1. Tell us a little about yourself.
I hope eventually I get to the point in life when I do not have to introduce myself but for now I am Rich Cantolina. My current record is 10-6 and I currently fight in the Featherweight division (145lbs or 66KGs for you overseas folks). My title defense fight March 29th will be my last amateur fight as I will turn pro after this fight and head to the 135 pound division and if my body permits the 125 lb division. I do currently have 2 titles. I am the Featherweight champion for both Pinnacle FC and Complete Devastation MMA.
2. How did you get started in MMA?
I got started in MMA through my high school wrestling coach, Coach Fitzpatrick. His son was a boxer and worked out at the gym nearby and he said they were starting a MMA program and that I had a little too much aggression and that it might be a good thing for me to check out. So I started out with Coach Dan Roppo at World Class MMA along with Adam Milstead. Coach Roppo was one hell of a coach and the word spread fast of the gym and team of killers he was putting together. I was at World Class for a long time. I loved the gym atmosphere, my coach, and my teammates. Coach had me fight as soon as I turned 18 which was back in 2008 at Yankee Lake Brawlroom. World Class Gym was getting bigger and bigger so we moved a few times to bigger gyms as I continued my amateur career. I was timid to leave World Class because I’m a very loyal person and Coach and I had an amazing relationship. The only reason I left is because I felt that I had reached that point in my career where I needed to become a little fish in a big pond again and Pittsburgh Fight Club was more like an ocean not a pond. It seemed that Mic and company at FCP were assembling an elite squad of killers and coaches for each discipline so I jumped on the opportunity when it came about. I left on good terms with World Class and I’m still friends with Coach Roppo and the World Class Fighters like Travis List and Jason Bailey and James Reddick. I’m very thankful for everything that Coach Roppo did for me, he literally took me from a kid who couldn’t throw a jab to a complete mixed martial artist. But FCP was my new home and I embraced the ass whopping that awaited me there every day. Over the past two years FCP has become one of the elite gyms in the country producing top notch amateur and professional fighters.
3. What gym(s) do you train at and what is it like training there?
Well I guess I answered this one already but I am training at Fight Club Pittsburgh. Like I said they have assembled the best fighters in the tri state area into one elite squad. I’ve been there for 2 years and every day of training since I started has been hell. I get murdered on a daily basis but it’s what I needed it keeps me in my place and makes me stride to get better, actually I don’t have a choice if I don’t get better I’m going to get hurt because of the talent in that room. Our fight team record speaks for itself and the biggest names are fighting out of our gym. Mark Cherico, Cody Garbrandt, Justin Steave, Khama Worthy, Anthony Durnell, Shane Chojnacki, Ryan Arreola, Jake Schilling, Matt Conahan are all names I’m sure everyone recognizes as the best of the best. It’s not only the fight team that makes FCP what it is, it’s the way everyone there leaves their egos at the door and treats every person the same way. I have never been to another gym that treats people the way everyone is treated at FCP. Mic and Melissa have made FCP into a family and I’m just thankful to be a part of it.
4. What do you feel your strengths are as a fighter? What do you feel you need to work on to be a more complete fighter?
I believe my greatest strength is my intelligence. I have a way of picking up my opponents tendencies by watching videos of them and from the first step they make in the cage I take it all in, and then BOOM I exploit them. I have the ability to slow things down and think three moves ahead but many fighters don’t do that they just go out there like an animal. I like to call it controlled aggression that I have, I think of each fight as a chess match. Obviously my reach for being 6 foot 1 inches at 145lbs is a big advantage so I use my reach to keep my opponents at bay until they make a mistake after they are frustrated. I’ve been working on my weaknesses and I think they all have improved to the point now that I have confidence no matter where the fight goes. People underestimate my wrestling ability but if you look back I did make it to WPIALs my senior year in AAA in PA which is no easy task, I just have a tendency to not use my wrestling because I like to stand and bang to give the crowd their moneys worth.
5. You have won titles for two different promotions in your last 2 fights. What is it like to have such success and to become a fighter some people are calling the best/toughest amateur Featherweight in the Pennsylvania area?
