Q&A with Nikolai Gionti, MMA fighter and HGR employee

Caged Madness 40

Q: How and when did you get involved in mixed martial arts (MMA)?

A: I started training when I was a sophomore in college. I had always had an interest in the sport, and my dad has been involved with martial arts for years, but I never pulled the trigger. When I was at Ohio University, I was a journalism major and started covering MMA. I became good friends with a fighter who I started working with while doing Jiu Jitsu down in Athens, Ohio.

 

Q: What interested you about MMA?

A: I have always been an individual trapped in team sports. I played baseball through high school, but never liked having to rely on people for my success or failure. Even though I have a gym behind me, at the end of the day, if I win or lose, it’s on me.

 

Q: What are your MMA goals?

A: My goal is turn pro before the end of this year and make my pro debut in 2016, as well. Ohio Athletic Commission rules state that you need five fights and at least a .500 record before going pro. I’m currently undefeated and the Explosive Fight Promotions amateur flyweight champion.

 

Q: How often do you train and with whom?

A: I train six days per week between GriffonRawl MMA Academy in Mentor and Strong Style in Independence. GriffonRawl is my main gym and home to two Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) veterans, but I have been lucky enough to travel to Strong Style once per week to work with current UFC Fighter Jessica Eye and other smaller-weight-class fighters.

 

Q: Who taught you?

A: I’ve been taught by everyone and pulled a lot from different people to create my own individual style. My head coach, Jason Dent, has taught me plenty of things both standing and on the ground and been an amazing corner through every fight. Donny Walker has been my head boxing coach and worked on my takedown defense. George Comer has improved my wrestling immensely. Mike Lachina is the Judo instructor, as well as a submission wizard; so, we’ve worked on a lot of things, and Aaron Veverka has helped me with my Muay Thai.

 

Q: Who is your hero?

A: I have always looked up to my dad, and he’s been a huge influence to me throughout my time fighting. He’s allowed me to take a risk in order to follow my dreams. It’s a struggle, but he’s there each and every day, whether it’s just as support or trying to get me more sponsors. It has been huge to have him here.

 

Q: What do you want people to know about MMA?

A: The big thing I want people to know, and it’s not as widespread or believed as it once was, is that we’re not all thugs or dropouts that just do this as a final option. I have a college degree. Other fighters I know have master’s degrees. It’s a growing sport and gives college wrestlers an opportunity after college, as well as lifelong martial artists. There are some people who don’t represent it the “right way,” but that’s in every sport. A lot of us are well-educated, hard-working and could do other things, but just happened to choose this for whatever reason.

Q: What advice do you have for others interested in MMA?

A: The best advice that I can give anyone who wants to compete in MMA is to find a good gym. Amateur MMA is like the wild, wild West. You’re going to have people who are dedicated and working hard every day, and you’re also going to have people who just want to say they fight. If someone really wants to take the necessary steps, be prepared to train for at least a year, compete in grappling tournaments, get beat up and be the low man on the totem pole for a while before you get the opportunity to enter a sanctioned fight. You’re going to be the hammer a lot; so, embrace the grind.

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