The Nicest Guy in MMA Out to Prove He’s A Title Contender
I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing Joe Solecki perform twice an amateur mixed martial artist, but never spoke with or interviewed him until today. The 23-year old New Jersey native is either putting on an act and should win some sort of performance award OR he genuinely is the nice guy competing in the sport of MMA.
The enthusiasm he put forth while talking to him leads me to believe it is the latter.
The undefeated lightweight fighter will take on Cesar Balmaceda at CFFC 65 on May 20 at the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Solecki currently trains at Fitness Edge MMA under Derrick Kennington, a Jiu-Jitsu black belt under Kurt Pellegrino.
Solecki moved down to South Carolina from the Garden State roughly four years ago. I asked him why he continued to make the trek north to compete when he can easily take a fight closer to where he is currently living and training on a daily basis.
“You know that’s a really good question that nobody has asked me before. I moved down here and I wasn’t fighting at the time, I was just competing in Jiu-Jitsu a lot up there because that’s where a lot of the bigger tournaments were,” Solecki said.
“I fought amateur down here, and then once in Pennsylvania. But when I wanted to go pro, they weren’t actually counting one of my fights as sanctioned, cause I fought in New York (one of the fights I saw him compete at). They weren’t counting as a sixth fight and down here you need six fights to go pro. My coaches were saying I should go pro, and I wanted to go pro. We were looking at Virginia and then I saw CFFC had a show and I was like ‘Man, I’m from there.’ My coach fought there a bunch. He’s from there. He fought in CFFC and also in Bellator in Atlantic City. He talked with Arias (Garcia, matchmaker for CFFC), and they knew I could see tickets because I was from up there. I actually got an offer to fight a fight in Virginia but I turned it down because I had a feeling CFFC was going to work out. It started there, I sold tickets. I won, and they offered me more fights and it’s been going ever since.”
In eight fights, 3-0 as a pro, 5-0 as an amateur, you have never gone to a decision. You have finished every single fight. Is there something that you tell yourself or forces you to finish each fight and keep it out of the hands of the judges, or is it just happening for you?
“I think it’s just happening. It happened a lot in Jiu-Jitsu for me too. I keep a spreadsheet of all my matches ever, and if you look at it most of them were not by points. I think I’m kind of a fast starter. I credit it to two things. One, I think I have my warmup down real good. But also, I used to lose a lot as a teenager. I mean a lot. I didn’t win at anything. People think I’m exaggerating or kidding. I didn’t win one tournament in Jiu-Jitsu from age 6 to 16 years old. I think people are very hesitant, they take their time because they are afraid to lose. Most people think they don’t like losing. I know it. I’m really familiar with losing. I lost tons of matches. For me, the worst has already happened. I’ve been there, I’ve done that, I lost a ton. I really don’t have that fear of failure when I go out there so I think I just kind of go out there and get after it right away instead of trying to worry about this or that or trying to feel my opponent out. I think it really is losing so much in the past that allows me to go out there and just get after it.”
I’ve seen you compete against Codie Payne for Aggressive Combat Championships in New York, also at X Fights 1 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. No disrespect to the other competitors but it was apparent even then during those amateur bouts that you were light years ahead of your opponents. Is there anything you can attribute your early success to?
“I appreciate that. Everybody’s been super tough. Even that Codie Payne fight, I had no standup back then, hardly any. So that was something that me concerned, very worried. I put it this way, I think I train very hard. But then again, you put me next to someone who is legendary for their work ethic, I don’t know where I stack up, but I like to think that I am right there with them. That, and I started Jiu-Jitsu when I was six. My old coach back home, John Hassett, he would put me in situations where he would throw MMA gloves on me and whether I was competing against someone who was amateur or it was MMA or what, I was a kid in an adult class. He was always like, ‘Joe, no matter what, don’t get hit, take him down. I didn’t know how to box. I didn’t know any striking. I only knew Jiu-Jitsu so I’m really comfortable with that situation, and then you add in the coaching I have now. I feel like my whole life has been around combat sports. I have always watched fights, always studied fights. I’ve always trained, always been around it, and I think I just really developed what I call a ‘Fight IQ.’ I feel like I have it, and I developed a good one. Some guys might be better on the ground but I think that way I put things together, I’ll always be able to find a way. Just years of being around it, watching it, studying it, and just enjoying it. It’s what I think about all day.”
This is your fourth pro fight since turning pro in October. The quick turnarounds do not seem to be affecting you but do you have any plans to slow down a bit or are you just really enjoying the ride?
