Getting to the UFC, the biggest stage in mixed martial arts isn’t easy, but keeping your spot once you get there can be just as difficult. Just ask heavyweight prospect Todd Duffee (6-1), who went from being the next big thing in his division to on the chopping block after only two fights.
Light heavyweight fighter Mike Ciesnolevicz (17-4) knows that feeling all too well. After a fairly successful run in the International Fight League, Ciesnolevicz finally got the call he’d been waiting for. He would have to take the fight on short notice, moving up to heavyweight, and fighting in British fighter Neil Grove’s backyard in England, but Ciesnolevicz jumped on the opportunity.
Finally, after years of hard work, he got his UFC call up. And with the odds stacked against him, Ciesnolevicz’s debut had a story book ending fit for a sports movie, as he submitted a much larger Neil Grove. But then, things took a turn.
In his second UFC appearance, Ciesnolevicz was able to fight at his more natural weight of 205 lbs., but a knee injury hampered his weight cut. Having taken the fight against Tomasz Drwal on short notice as well, Ciesnolevicz missed weight and suffered a first-round TKO loss.
Not long after, Ciesnolevicz was unceremoniously cut from the UFC, bringing his dream to a quick and harsh end. At one point he even contemplated retirement. But since then, he’s returned to full health and traveled the world to train. And just recently, Ciesnolevicz made the difficult decision to leave Miletich Fighting Systems and find a new camp. Ciesnolevicz discussed all of this and much more with ProMMAnow.com, as he begins his journey to return to the UFC.
Pro MMA Now: Hey Mike, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. It’s been awhile since we last talked, but let’s talk about your UFC debut. I know you had been working hard to get there for awhile and had a solid run in the IFL. Were you more or less nervous than expected and how did you feel fighting at heavyweight on short notice?
Mike Ciesnolevicz: My UFC debut was a dream come true for me. I was in Brazil on vacation and having fun training, but not training for a fight. My manager called and asked if I wanted to fight in the UFC in like three weeks in London, England at UFC 95. It was at heavyweight against Neil Grove, aka The Goliath. That guy was a monster, but I trained for years with Brad Imes, Tim Sylvia, Ben Rothwell, Bryan Vetell and even Brock Lesnar. I knew how to handle the big guys and jumped at the opportunity. I was the least nervous I have ever been for a fight when I walked out the tunnel at the O2 Arena. Pat Miletich and I had the game plan set and it went down 100% like we planned. I won in 63 seconds by heel hook.
Pro MMA Now: Your second UFC fight was against Drwal. I know you missed weight for that fight. What happened leading up to the fight with the injury and everything else, and how did that affect your performance?
Mike Ciesnolevicz: This fight is so painful to talk about because, again, I was a short notice fill-in. I was coming off of a knee injury and had to cut 40 lbs. I had a partially torn ligament in my knee, but it’s hard to say no to the UFC. And I know to this day that Drwal is made for my style. It just didn’t pan out that night. I took a fight based on the fact that I like to fight … [I was going] with my heart, not my brain, and I lost. The main battle was trying to drop the weight, not train for the fight. I had to get an IV and paramedics to my hotel room at the Palms in Vegas to try to help me recover. I was vomiting all my fluids out orally.
Pro MMA Now: After that loss you were cut by the UFC. Talk about what that was like, after finally getting there, winning one fight on short notice and only having one match at 205. How did they deliver the news to you?
Mike Ciesnolevicz: I had an idea it might happen. It was the worst performance of my 23 fight pro MMA career. I felt like a zombie out there. I spoke with Joe Silva on my cell phone and we talked. He really is a good guy who I respect a lot, and he told me they would bring me back if I build up some wins and get myself back on track, and he was sorry but had to cut me. The UFC roster has about 50 more guys then they can handle and they are constantly cutting guys, as you see now, after every show.
Pro MMA Now: You haven’t fought since then. What did you first do with your time off? Were you just taking some time to yourself to get healthy? Did you wonder if you would keep fighting? What were you thinking about doing long term?
Mike Ciesnolevicz: Well I had surgery in my time off and just took a break from fighting. I ran a lot of the practices at MFS Iowa and even spent five months at MFS Canada in Alberta. I went back to substitute school teaching, working security and started training Gi BJJ also. I was going to retire, but then I realized I owe it to myself, my friends, my family and everyone who invested and believed in me to make another run at this. I’m only 30 years old; I’m not over the hill just yet.
