Ryan Lilley

Photo courtesy of Lilley's Facebook page

From trying to pick up a girl at a bar to fighting in the main event at LFA 48: The story of Ryan “The Lion” Lilley

Ryan “The Lion” Lilley (9-3) walked into a bar in Thousand Oaks, California to watch the fights one Saturday night and decided to take the empty seat next to a pretty girl.  He started a conversation and she looked at him and said: “Oh I can beat you up.”

He went with it and asked why. The young lady told him she trained at Bas Rutten’s Elite MMA which then led to a conversation about when Lilley wrestled in high school. The discussion led to Lilley receiving an invitation to the gym. He went and tried a few classes but didn’t really show his true potential at first, which drove him to where he is today.

“I showed up, I did my free class, then I saw how bad I sucked and I’m not used to sucking at anything so I signed a year contract right away.”

It wasn’t long after that ‘The Lion’ wanted to get into the cage but his coaches and teammates kept telling him to be patient. It took a year of training everyday to get his coach’s approval for a fight and they agreed to look into getting him a fight. However, Lilley wasn’t that patient and he took a fight without telling his coaches on one week’s notice. He told his coaches about it, (the legendary Bas Rutten and Randy (Khatami) and they said ok and cornered him. They weren’t sure he had it in him, but they found out rather quickly.

“I got matched up with this guy who was six-foot-tall and I ended up beating him in like 53 seconds. I got him with a good punch, ended up breaking his nose, he tried taking me down, I got back up, I got him with a liver kick, I ended up duplexing him and finishing up with a rear naked choke.”

El Guapo was very impressed with his student’s performance.

“Bas was all, “what the hell, you did everything in 53 seconds.”

Through his time at Bas Rutten’s Elite MMA gym, Lilley has developed a special bond with the legendary fighter.

“He’s always been there for me, like before my last fight, he was out of town, he was literally flew to like six different states within four days, he was like “I’m in the airplane right now Ryan, this and that but I really like this fight for you” and he’s like stay calm. What he tells me just gives me so much confidence, he’s been there for me since day one. Losing my mom and dad, and having him in my life, it’s pretty cool to have.”

Sadly, Lilley lost both of his parents to cancer. His father when he was a teenager and his mom a few years later. It hasn’t been easy for Lilley to live his life with the people he loved so much gone at a young age but he said MMA was the thing that kept him going.

“My dad always said you have to give one negative and turn it into a positive and that’s life and everything happens for a reason. Him passing away so young happens for a reason, I don’t believe in that shit but it does and it happened. I could sit in here and cry in a ditch over here and become a loser, I probably really would have if I didn’t go and try and sit next to that girl at the bar and try and go – like my dad said, go get it. So I was trying to go get some and that backfired, that didn’t work out. But what really did work out is me finding a home which is Bas Rutten’s Elite MMA.”

Lilley’s mom was his biggest fan and she went to all of his fights. Before his second to last amateur fight, she told him this was going to be the last one she would make it to and she passed away shortly after it.

“She was there one week before she passed away, she knew she told me. “This is the last time I get to watch you, go out and kill it.”

And win in spectacular fashion he did. Lilley went out there and won the fight and won in a bloody fight of the night performance.

The fight of the night performances have continued into his pro career as well, Lilley earned the bonus against Vince Cachero at CXF 10, though he wasn’t on the winning side that time. Lilley has taken on many challenges in both his amateur and pro career. In his amateur career, Lilley faced several pro fighters including, Tommy Aaron, Jacob Rosales, A.J. Bryant, Albert Veloz and Jonathan Quiroz. In his pro career, he has tried to challenge himself as well, facing newly signed UFC fighter Andre Ewell early in his career, the previously mentioned Cachero and most recently Jordan Winski at LFA 45.

The call to face Winski came on two weeks notice right after a previous fight got cancelled. It also came at featherweight which he hasn’t fought at in most of his professional fights. He was training for a fight against UFC veteran Walel Watson but the entire card was cancelled. Lilley was disappointed but learned once again, things happen for a reason.

“Within a week and a half (after the cancellation of the card) my manager called me and said: “Hey Ryan remember when I said stay ready?” yea, “He’s all LFA just called and their co-main event just fell out.” He’s all “do you want it?” I’m like, who is it? He’s all, “I have no idea, it’s co-main event so it can either be him or him.” I looked at them both and I said I was all, I’ll take it, before I even knew the name.”

Lilley won that fight by knockout in the first round and by doing so, it earned him another fight with LFA, the top MMA developmental league in the country. But it not only earned him another fight, it earned him a chance to headline an LFA card. Lilley will face Raufeon “Supa” Stots in the main event of LFA 48 on September 7, in Nebraska.

The fight didn’t take long to put together as the LFA matchmaker approached Lilley after his fight at LFA 45 and told him he’d hear from him soon. Then a week later, the contract was signed. He is facing Stots, a very highly rated prospect who is 9-1, trains at Roufesport, a Victory FC Bantamweight champion and a two-time Division II wrestling champion at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

Lilley acknowledges that Stots is a very tough opponent, but he believes that it will bring the best out of him.

“One thing I notice about me, the better my opponent is, the more it brings out of me and the better I get.”

An area that has hurt Lilley in the past that Stots does well in is wrestling. In his loss to Ralph Acosta in 2017, Acosta was able to control Lilley on the ground and submit him with a rear naked choke in the first round. But Lilley believes that he has done enough to prevent that from happening again.

“I’ve been training with Jason Manley at Musclepharm, I’ve been training a crapload of wrestling and jiu jitsu.”

“I’d say I’ve been working 70% ground for my last two fights, I’d say my ground game is getting a lot better which is allowing me to throw my hands more comfortably.”

Lilley has become more comfortable as his career has progressed and it’s been a rapid ascension. He started his professional career in 2016 and has had 12 fights since then. He expanded his training camps to include time at RVA and Musclepharm in addition to Bas Rutten’s Elite MMA. That has allowed him to train with the likes of former UFC strawweight champion Carla Esparza.

Though he will be travelling for the first time, and to enemy territory at that, Lilley believes that the lessons learned throughout his career will earn him a victory against Stots.

“I see a W, I see a finish.”

The fight is surprisingly not for the vacant LFA bantamweight title but Lilley was told that the organization believes the winner of the fight will be signed by the UFC. If not, he was told the winner would get a title shot.

It’s safe to say that Lilley ended up being alright after not getting the girl.

author avatar
Doug Geller