Raging Bull: Rich Attonito finally feels like he's competing in the right weight class (Exclusive)

Photo by Scott Peterson via MMA Weekly

Have you ever felt like you didn't really belong?

Rich Attonito had that feeling in his gut the last few years while competing as a middleweight and still being successful in the UFC.

The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 11 veteran never lost on the show, going undefeated (2-0_ before a broken hand forced him to step to the sidelines and watch other men compete for the coveted contract he'd been expecting to bring home.

"The Raging Bull" got off to a hot 2-0 start in the promotion before falling short to Dave Branch at The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale. After the loss, he finally made the decision to drop to welterweight, the weight class he felt he should have been his home for a long time.

We recently tracked down Attonito, who talked about making the cut, his goals for his new weight class and his big upcoming fight with Daniel Roberts at UFC on Versus 4 this Sunday night (June 26, 2011) in this exclusive interview with MMAmania.com.

Find out what prompted the decision to drop down to 170 pounds, and much, much more after the jump:

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Obviously, the big change in your life coming into this fight is the drop down to welterweight. Did this happen because of getting overpowered against David Branch or were you kind of thinking about dropping to welterweight beforehand?

Rich Attonito: The discussion to drop to welterweight is a conversation I've been having for a number of years now with my coaches, with myself. Seeing guys at the top level, the size they are, what they're walking around at. I started to get the idea that one day, eventually, I would need to make a drop to welterweight at the top level because of the size everyone is walking around at in the different weight classes. When I was fighting at the regional shows, middleweight wasn't a problem, but once I got to the UFC, even after my first two fights with Yager and Rafael Natal, we'd had the discussion about dropping to welterweight but we decided to keep going forward at middleweight as long as we were successful. When I came up short last December against Dave, it was a good time to move down.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How frustrating was it against Dave Branch? From everything I saw, you were outsriking, but he was just able to overpower you and take you down and grind you out.

Rich Attonito: Yeah, I think that was a case that fight where I was a bit too much striking-oriented with my boxing. I could sense that he didn't want to stand up with me so in my head, I'm saying, "Alright, I can definitely get him here. He definitely doesn't want to stand with me." I kind of in the back of my head negated the grappling element and I didn't switch gears when it was time to and he did a really good job of putting me into the cage and I didn't do a good job of transitioning and utilizing my wrestling and everything. Dave is a big guy, man. I'm not gonna lie. He definitely felt like a bigger, stronger guy than myself and I definitely after the fight made the decision to drop down.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): When was the last time you actually competed at 170? I know you competed at 167 while wrestling at Hofstra, but even then you ended up moving up a weight class. It has to have been a while right?

Rich Attonito: Yeah, it's been a looooong time since I've stepped on the scale and weighed 170. I did everything the right way. I'm very on top of my nutrition. I worked in the fitness industry and I still do a little bit, but for about 10 years now so I have a lot of knowledge and experience and background in strength and conditioning and nutrition and I just didn't allow myself to quite have the liberties I used to take while I was fighting at middleweight and I got myself down to walking around at 185 pounds going on three months now to give myself plenty of time to adjust to being lighter and my body get used to that and put myself in a good position to just cut the water, which won't be a problem.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Did you ever try any test cuts or are you pretty confident that you'll be able to make it yourself on the first try?

Rich Attonito: I'm confident I can make it. I've cut that amount of weight before, but I'll taper it down a little bit anyways so that I never like to cut an enormous amount of weight. I don't believe in it personally, but it's rolling the dice too much to put in all that hard work and blowing it all because you potentially have a bad weight cut and you don't perform well after all that hard work. I think also the less time you put your body through that kind of pain, the better it will respond so that's why I didn't do a test cut.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about your upcoming fight. You've got Daniel Roberts coming in. Was it difficult that your original opponent Matt Brown got switched out? Were you kind of preparing for a striker and then now you've got to deal with a jiu-jitsu guy.

