It was only a matter of time before Rich Attonito entered the world of mixed martial arts.
The 33-year-old New Jersey native was exposed to sports at a young age by his father, Rich Attonito, Sr., who wrestled, as well as played and coached football.
“It was a natural profession,” says Attonito, who remembers attending wrestling duals and football games with his dad and serving as a water boy. “I followed his footsteps.”’
Following in his father’s footsteps, Attonito wrestled and played football in high school. He went on to become an NCAA Division I wrestler at Hofstra University, a background which has served him well in MMA and helped him amass a 9-3 record, including a pair of wins inside the UFC.
Nicknamed “The Raging Bull,” Attonito decided to enter the cage after seeing the success of former wrestling teammates Jay Hieron and Phil Baroni, UFC and Strikeforce veterans both. Boxer Leo “The Italian Lionheart” Loiacono also pushed Attonito to join the sport, training him in New Jersey, where Attonito worked as a personal trainer after graduating from Hofstra with a bachelor’s degree in film production. Attonito had long been a fan of the UFC, so the decision to transition into MMA wasn’t a tough one to make.
Five years ago, after suffering a loss at a show in Atlantic City, American Top Team leader Ricardo Liborio and fighter Wilson Gouveia invited Attonito to train alongside them. Attonito packed his bags and moved to Coconut Creek, Fla., without hesitation.
The “Ultimate Fighter 11” alum says that his training at ATT helped prepare him for the big leagues.
“It was the best decision I’ve made,” he says. “It’s an environment to help you succeed. If you put in the time and work, success is sure to follow.”
Today, the former wrestler feels confident in his well-rounded abilities.
“Every aspect of my game has improved. Howard Davis is my coach, and my boxing is crisp. It’s the little details that separate guys from being okay to great. Having someone like Ricardo Liborio looking over you, it’s hard not to be successful. Even my wrestling got better.”
On Saturday, Attonito will continue pursuing his dream of becoming a top contender in the UFC middleweight division when he meets Dave Branch (7-1) at “The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale” in Las Vegas.
“I’m excited about this fight,” says Attonito. “I plan to close the year on a positive note. [Branch] is a well-rounded fighter, from his striking, jiu-jitsu and wrestling — he can be dangerous in any aspect. He’s an athletic guy, just like me, but I am ready to go 15 minutes strong.”
Aside from focusing on sharpening his technique for the Branch bout, Attonito says he’s dedicated much of his training to the mental aspect of the fight game.
“I’ve read some books here and there and have reached out to some mentors to help empower me,” he says. “When push comes to shove, when two guys are evenly matched, the mind could equal victory.”
Another victory in the Octagon could bring Attonito a step closer to a 185-pound title shot, but the Jersey boy says he’s not thinking of gold just yet.
“I’m looking to make a career by being in the UFC. I focus [on] one fight at a time. I know if I train and fight hard, I’ll have more of an opportunity.”
As for Attonito’s father, he’s attended a couple of his son’s fights, but he still plays the role of the protective parent.
“He tells me, ‘be careful and have fun.’”