Rich Cantolina was 17 going on 18-years old when he first heard of mixed martial arts. The Ambridge native (a city 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh), started out wrestling at the Ambridge Area High School alongside current UFC competitor Chris Dempsey.
Eight years later, Cantolina is going into his 18th amateur fight, balancing a full time job as a Safety Engineer at a steel plant in his hometown.
George Portoulas from My MMA News had the opportunity to catch up with Rich Cantolina to discuss his development in the world of MMA, and his upcoming featherweight title fight against a very familiar opponent.
Cantolina will face Ethan Goss on November 1st in Altoona, Pa. The first fight was one of the best amateur bouts of the year (see the video embedded in the interview), after the war, a friendship was developed between the two, and now they want to battle it out again for the fans.
MY MMA NEWS: Rich, how did you start in mixed martial arts?
Rich Cantoina: “My wrestling coach recommended trying out this mixed martial arts gym that had just opened up, World Class MMA. I didn’t know that much about the sport yet. The Ultimate Fighter show was just starting and when I joined I started working out alongside Adam Milstead (current fighter and coach of Fight Club Pittsburgh). I did not even know how to throw a proper jab when I started.
MMN: How many years experience is that now?
RC: “I am going on eight years, experience in the sport.”
MMN: Any role models that you have in the sport, do you try to emulate your fighting style off of anyone in particular?
RC: “Not really, I pretty much create my own style. I want to be as exciting as possible and entertain the fans. One person I look up to and have respect for is Cody Garbrandt. He is an amazing person inside and outside of the cage. He was helping Maddux (a young child diagnosed with cancer) to stay strong during his battle with cancer, and Maddux looks up to Cody man. Maddux just had his last treatment on chemo and you gotta respect a guy like Cody being so supportive.”
MMN: That is amazing, and it is always great to have athletes to serve as great role models like this for any sport. Thanks again for the small introduction for our readers. You haven’t fought in eight months, how do you feel that will affect you?
RC: “I took some time off to reevaluate what I need to improve on. I feel the time off helped me to become more mentally focused and prepared. I am feeling more confident. I would sporadically work out, but I took more time to be with my family and my girlfriend. I also went back to school for my degree and work full time so I have a pretty busy schedule.
MMN: That is great! What did you go to school for and what are you doing?
RC: “I earned my degree in Safety and Environmental Engineering, and I work for a steel plant in Ambridge. It is a great job and I need to have a source of income, I would like to turn pro in MMA soon, but I want to have something I could rely on aside from MMA.”
MMN: Very smart move to always have a backup plan man. This sport can be hard to rely on with paying the bills without another source of income. You are fighting at CDMMA 10 against a familiar opponent, Ethan Goss. The first fight was a war, and you came out with a split decision, did you agree with the close call?
RC: (laughs) “Yea that was an awesome fight. Ethan is a tough kid and I made a good friend after the fight. I thought I had the fight in a unanimous victory, so when the announcer said we were going to a split decision I was like “what”?! It was very nerve racking with the suspense.”
MMN: I can imagine man, waiting for that third judge’s final verdict. That fight was two years ago, how have you evolved since then?
RC: “I am a lot more confident and my skills have progressed. I feel mentally better and clear head. I went all out against Jerrell Hodge, the best fighter in his division at the time. That was my last I had, and I lost by decision, I had no shame as I went toe-to-toe against the best and it boosted my confidence. Ethan is a lot like me, we love the same things outside of fighting, like hunting, and he is very strong mentally as well and his confidence is is high in his abilities as well.”
MMN: This fight is for the featherweight belt. I thought you fought at bantamweight, is this a recent move up?
RC: “A lot of people actually get confused with that. I started out bantamweight and then moved up to featherweight. When I go professional I would like to fight at bantamweight.”
MMN: You are going into your 18th amateur fight, when can we see you going pro?
RC: “Soon. My career in amateur MMA is nearing its end. A lot of people asked why I stayed in the amateur ranks. I look at professional MMA like any other pro sport, it is your life. I had too much going on with college and my job. I would like to make it into a career, I just did not want to rush into it. I know many people who rushed into it and end up going 0-2 and then nobody calls them back. I know when I will be ready.”
MMN: Are you happy with the rules in amateur MMA, or are there any you would like to see changed?
RC: “I like the rules, they are ok. I hate the shin pads man, that is one thing I would change. I like Ohio’s amateur rules better. There are no kicks, knees, or elbows to the head. I also don’t care for the last minute changes with opponents.”
MMN: Did that happen alot?
RC: “Oh yea man. Especially during when fighters are 0-0 or 1-0, there is no promise and they drop out quick. I don’t have to worry about that when it is a title fight because you know that your opponent is worthy and will not back down. Another reason I greatly respect Ethan man, he will come to fight and won’t back out.”
MMN: You started out at World Class MMA in Ambridge, and are now in Fight Club Pittsburgh with Adam Milstead. How has the change affected your game?
RC: “Actually, I just switched over to a new gym. I now train with Top Tier Gym. I am thankful for everything Fight Club Pittsburgh did for me and I learned a lot, no hard feelings. I have known Josh Erdner (head trainer) for a very long time and wanted a new scenery. We had a mutual friend Garrett who died, it was a tough time and it brought (Erdner) and I to a closer bond.”
MMN: I am sorry to hear about the loss of your friend.
RC: “Thanks. I have now been training with Josh (Erdner) for the last month and a half.”
MMN: Let’s go back to your match against Ethan. Where do you feel confident that you hold an advantage?
RC: “I feel that I am the better striker and I have the better chin. He hit me with his best shots and it didn’t phase me. Ethan has the advantage on the ground. I am not sure his chin will be ready for my striking, I am confident that I may have the best boxing in my weight class.”
MMN: How do you see this rematch going?
RC: “I see myself going out with a bang and sky rocket into the pro rankings with a huge knock out. I am going to knock him out. I can stand and bang with anybody. He is not ready for my punches. Again, I have the utmost respect for than and I consider him a friend, but when we are in the cage for those nine minutes it will be a war and I will win with a knockout.”
MMN: Alright Rich thanks again, before I let you go, please tell our fans where we could follow you in social media.
RC: “Sure thing, on Twitter TheBabyFaceBull Instagram Rich.Cantolina and Facebook Rich Cantolina“
MMN: Thanks Rich and good luck!
FEATHERWEIGHT TITLE FIGHT: Rich Cantolina vs. Ethan Goss II – CD MMA 10 November 1, 2014 at the Jaffa Shrine in Altoona, PA