• Jenn Connor

Staying Connected With UFC Fighter Joe Solecki

Joe Solecki delivers a blow to James Wallace in Dana White’s Contender Series on July 9, 2019, in Las Vegas, NV. (Photo by Chris Unger/DWCS LLC).

By Jenn Connor There are few journeys in sports as physically and mentally demanding as the road to becoming a UFC fighter. In part, it is the very nature of the sport -- one-on-one combat inside the not-so-friendly confines of the octagon. No teammates to help you, just you staring across the ring at someone who, if given the opportunity, will choke you to the point where you simply can’t take it anymore.

For the casual sports fan, you wonder why anyone would choose to pursue such a career. But for some, it is simply a passion, a willingness to put oneself to the ultimate test against an opponent. For up-and-coming UFC Lightweight Joe Solecki, the passion and love for the sport is clearly evident.

A native of New Jersey, Solecki earned his ticket to the UFC through Dana White’s Contender Series, impressing the boss with a convincing first round guillotine submission victory over James Wallace. The 26-year-old was equally impressive in his UFC debut last December, dominating veteran Matt Wiman to earn a unanimous decision.

Talented, energetic, and driven, Solecki embodies a fighting spirit that not only positions himself for success inside of the ring, but serves as an inspiration to all of us as we try to cope with a crisis that continues to defy imagination.

Supported by his family, friends, and faith, Solecki is confident we’ll win this battle and is eager to get back to work.

I had the opportunity to chat online with the young UFC fighter about how he is spending his time during lockdown, how he’s keeping fit, and of course, his pick for UFC 249’s main event between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje.

Where is home during lockdown?

Home for the lockdown is Wilmington, NC! Luckily, we haven’t been hit too hard down here.

How are you passing the time? Do you watch Netflix or play video games? If so, what are your recommendations?

I’m not big on video games, but my wife and I love to watch TV series, especially right now. We watched The Outsider on HBO and absolutely loved it. We also just finished Waco and enjoyed that. We are also always watching The Office, that’s our default background show when we are doing something around the house.

How are you staying fit during lockdown?

I’m lucky enough to have some great coaches I’m able to work with during all of this that is going on. I’m able to get with a few training partners and my coach John Salter to train privately, drill and spar, as well as get my S&C in with our coach Hudson Rose, and also get my pad work in outside/away from the gym. I’ve been adding in a lot of runs/bikes/rows as low base cardio, which is something I had wanted to do more of before this, so this was a good time to build my aerobic capacity even more. I’m just trying to use this time to tie up any loose ends, break/build some habits that I maybe wouldn’t have had time to correct if I would’ve been in training camp earlier. Right now, with shows scheduled and the timeline I was given, I’ve begun a full training camp and hope to be fighting soon!

What inspired you to become a fighter?

As foolish as it may sound, Rocky (the movies) played a really big part in my wanting to be a fighter since I was a young kid. I’m from NJ, right outside of Philly, and everyone grows up loving Rocky. That, combined with watching UFC since age 10, and my upbringing at Hassett’s Jiu Jitsu in NJ, all led me to this career.

How does your Christian faith help you in your career as an MMA fighter?

My Christian faith has helped me so much in my career, and continues to help me daily. In uncertain times, especially in my pursuit of MMA as a full-time career, there were so many questions, so much pressure, so much extra stress, and having my faith in God helped me see the bigger picture. It helped me always keep things in perspective and to remember what really matters. I don’t think I could’ve made it through the uncertainty on the path to get to the UFC without my faith.

With all sports suspended, how important is it for fans to have UFC 249 going tonight?

I think people can use something to watch and enjoy right now, and what better for people to watch and relate to than a fight? Fighting is a metaphor for life.

Do you see UFC events being held in empty arenas for a long period of time?

Unfortunately, it sounds that way. As thrilling as it is to walk out in an arena full of fans, at least we can walk out to the cage knowing everyone can watch safely in their own homes without running the risk of catching something.

Is there a fighter past or present that had an impact on your career?

Absolutely! As far as fighters I don’t personally know, I have always looked up to Frankie Edgar. Being from NJ, being a smaller guy, watching Frankie win a world title as a tough, small guy from NJ was really relatable and inspiring, especially because he’s a family man and regular guy. Personally, my coach (and Bellator MW #1 Contender) John Salter has had a huge impact on me and my career. I moved to Wilmington to train full-time with him in 2018, and can fully say that I would not be in the UFC if I hadn't met John. I had never been around a fighter who made a full-time career out of MMA successfully before meeting him, and have been able to go to him for help on so many things throughout all of this.

How did you get involved with Gym O?

So, for years, I had been hearing about Jeff Jimmo. Then GymO opened and I saw him coaching in the back room at a fight I cornered at years ago. Then, in 2018, we shared a locker room when I was fighting. We got talking a little bit and introduced ourselves and I had mentioned that I was hoping to get in some cross training. I lost that night, but a few weeks later, he reached out to give me his info if I wanted to get some training in. A few months later, we began making regular trips and now Uncle Jeff has been my head coach for two full camps. They have been the best fight camps of my career. Every week, we go for a few days and work with him and all of the awesome crew up there. It is truly an honor to be on such a talented and gritty team. He truly is the best kept secret in MMA, a true genius, and a great man.

Who are you looking forward to fighting next?

I honestly have no one in particular in mind to fight, a boring answer, I know! But the 155 division is so crowded with guys. Where I’m at, I’d have no shot of getting anyone I wanted in particular, but I can tell you I am absolutely dying to fight again. I have been working so hard since the last fight to get better and really just can’t wait to show it. While I need to be smart (and thanks to my coaches and management, I will be), I truly feel confident in saying I want to fight anybody they offer. I believe, especially during this time with all these setbacks, I can really show how consistent and disciplined I am all year when fight time comes.

Assuming the fight between Ferguson and Khabib happens eventually, who do you think will win? Also, who is your pick for tonight’s main event between Ferguson and Gaethje?

If Khabib-Ferguson happens (I hope to see it!), I have to pick Khabib. He hasn't really shown any real holes in his game and it’s amazing how dominant he has been. But I really think Gaethje has a great shot at beating Ferguson tonight, in which case I am really intrigued by Gaethje/Khabib. I think that is the matchup that could possibly give Khabib the most trouble.

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