Professional MMA fighter, Joe Giannetti didn't always have the physique to fit the name “Skeletor,” nor did he have this whole fight thing figured out. Many competitors start their martial arts journey at a young age or discover MMA as high-level athletes in other sports. Giannetti was just focused on surviving wrestling practice and trying to get a little better, a little healthier and a little less picked-on. If he had made the freshman basketball team, life may have been very different for this lightweight prospect.
When did you know that you wanted to be an MMA fighter?
"I was in between junior and senior year of high school. It was that time when everyone started looking at colleges and careers. I was going to school for auto mechanics, but I just couldn't see myself fixing other people's cars for the rest of my life. I loved doing it but it was more of a hobby. At that time I was kinda starting to figure out wrestling and had a semi-successful season. I decided that fighting would be what I do.
You weren't always a skinny dude. What was the catalyst for the transformation?
"I was 5'8” and when I started high school I was 230 pounds. My freshman year I tried out for the basketball team. I didn't make it and the wrestling coach asked if I wanted to join. So I did.
Because of his weight, Joe Giannetti was picked on a lot in middle school. His first introduction to fighting wasn't through any sanctioning body. He learned the basics on the playground, and though he asserts that he is undefeated on both the playground and in the cage, those middle school fights were not something he looked forward to.
"That year I didn't try to win. I realized how much of it was about the weight cut, so my focus was trying to lose the weight. Wrestling practice was incredibly hard. The basketball coach came up to me a few weeks later and said a few people got cut and wanted to know if I still wanted to play. I told him I had already committed to wrestling. I dropped a weight class every year all four years.
If I had made the basketball team, I realistically probably would have just went to school for criminal justice and had some boring nine to five job, because I definitely can't hang in the NBA.
You are obviously not a stocky guy, so how did you get the fight name Skeletor?
"When I first started fighting my coach thought that 155 would be the right weight class given my body style. Cutting weight for my first amateur fight, people said that I looked like skin and bones. When my third fight came around the ring announcer came by to ask my nickname. I handed that over to my coach to answer because I didn't have one. My friends saw how skinny I was getting cutting weight, and they started calling me Skeletor during that camp. When I was introduced in the cage they announced my fight name as "Skeletor." I thought my coach must have talked to my friends.
Giannetti won that fight and afterward, wanted to find out if there had been a pre-meditated consensus on his fight name without him knowing.
"After the fight, I asked my coach if he had talked to my buddies to come up with the name and he said no. He just picked it. It was meant to be.
How much weight do you typically cut?
"I normally cut 10-12 pounds in the sauna. I've learned a lot about weight cutting since I first started and I learned a lot of things on the show (The Ultimate Fighter). That was the best weight cut I ever had.
Not all of Joe Giannetti's weight cuts have gone that smooth. There is definitely a trial and error process. The hope is that most of the errors happen as an amateur.
"When I defended my amateur belt I cut thirteen in the sauna. But I started cutting out water too early and stopped sweating in the sauna. Those last few pounds were horrible. I paid the price for that mistake.
After restricting food intake for an extended period, many fighters can't wait to splurge. What is your favorite post-fight meal?
"Chicken parmesan is my go to after weigh-ins. After the fight, it depends where I am. If I'm near a good local burger place I go there. Otherwise, I'm looking for a steak and cheese sub.
My very first ammy fight I ate chicken parmesan but also candy and cake. I was so nervous about the fight that I got up at three in the morning and ate more chocolate cake. After my fight, I threw up straight chocolate cake. It wasn't good.
Where are you currently training?
"I train at South Shore Sportfighting in Massachusetts.
Joe Giannetti has no intention of leaving his home gym. South Shore is where he began his MMA journey at the conclusion of high school wrestling. His senior year, Giannetti's wrestling coach was a professional MMA fighter, which is how he was first introduced to the school and the sport.
"My coach, Bill Mahoney is the best. It is a humble school. We don't have any special connections or superstars in our gym. All we have is hard work and that carries us through.
Joe Giannetti is obviously no stranger to hard work. How often do you train?
"I train twice a day every day. I use to take one day off, but now I do an active rest day.
What do you do to recover from those hard training sessions?
Receptra CBD oil helps out a lot with recovery. I had heard about it from people like the Diaz (Nick and Nate) brothers but I just kind of thought it was the same as pot. I thought it was from marijuana. It wasn't until I saw a post with Megan Anderson talking about Receptra CBD that I started looking into it.
I also do an ice bath and that helps me feel better. The other thing is that I have to go to bed early. If I don't make a point to go to bed early I will stay up hanging out. Before I know it, it is midnight and I am tired the next day.
What has been the most difficult challenge in your career?
"Just to keep going and keep grinding. I was horrible at wrestling, but I kept grinding. Eventually, it started to click and I began to figure it out. It is good to remember where I came from.
Was there ever a point when you considered giving up the dream?
"When people are young they want to be professional baseball, soccer or football players. Usually, those dreams fade as time goes by. When I first started fighting I was getting beat up in the gym all the time by people who don't even look like fighters. It's hard to keep working through that. I thought the day might come where I would wake up and not want to do it anymore, but it never did.
People hear “professional athlete” and often think you are making money like an NFL player. What is it really like?
"Being a professional MMA Fighter is not like major league baseball or professional football. We put our body's on the line every day. And we do not get paid nearly as much as other professional athletes. Do I think professional MMA fighter should get paid more? Ya, but its still more money than I have ever made.
It is very difficult for professional fighters, even at some of the higher levels to make it on fighting alone. Fighters often only compete a few times a year. The vast majority of regional fighters are dependant on side jobs or even full-time regular jobs to survive as they climb the ladder.
"When I first started fighting, I got a job at Target selling video games and TVs in the electronics department. Video games were all I knew before cars and fighting.
You made it into The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) house and won your first fight decisively. We know you can't say much until the season is over, but what was your reaction when you found out you made it into the house?
"When I got the call I didn't believe it. I don't think I believed it until my dad dropped me off at the airport and I boarded the plane. I had only been to Vegas once before, but I watched almost every season of The Ultimate Fighter and it didn't seem real until I was there.
TUF is a reality television series that follows two teams of professional fighters who are chosen through a try-out process. Each team is coached by a current UFC fighter. Joe Giannetti is on the team coached by Daniel Cormier. The competitor's fight to stay on the show and the winner at the end of the show receives a six-figure contract with the UFC.
What was it like having the first fight on Season 27 of The Ultimate Fighter?
"The empty gym helped. It felt like a sparring session. Just you, your team and the other coaches. There is no big crowd screaming.
Joe Giannetti won his first fight on TUF 27 via guillotine choke seventeen seconds into the first round. All of the fighters that were chosen to be in the house this season entered with undefeated records.
Who or what has been your biggest inspiration throughout this whole journey?
"My dad. When I was younger we went through some stuff that I didn't know if we would make it through. My dad kept promising me that we would. He couldn't give me any evidence that it was true, but he said that one day it would all make sense.
Joe Giannetti's father raised his children as a single parent for much of their lives. They didn't always have the comfort of a roof and four walls, but Giannetti's father was determined to make ends meet and provide for Joe and his sister. He refused to allow Joe to quit school to help pay the bills, and his work ethic resonates with the up and coming MMA prospect.
"He is still not a fan of me getting punched in the face, but he supports me 100 percent.