During the preliminary card of UFC on ESPN 7, New Jersey lightweight Joe Solecki will be making his highly anticipated UFC debut against veteran Matt Wiman, who recently returned from a five-year layoff.
Solecki last competed on Dana White’s Contender Series in July, picking up a first-round submission and impressing UFC President Dana White in the process. Five months later, the lightweight will be fulfilling a lifelong goal of his by fighting in the world’s premier mixed martial arts organization.
He spoke to The Body Lock’s John Hyon Ko about his upcoming fight, training with John Salter, and remaining as active as possible.
Winning on the Contender Series
In the last couple of years, many athletes have punched their ticket to the UFC through Dana White’s Contender Series, which sees the top talent on the regional circuit fight one another for the opportunity to join the promotion’s roster.
Notable names such as Geoff Neal, Sean O’Malley, and Maycee Barber competed on the Contender Series, with all three now regarded as rising prospects in their respective divisions.
Joe Solecki (8-2) was one of many to enter the UFC this way, and his first-round guillotine over James Wallace was enough to earn him a contract immediately.
“I don’t ever want to set the bar too high like that, not because I’m not confident, but you know, the UFC is the pinnacle of the sport and there’s not going to be easy fights,” Solecki said to John Hyon Ko. “There probably are guys I can go in there and submit in the first round, but I never want to put that in my head.”
After the 26-year-old’s win on the Contender Series, news broke that he was likely to make his promotional debut in Boston or at UFC 244 in Madison Square Garden – both being huge opportunities for the young lightweight. However, the UFC was unable to fit Solecki on either of those events, opting to send him to Washington instead.
“So originally my manager was told that I was to be ready for October or November, and I was looking at all the weekends they had. It was Boston or Madison Square Garden, but I was really excited when they said Washington D.C because it’s very close.”
“It’s driving and flying distance, so I have a lot of people coming out. It’s kind of halfway home between New Jersey, where I’m from, and where I live now in North Carolina. So we’ve got a lot of people driving up, a lot of family. My grandfather is going to be able to come, my dad’s going to be in the crowd for the first time ever for a fight of mine, so it’s going to mean a lot to me to be so close to home.”
Having the chance to travel overseas and fight in different countries and continents is one of the many perks of being in the UFC, but it remains a considerable risk for the athlete making the voyage. Solecki is content with the idea of fighting in America as he wants the odds to be in his favor.
“It’s cool to see the world through fighting, that is a perk of the job. But so early on, in my first fight for the UFC, I just want to get in there and get a win. If it could be here in Wilmington, North Carolina, that would be fine. I don’t need to see somewhere new. If I do my job and win fights, I’ll be able to make a living to go to those places on my own.”
“So yeah, I was hoping to not be on Australia or Russia or anything like that. As cool as it would be and a great story, I always want to stack the odds in my favor to win, because that’s what we’re there to do first, not a vacation or anything else.”
Preparing for a veteran
Joe Solecki’s first fight in the UFC is a big one, as he has the task of defeating gritty veteran Matt Wiman.
Wiman made his promotional debut 13 years ago and has since compiled a record of 10-6 along with four ‘Fight of the Night’ bonuses. In June he marked his return to the octagon in what was his first fight in over five years. Wiman was beaten by Luis Pena and eventually succumbed to ground and pound in the third round.
Solecki was first introduced to his opponent on The Ultimate Fighter when he was just 12 years old, which puts into perspective how long Matt Wiman has been fighting for.
Despite being a fan, the New Jersey native is under no illusion how tough of a night December 7 will be, and thoroughly believes he is the better fighter of the two.
“I’ve watched every single season of the Ultimate Fighter, and I was 12 when his season was on,” Solecki said. “I was definitely a fan of his too. That guy’s a dog man, he’s going to come forward. I think what he’s lacked in the evolution of his skills he makes up for in toughness, grit and veteran experience.
“That being said, I think it’s a perfect matchup for me. I do everything that he does, but I think I do a lot of things better in some senses. I think I’m a little more well-rounded and I think my fight IQ will really pose a problem for him.”
“Experience only comes into play if you fight non-composed. I’m a composed fighter, I’m very big on thinking and being a smart fighter and staying calm. So the only way his experience is going to play a factor is if I let the moment get to me, you know.”
Solecki weighed in on his opponent’s last fight against Pena and understood why he was completely outmatched.
“Luis Pena is a tough guy to fight because he’s 6-foot-3 and a lightweight. Matt Wiman has a tendency to run in with punches and he always did, but maybe he was doing that because Luis Pena was so tall and he couldn’t find his range. So what I’ve tried to do is watch that fight and take things from it.”
“If you look at his [Wiman’s] record in the last 10 years, he’s fought 10 times. In the last 10 years, I’ve fought 10 times. I fought 10 times in the last three years, so the experience is there, but I think those long layoffs could really play in my favor.”
Despite mixed martial arts being a relatively young sport, Solecki has been training for most of his life. He trains in North Carolina out of Salty Dog Jiu-Jitsu and Fitness Edge MMA, with one of his main coaches and training partners being none other than John Salter, a UFC veteran, and current Bellator middleweight.
The 26-year-old actually witnessed Salter fight live in New Jersey when he was younger, h0wever he was rooting against him that night.
“I was rooting against him because he was fighting somebody from New Jersey, one of the Miller brothers or something. And I was not gonna root for some guy from Alabama. I’m from New Jersey, so I was cheering against him, you know.”
“It must’ve been about ten years later or just about, and he was teaching a seminar at our gym in Myrtle Beach and he came down and just absolutely blew my mind. The things he was showing I had never seen before, and I had been training for 17 years at that point. When I found out he was just down the road, it made perfect sense to go and visit. After that I went, I got smashed and it was like my first day of jiu-jitsu, even though I was a black belt. It was just a no brainer to keep going and going.”
Regardless of the result on December 7, Joe Solecki is looking for a quick turnaround. He thrives off being active and is aiming to get through his first UFC contract as swiftly as possible.
“I’ve done quick turnarounds all throughout my career. For my first couple of pro fights, I was fighting every eight weeks, so that is definitely something I am wanting to do. Especially because the more you fight, the more you get through your first contract, [and] the more your pay will go up. And I know the UFC love guys like that – I train all year, so I’ll be ready.”
Steven specialises in MMA and Lethwei. He loves a good 1-2 down the middle.