Local Fighters

Matt “Sunshine” Fiordirosa Back to Brawl at XFO 52


by Matt Lo Cascio

Back in the day, before FS1 and FS2 and TUF China, TUF Nations and TUF Schaumburg, before Bar Rescue, Gym Rescue, Fight Master and Grill Master, there was an excellent, weekly documentary series on up-and-coming MMA prospects. It was simply called “TapouT.”

The show gave fight fans a chance to hang with the TapouT crew for an hour each week, and they introduced the world to some great fighters and characters. It’s probably where you met guys like Glover Teixeira, Albert “Always Bad” Manners, and a couple of local kids you may have heard of: Pat Curran and Matt “Sunshine” Fiordirosa.

If you watched the show, you probably respond to the word sunshine differently than most normal humans. Charles “Mask” Lewis turned it into something fun to say, almost like an anthem — “Sun-SHINE!” You probably still say it that way.

You’ll hear “Sunshine” being belted out a lot on Saturday at Sideouts in Island Lake. Because for the first time in almost four years, Matt “Sunshine” Fiordirosa will be fighting, headlining the XFO’s annual Outdoor War.

Sunshine on the TapouT showDespite the nickname, the fight game wasn’t always all joy for Fiordirosa. Even at the end of the TapouT show, you could almost see the internal struggle going on in his head: Do I go for this or not? Though Mask implored him to “stay in the mix,” Fiordirosa quit fighting for a while and eventually went back to school.

“I stopped fighting because I had a couple of different things hit me all at once and I was young. My family stuff was getting rough, the business side of the sport was killing me, some injuries set in, and people that I trusted were taking advantage of me. At that point in time I had to look long-term and figure out what was going to be the best choice. I eventually went back to school and graduated which was the best thing I could have ever done. My way of staying in the mix was to continue to motivate people to be their best and to also stay committed to the sport of wrestling,” Fiordirosa told Chicago’s MMA.

Now a teacher and the head coach for varsity wrestling at Lake Forest High School, Fiordirosa knows he made the right decision for himself. $100,000 tourney checks and huge “Fight of the Night” bonuses are the exception, not the norm for pro fighters, especially when they are on the way up. The fight game, like all pro sports, is no respecter of persons. It doesn’t care that you have a cool nickname and you were on TV. You want to make it big? You will grind. Grind mentally. Grind physically. Grind your relationships. Grind your time. Grind your finances. All with no promises or guarantees of success or big paydays. On top of that, derailment of the dream comes with one freak injury. A nanosecond-too-late slip of a punch. An inexplicable bone snap after checking a kick. Fighters are cool, yes. The fight game? Not so much.

“The pro MMA fighter life is rough. People think that it’s train all day and fight, like that’s the only thing fighters have to worry about. Fighters in the UFC fight a couple times a year. I had times where I fought three times in a month, and that’s a small number compared to some other fighters that I know. Just like everybody else, pro fighters have bills that come in every month that they need to pay, but we only get paid when we fight. And not to add to the pressure, but how much money a fighter makes usually depends on if they win or not. Talk about stress. An injury doesn’t stop the bills from coming. ‘Professional fighter’ doesn’t really cut it when you’re trying to get a loan. And getting punched in the face every day isn’t really that cool.”

But still, the desire to compete doesn’t just go away. Dreams don’t just shut down and die. Those are always there. There when you’re teaching an ankle pick or fireman’s carry. There when you’re cashing that steady paycheck twice a month. And certainly there when you are watching people do the thing that you love to do: compete. Which leads us to why a guy who hasn’t fought in almost four years is choosing to fight again on Saturday night. It wasn’t watching MMA fights that got Fiordirosa thinking about getting back in the cage — it was watching his own wrestlers.

“I honestly haven’t watched too many fights on TV since my last fight in 2010. I kept having bitter feelings towards the sport which really kept me away from all activity in it. I don’t think I’ve really had the desire to fight until recently, but I have had the desire to compete.

“The reason I’m coming back now is because I have been motivated and inspired by the people around me and the big three-o is just around the corner.  This past year has been really inspiring for me.  We just had our first state champion wrestler in school history, Regis Durbin, which is why I was even in shape in the first place.  The whole season I wrestled and lifted with him and became extremely motivated.  My cousin Austin O’Connor won a state wrestling championship as a freshman this year and my other cousin Taylor Guerra has become a Jiu-Jitsu sensation and has been terrorizing the mats. I watched Tony Ramos win an NCAA title, and then saw him and Jimmy Kennedy make the world team. All of this and much more has made me want to compete again.”

XFO 52 Matt "Sunshine" FiordirosaSo compete he will, taking on Wisconsin’s Michael Sanchez in the XFO 52 main event. Of course, that begs another question. Is this it?

“This is the question I’ve had to answer this whole time. Originally my plan was that this was my last fight. Now that I’ve been training and having fun it’s hard to walk away from. However, I do have a job and career and understand that the next level requires more commitment than three months a year. My goal since day one was to make it to a big show. I love the XFO and the Outdoor War is probably my favorite venue I’ve ever fought in, but I don’t want to fight for a small show again. Never say never, but unless a bigger organization wants to let me fight for them the end of next summer, this will most likely be my last one.”

His training camp has been like a whirlwind tour, working with a variety of some of the best gyms and trainers from both near and far. Fiordirosa says it’s been an amazing experience, a mix of training and reuniting with old friends.

“My goal was to have fun, train with my friends, and work hard. That has been the case so far. I have spent time training at MTC (Alex has been a great mentor for me), Energy MMA (Dom’s let me get in the gym whenever I’ve needed to), Blackburn Thai Boxing (Clint’s an awesome dude all around) and numerous acquaintances along the way at random spots (how about a shoutout to Greyson Plate). I’ve brought in some of my high school wrestlers to train with me, got a day in at Izzy Style wrestling, and began with lifting at Crossfit Freedom.

“I spent a week training at Greg Jackson’s gym in New Mexico with Clay Guida which was incredible. Clay was the guy that got me started with MMA and since that first month I was never really allowed to train with him, so it was really cool to spend some time with him. And talk about inspiration, Clay’s a workhorse and great guy to be around and another person that has inspired me! I also took a backpacking trip in Yosemite to clear my mind which I never would have done before, but it made a huge difference for me. I’ve had a great summer, worked hard, and it hasn’t stopped me from doing anything I’ve wanted to. I think a lot of other fighters would be jealous of how my camp has gone. This will be the first time I’ve ever fought without a weight ‘cut.’

Saturday night’s fight could be his last, but not even Fiordirosa really knows. Getting back into battle and getting your hand raised can’t be too dissuasive. But if he doesn’t fight again, at least he gets to compete one more time and close out his career on his own terms.

“The other reason to take this fight is to say thanks to all the people that have supported me along the way. There never was a clear cut ending to my MMA career…it just sort of faded away. Regardless of what has happened, I can’t argue that the sport of MMA has greatly impacted my life. Towards the end I lost the true reasons of why I began fighting: that it was fun and I really liked the people that were by my side. My goal for this fight is to have fun and remember why I loved this sport.”

Click here for tickets to see Matt “Sunshine” Fiordirosa and XFO 52 at Sideout’s in Island Lake.

About Matt Lo Cascio

Matt Lo Cascio is the co-founder and editor of Chicago's MMA. He is the former play-by-play announcer for the XFO and other organizations, and he has been published by ESPN.com, DraftKings, The Comeback, FanSided, and more.

Recommended for you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *