Broker by day and fighter by night, Cholish now has his sights set on Strikeforce (Photo by Lucas Noonan | www.LucasNoonan.com).
By John Archibald, Editor
Team Renzo Gracie Fighter Faces TUF Veteran Marc Stevens on February 12th
As our readers found out in a previous feature on lightweight John Cholish, the Team Renzo Gracie fighter is not your average Mixed Martial Artist. An Ivy League graduate of Cornell University, Cholish (5-1) spends his days brokering on Wall Street as a member of the Intercontinental Exchange, and his nights are dedicated to crafting an MMA game with some of the most notable figures in the industry. Already a two-time champion while competing in the Urban Conflict Championships and Ring of Combat, the native New Yorker now finds himself preparing for the biggest match of his professional career when he debuts for Strikeforce against Marc Stevens on the undercard of February 12th’s Fedor vs. Bigfoot Silva show.
“It was about three weeks ago, give or take,” Cholish said of when he first received word that Strikeforce was considering him for the upcoming card at the IZOD Center. “They very tentatively reach out to my manager, Ali (Abdel Aziz), basically saying that they had a card in the area and asked if he had any local guys who could fill some seats and be fun to watch. Ali threw out my name. Then they did a little bit of research and actually came by the academy one day. After that, they let us know that they were definitely interested in me.”
As negotiations continued, the name of former Ultimate Fighter competitor Marc Stevens emerged as the top candidate for Cholish to battle, and a verbal confirmation from Strikeforce came shortly after that.
“It’s funny because I was at work one day, and my phone started getting text messages,” Cholish laughed. “One of the MMA websites had posted Marc Stevens vs. John Cholish, and I hadn’t really told anyone at that point. One of my buddies said that he heard I was fighting on February 12th, which immediately made me ask him how he knew that when I wasn’t even 100% sure on my end! He told me that he saw it online and was buying tickets.”
With word spreading throughout the MMA community, an official contract from Strikeforce arrived in Cholish’s inbox this past weekend. The former standout collegiate wrestler turned professional fighter was headed to the big leagues.
“Honestly, it’s nice to finally get noticed by some of the larger organizations,” he admitted. “When I was initially contacted by Strikeforce, I stuck to my philosophy of taking it with a grain of salt. I feel you have to do that in the fight world, and MMA in particular. I was really excited, but I didn’t want to put all of my hopes in one basket. It was kind of a mentality to hope for the best, expect the worst. Then they just kept saying positive things, and little by little, it started to come to fruition.”
Reaching the ranks of one of the top MMA promotions in the world was a huge accomplishment in itself, but to make his debut at a show so close to home is something that Cholish says only increases the excitement.
“I’m definitely excited that this fight is going to be right over the river so I’ll be able to have a lot of fan support with friends and family there,” he remarked. “You train so much and work so hard on a lot of different things, so it’s fun to be able to get a good opponent and see how much you were able to improve since your last fight. It’s fun to try out what you’ve been working on and testing your skills. To be able to do it in front of a Strikeforce crowd is such an added bonus.”
As far as facing Stevens in particular, Cholish expects a difficult altercation.
“It should be a great fight,” he stated. “I know on the Ultimate Fighter, he got caught with a guillotine choke once or twice, which can happen to anyone. He’s a dangerous opponent with a lot of talent, and I’m definitely going in there respecting him. Overall, I think it’s a great match-up, and hopefully we can put on a great show.”
Quick to jump on his own research once the pairing with Stevens was confirmed, Cholish immediately turned to someone who had a pretty good feel for his opponent.
“I went right to (Jiu Jitsu coach) John Danaher, who coached against Marc on Georges St. Pierre’s team the season he was on the Ultimate Fighter,” he recollected. “John told me it would be a good match-up for me, and it was going to be a good fight. He also said that it would be good for me to fight on that level of an organization, getting the experience in front of a larger crowd and dealing with more adrenalin and pressure. He was really positive about everything.”
Cholish was also quick to tell the other members of his team when the deal became final, and he found nothing but support there as well.
“Erik Owings, who is a Black Belt under John and someone with whom I do a lot of my Jiu Jitsu work, and Joseph Sampieri, my Muay Thai and stand-up coach, were both very positive about me taking the next step in my Mixed Martial Arts career,” Cholish said. “Everyone was on board. It’s definitely great when you have the team behind you. As much as MMA is an individual sport when you see two guys in the cage, it’s really all about the hours you put in with your coaches and training partners that help you get to this point.”
Among the training partners with whom Cholish is regular found rolling is UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre, UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar and UFC lightweight contender Kenny Florian. After all, it should be a normal occurrence for someone who trains at one of the top gyms in the sport.
“At the Renzo Gracie Academy, especially with John Danaher’s class on Mondays, you always have a ton of talent coming through the gym. Great training partners are never something that come at a shortage,” he commented. “And even if I can’t physically train with some of the guys, it’s nice to be able to get them on the phone for their two cents about how to prepare for a fight or to get different ideas that they have.”
While he may head to Wall Street shortly after 6:00 a.m. everyday only to go straight to the gym for his second professional career when the market closes, Cholish is not showing any signs of slowing down. It was less than two months ago when he landed the huge job with broker Tim Kelly on the Intercontinental Exchange, and now he finds himself preparing for an MMA show that features the most dominating fighter of the sport’s history in the main event.
As he proved in the UCC and Ring of Combat, Cholish most certainly has the determination and skill of a champion. If his past in the fight game is at all indicative of his future, you better buy his stock now. I'm no broker, but it looks to me like it is destined to soon shoot off the charts.
For all of the latest information on John Cholish, make sure to follow him on Twitter @JohnCholish.