Current United States Marine and former Operation Iraqi Freedom war veteran Luigi Fioravanti will resume his new post as UFC fighter this weekend at UFC 68: "The Uprising" in Columbus, Ohio.
Fresh off a convincing knockout win over former UFC middleweight champion Dave Menne in December, the 26-year-old Florida native will look to extend his four-fight win streak when he faces surging welterweight contender Jon Fitch.
We were fortunate enough to speak with Luigi prior to the upcoming bout and get his thoughts on his military career, training, preparation for Fitch and a whole lot more.
UFCmania.com: How's everything been so far getting ready for the fight against Jon Fitch at UFC 68 this weekend?
Luigi Fioravanti: It' been going real well. I've been working a lot on my conditioning up here in Orlando, Florida, with the American Top Team (ATT) camp that includes my trainer Paul Rodriguez and fighters such as Seth Petruzelli. Every once in awhile I head down to ATT headquarters in Coconut Creek to train with those guys.
UFCmania.com: ATT is a great camp. How'd you get involved with them?
Luigi Fioravanti: ATT is the biggest and best MMA team here in Florida and one of the best in the world. While I was training with Gracie-Barra in Orlando, I was actually invited to come down and check out ATT. I trained with them for a few days and realized pretty quickly that the team was the right fit for me and could prepare me for the things that I want to accomplish in MMA.
UFCmania.com: Now, you made your professional MMA debut in February 2005 and then you were fighting Chris Leben in the UFC a little more than a year later in April 2006. How did that happen so fast?
Luigi Fioravanti: I actually fought twice in 2004, but I had no intentions of pursuing it as a career at the time. I was working and not really taking it too serious. I would just train a couple hours a day — a little jiu-jitsu, kickboxing, sparring and stuff like that. Then, Chris Cordero —Petruzelli's manger — somehow got me a fight in the UFC after I had a few nice wins under my belt. When he asked me if I wanted the shot I said ‘hell yeah' and things kind of just took off from there. At that point I was undefeated so I figured why the hell not.
UFCmania.com: Let's go back for a second. You actually started training MMA as a Marine stationed over in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, correct?
Luigi Fioravanti: I actually started training Brazilian jiu-jitsu while I was stationed in California. Me and a few guys would visit this small school right outside the base and train there. I did that on-and-off for like six months because my unit was deploying soon so we had to get a lot of military training in before we were shipped off. There wasn't much time to roll around.
While I was in Iraq, I continued my training thanks to some of the martial arts programs the Marines set up for us. We had grappling, striking and stuff like that. We would just go at it with one another in our platoon for the most part. There was a belt system and a lot of hand-to-hand combat stuff that was integrated into the program. It was pretty cool.
UFCmania.com: Did you join the Marines right out of high school?
Luigi Fioravanti: Yeah.
UFCmania.com: What was it like being in Iraq there at such a young age? What were your responsibilities as a Marine, were you fixing tanks, running supplies, fighting on the front lines?
Luigi Fioravanti: It was quite and experience — a learning experience, you know? I was apart of an infantry unit. I was actually an antitank assaultman. I carried around a rocket launcher and would have to shoot enemy tanks, bunkers and stuff like that. I'm not saying any of that happened but that's what my job was. I also did a little bit of explosives work and stuff like that. I was attached to a unit with the rifleman, machine gunner and mortarman — the guys who would really get into the shit — when we crossed the line of departure into Iraq, actually, in 2003.
UFCmania.com: How terrifying was that?
Luigi Fioravanti: It was a pretty scary moment. Going into a situation like that you don't know if you're going to live or die. At the time I was only 22, and I'm putting my life on the line. That's scary for anyone — I don't care how old you are. And, these guys are still doing it every day.
UFCmania.com: How long was your tour in Iraq?
Luigi Fioravanti: Five months.
UFCmania.com: Is your commitment with the Marines satisfied or is there a chance that you could be called back for active duty?
Luigi Fioravanti: I'm still under an inactive reserve contract with the Marines. My inactive reserve is up in August 2007 at which time I will be officially discharged from the Marine Corps. Unless, of course, we go to war with Iran or North Korea in the next few months or something crazy happens.
UFCmania.com: So how big was that fight for you in December 2006 against Dave Menne at Marine Corps Station Miramar in California in front of all your brothers?
It was awesome man. It was pretty cool to have all those Marines out there behind me, getting my back. It was definitely an emotional experience.
UFCmania.com: The fight against Menne was your first at 170 pounds. What was the reason for you dropping down a weight class from 185?
Luigi Fioravanti: I'm a short, smaller guy — I'm only 5'8." Most of the guys at middleweight are over 6.' These guys are dropping down from 205 and are huge, owning considerable advantages such as reach and things like that.
UFCmania.com: So you could afford to lose the weight, it wasn't a big deal?
Luigi Fioravanti: Oh yeah, I'm a fat kid man. I'm chubby. The cut also helps me maintain that South Beach figure (laughs).
UFCmania.com: Let's talk a little about your opponent, Fitch. I read recently that you think he has some holes in his game that you are looking to exploit on March 3. Without giving away too much information, can you elaborate on that statement?
Luigi Fioravanti: Nothing special, just some stuff I've picked up watching film on his prior fights. It's been a few months since his last fight so I'm sure he's improved — I'm not going to count that out. But, I've been active and have been improving as well. I think there are some things I can capitalize on, especially in the stand up. I just think that with my punching power and angles I will be able to get inside on him and use it to my advantage throughout the fight.
