FiveOuncesOfPain.com broke the news several weeks ago that top East Coast prospect and former IFL middleweight Mike Massenzio had signed a four fight contract with the UFC and that he’s set to debut against Drew McFedries at UFC Fight Night 15 on Sept. 17.
Massenzio’s bout is currently slated to make the Spike TV portion of the card, which will be telecast as a lead-in for the eighth season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” It’s somewhat ironic that he’ll be debuting during a TUF premiere night considering he was recruited to be a part of the cast for TUF 7. But the UFC wasn’t alone in their desire for Massenzio. He has been on the radar of talent evaluators for several national organizations after amassing a 10-1 record in MMA following a standout wrestling career in Junior College.
Last spring, Massenzio made the decision to leave the regional ranks. However, some industry insiders were surprised upon hearing that Massenzio had chosen to go with the International Fight League. With the IFL having ceased operations, Massenzio was given a second opportunity to join the UFC’s middleweight division.
Massenzio recently granted FiveOuncesOfPain.com an interview where he discussed the reasoning behind turning down the TUF 7 invite and eventually signing with the IFL. During our exclusive interview, he not only spoke about his career moves but also talked about how competing for the UFC will be the realization of a dream; fighters he looked up to while being a fan; what he has planned for McFedries; whether he’s ready for a shot at Anderson Silva; and much more.
Sam Caplan: I first wanted to congratulate you on signing a four-fight contract with the UFC. It’s a tremendous honor.
Mike Massenzio: Definitely. It’s a great feeling. I’ve been waiting my whole life. This is a lot of peoples’ dreams.
Sam Caplan: With the UFC having been a dream of yours are there any fighters you’ve enjoyed watching or have looked up to while watching in recent years?
Mike Massenzio: I love GSP. I love St. Pierre. That’s a style that I like: constant pressure. And just mixing it up and not just doing one thing and being able to go from one thing to the next. You can never know what he’s going to do next so I’ve enjoyed watching him. And Wanderlei Silva is my all-time favorite.
Sam Caplan: After having spoken with sources in the past, I know this wasn’t the first time that the UFC has come after you. Is it true that you were invited to be a participant on the seventh season of “The Ultimate Fighter?”
Mike Massenzio: Yes, it’s true.
Sam Caplan: What was behind your decision for not going on the show:
Mike Massenzio: At the time I had just fought three fights in a row in September, October, and November. I just needed a little time to rest and relax. I was doing my thing and doing well and I felt I needed to take some time off and rest before getting ready to go.
Sam Caplan: Around that same time I had heard from a source that EliteXC tried to get you to sign and had plans for you to debut on the 1/25 ShoXC show. Is that true as well?
Mike Massenzio: There’s some truth to that. My manager is Gary Marino (of GVM Sports Management) and we were keeping in touch. He handles all of that stuff. But yes, that was a scenario that was run by me at that time.
Sam Caplan: So you had all of these promotions coming after you and around that time you made the decision to sign with the IFL. What was behind the decision to go with the IFL as opposed to other promotions that had approached you?
Mike Massenzio: The IFL was a good step up. It was a big step up from what I was doing. I would have love to have been on (TUF 7) but there were just a couple of other things I was trying to take care of. I had to take care of a couple of injuries here and there and like I said, I really wanted to get some rest after having fought three times in a row. But I have a good bunch of people around me and they had advised me that the IFL was a step in the right direction.
Sam Caplan: When the IFL canceled its August show and basically suspended operations, did you receive an immediate release from your contract?
Mike Massenzio: I’m not really too sure. Gary handles all of that. He takes care of all the inside work.
Sam Caplan: I spoke to Gary right after you had signed with the UFC and he made the point that it is rare for the UFC to sign a fighter coming off a loss. You had lost to Danillo Villefort during the IFL’s show in May. Were you surprised when you got the call from the UFC?
