Rich Patishnock on Facing Justin Gaethje at WSOF 8 for the Inaugural Lightweight Title: “I Couldn’t Ask for Anything More Right Now”
(Go to the bottom of the article for the full audio of the interview)
It wasn’t until halfway through my interview with World Series of Fighting welterweight-turned-lightweight Rich Patishnock that I found out that he’d been tapped to fill in for an injured Lewis Gonzalez at WSOF 8, which will be held on January 18th at the Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, Florida. Patishnock himself had only heard of and agreed to the switch an hour or two earlier and the news had just barely begun to trickle through the regular mixed martial arts media sites. Originally slated to face South Florida MMA stalwart Luis Palomino, a recent WSOF acquisition (whose last fight had been an entertaining decision loss against The Ultimate Fighter season 8 winner Efrain Escudero at CFA 12), Patishnock is now expected to shed an additional fifteen pounds to meet the 155-pound limit for a lightweight title fight.
“I suppose I’m supposed to break the news to you – I’m no longer fighting Palomino,” he said, leaving a pregnant silence afterwards.
“Oh shit…” I responded, beginning to impart an impromptu consolation.
Mercifully, he interjected, keeping me from going any further.
“I’m surprised they didn’t tell you – I’m actually fighting Justin Gaethje for the world title.”
I could hear his ear-to-ear smile.
After offering my sincere and ecstatic congratulations, I reined it back in. Things had changed. Rather than three rounds at 170 lbs. he was now fighting five rounds at 155 lbs. Gaethje, his opponent, is a white-hot prospect, undefeated both professionally and in his amateur career, finishing nine of his 10 opponents, eight via (T)KO. This was a big deal, and Rich knew it.
“Yeah, this changes a lot,” he said. “I’m not too worried about the later rounds. I feel like I can do better in the later rounds. With Palomino, I was getting ready for a heavy hitter, inside the pocket – precision striking with him. But with Gaethje, he’s a strong wrestler with heavy hands. In my opinion it’s a step up for me, but they asked me to do it and I couldn’t pass it up, so I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m on board.’ We’ve got to tweak our game plan a little bit, but not too much, I would say. I’m excited about this opportunity and I’m ready to go in there and have fun. I know Gaethje comes from a great camp – Grudge Training Center – and he’s going to come out and try to throw the leather on me. We’ll see how it goes.”
Before receiving the good news from WSOF, Patishnock had begun to garner a reputation of a different kind; in the two consecutive fights prior to his scheduled meeting with Palomino he’d faced and defeated two members of MMA’s royal family: The Gracies. He first met Igor Gracie (the son of Rolls Gracie, who taught Rickson, Carlos and Royler Gracie, as well as Romero “Jacare” Cavalcanti) at WSOF 2: Arlovski vs. Johnson, defeating Igor by TKO due to doctor stoppage in the first round. Six months later, he faced Igor’s brother, Gregor, over whom he earned a unanimous decision victory. Needless to say, talk of Sakuraba and there being a new “Gracie Killer” had already begun.
“A lot of the guys from where I’m from – a lot of the guys from the night, after the Gregor fight, actually – I’ve been hearing nothing but “New Gracie Killer,” you know,” he said in somewhat begrudging confirmation. “You know, there’s an article out in Ultimate MMA Magazine. I’m not too fond of the name because I want to be known for more. That’s not where I’m going to stop. And I do respect the family. And I’m not looking to fight any other Gracie, so hopefully that name will go to rest.”
And who couldn’t understand a fighter wanting to stake claim to his own career rather than assume the namesake of an already established dynasty (or don the nickname of another fighter to whom that was precisely done) solely as a result of facing two of their family members in a row. Such premature labeling is an unfortunate characteristic of most sports; athletes, especially those whose careers are very young – as the 6-1 Patishnock’s career is – are sometimes pressured into agreeing to decisions that will benefit them in the short term and do the very opposite in the long haul.
Rich – who had once dreamed of being a professional in the field of practical special effects before the fight bug fully took hold of him – has something of a whirlwind training regimen; he regularly puts in time with the Miller brothers – Dan and Jim – as well as Charlie “The Spaniard” Brenneman at AMA Fight Club in Whippany, NJ, with UFC featherweight contender Jimy “The Kid” Hettes in Swoyersville, PA and at Team Chamber MMA in East Stroudsburg, PA. This revolving roster of stablemates has sharpened his skill set to a fine point – one he expects to put to good use on fight night.
“It’s absolutely an honor, and I love it,” he said, unabashedly. “When I first started off, I was like, ‘man, these guys are doing what I want to do,’ and I get to train with them. So I go in there and I try to train hard and not only get the work but give them the work back.”
Patishnock’s sole loss was a crushing one: a first round knockout loss to “Skinnyman” Tenyeh Dixon on April 21, 2012 for the Xtreme Caged Combat welterweight title. In fight, Rich opened with a hard right outside leg kick, however he let it linger a little too long, allowing Dixon to catch it, take him down and subsequently land the hard left that ended the fight. It was the only fight Patishnock had that year.
“It really humbled me,” he said in reflection. “You know, I was 4-0 going into the fight. My opponent actually got hurt and they switched my opponent a week before the fight, so I was all like, ‘Ah, this guy’s coming into a fight on a week’s notice – whatever.’ I just wasn’t there. I didn’t take it serious after that, and I really learned from that. After the loss, it really just humbled me. It kind of revived me. It reminded me that if you’re good to this sport it’ll be good to you, but if you slack off, then this can happen. I just took a positive outlook on it and kept going, took the opportunities that were handed to me after the fight and, personally, I think it was the best thing that happened to me.”
And now, on the verge of his first WSOF title shot, Patishnock is using that perspective he gained to pinpoint areas he will be able to exploit when he meets Gaethje in the decagon.
“There’s not many holes in his game. The only thing I’ve noticed is, he’s not much of a precision striker; he ‘s a great power boxer, but he throws wide a lot. He throws real wide and he throws it with everything, and I think in later rounds that might work for me. I don’t see him setting up a lot of combinations, I just see him going in for the kill a lot of the time. I’m working on that right now.”
Both men had actually begun their WSOF careers on the same night: WSOF 2: Arlovski vs. Johnson. Both had won their debuts via TKO. Though Gaethje has since fought once more than Patishnock, it appeared that the only thing that had previously kept the two men from facing each other was that they belonged to different weight classes. Such is no longer the case.
“I’ve worked my ass off for seven years,” he said. “A lot of people put me down when they found out what I was doing, saying ‘You’ll never make it.’ Win, lose or draw, this is the biggest moment of my life. Everybody’s going to be talking about it, but what I’ve got to do is stop talking about it and just focus on it. And that’s what I’m doing now. Everyone’s like, ‘Title Shot! Title Shot!’ But I don’t have the belt yet and there’s a tough sunofabitch that wants it just as bad as I do. I do feel like it’s part of my destiny – I’ve been doing this for a long time – and I’m honored to fight for the title in an organization in the WSOF and I couldn’t ask for anything more right now.”
Rich Patishnock will face Justin Gaethje in for the inaugural World Series of Fighting lightweight title at the Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, FL on January in the main event of the evening. For more information, visit the World Series of Fighting website.