ryan Dickson (I’m prepared for) is going to be a better Ryan Dickson,” Hill said.
“The only thing that’s changed is that he’s retired. He’s already quit. He has that quit inside him. He (quit) in our first fight—I took his soul in the first round. Once he felt my strength and power, he knew he couldn’t compete. That’s what I do to guys. I end guys’ careers. I make them retire.”
Fans can watch Dickson’s rematch against Hill at XFC 43 on Wednesday, Nov. 11 on NBC Sports and FITE.tv beginning at 5:30 p.m. EST.