Mike Massenzio: It caught me a little off guard. They usually don’t want to take a guy coming off a loss. I lost to Danillo but he’s a great athlete and he’s super-tough. It was a bad fight to make a judgment on me. At the time, I was a little disappointed but I was ready to go at all times. I feel like I belong in the UFC and I’m excited to be a part of it. It’s the best organization in the world and I’m taking this as a second chance.
Sam Caplan: You’re one of the top prospects coming out of the East Coast. It just seems like a lot of fight prospects in California and the Midwest are always getting opportunities. Do you feel East Coast fighters are getting the same kind of love from the major national promotions?
Mike Massenzio: I see it coming a little bit more and more. A lot of the best schools, training camps, and facilities are out West in Vegas and California, so they’re probably going to get a look first. But there are a lot of tough East Coast guys coming up and I feel I am one of them. I’m just excited to be on a show where I can demonstrate what I can do on an elite stage.
Sam Caplan: You were a standout wrestler at Bergen County Junior College. What made you decide to get in MMA?
Mike Massenzio: My whole life I’ve been an athlete. I’ve been wrestling since I was five years old. My ultimate dream in the wrestling world was to go Division I but I never really got a chance to get to that level (because) coming out of high school I was academically ineligible, which forced me to have to go to Junior College. And coming out of JUCO I actually was signed by Rider University to a full scholarship. Right after coming out of Bergen, I was just burnt out coming from the whole wrestling world and I had always wanted to do MMA. I had to make a decision about what I wanted to do; times were real rough (as) I had been living on my own since I was 18-years old. I had to pay bills and MMA was brand new to me. It was exciting during a time when I was burnt out so I made the switch.
Sam Caplan: When you fought for the IFL, you fought a jiu-jitsu black belt in Danillo Villefort. You’ll be making your UFC debut against a puncher in Drew McFedries. As a wrestler, do you have a preference of going against a grappler or a puncher?
Mike Massenzio: Honestly, I feel that I am very well-rounded in every aspect: my jiu-jitsu, my standup, and obviously my wrestling is on top of its game, I feel. I’ll fight anybody. If it’s a striker, a wrestler, a jiu-jitsu guy, I approach every fight the same way; I want to have the same intensity. I’ll go over films and devise strategic moves to counter their best areas. But for the most part I just approach every fight with the right mindset and do what I’ve got to do out there.
Sam Caplan: McFedries is a tough opponent. He certainly won’t be an easy debut. Have you started watching film in order to scout him and prepare for the fight?
Mike Massenzio: Without a doubt. As soon as I had heard I had the fight with him we started going over what we felt his weaknesses and his strengths were. We just have been trying to pick his game a part so that I can put a gameplan together and figure out how I am going to approach the fight.
Sam Caplan: I know you can’t talk about your gameplan too much, but I wanted to know if there is one area you’ve seen in his game that you feel you can exploit?
Mike Massenzio: My whole thing is whoever I fight, I want to be aggressive. From the opening bell to the final bell, I want to apply constant pressure. I want to give it everything I’ve got, no matter what. He’s a great fighter and this is a great fight. It’s an honor being able to fight a guy like this. But I feel I am at his level and I’m at all of these guys’ level and this is just a great fight because I can prove what I can do. Like I said, I’m just going to pressure the whole time and go out there and give it everything I’ve got.
Sam Caplan: Ideally where would you like to be in the UFC a year from now?
Mike Massenzio: A year from now I hope I’ve won all of my fights. I hope I am undefeated in the UFC. I can’t really predict what’s going to happen in the future; all I know is that I have to worry about what’s going on today. Before I can look ahead, I need to get past Drew McFedries first but I would love to win all of my fights within a year and then see what’s going on then.
Sam Caplan: I assume fighting for the middleweight title is a goal of yours. How soon do you think you’d be ready for Anderson Silva?
Mike Massenzio: My dream is to be a world champion in the UFC but I’m just taking one step at a time. Drew McFedries is just the first guy in my way. It’s hard to say but I hope that within a year or two that I’m in title contention.