Rich Attonito: It doesn't really matter to me to be honest. I train everywhere, all the time so I'm ready for wherever a fight can go and that's why you've got to train in all areas of the sport. It's part of the game and yeah, this kind of stuff happens. It might switch up my gameplan a little bit because Daniel presents different challenges than what Matt possesses so the gameplan will change with what I'm preparing to do. He's a southpaw and he's a wrestler with submissions so that aspect of it changes but the fact that I'm ready to go anywhere hasn't changed. I'm excited to fight.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): In his last fight at UFC 129, Daniel kind of got pressured by Claude Patrick and overwhelmed by takedowns. Did you glean anything from that watching the tape, that you could potentially use a similar gameplan to defeat him?

Rich Attonito: Yeah, I have an idea of what I'm going to be able to do to him and the areas that he'll present a little more trouble. I don't want to give too much away or give away what I'm doing before a fight, but I feel confident everywhere the fight can go and I know that I can go in that cage and exploit the areas I need to to get the win.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Realistically, how much of an impact do you think you can make on the welterweight division? I know there's a lot of welterweights right now, I think 56 at last count. You dropping down from 185, usually a guy that drops down is higher up the food chain and gets a chance to do something big.

Rich Attonito: I have big plans. I'm not gonna lie. I've got things in my head and written down. Me and my coaches have talked about what my goals are. You know, one fight at a time and I'm looking forward to the drop. I kind of feel like for the first time, I'm gonna be at the right weight class to compete in. I'm gonna be at my premier level and I'm excited to do it and I'm planning on doing big things. I know there's a lot of welterweights and a lot of good fighters at this weight and I'm just looking forward to get in there and give it my best and show everyone what I'm capable of.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I've noticed just how extremely active you are on Twitter. You've got an engaging personality and you're always talking with fans. Was that something where you decided to step it up after the UFC twitter incentives?

Rich Attonito: Ever since The Ultimate Fighter show, I had a Facebook fan page and a Twitter account. They suggested we do that to connect with fans. Chuck [Liddell] gave us some good advice about connecting with the fans and obviously I'm gonna listen to everything a guy like Chuck says. It was kinda one of those things that I've done it for a little over a year now and got a bit better at doing it. I've gotten better at making things interesting, putting stuff out there that people want to read or whatever. I think you get the hang of it and get better at doing it. You develop your own style and you talk to people who are interested in speaking to you and it's fun. You kind of connect with these people and you get people that you talk back and forth with for a while and you kind of get a rapport, a cyber friendship with a person that you've never been with so it's fun.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You mentioned The Ultimate Fighter and I had one question about TUF. You put on a great performance in your first two fights, but then you broke your hand. Do you think you could have won season 11 if you hadn't hurt your hand?

Rich Attonito: I feel like I had a really good chance. I had a very good opportunity and, yes, I had a legitimate shot to win that show. I still would have had to beat some very game and tough guys that were in the competition so I don't want to disrespect any of the guys by saying hands down I would have won but I tell you now I was extremely confident that I had the ability to do it for sure.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I'm not sure how much you are into predictions or anything but I'm just wondering how you feel the fight with Daniel's gonna play out and how you think it's gonna finish?

Rich Attonito: I just see myself going in there like a new and improved version of myself. I'm gonna do great. I'm gonna put it on him and I'm gonna go wherever the fight is and I'm gonna be looking to constantly improve my position and looking to finish. Whether it's on the feet or on the ground, I don't want this to go 15 minutes. I'd like to put him away one way or another and get myself one of those fight bonuses. I could use the money.

Rich would like you to stay in touch with his fanpage on Facebook and check him out on twitter.com/RichAttonito. He also wanted to give a shoutout to ML Management.

So what do you think, Maniacs?

Will the cut to 170 spark a big run in Attonito? Or will "The Raging Bull" get stopped by "The Ninja" on Sunday night?

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