As a sixth grader, Paul Capaldo recalls watching a tape of his older cousin compete as a professional fighter.
It’s where Capaldo first imagined having a MMA career of his own.
His cousin Ed fought only once, dating back to 2009, but now supports Capaldo’s own career 11 years later. There’s a lot to look out for as the Cage Fury Fighting Championships [CFFC] bantamweight remains unbeaten at 4-0.
The roles are reversed as Capaldo is building his own name inside the cage.
“I went to his house and saw his fight. He showed me it and right from there, I was like, ‘I want to start fighting,’” Capaldo said.
“I watched his fight and the one thing I said to myself was, ‘I know I can do that and do it better than Ed,” Capaldo said. “I just worked hard every day and always thought about that. Now, he always watches me fight and tells me how proud he is. I looked up to him when I was younger, so impressing him is everything.”
Cut from the same cloth
Capaldo’s competitive nature brought him to this point of his career. It’s the same reason he picked up wrestling and boxing before ever stepping into a cage.
Being a mixed martial arts champion was and is still the goal for the 23-year-old.
Capaldo wrestled four years for Middletown North High School and qualified for the NJSIAA State Wrestling Championships as a senior in 2015. The former Lion is not the first Shore Conference wrestler to transition from the mat to the cage.
His coach Nick Catone and teammate Frankie Edgar also made the jump. Many of Capaldo’s friends are from the same conference, including Bellator’s Ricky Bandejas, BJ Young and Richie Lewis.
After graduating, Capaldo competed as an amateur boxer in the Golden Gloves and Diamond Glove tournament. Boxing is something he picked up while growing up in Brooklyn, New York. He also trained in taekwondo for some time.
Far from a one-trick pony, Capaldo exemplifies the new breed of fighter.
“What I feel like the future champions of the UFC are going to be like, everyone is going to fight southpaw, even next year or the year after, people are getting more well rounded,” Capaldo said. “You have to train mixed martial arts, it’s no longer ‘I’m a wrestler, I’m going to go in there to wrestle you.’”
The results show
Capaldo experienced a lot of different styles throughout his first four bouts. He earned a highlight head-kick finish in his professional debut, finishing Bobby Malcolm in the second round at CFFC 71 on Dec. 14, 2018.
Capaldo then outwrestled a seasoned-wrestler in Tyler Mathison by unanimous decision at CFFC 72 on Feb. 16, 2019. Mathison carries extensive credentials as a Nebraska state champion in high school, as well as a former collegiate wrestler.
With two fights to his name, Capaldo defeated a 16-fight veteran in Lashawn Alcocks at CFFC 77 on Aug. 16, 2019. He most recently finished Mark Trader via doctor stoppage in the third round at CFFC 79 on Nov. 11.
Capaldo showed some flash by throwing a “Showtime kick” in the second round, the same kick made famous by UFC welterweight Anthony Pettis.
“I’m tough, I’m well rounded, you’re not going to take me down and on your feet, you’re not going to out strike me,” Capaldo said. “I’m beating strikers and seasoned guys. I feel like I mix it up well.”
Iron sharpen iron
With high aspirations in MMA, Capaldo made sure he surrounded himself with former champions. He mixes it up daily with Edgar, UFC bantamweight Cody Garbrandt and UFC light heavyweight Corey Anderson at Nick Catone MMA and Fitness in Brick, New Jersey. He is even training with CFFC Lightweight Champion Nikolas Motta during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Capaldo also served as Marlon Moraes’ main sparring partner before Moraes moved to American Top Team in 2019.
“What I do is I make sure I ask a lot of questions because these guys were once in my shoes. If Frankie gets a takedown on me, I’ll ask, ‘Hey Frankie, how did you get that takedown on me?’” Capaldo said. “I’ll see Corey on Instagram, it’s like 12 at night and he’s on the bike, ‘I’m like shit, I don’t want Corey to out work me.’ Even though we are in different weight classes, I feel like I’m crazy, but that’s how I think.”
Capaldo carries himself confidently. He occasionally struts around the cage like Conor McGregor, he even wore an identical blonde wig to the one of Khabib Nurmogomedov, in his walkout at CFFC 77.
Don’t be mistaken though, his confidence is a product of his work ethic and approach to the sport. Capaldo got into fighting because it catered to his competitive personality. He knew it the day he watched his cousin’s tape.
Capaldo came a long way since watching his cousin fight, he made sure of it.
“I definitely feel like I’m in a good position. The thing is, is I know the work I’m putting in and I know what I’m doing. I’m taking the advice of the champions around me,” Capaldo said. “If you put the hours in, why shouldn’t I be confident in saying, ‘I’m never going to lose.’”