In the early 1900’s, the sport was called Pankration and was played at the Olympics in Greece.
The variation of that sport today is mixed martial arts (MMA).
If you’re in the Aebersold Student Recreation Center on weeknights, you might spot 22-year-old, senior safety management major RichCantolina training with the heavy bag, focus mitts and Thai pads next to the track above the basketball courts.
Cantolina started MMA fighting when he was a senior in high school and is 7-5 overall in official MMA fights.
“My dad boxed when he was younger and got me into wrestling,”Cantolina said. “I started training for MMA when I was 17 and had my first fight at age 18.”
Cantolina’s first official fight was in 2008 at the Yankee Lake Brawl Room 5, which he lost to Matt Swerden by way of a submission rear naked choke.
Cantolina then went on to win his next three matches and had an opportunity to fight for a title belt. Cantolina, who is sponsored by Thick as Thieves Fight Co., lost the fight to Gary Taylor at the Yankee Lake Brawl Room 10 in the third round by a unanimous decision.
Cantolina said that growing up in a tough neighborhood in Ambridge, Pa. was a big factor of getting him involved in fighting.
“I wrestled in high school and wanted to have some fighting skills since I lived in a tough neighborhood,” Cantolina said. “My high school coach told me that I had too much aggression for wrestling in high school. He told me that I should look into boxing but then an MMA center opened near me and I got involved in that.”
In Cantolina’s next major fight, he’s planning on donating all of his proceeds to the Special Olympics as a philanthropic endeavor for his fraternity, Sigma Tau Gamma.
“I always like to help out the community and this is something that I thought would be a good way to help my fraternity and the community,” Cantolina said.
The fight, which will be on February 25, is a number one contender fight and is a rematch for Cantolina.
If he wins the fight he will have another shot at a title fight. Cantolina’s fighting style is a stand up boxing style, in which he relies on quickness with his hands.
Cantolina’s hands aren’t the only thing he uses. His favorite grappling move that he uses is a triangle choke, which he used to win his last fight against Mark MacDonald on October 8 at the Combat Challenge 16.
Cantolina looks forward to eventually becoming a professional and believes that he will go pro after his next two or three fights. He will also be competing in an Amateur National Tournament before going pro.
Cantolina said that he’s also had thoughts of following in his father’s footsteps and boxing, too.
“I’ve had thoughts of boxing and have looked for some amateur matches to get in,” he said. “Boxing is something that I can do along with MMA fighting so I definitely look forward to doing it someday.”
As a sport, MMA has expanded over the past several years with the popularity of UFC.
In 2006, UFC 66 sold more than one million Pay Per View passes and in 2011 UFC on Fox pulled in over 8.8 million views.
With the success of the sport and Cantolina’s drive to become a professional, the sky is the limit for Cantolina.