Ryan Cafaro is at a crossroad.
The featherweight is balancing life as a professional fighter and a coach. Coaching and fighting have gone hand-and-hand since Cafaro began his amateur career in 2009.
Cafaro is 7-5 after most recently losing by rear-naked choke in a three-round title fight with Tim Dooling at Ring of Combat 70, Nov. 21, 2019. A part owner at TKO Fitness in Cherry Hills, Cafaro’s coaching career is taking off.
He’s cornered over 100 fights, including for UFC fighters Marlon Moraes, Frankie Edgar, Claudia Gadelha and Sijara Eubanks.
“I feel like I can coach forever, but I can’t do that for fighting. If there is something I should be focusing more on right now, it would be fighting,” Cafaro said. “I think due to my experience, I’ve never had a situation where I was unable to give the advice needed at the speed needed for coaching. I feel gifted in that sense.”
The fight game
The 30-year-old is still young in his coaching career, but is making one final run as a professional mixed martial artist.
Like anything, there’s positives and negatives which Cafaro weighs in on when looking at his future. Coaching offered him insight on the importance of strategy and conducting game plans.
On the other side, cornering is taking time away from his own career inside the cage. Cafaro confessed that sometimes he mimics his fighters’ opponents too well. He puts so much time into learning to be a copycat, he forgets to train like himself.
The Philadelphia-based fighter sees coaching more long term, but prefers making the walk to the cage as a fighter.
“Coaching is way more nerve wrecking, I rather fight because you can’t control it,” Cafaro said. “Once I’m done fighting, I’ll probably be transitioning to coaching full time.”
From the corner
Cafaro already cherishes certain moments from coaching, including his time as an assistant coach on season 26 of The Ultimate Fighter.
He worked closely with Eubanks of Team Edgar ahead of her quarterfinal bout with teammate DeAnna Bennett. After working specifically on a head kick for a week, Eubanks earned her only knockout of her career with, wait for it, a first-round head kick.
Another moment came more recently in Gadelha’s unanimous decision against Randa Markos at UFC 239 on July 6, 2019. While studying film, Cafaro noticed Markos’ tendency to leave her head open after taking a leg kick.
Gadelha landed a low kick and followed up with a head kick in the opening round. It never led to a knockout, but is still a proud moment for Cafro.
“I would say some of the more rewarding aspects of it are when your fighter trusts you and they execute what you’ve guys have been practicing the entire camp,” Cafaro said. “It’s definitely been an eye opening experience in terms of realizing some people will freeze at that level in terms of what you’re supposed to tell people.”
The right fit
Cafaro is making one more run in his own fighting career. It already started with multiple trips to different camps around the country, trying to see who he meshes with.
He traveled with Cody Garbrandt at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. He’s also made a few trips to train with Duke Roufus at Roufusport MMA in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Another option is joining Marlon Moraes at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida.
The search for new scenery comes after going 1-3 in his last four fights. His lone victory includes a second-round guillotine over Michael Lawrence at Cage Fury Fighting Championships 74 on May 17, 2019.
He’s got a knack for finishing fights with six of his seven victories coming by either submission or technical knockout. Dooling is the only one to finish Ryan Cafaro in his seven years as a professional.
He is making sure to evaluate all of his options going forward.
“I’ve just been looking for the right fit to where I’m actually being focused on as a fighter, not just a body or an extra person there,” Cafaro said.
“There’s obviously benefits to every camp you go to,” he added. “The benefits might not even be just the training, it might be the ability to have cheap housing or assistance and things like that.”
Having more to give
There’s not an exact timetable for when Cafaro plans to resume his professional MMA career. He is currently waiting out the COVID-19 pandemic, where he is unable to fill his role as a trainer at LA Fitness and UFC Gym branches.
He is scheduled to compete in a professional kickboxing bout with Triton Fights on June 28. Cafaro is not sure the fight will come to fruition with the uncertainty of the coronavirus.
One thing four sure is he plans to pick up both in the near future. Whether he is in the corner or inside the cage, Ryan Cafaro is all in.
“I got plenty of mileage left in the gas tank despite being a lot older for the lighter weight classes,” Cafaro said. “The more I travel, the more I really realize I do really have a gift for coaching and gift for teaching the technical aspects of striking, in relation to MMA.”