It’s the natural question for Joe Solecki right around this time.
Are you nervous?
The lightweight prospect, who faces Austin Hubbard this Saturday in his first bout since last December, begins to answer, admitting that nerves are natural before any fight, prompting me to interrupt and let him know that I wasn’t talking about the fight, but about becoming a father for the first time, as he and his wife Kacey will be expecting a daughter next month, on September 14 to be exact.
“I should be more nervous for that. But I figure I'll figure that out as we go. I've got more than 15 minutes to show what I can do parenting. I only got 15 minutes on Saturday.”
This is true, because as much as you think you’re prepared to become a parent, once that little bundle of joy arrives, it’s chaos. Luckily, the 26-year-old Solecki knows this, and so does his bride, who has been with him from the start of his MMA career.
“We've always lived and died by this, my wife and I,” he said. “We got in this together. I did jiu-jitsu my whole life, but we started dating and then I think seven weeks later I had my first fight. Both of us, not just myself, we always put fighting first, because without fighting, we couldn't be having a family right now. Without fighting, we won't have a place to live. Without fighting and winning and putting on good performances and fighting tooth and nail for every position and every exchange, there is none of the stuff that we enjoy, which is time together and time with our daughter and buying a home. So she's the best, and the plan is, we get to this fight, we show what we can do and then it's time to start settling down while the baby gets here.”
I remark to the Wilmington resident that in a lot of ways, he’s got this whole thing figured out more than most.
“My boxing coach and I joke about this all the time,” he said. “I'm super self-aware. I spend all this time thinking about this and this whole journey we're on, this chaos. (Laughs) I'm aware of my own mortality and I think that's what makes this journey special for me. I'm soaking it in. I know it can end at any minute, but I know what it can be if I put in the work.”
What it can lead to is a world championship, life-changing paydays and stardom at the highest level of the sport. Heady stuff to think about after just one UFC fight, but Solecki is a forward-thinker. In fact, even though he just passed the one-year anniversary of winning a UFC contract on Dana White’s Contender Series, he’s not getting too sentimental about it all, or even his big debut victory over Matt Wiman last December.
“That feels like such a distant memory,” he said of his Contender Series submission of Jesse James Wallace. “I remember it vividly, but it doesn't feel like it even happened. Even the fight in December doesn't feel like it ever happened. In a lot of ways, this feels like I'm coming back to my first UFC fight because everything's different.”
It is. The world is in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, even hitting Solecki close to home when he was forced to withdraw from his initial meeting with Hubbard in June. It made him even hungrier for his return.
“I had to pull out of the last one, and sometimes it takes missing out on one to realize how much you really want to be in there,” he said. “It feels like a long time since I was and I'm just itching to fight.”
That itch gets scratched in less than 24 hours, and it’s something unexplainable unless you’ve walked up those four steps into the Octagon. Solecki will give it a try, though.
“Each fight is a chance to grow as a human being and as a man,” he said. “Through adversity, through every single training camp, I'm getting tougher, I'm getting more mentally strong, I'm appreciating my family more, and my teammates and my coaches more. I'm growing as a human being, so during the entire process and build-up of a fight, I'm gonna become a more humble human being, a better human being, a harder working human being. And that's the reward. On top of that, you go in there and get your win on fight night, there's no other feeling like that. That's a fleeting feeling, but it's that pursuit. It's unfortunate that a lot of people in the world will never know what that feels like to pursue something that's changing you every single day as a person.”
Solecki knows. And he’s grateful.