Lirim Rufati, Lenny Rufati, Adam Crist

Lirim Rufati: Checking in with “Lenny The Gorlilla”

Lirim Rufati catches up with MyMMANews

There’s no secret that the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19 is crippling companies and the economy, everywhere. Businesses are closing, and employees are being laid off at an alarming rate.

Duke Roufus fighter and Ring of Combat welterweight standout, Lirim “Lenny The Gorilla” Rufati is no exception. Before the pandemic hit globally, “Life was good,” Rufati says. “I was managing a restaurant in Milwaukee. We were doing great! People loved seeing me because they knew I fight because they can see my ears. All the UWM, University of Wisconsin kids they would come in and be like ‘Holy shit there he is, the gorilla pizza maker! (Laughs). It was awesome!” He recollects “I would train all day and then I would work at night. I had an awesome boss I met here in Milwaukee. He trains at the gym I go to and he sponsored me for my fight. He worked my schedule so that I could work with the pro fighters. Life was great! I had money saving up. I was working. I was training. I was living my dream, man! And this happened. I know a lot of people have had it worse so I’m not complaining,” Rufati says in an effort to share his personal experience, while empathizing with the less fortunate.

Coming off of a flawless secnd round TKO at Ring Of Combat 71, Rufati had hopes to make a quick turnaround. “I didn’t want to wait three whole months until the end of May to fight again because as you saw, my fight was pretty much a flawless victory.” Rufati says. “No damage taken there, (so) let me do a quick turnaround a month later, month and a half later. Let me go do Baltimore-Shogun, then I’ll do end of May in, Lord willing, as long as I was healthy, do end of May in New Jersey. But obviously all that’s been put under the rug right now,” Rufati says with a sense of despair.

“I cant wait to go back to that lifestyle! As soon as, lord willing, things get back to normal, obviously!”

Originally, Rufati admits it took some time for the severity to set in. As time progressed, and matters got more severe, Rufati says he finally reached the point of, “Holy shit. This is real! This is happening! Let’s stop complaining and lets just be grateful at this point because there’s people dying out there!” Rufati remembers. “Just wow’, I was saying.”

While experts are suggesting that people go out as minimal as possible and recommending the masses to stay indoors as much as possible. This opportunity gives the “The Gorilla” an opportunity to sit back and reminisce on what he’s been able to accomplish in a short time as, not only an athlete, but as professional martial artist. Stating, “Ive had 16 MMA fights in 3 years span with just 1 year prior of just training for it. No background. I didn’t grow up wrestling or boxing or none of that. So yeah, I’ve been very busy. I’ve always had some sort of injury. I’ve always been dieting. In a way it feels good to reflect on the past and life in general. I’m going to let some injuries heal up. I’ve gotten to make some phone calls like this with friends that I grew up with. Life has gotten in the way” Lenny says about the years of hard training in pursuit of his passion. “Training has gotten in the way, work (has gotten in the way). And now I’m just happy to say ‘hello’ again to friends I grew up with in Jersey, and New York, my cousins in New York. And even my family members in Macedonia!”

One of the realities professional fighters are currently facing is not having a facility to properly train in. Gyms are closed and everyone is practicing “social distancing” by keeping 6 feet away from each other. Which has significantly impacted their sense of routine in their athletic career. If gyms are closed, how can you train? If you’re 6 feet apart, how can you spar/roll/grapple? How can you stay in peak shape and compete when this is over? In all reality, If not just the physical aspect of training, what about the safe haven fighters have come to expect as a sense of natural therapy? So many questions go into this equation the world is facing that have left so many with minimal answers.

Following protocol to practice social distancing, Rufati says, “I’m lucky. Me and my girlfriend, we live together. She was an amateur boxing champion and now she’s transitioning into MMA. She did a Jiu Jitsu tournament…she did excellent! So basically we got some Jiu Jitsu mats here and we’ve just been rolling pretty much every day, grappling. Jiu Jitsu just light sparring on the ground, you know? I’m lucky to have her and vice versa. It’s better than nothing.” He gratefully says. “We’ll go out for long walks, we’ll try to run.” Giving others a glimpse into how to workout with minimal equipment.

While filling in the time to remain sane during this time of isolation, it seems that the Netflix hit documentary “Tiger King” has caught the eye of many fighters. As for Rufati, “It couldnt have came in at a better time right now. Times are scary so its ok to laugh a little.” he says. “Its just nuts! So much going on!” He continued. “All the memes online, you cant get away from it! It’s awesome!” As Rufati laughs. “It just boggles my mind! I don’t know how they got all of these characters in the one documentary! I did not know freaking Tiger owning was crazy like this!” As we shared a laugh.

While there are no guarantees when life will resume back to normalcy, Rufati stays hopeful for a Ring of Combat return in September. “I’d be crazy not to go back there!” Says Rufati. Laying out the rough timeline of, “I’m hoping, my plan is-welterweight, September, Atlantic City. Ring of combat.”

Staying upbeat Rufati is hoping to keep positivity flowing for anyone who will listen. The welterweight closes our interview with strong, wise words, suggesting in tough times, “Call your friends! Call family you havent talked to. FaceTime, or just on the phone-old fashioned. Like ‘Hey. How you been? Miss you! Love you!’ Theres nothing wrong with that! Because what else are we going to do?! Why not reflect a little bit on your life.” Continuing with “don’t get too down on yourself that you don’t have a job because what are we going to do? What you can do is maybe do some pushups. Sit-ups, you know some jailhouse workouts in the house. Maybe go out running, Make sure you keep your social distancing. That’s it!”

“This is a time and speak to people. Just because you’re in the house alone, doesn’t mean you have to be alone. Its ok to call people. Talking is healthy.”

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Adam Crist
Currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Wilmington University, Adam’s passion for the sport only grows stronger when a fighter’s voice can be heard. He thrives on asking detailed questions to inspire the thoughts behind the punches in hopes that each fighter can find their proper justice. Specializing in pre and post fight interviews for MyMMANews, Adam strives to keep the fight fans up to speed with the most recent and authentic MMA news possible. He is Co-promoter of Delaware’s premier kick-boxing and Muay Thai organization, IBF Promotions. Recently he has also accompanied MMA organizations Global Proving Ground and XCC as Co-host and ringside commentator.