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Ricky Turcios ready for his 'toughest test' ever at UFC on ESPN 39

UFC bantamweight feeling well-prepared and confident heading into first fight after winning the return of 'The ultimate fighter.'
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Ricky Turcios endeared himself to UFC fans when he came out on top of an epic battle against Brady Hiestand to win "The Ultimate Fighter" in 2021 – his down-to-earth charisma on full display inside and outside of the octagon, reaffirming that he was the kind of personality and fighter built for the perspective granted from the reality show.

The split-decision victory was life-changing on a variety of levels, but fans' lives were changed, too. Turcios showed all the makings of a fan-favorite, and nearly a year after his first official UFC victory, the Houston native finally returns for his sophomore appearance in the octagon. The last year or so has provided plenty of opportunities for Turcios to enjoy the fruits of six weeks' hard labor, and he is grateful for the public reception he got for doing the simple task of being himself.

"I try to keep myself in a high vibration," Turcios said. "In my daily life, hanging out with my friends, family and people I meet, spreading the love. That positivity. I feel like I put it out there, so I think I was getting it back, too. All love, baby."

Of course, he also enjoyed the monetary fruits, as well.

Whether it's assisting his family or just basking in the rewards and fame of his success so far, the 29-year-old relished it as much as he could.

"Whatever my family need, I could help them out with," Turcios said. "Whatever I need, I could help myself out, too. I remember them days we were living at the Dollar Tree, so it's all good. I'm grateful for where we're at now. It's tight. Another thing that has changed is shout out to the fans. Running into them at the grocery store, taking pictures and stuff like that with the fans is tight."

Turcios also obtained his passport after "The Ultimate Fighter" tournament wrapped and traveled to El Salvador for the first time, where he was able to spend time with his father and other extended family.

That's not all to say Turcios is no longer the scrappy, hungry fighter that landed on the show in the first place. Far from it, in fact.

Turcios understood his hard work got him to this position, and so he knew he needed to take that to the next level as his UFC journey gets started in earnest. Luckily for him, training at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento gives him all the windows into how one can build a long career for themselves in the organization.

"After the tournament was over like, ‘Hey, now we're going to need more dedication, more hard work, more determination,'" he said. "One of the memories I'll look back on is after the tournament, I went back to Cali, and I was training with the homies, and I was training alongside the OG, Clay Guida. Just seeing him, a real OG up there in his 40s, he's still out there running them miles. I'm still out here running them miles, adding them miles on my feet."

Turcios knew he'd need to take some time off after the grueling six weeks in Las Vegas, but in returning to the UFC Apex, he feels the comfort and memories the building holds for him.

With that in mind, his bout against Aiemann Zahabi (8-2 MMA, 2-2 UFC) at UFC on ESPN 39 is a bit of a home game. The bantamweight division is notoriously deep and dangerous, and getting to the Top 15 in the division is no joke, so any and all advantages are welcome. Although Turcios (11-2 MMA, 1-0 UFC) made sure to embrace the success he cultivated for himself, he understands this is only the beginning of the journey.

When Turcios won "The Ultimate Fighter," he had plenty of fun at the post-fight press conference, even breaking into karaoke while on stage. He joked that we'll have to wait and see if he belts his best on the mic afterward. The first job to do is to get his hand raised on July 9, and it's that task that Turcios has all his focus zoned in on this week.

"It's my toughest test," Turcios said. "It's how I see it. It's how I view it. Aiemann Zahabi, he's a tough opponent. All respect to him."

This story first published at UFC.com.