“I understand both. This time I’ve had a little bit longer of a camp. I’ve had a little longer between fights rather, but I don’t take any time off. I get right back in camp. I just get right back at it. This time I had about three months which is nice. This is really what I love to do so whether I have a fight or not, I’m going to be training two or three times a day. I’m going to be doing my conditioning. The way I see it, I know where I want to go, so I might as well just keep fighting. I love to compete, and I love to perform, and I really do love testing myself so if I want to get there, I don’t want to hold off any longer. I want to keep going, stack off as many as I can and then get where I want to go soon. I know I’m not old by any means, but at the same time I don’t have a ton of time in this sport, nobody does, so I know what my goal is, and I just want to chase it down as hard and fast and steady as possible.”
Going into this fight with Cesar are you watching a lot of film on him or are you just training and treating this like another fight?
“A little bit of both. No matter who the opponent is, we always watch what we can on them. Maybe at the beginning of camp and then again at the end as a refresher, but for where I’m at and still starting out as a pro it really is about focusing on me and getting better, and what I’m gonna do. Focusing on myself and becoming the most well-rounded person I can because like it or not, tomorrow he can back out, or get hurt, or opponent can change. Anything can happen and I don’t want to prepare for one guy. I know that he is very tough. I’ve watched his fights. We actually fought on the same card, during my debut. He was there. He’s definitely tough. He’s got a ton of heart, a ton of courage. He fights really hard. It should be really good, but I’m focusing on myself for this one. I wanted to focus on things that I wanted to get better at, things that I am good at, my own game plan. But yeah, we know the 411 on him, and I’m definitely respecting him going into this, for sure.”
Not you are looking back Cesar but you are on a win-streak, you are selling tickets for CFFC. Are there any talks of a title shot or anything like that in the near future?
“Yeah you know, fight night promises are the worst ever because everyone is hyped up and nobody has had a chance to calm down yet or anything, but they did mention that this fight is likely to be a title eliminator so after this it could be a title shot. I’m not one of those guys thought that gets caught up. I know that if somebody from the UFC gets cut and comes down to CFFC, he’s going to be the first one to get a title shot. And I’m fine with that. I’m really just focusing on Cesar. There’s been talk about it. I really want it, but if I can get this job done, if I make a pretty strong statement, then yeah I want to prove that I can compete with a champion, whether it be Mike Pope or somebody else. But I’m not banking on anything cause you never know. Yeah they said it, but that was on fight night, so I don’t know. I know we can’t control it but I can control my training, my workout, and my performance, and that’s really the only thing I can do.”
Typical day in the life of Joe Solecki
“I work at a Chiropractor’s Office. It’s called the Myrtle Beach Spine Center. I started there as a patient for fighting. I ended up getting hired. I work there part time. I’m either up and I go to work and I do my strength and conditioning on my own, or two times a week, a training partner and I will get up and do strength and conditioning at 7 a.m., and then I go to work all day. At night I’ll train for another three or four hours. For anybody that’s an entrepreneur or an aspiring athlete, there’s not a whole lot of sleep going on. There’s just that trust that it’s going to be worth it. What’s nice is twice a week, I’m off so I get to train all day. That’s when we’ll do sparring in the morning. My employers are awesome. They are really cool. They are really supportive. They let me go train. They’ve been to all my pro fights. I’m in a really good situation there. It never hinders my fighting. It works out really well.”
Support of Family
“Sponsor wise, I have so many. Than you to everyone who has ever supported me. Everyone who buys the shirts, comments on Facebook. All that stuff really does add up. We really do see it all. I know I do. It means a lot cause this is a tough business to be in. It’s a tough way to make a living. It’s a very uncertain journey so when I do see someone support it really does mean a lot. All my teammates at Fitness Edge MMA. Everyone pretty much is fighting on May 6 except for me. I’m really excited for them and can’t thank them enough for all the training. My coach Derrick Kennington, my boxing coach, Chris Goude, and my strength and conditioning coach Keith Hare. They are all super dedicated to us. I swear my boxing coach, I could hit him up at 2 a.m. and he would come hold mitts. They are dedicated and do believe in and trust the process. To get that support from someone is pretty unreal. And then I just want to thank my fiancé . She’s the only one who sees it all. She comes to a lot of the training sessions and then at home, she sees the home life, not being able to get out of bed, the injuries, the weight cut, being grump, all that. Then, you know, not being able to give her the life that probably most people can. When you meet someone in their 20’s they have a job, they have a degree. They can take you to dinner a lot, go on a cruise, go on a vacation. Not only have I sacrificed a lot but she sacrificed a lot by giving those things up for me. For her to put a lot of her life on hold for me to pursue my dream is very cool. I have a lot of good people around me.”