CFFC Lightweight phenom Joe Solecki spoke with CFFC.tv about his 3-0 start to his professional MMA career, his matchup versus Cesar Balmaceda at CFFC 65, and his life outside the cage in this featured Cage Fury Q&A Session.
You’ve blown the doors off of the beginning of your pro career with three first round finishes. How have you managed to get off to such a hot start?
"Just working hard. I feel like I’ve been focused on this sport since day one and it’s just going the way I pictured. I just believe in myself, put in the work behind it, and everything is just kind of coming together for me. This is probably better than I originally pictured it going, but I think I’m just lucky, blessed, I work my tail off and things are kind of just aligning for me right now."
What was it like fighting in front of Dana White? Do you think you left a good impression, and did you get the chance to speak with him?
"It was cool, a little nerve racking for sure, but not too bad. I think everyone on the card was sort of feeling the pressure from him being there, and it definitely makes you step it up a bit. I know that back then I was 2-0 now I’m 3-0, and they’re not looking for people with that few fights, but I did get to talk to him.
I just wanted to take a picture with him and I let him know I’m gonna stay active and keep winning, and he basically said ‘Yeah that’s what you gotta do, just keep fighting’ and that’s all it takes is experience. It was a really cool moment. I know that I’m going to be there one day so I wasn’t gonna be the guy that grabs the mic at 3-0 and starts screaming for Dana White to sign me. Hopefully some day down the line he’ll see me fight again and he’ll maybe remember that he’s seen me before. It’s never a bad thing to fight in front of someone that powerful in the sport."
You live in the Myrtle beach area, but your original home was South Jersey training at Hassett BJJ, do you expect to have those roots present when you fight close by at CFFC 65?
"Absolutely. My whole family is from up there, a lot of people I grew up with and all my old teammates, so yeah I’ll have a lot of people there and a lot of people streaming the fights in Myrtle Beach too. It kind of comes from all ends. That’s another thing, I feel like when I get in there, I don’t really fight emotional, but I can feel all of their energy. All of the comments, people buying shirts, the support—I really do carry all of that in there with me.
I’m someone who looks around and I do recognize there are people there that I know watching me, but I don’t feel pressured by that. I take it all in and really enjoy it. It’s different to me because, I’ve been competing in Jujitsu for years and at tournaments no one really cares about your match. There are like 15 other matches going on at the same time, so to have everyone come out and spend their hard earned money to see you, I really do take that to heart."
With three straight 1st round wins in three straight east coast events, you have gone from relatively unknown to a fast-rising prospect many think is on the brink of a title shot. Are you of that same belief that your time has come to compete for gold following a win at CFFC 65?
"We’ve talked about it. I know my coaches were pushing for it, but I’m going to leave that up to Arias and everyone at CFFC. It sounds so cliché, but all I really care about is winning this fight I’m scheduled for now, and then whatever comes next I wanna win that. I obviously want to win the CFFC title, but like I said before, the stars are aligning for me and things are going to come together at the right time regardless. I’m just going to keep training and doing the exact same thing I’ve been doing. I wouldn’t train any different if this was a title fight. I’m already training as hard as I possibly can, I’m already focused, and I feel like I carry myself like a champion, so when the timing is right I will take advantage of it, but I’m not rushing anything.
What I’m really trying to do—and this is something that I’m bad at--is to try and just stay in the moment. I know one day I’m gonna look back and realize how cool all of this was, and how every fight was important and enjoyable. As long as I’m doing my job that title shot will come. Hopefully it’s after this fight, but if not I’m just gonna be right back in there winning in the next CFFC show. That’s what a world champion does, they keep fighting and seeking out new challenges."
Do you feel like your opponent Cesar Balmaceda is going to be the guy to finally challenge you inside the CFFC cage? What are your thoughts on him?
"My other opponents have all challenged me in different ways. There’s always a lot going on inside the cage. There are little movements that some folks may not be able to see. I think he's a really tough opponent. I think he’s primarily a grappler so that’s pretty interesting. I just think it’s going to be a great fight. I have a lot of respect for Cesar, I’ve seen him fight and I know he’s a tough kid. I always go into every fight with the mindset that I may as well be fighting Jose Aldo. In my mind that’s the kind of talent I need to be ready for and I’m just gonna go out there and prove that I am."
Do you almost wish you have been tested more? Do you ever think like maybe you're finishing fights so fast that some people may see it as more of a knock on your opponents skills rather than a testament to yours?
"I always say I want it to be a dog fight. My coaches sometimes steer me away from that, but I’m pretty stubborn. That’s actually more my style. I don’t think people really realize that's kind of how I train, but the less I need to show the better honestly. When you can get in and get out while still getting closer to your goals that’s a blessing. I’ll take the win however it comes, but I’m also willing to work as hard as I need to, to get it done. It’s happened that way so far, but I may not be helping my image by getting the finishes so quickly. I think I’m starting to get this reputation of this finesse jujitsu guy who can’t take a shot, or can’t take an exchange, but I just haven’t had to show that. That time is gonna come soon just like everything else and when that time comes I’m gonna be ready for it.
