Joe Solecki wanted to fight Benoit Saint Denis. It wasn’t a personal thing, no bad blood, just a desire to get into a fistfight with a veteran of the French Special Forces whose three UFC fights didn’t just show off his finishing acumen, but in his lone loss, an otherworldly toughness.
Yeah, exactly the guy you want to spend 15 minutes locked in a cage with.
“I think it's a fun challenge,” said Solecki. He poses a lot of tough problems and I think there's a cool element that he's going to get on a plane and come across the world, I'm going to get on a plane, leave my family, go across the country and we're going to meet and figure this thing out. I think it's just that we want to fight people we respect. That's kind of the thing I talk about with my coach all the time; we want fights with guys we admire and are going to give us good fight. And I think he's that guy.”
He is. Unfortunately, we can’t always have nice things, and when Saint Denis was forced out of the bout due to injury, Solecki was left without an opponent for this weekend’s UFC Fight Night card in Las Vegas.
Enter Carl Deaton, a 42-fight veteran who accepted the fight against Solecki on short notice. The Michigan native may have not made the high-profile splash that Saint Denis has, but he’s paid his dues, has won five of his last seven, and has only been finished twice. In other words, it might be 15 minutes of Hell for Solecki on Saturday anyway.
“I've had nothing but either durable guys or seasoned veterans like Jim Miller,” said Solecki of a UFC run in which he’s compiled a 4-1 record. “So I think the last four fights have been, ‘He's not going away.’ But then you look at a fight like Austin Hubbard when no one was able to finish him, and then I got him out of there. We're not going in there thinking it's going to be a short night, but it doesn't mean I'm not looking to put the pressure on. So I always plan for 15 minutes and things going wrong along the way. I think it's the only way, at least for me, in this crazy game to prepare. But my coach said it today when we were sparring, ‘You're one of the most disciplined guys in MMA, so let's show it.’ And what it comes down to is that for 15 minutes, either of us can make those crucial mistakes.”
Since earning his place on the UFC roster on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2019, Solecki has been disciplined and practically mistake-free. He’s beaten Miller, Hubbard, and Matt Wiman, with his only loss a 2021 split decision to Jared Gordon. It was after that fight that he had to prove that he could come back from a loss on the big stage. He had rebounded on the regional scene, but this was in the UFC with the world watching. So his most recent bout against Alex da Silva last June was perhaps the most important of his career.
At least on paper. In reality, Solecki is a fighter, and years in the trenches taught him that he might lose a decision, but he’ll never lose a fight.
“Early on, I would say I was somewhat of a specialist,” he admits. “I wasn't equipped to even fight back; I was just equipped to take a beating. But then you get to the Miller fight, where it's grimy and it wasn't exciting, but it was a grind. The Jared Gordon fight was back and forth and we're kind of getting into a melee in the third round. And then the last fight with da Silva, and you go, okay, yeah, I know for a fact what I'm made of. Of course, I love winning. That's why I want to go out there. But I love fighting. I'd say even after the loss to Gordon, the tough fight with da Silva, you go in the back and I don't care what those judges say, I had fun tonight, I love this game. Some guys just love finishing guys. Of course, we all want to get that. But on its worst day, I love this sport. I know that now. And when you find that out about yourself, I feel like you gp out there and fight freely. I think that really is what takes you from bright-eyed bushy-tailed guy to seasoned vet kind of overnight.”
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And seasoned vets don’t worry about going 15 minutes with an opponent trained to take him into deep waters. They embrace it.