It’s not easy coming up with the perfect fighter nickname, and you never know when and where you’re gonna hear it.
A good nickname can become an important part of any fighter’s identity, and for a while, my uncle kept calling me Ryan “The Tiger.” It didn’t rhyme and never stuck. So, imagine the surprise when a complete stranger named me Ryan “The Lion.”
Back in 2013, I had my second amateur fight at the U of MMA, it’s a big #amateur promotion in downtown LA. I fought Hugo Lopez, knocked him out in the second round, but it was a good war and a Fight of the Night.
I still remember that fight; Hugo put it on, I put it on, we got bloodied, back and forth.
What I didn’t know at the time, however, was that Hugo fractured my orbital bone. A couple days later at the gym it became apparent, half my face was swollen to the max, the other half of my face looked completely normal. #BasRutten looked at me and said ‘hey man, you should go get that checked out.’
The next day, I went to Las Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks and while I was waiting to see the doctor, the nurse looked at me and immediately asked “didn’t you just fight?”
Turns out she was there supporting my teammate, Daniel Shin, and we started talking about the fight. Then she asked me if I already had a nickname because she suggested I call myself “The Lion” because she thought I fought like a one.
Ryan “The Lion” Lilley, I liked the sound of that, but I didn’t show too much interest at first. I was waiting for the perfect time to unveil the new nickname; it was actually a year before I busted it out.
That’s when Jay Tan from the #UofMMA hit me up and offered me a title fight against Jacob Rosales, the number-one ranked amateur fighter in California at the time.
I made some shirts for that fight with my new nickname. People loved it, I loved it, it fit with my whole style: it’s never an easy fight against me, I always push forward, and keep my head high.
Jacob won the fight that night -- he’s doing really well as a pro and I’d like to fight him again -- but I walked away from that bout as a new fighter, “The Lion,” and it’s a big part of my style to this day. It’s just crazy that this woman, this nurse, who went to a fight to support my teammate ended up becoming a big fan of mine and giving me my fighter nickname.