I’ve been tested in every fight whether it was being in front of Dana White, fighting guys with different skill sets, being on the main card or whatever the case. I think that moment will arrive one day and it’s gonna take someone really tough, maybe even in this fight. I go into every fight training for five 5-minute rounds even though I’m only scheduled for three. I expect to fight a hard 15 minutes, not to get out in under two. If I was, I would be underestimating things and that’s when you aren’t ready and you get caught, so I’m prepared for a knock down drag out war every single time. So we’ll see what happens, maybe if I do get to show off my striking people will change their views a little bit, but you can’t worry about what other people think. The people that know me, that come to the gym during my sparring sessions have seen my work. But hopefully I can show the fans in Philly. It will be a pleasant surprise for everyone and I can get the W."
Do you think we’ll get to see that Solecki striking game in this one? I know I how much you work on it, and thus far it has eluded fans eyes.
"Every single fight I go in with a game plan. I take into account what I’m strong at, what my opponent’s strengths are and positions that are going to be advantageous. Going back to my jujitsu tournament days as a kid, I never really planned my first move or anything like that. I think that’s how you start forcing things. I’m just looking for openings whether it’s on the feet, on the mat, with takedowns, whatever. If the takedown is there I’m gonna get it, if there’s a punch that I can land, I’m going for that too. You look at guys like Cody Garbrandt, and even Conor McGregor, those guys weren’t fighting in five round wars all of the time coming up in other promotions, but now we’ve gotten to see them go the full 25 minutes and perform at the highest level and I think people start to respect you more. So, when my time comes to show fans my gas tank, my heart, and my work ethic, I’ll be able to show them that I’m ‘Jersey Tough.'
The good thing is even after my most recent fight, I only have like 8 minutes of fight footage to look through. You an watch every single fight I’ve had and know nothing about me which really works to my advantage. Even the grappling moves I’ve used—those aren’t my go-to moves, that’s just how things played out. That’s not really how I roll in class, so I know I keep saying this, but things are gonna show when the time is right."
Talk to me about your home life. Correct me if I’m wrong, but judging by your Instagram much of it has to do with your two dogs and your finance, yes?
"Yes I have two troublemakers (laughs). My fiancé Kacey and I adopted our first dog a year ago. I named him Mick after Rocky’s trainer because he’s like a beat up old man. It was love at first sight with him when I saw he has a bad cauliflower ear just like me. And then we found another stray and I named her Gracie after jujitsu, so between the two of them they’re a handful.
At just 23 years old, you are someone that is definitely more mature and wise than your age suggests. Where does that come from?
"Man, when I was 9 years old I changed BJJ schools and at Hassett BJJ they don’t have kids jujitsu classes. So, that meant me getting thrown into the adult classes, and every day after school I found myself on a mat with people who were all like 30-plus. I think I just kind of inherited that early on. That and I’ve just always been around good people that set examples for me like my coaches and family. I’ve always had the thought process that If something isn’t going to help me reach my goals than it’s not worth the time to me.
Since I first saw Rocky when was 6 years old I’ve known that I wanted to be that and nothing was going to get in my way. You look at a lot of historic sports figures and not all of them are good people. They might be a great football player but then you read about them getting caught with a gun at a strip club or something. You see Rocky and he’s like the perfect person. He has money, but he’s not terrible, he’s with the same woman the whole time, he’s good to his kids, good to his dogs, and even though he’s a fictional character I’ve always shot for that. If I strive to be that kind of person, even if I come up a little bit short I’m still going to come out a good person who is focused and on the mature side. I’m just living my little movie over here ya know?"
Despite how busy MMA keeps you, you still do work a day job right? Can you tell me a little about that?
"I work at the Myrtle Beach Spine Center. My bosses are chiropractors and I actually met them as a patient. I had injured my back training for one of my first amateur fights and their kids were students of mine. I had no idea what they did and one day they came to pick up the kids and they were like ‘Oh if you’re injured come on down and we’ll fix you up.’ They got me better and after that I had a really bad string of luck for awhile. I had a couple fights fall through, I wasn’t getting paid to fight as an Ammy obviously and I lost the job that I had. It was just the worst downward spiral that I’ve had. One day they messaged me and were like ‘Do you know anyone who might be interested in working around the office?’ And I was like ‘Yeah me.’ That was like a year and a half ago and I’ve been working there since. It really is the perfect situation for me, they are just great people. They’ve come to every single one of my fights, they sponsor me, and I couldn’t have fallen into a better situation. It’s almost like the law of attraction good people find you and come into your life to help you out for nothing in return it’s pretty cool.
I wanna get popular enough to where I can give them something in return. That’s the goal. I wanna make it big so I can just do ridiculous things for the people that support me. I wanna be able to surprise someone with a car, or like dress my dog up in three piece suits every day. Just absurd stuff to give back, and be funny."
"Everyone at Fitness Edge MMA. We’ve got like 7 guys fighting from out gym this weekend including my head coach Derek Kennington, so shoutout to those guys. I’m excited to go out and corner them. We also got two guys coming up for CFFC 65 on the under card Derek Brown, and Austin Coleman. I wanna thank my boxing coach Chris Goude, my strength and conditioning coach Keith Hare, my fiancé, my dogs, my brother Steve and Ali Elreda."