I never imagined in a million years when I walked into the gym on the first day that 6 years down the road I would hold two amateur belts in two of the best organizations in the state. I remember when Coach Roppo told me a long time ago there will come a time in your career where you just become so comfortable in there and can slow things down and that’s when you know you have turned the corner. I have finally reached that point in my career now which is why I’ve hit my stride. Many people ask why I haven’t turned pro yet and why I have so many fights well the answer hasn’t changed. I started so young that I had the luxury of waiting to turn pro where many ammy fighters have to turn pro due to their age or financial situation. I wanted to make sure I fought the best around and tested myself before making that jump. I am very humbled that many people speak so highly of me and to honest its quite surreal but I couldn’t imagine my life any other way right now. I don’t want to only be known as a great fighter I want also want to be a good ambassador of the sport. Many people hear cage fighter and automatically think that you are some convicted felon or a bar brawler. I want to change that stereotype and have people think of mma fighters as contributing members of society.
6. You are set to fight another highly rated Bantamweight, Jerrell Hodge, this Saturday at Pinnacle Fighting Championships Pittsburgh Challenge Series 6. What is your expectations for this fight and what does this fight mean to you?
This fight is the fight that could change my life forever. Jerrell is a kid who has beaten the best of the best and is out there on everyone’s radar as one of the best up and comers in the game today. I don’t like Jerrell as a person at all but I do respect what he has done in his career which is why I feel this is my ultimate test to see if I’m ready to turn pro. I’m tired of everyone skimming over my name in the best featherweights around conversation and once I beat Hodge and keep my title people will finally recognize that I am the real deal. March 29th will be a date I talk to my kids about someday. It’s the ultimate underdog story, no one gave me a chance to make it this far but I proved all those people wrong, now people are saying I don’t even belong in the same cage as Hodge and all the journalists are predicting hes going to beat me. Someday my kids will be able to tell all their friends that their dad beat up Jerrell Hodge back in 2014.
7. If you could play match-maker, who would you like to fight? Is there a fighter you would like to fight again?
Phew this is a tough question, but if I could fight anyone right now I would honestly choose Jerrell Hodge. He’s the biggest name in my division in the featherweights and I always want to fight the best. I would rather be 15-10 and have fought the best there was then to be 7-0 and have only fought bums. I am no bum hunter that’s for sure. If I could fight anyone again It would be Cheyne Jenkins and no this is not a call out. Cheyne bested me 2 times and I hate losing, hell I threw my guess who board as a kid when my mom would beat me that’s just how bad I hate losing. Cheyne is a good kid and a talented fighter so I don’t have any regrets of fighting him two times, it made me better and drove me to get to this point. I would also love to fight my friend Ethan Goss again. Those 9 minutes in the cage with that terminator were the most fun 9 minutes of my life. I have nothing but respect for Ethan and I know he will be the next king of thefeatherweights in the ammy division. Ethan is just one of those kids that shows up ready for a war and those are the fights I love to be in.
8. You have talked about turning pro. What are your plans for the future? When will you fight again & who will it be against?
9. Who are some of your role models?
My parents and my sister are my biggest role models. There are not many families like mine, we are all very close, we live on the same street, we eat family dinner every Sunday together as one big family, and we all go to church together. My dad has never missed any of my sporting events from the time of teeball to this Saturday's fight, he would go into work at 3AM just so he could get off early to come whether it was a home or away event. My family is neither rich nor poor but my parents worked their ass off every day to give me and my sister the best possible life they possibly could and for that I’m thankful. They are the ones that showed me it doesn’t matter what anyone says about you as long as you work hard and follow your dream anything in this world is possible. I know this sounds funny but I really do not look up to that many big name fighters of course I have my favorites like Jose Aldo but none of them are my role models. My role models are actually local fighters. I have been inspired by many local fighters but 4 of them really have touched my life in different ways and they all should be recognized for what people fail to see, the behind the scenes, their true identities. First Mark Cherico, Mark is one of the biggest names in MMA right now because of his undefeated record and his ability to finish his opponents. People only know and see the Mark Cherico in the cage, the bright shorts, the flashy entrance, and the definition of a true mixed martial artist. I see a different Mark Cherico, I see the father Mark