Up Close & Personal
Humble Pie …
Outside of the ring, local Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter James Cianci (6-1) is relaxed, pleasant, polite and funny. Inside the ring, his persona completely changes. Focused and serious, there’s an intimidating quiet serenity that overcomes him as he stares down his opponent. With Cianci, there are no showy antics; he’s all business in the ring. Known as “Humble Pie” for his down-to-earth attitude and for serving up a dish of “humble pie” to his opponents, Cianci is now training for his next big fight: the PA Cage Fight Championship. He’ll take on Lehighton’s Joel Roberts at Genetti Manor in Dickson City on May 19. Meet MMA fighter James Cianci…
How do you describe MMA to people who aren’t familiar with it?
It’s fighting. It’s not boxing, and it’s not anything goes. There are rules. Whoever has the most tools in his bag and knows how to use them better than his opponent nine times out of 10 is going to win the fight. It’s really about being a well-rounded fighter. You can’t just be good at Jiu Jitsu or just good at boxing. You have to be good at everything. This is everything in one pot.
MMA is fairly new to this area. When did you become interested in this sport?
The first fight sanctioned by the Athletic Commission in Pennsylvania was in June of 2009. Before that, there were unsanctioned fights, but it wasn’t really big around here. I fought on that first card as an amateur — it was my first fight. At the beginning, it was a little bit rocky. I didn’t know if it was going to be something I’d pursue. It was just a hobby and as I had the opportunity to showcase it a little bit, it grew.
Now you’re fighting professionally. Tell us how things progressed.
I got into it back in 2006. I started learning Jiu Jitsu, and that was just because I had seen a lot of UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). I was a big fan, and I decided to try it out. I was at Temple University getting my undergraduate degree, and I was doing it (Jiu Jitsu) as a hobby, more or less. When I graduated, I moved back here and I continued to do Jiu Jitsu. One day somebody mentioned a cage fight would be coming in three months and it would be the first one in PA sanctioned by the State Athletic Commission. And at that point I was only doing Jiu Jitsu. I didn’t have any boxing or stand up-abilities, but I just raised my hand. I figured why not?
Woa…that’s a little crazy!
(Laughs) Yeah, I probably wasn’t fully prepared for it when I first started, but I had enough confidence in my Jiu Jitsu that I figured I could go in there and take the guy down and submit him without having to worry about getting punched in the face too much. For the past two and a half years, I’ve been perfecting every other aspect of my game, working every day to get better. But even after that first fight, it was just a recreational thing. I wasn’t planning on making it a career. I just kept winning and a fan base was building up and (reporters) were writing articles about me, and I realized maybe there was something more to it. So I decided to take it to the next level and apply for my professional fighting license.
In addition to Jiu Jitsu, what other martial arts have you studied?
Judo, which is throws and takedowns. I trained with Jimmy Hettes. He’s a professional MMA fighter from the area who’s in UFC now. He’s a world-class Judo technician. And now I’m working on Muay Thai (a form of kickboxing from Thailand) and Boxing. I’m putting it all together.
Let’s talk about why they call you Humble Pie.
A guy at the gym, Kevin Roginski, called me Humble Pie. He’s always joking around with everybody. When I first started out, I wasn’t used to all the attention that I would get from it, and I think it was my attitude towards the whole thing that made him start calling me Humble Pie. Then it kind of evolved into me serving my opponents humble pie. I was on a nice winning streak when I got that nickname. And I don’t like to take myself too seriously, so I figured Humble Pie was a lot different than the nicknames you generally hear in MMA, and I liked it right from the start.
How does your personality change when you’re in the ring?
I’m a lot different when I fight than I am on an average day. I’m normally really laid back, but when it comes to fighting, I’m hyper competitive. I always have been. I don’t like to lose, so once I’m in there, that’s it. Losses are really detrimental in this sport, especially if you want to get to the top. So I take it very seriously. I don’t want to get in there and hold anything back; I want to get in there and put everything on the line every time because I don’t want to lose a fight thinking I could have done more.
Your next big fight is just around the corner. What can we expect to see at Genetti’s on May 19?
There will probably be about 1,000 people there and every seat in the house will be a good seat. It’s fun. It’s going to be a big night of fights. My fight is the main event, and it’s for the title at 135 pounds. I have a good local following and so does my opponent. We’ll both have a lot of fans there and it’s going to be wild.
How are you preparing?
I do at least two practices a day (each practice is about two hours) whenever I can. I train twice a day, every day, six days a week. And now that the fight is just around the corner, I’ve been trying to do a purely cardio workout in between them, so I’m doing hill sprints because that’s the only way to get up one more notch before a fight. You have to focus on cardio.
How hard is it to break into the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)?
The dream of getting into the UFC is a realistic one because the guy I train with every day — Jimmy Hettes — is in it, so I know I can get there. I also know it’s not going to be easy. I’m going to need to fight another six or seven fights and win them all. If I can finish all my opponents by knockout or submission it will be even better. I just need to win. Jimmy went right from the local show into the UFC. I’ll probably have to take steps through a couple organizations to get there, but with a couple of wins, especially over Joel Roberts, who’s a really good fighter, I’ll get there. — julie imel
James Cianci takes on Joel Roberts on Saturday, May 19, at Genetti Manor, 1505 N. Main Ave., Dickson City. Doors open at 6 p.m. with the fight starting at 7 p.m. Tickets are $35-75 and are available at www.pacagefight.com.