CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – Joe Solecki was inches away from winning a match that could completely change his mixed martial arts career.
Before he got there, he spent countless days at Fitness Edge MMA, sparring, training and working for the gym. The 25-year-old lightweight has been fighting for almost two decades.
Solecki began Brazilian jiu-jitsu the same week he started kindergarten.
“I saw my first UFC (event) when I was 10 years old and from there, I knew that was the goal,” he said.
It took a while for Solecki to master the other disciplines needed to be a top MMA fighter.
“I spent my whole childhood and teenage years competing just in Brazilian jiu-jitsu,” said Solecki. “We would do a little bit of mixed martial arts sparring here and there, but no boxing, no Muay Thai really.”
That changed at Fitness Edge. Solecki lived in the Myrtle Beach area for several years and trained there, but now travels from Wilmington, North Carolina, to Fitness Edge for some additional work.
He says it’s because he enjoyed training with several other high-level fighters, liked Cody Jones, who competes in Bellator.
“You could sell tickets to sparring,” Solecki said. “There’s a lot of talent that comes in this room. That’s why I make the drive every week to come back here. It’s well worth it. We have a world-class facility.”
Solecki’s first amateur fight was in Myrtle Beach in October 2015. Several fights and odd jobs later, he was ready to go pro. He joined Cage Fury Fighting Championships, an organization based near his hometown in New Jersey.
CFFC helped launch the career of UFC legend Kimbo Slice.
“Through them and through the eyes on there, I was able to get the opportunity with (Dana White’s) Contender Series,” said Solecki. “That was when it was really make or break.”
Solecki took advantage in the Las Vegas match streamed on ESPN+ and won by submission in the first round on July 9. After the fight, Solecki had to wait and see if he would be offered a UFC contract.
That decision didn’t seem tough for UFC president Dana White.
“What an incredible performance this kid had,” White said during the post-match announcements of contracts. “I mean, again, I can run through the list of how incredible this kid is, loved everything about it. I’ve got nothing else to say. Welcome to the UFC!”
Solecki earned his UFC contract on a historic night for what the MMA organization calls “the world’s most intense job interview.” Four other fighters were given contracts along with Solecki, which set a record in one night of Dana White’s Contender Series, now in its third season.
When he was interviewed after the contract announcement, Solecki thanked his wife, who was overjoyed and also moved to tears.
“She’s carried us for a long time and now it’s my turn,” he said. “When I had nobody at a point in my life, she was there.”
Solecki says he’ll keep expanding his fighting style to rise up the UFC lightweight ranks.
“I work on my boxing every single day and my kickboxing,” he said. “If somebody from the outside looking in said, they’d probably say I’m a grappler, but I think I showed in my last fight that I can take it anywhere it has to go and pretty much showed I can be a well-rounded fighter.”
Solecki says he hopes to get picked for his pay-per-view debut at UFC 244 in November at Madison Square Garden in New York City, which would relatively be a homecoming for the Garden State fighter.