Cherico. Like I stated earlier its very difficult to be a professional fighter and have a full time job and add in a family and boy do you have a tough life. Mark has showed me that its possible, he works full time at FCP, fights as a professional against the very best, and still finds time to raise his daughter and have a great relationship with his wife Nicole. People do not see the amazing father that Mark is. The first day that my girlfriend April was at the gym, Marks wife Nicole had brought Aubree into the gym to hangout. April's first comment after leaving was how cute their family was and how great of parents they were. Ask any fighters girlfriend or wife and they will tell you how difficult it is to date or be married to a fighter between never seeing us, the miserable mood swings from cutting weight, and the stress of watching us live makes a relationship near impossible. Nicole Cherico is one of a kind and has proven that its possible, she is a great person and an even better mother, if any girl who dates a fighter is looking for a role model, she is the one. Yes I look up to Mark for his abilities in the cage but I am inspired to live a very similar life to his in the future. Next Cody Garbrandt, Cody is the biggest name right now after his win over Dom and now its easy to for everyone to see that "No Love" is on the fast track to the big show. I have gotten to become very close friends with Cody over the past year and I look up to him for many reasons. First, I know in college how hard it was for me to be away from my family and I was only an hour away, Cody is very similar to me in how close he is with his family so I know how hard it was for him to pack up and move to Cali to train with Team Alpha Male, but that’s how driven this kid is to reach his dream, the sacrifices he makes are very inspirational. Next is his relationship with Maddux who is a young boy battling cancer, and at his last fight I got to witness that relationship first hand. At one point I actually had to leave Cody's locker room because I was starting to tear up a bit and I did not want to affect Cody's preparation. These two make the perfect team, to watch the smile on Maddux’s face from just being around Cody was life changing, it was easy to see the positive effect that Cody has had on this child's life. At one point right before we walked out Cody asked Maddux to pick which hand he wanted him to knockout Dom with, and Maddux without hesitation chose the right hand!!! I want to take that kid to Vegas with me because he was spot on with that one. Everyone in Stage AE got to see the relationship of Cody and Maddux that night as well when after his victory Maddux ran into the cage and jumped into Cody's arms. I'm pretty sure if everyone wasn’t brawling in the stands there would have not been a dry eye in that arena. Anyways at first glance many people would be intimidated by Cody because of the tattoos but he's living proof not to judge a book by its cover. I also have two other role models, Justin Wilcox and Anthony Durnell. Both of these gentlemen have inspired me in many ways also. I am inspired by both of them because they are both great fathers, professional fighters, and they both live out their religious beliefs in their everyday lives. Like I stated before I am a religious person, I do attend church with my family but both of these men have shown me even though its difficult at times its possible to live our everyday lives according to our beliefs. I still remember the first day I met Justin Wilcox at FCP, I was like holy shit that’s The Silverback from Strikeforce and Bellator. He treated me the same as everyone else, you would have never known he has fought for the biggest promotions out there. He left his ego at the door and was eager to assist any of us in any way possible. I know that was a long answer but I give credit where credit is due and those men need recognized for being great ambassadors of our sport.
10. Is there anyone you'd like to thank?
First I would like to thank all my coaches past and present for making me the fighter I am today. Thank you to my teammates at FCP for being my second family and pushing me to get better every day. Thank you to Mic and Melissa and everyone else at Fight Club for all that you do behind the scenes for all of us! Thank you to my girlfriend April. There are not many girls like this one! She comes to the gym everyday with me and supports this dream. It’s not easy dating me because of my busy life but somehow she puts up with me. Thank you to my family for always supporting me and showing me that hard work pays off. Thank you to my sponsors for treating me like family and helping me make this dream a reality. AutoEffects Monaca, Beemac Trucking, Lionheart Tattoo in Lawerenceville, NOLAC, MetCon Photos, The Unseen Armada who have supported me since day 1, Boze Kennels, and Chippewa Chiropractic Clinic for keeping my body in fighting shape. Thank you to Pinnacle FC for providing me an opportunity to fight for one the best promotion in the world. Thank you to Jeff and others who give us a chance to get our names out there. Finally thank you to God, for blessing me with everything that I have in my amazing life. Philippians 4:13
|With FCP team-mate Jaime Chesney|
|The New Pinnacle Featherweight Champion (Ammy)|
|Pinnacle FC & Complete Devastation Featherweight (Ammy) Champion|