Pro MMA Now: I know you’ve traveled a lot and spent some time in Thailand. How did training over there differ from what you’ve done in the states? What would you say you learned the most, and what guys/team were you working with?
Mike Ciesnolevicz: After my stint at MFS Canada, my girlfriend Valerie had the idea to go to Thailand and train for a month. She loves fitness and Muay Thai kickboxing. I thought it would be great for me and I agreed. I have a good relationship with Ray Elbe at TigerMuayThai.com and spoke to him. He invited me over and took care of me. The TMT staff and trainers over there are amazing. It really opened my eyes to what world class standup is like. I sparred with 140 lb. Thai guys that were lighting me up. Flawless technique, guys with 400 fights by the time they are 30 years of age. My favorite trainer at Tiger was a guy they call Yod. He is amazing and worked with me daily in one hour sessions. I can honestly say Tiger changed my game and my skill set. It was one of the best moves I made. If you are thinking about going to Thailand, you would be foolish not to check out TMT.
Pro MMA Now: Do you think being in a foreign country far away from the norm helped you focus more on MMA/fighting?
Mike Ciesnolevicz: Being there was just a break from reality for me. I experienced new training methods, different culture, food, lifestyle, beaches. Overall it was just an amazing get away for me. I knew I was going to come back to MMA before I went, so being there just helped reinforce my decision and jump started my training.
Pro MMA Now: Besides Thailand, what other places did you go to and what did you do/who did you work with? I think I remember you mentioning working with Duke Roufus at one point.
Mike Ciesnolevicz: Duke Roufus is a great guy, great friend, and has a great team up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was already dead set on moving there with one of my buddies, but it didn’t pan out financially for us to do so. I had more time to think about it, and I’m not so sure I want to move from Iowa winters to Milwaukee winters right now. I’m not 100% sure what I am going to do in the future. I am looking into a lot of options.
After Thailand I spent some time in New York City with Marcelo Garcia, who for me is the greatest grappler that ever lived, and a great friend. His academy, his wife, his students all made me feel at home. Unfortunately my month long trip there was cut short, due to a friend who I was staying with and some serious health issues happening in his family. Right now I am back in Pennsylvania where I grew up, training with former world champion BJJ fighter Daniel Beleza and his team in York, PA. It’s mostly a gi place, but Daniel is very good teacher and experienced. He is helping my game grow and opening my eyes to some tricky gi stuff.
Pro MMA Now: So now onto your decision to leave MFS. When did you make that decision and what prompted the move?
Mike Ciesnolevicz: I wanted to spend my whole career at MFS and I even bought a home in Iowa. Slowly the gym dwindled in terms of my world class training partners I was used to. All my guys left for one reason or another. Some started families and had kids, some started their own gyms, some left for financial reasons, etc. I was basically forced to leave to be able to train at the world class level I needed to continue to grow. MFS still has really tough dudes and it’s an awesome gym for beginning pros and mid level guys, but for the level I am at, I was pretty much one of the best guys and veterans left over. I talked it over with Pat and he supports me. I have a good relationship with him over the past seven years and there are no hard feelings. Unlike some of the big name guys that have left, I won’t forget where I came from. I know MFS in the Black Legion days was the greatest MMA gym in the history of the sport, no doubt in my mind. People have no idea how we used to train and the talent in that room. No other gym will ever surpass what MFS had in the glory days. Pat Miletich made all those fighters whether they admit it or not and he is the greatest, most knowledgeable coach this sport has ever known.
Pro MMA Now: Now that you’ve had the time off, what are your immediate plans for MMA? Have you thought about when you’ll get back into action and where that might be?
Mike Ciesnolevicz: I am coming back to MMA, starting at heavyweight and working my way down to 205 again. I have a fight Sept. 19th at the Prestige FC in Alberta, Canada. It will be my first fight back in 15 months off. I am training for this fight at Team Daniel Beleza BJJ, plus I was in Thailand only a month ago.
Pro MMA Now: Are you aiming to get back into the UFC, or perhaps Strikeforce, and making another run? Since you’ve been in the UFC once, if you get another chance with one of the major orgs, what would you do differently, if anything?
Mike Ciesnolevicz:Strikeforce is an option, but I have unfinished business in the UFC. I didn’t like how my first run went on short notice and getting cut after one loss. At some point I want to be back in the UFC, but in reality I also want to make money and I can do that outside of the UFC also. I am just going to fight and stay busy. I need to fight often to stay sharp and keep my weight in check. I can’t have long lay offs and expect to make 205 lbs.