UFCmania.com: Fitch is definitely aware that you are a very dangerous opponent while on your feet. He is a former NCAA division I wrestler from a Big 10 school (Purdue) and has recently earned his jiu-jitsu brown belt. Are you ready if and when he tries to take this fight to the ground?
Luigi Fioravanti: I'm cool on my back. I train everyday with jiu-jitsu brown and black belts. He just got his brown belt and I've been training with guys who have had theirs for a couple of years. I'm not too worried if I wind up on my back. Remember, he has to get me there first. I know he wrestled in college for a good school and all that other stuff. But, this is MMA. He's going to have to secure that takedown. And, if I see it coming I'm going to sprawl and try and take his head off.
UFCmania.com: After watching all that footage, what's the official scouting report on Jon Fitch in the eyes of Luigi Fioravanti?
Luigi Fioravanti: His best attribute is definitely his wrestling. His top game is real good, too. He's got some heavy hips, which is most likely because of his extensive wrestling background. I've been working a lot on my takedown defense, getting off my back and working submissions from my back.
UFCmania.com: So is there a specific gameplan you intend to follow?
Luigi Fioravanti: Not really. I know what I need to do when I'm in a fight. I train in all aspects of MMA because if I focus on one thing and that gets taken away from me during a fight then I'm screwed. I'm prepared for anything.
UFCmania.com: Both of you guys are super aggressive fighters, which will most likely lead to an exciting bout. Any disappointment that the UFC didn't feel the same way and relegated this fight to the nontelevised portion of the undercard?
Luigi Fioravanti: I don't really care. People may or may not see the fight depending on how the rest of the evening goes, but it's not something that I'm stressed about. I'm not a ranked welterweight and not too many people know who I am so it doesn't really affect me. Of course, the exposure would be nice. But, it'll happen when it happens, know what I'm saying? I look at this as the next step toward one day being featured on a main card. If I take this guy out and turn some peoples heads in the process, it'll be all good.
UFCmania.com: This is your first UFC pay-per-view event against a top welterweight contender. Are there any extra nerves or jitters going into this fight than in your previous bouts?
Luigi Fioravanti: No man, I've been through worse and, to be honest, I've got nothing to lose and everything to gain. He's ranked and has a lot more to lose than I do. If I win this fight I could find myself in the mix with some of the better known fighters in the division. It's a huge opportunity.
UFCmania.com: Have you thought about the possibility of losing this fight and where it would put you terms of position in the welterweight class?
Luigi Fioravanti: I always imagine the worse case scenario. The thing is I really don't see him knocking me out or submitting me. I just see him taking me down after he feels my power while we are on our feet. In fact, I don't even really see him taking me down that much — I can see him trying to. I think once he realizes he's in a different world he's going to try and take me down and drop some elbows on me like he did to Hironaka.
UFCmania.com: What's your prediction for the fight?
Luigi Fioravanti: I'm going to knock him out. No particular round or anything like that — when it comes it comes.
UFCmania.com: Just a few more quick things before I let you go. Your only loss was to Leben almost one year ago. If you could go back and do things differently, what would you do in that fight?
Luigi Fioravanti: I wouldn't roll with Jeff Monson a week before the fight. Dude is a truck. I'm not making excuses, but I had a pretty bad rib injury going into the fight. I needed the money so I took the fight with the injury. Maybe the fight could have went differently if I was totally health, but who knows. Whatever, the past is the past.
UFCmania.com: Does Leben hit hard?
Luigi Fioravanti: He didn't really hit me. He throws looping punches so it's pretty easy to avoid them. He hits hard, sure, but they are not fast at all. He didn't hurt me with any punches during that fight. You know who hits hard? Stephan Potvin. When we fought in Canada he hit me with some real hard punches. I took that fight on short notice and didn't know too much about him. I found out quick that the dude is real tough. I was swinging haymakers just to get this guy out as fast as possible. He caught me with a straight right hand in the third round that wobbled me quite a bit.
UFCmania.com: In 2006, you fought six times, which is more active than most fighters. Do you just love to fight or what?
Luigi Fioravanti: This is my job man, this is what I do for a living. If someone calls me and asks me to take a fight I don't turn down the offer. I actually would have fought more last year but some of the bouts got cancelled. In the words of Kimbo Slice, "It's how I make my bread" (laughs).
UFCmania.com: What's the best part about being a UFC or MMA fighter?
Luigi Fioravanti: Man, it's all about the feeling when you get locked inside that cage. It's an incredible rush and I just love it. I don't know, it's hard to explain. But, ever since I saw my first UFC I knew that I wanted to do this ... and now I'm living the dream. I'll do it until I can't do it no more.
UFCmania.com: Buzzer beater: Tattoos — you've got a lot of them. How many do you have and which one is your favorite?
Luigi Fioravanti: I don't really know. I never thought to count them. I have a couple on my legs and a have like half a sleeve on my arm. Whenever I have money I just go and get tattoos — it's just something that I do. My favorite one would have to be the one on the back of my calf. It's a half-naked woman holding four playing cards across her body with dice around her ankles. It means don't bet on dames.
UFCmania.com: Okay Luigi, now it's your turn. Any sponsors you want to thank or special shoutouts for our readers?
Luigi Fioravanti: Cool man, just want to say thanks for the interview and the opportunity. I also want to thank ATT-Orlando and the guys at the gym who helped me prepare for my fights, my manger Chris Cordero, as well as my sponsors Brawler, TapOut, Six Deuce Gear and Italian Sweatshop.
To find out more about Luigi or to send him a message prior to or after UFC 68 check out his MySpace profile.