BRICK TOWNSHIP — Ricky Bandejas’ mixed martial arts career is taking him to South Dakota of all places.
The former Brick Township wrestler will be making his Bellator MMA debut Friday night against 7-0 bantamweight James Gallagher of Ireland. The two will be a part of the Bellator 204 main card at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
“It’s exciting, you train all these years for this opportunity, the guy is well known, it’s a big promotion and this is huge,” Bandejas said.
After only fighting for Cage Fury Fighting Championships [CFFC], a local promotion in the Northeast, Bandejas will be competing for one of the world’s three largest MMA promotions. The bout will be broadcasted on the Paramount channel at 9 p.m.
Training out of Nick Catone MMA and Fitness in Brick, Bandejas grew up in Brick, attended school there, trains there and even still lives there with his wife and three daughters. His farthest fight outside of New Jersey before tonight was in Philadelphia.
“It is definitely different, you have to come out here for the whole week, where normally you head down to Atlantic City or Philly the day before,” he said. “Now you are living in a hotel out of your suitcase for a week.”
Gallagher is one of the most well-known fighters Bandejas will compete against to date. He is currently 4-0 inside the Bellator cage as a featherweight [145 lbs.]. Gallagher will be dropping 10 lbs., making his bantamweight  debut against Bandejas.
Gallagher became popular early in his career for being one of the training partners of former Ultimate Fighting Championship [UFC] featherweight and lightweight champion, Conor McGregor at Straight Blast Gym [SBG] Ireland in Dublin, Ireland.
“If we go out there and get the big win, it launches my name and my career by beating a guy like this,” Bandejas said. “I am definitely the underdog, I feel like I am being overlooked and I think he thinks and everyone around him thinks, he is going to run through me.”
Bandejas is currently 10-1 and only suffered one loss to former UFC bantamweight Nick Pace on Oct. 31, 2015. It’s been almost three years since Bandejas suffered the defeat.
He rebounded from his only loss with five-straight victories. His wins included earning the CFFC bantamweight title by defeating Giorgi Kudakhashvili by a first-round technical knockout.
He defended his belt, finishing Nick Mamalis by knockout in the fourth round at CFFC 69 on Dec. 16, 2017.
“All five guys were different, some were ground, some were stand up, some were all around and my last fight was really experienced,” he said. “They were all tough opponents and it definitely got me ready for the challenge on Friday.”
Now 26, Bandejas has trained under former UFC middleweight Nick Catone since he was 18 years old. When Bandejas graduated high school in 2010, he decided to start training at Nick Catone MMA and Fitness in Brick.
Catone is now a coach for some of the top fighters in the world and Bandejas has been with him every step of the way. Bandejas is reaping the rewards of training in a world-class gym alongside UFC fighters like Frankie Edgar, Eddie Alvarez, Marlon Moraes and Edson Barboza.
Catone has cornered Bandejas in every fight and will continue the streak tonight. A Brick Memorial graduate, Catone has lived in Brick his entire life like Bandejas. Another similarity they share, is Catone also fought for CFFC back on June 23, 2007.
“We’ve been together for almost eight years now and I look at him almost like a younger brother,” Catone said. “I am excited to see him make that next step, he has been waiting for this for a long time.”
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