Achieving a career dream is a tough challenge, but with diligence, hard work and perseverance, it can be done. In mixed martial arts, the pinnacle is the UFC, however, once you get inside the Zuffa family, maintaining your foothold within the organization can present a daunting task. Performance is key, and winning is everything. For those who find themselves in the unenviable position of being on the "Exit" side of the revolving door, there are options that are financially beneficial, as well as giving a similar advantage of TV visibility.
Bellator is rapidly making it's mark as a powerhouse in MMA, and has bolstered their roster with some talented athletes, both well known and fresh to the scene. While in the past, their public stance has been adverse to hiring former UFC fighters, it would appear that they have relaxed their hiring protocols recently, and have recruited several former octagon stars, with former UFC lightweight, John Alessio being their latest acquirement. I recently sat down with John, and got his thoughts on his new contract, leaving Xtreme Couture, his personal kryptonite and his new business venture. Here's what he had to say:
Stephie Daniels: In light of the situation with Eddie Alvarez, do you enter this contract a bit more cautiously and thoughtfully?
John Alessio: Ya know, there's problems with every organization. You could say bad things about the UFC, you could say bad things about any show out there. It's a long contract, so I'm definitely tied up for a long time, but at this point in my career, I want a home. I want to be able to have an organization to help build me up and give me a place to fight. I hope that I get used in the right way and get the right match-ups, so I can put on exciting fights for the crowd.
Different people have different problems, but for me, as of right now, Bellator has been really great, and I have nothing to say except that. I don't know all the situations that are going on with them, but I have received a few bad tweets warning me to be careful, this and that, but honestly, I'm not that worried about it. At this point, I'm not going back to the UFC. I'm home at Bellator, and I'm here to stay.
Stephie Daniels: You mentioned that you're locked down for a long time. How many fights are you contracted for?
John Alessio: It's not necessarily a "per fight" deal, as my understanding of it when it got broken down by my manager. It's more in a performance based way, which they don't do as much cutting as the UFC does, you know, if you lose you get cut, or whatever. It's different pay scales and things and the tournament is obviously three fights to win, and I could go on after that if I win, and fight Chandler for the belt. If I win the tournament, then my contract extends, if I beat Chandler my contract extends - things like that, so it's not exactly a "per fight" deal. It's kind of complicated [laughs].
Stephie Daniels: You've fought at both lightweight and welterweight, but have stayed at 155 for quite some time. Do you ever see yourself changing weight classes again?
John Alessio: I'm contracted to do the lightweight tournament, but with the right challenge, opponent and payday, I'll fight at 185. I'll fight at 205 [laughs]. I've got that old school mentality, to me it's just a man standing across the ring from me. If the right opportunity pops up, and if Bjorn Rebney and Bellator need somebody to step up, then I hope they don't hesitate to call me.
Stephie Daniels: Recently, John Cholish went public with details of fighter pay that are on the entry level scale or lower tier scale. What are your thoughts on UFC pay?
John Alessio: I guess it would have been a little bit different if I had one, then it probably would have been decent pay, but I think that I was on a little bit higher pay scale than some of the new guys coming in, so I didn't really have too many complaints about it, other than the fact that I think every fighter is underpaid, in general. In every show in the world, we are all underpaid athletes.
I think we could all stand to make a bit more, but it is a business, and a business just can't hand out huge paydays to everyone. We've seen what happens there. New shows come out saying, 'We're gonna pay the fighters really well', and two shows down the road, where are they?
Stephie Daniels: There are some great fighters with legitimate wrestling in your division at Bellator, specifically, Michael Chandler. Does that kind of worry you enough to make extra strides in getting your own wrestling game up to speed?
John Alessio: My kryptonite, right [laughs]? I can't think that far ahead to Michael Chandler, but just to say hypothetically, that I did win the tournament, and Chandler was next, yeah, the wrestling does worry me, and I should be worried by that. I mean, if I'm not worried about all of these guys, then I think I'd be coming in a little too cocky.
I'm working about all the other seven guys in this tournament. I'm worried about Chandler. I know that I need to improve my wrestling, and I'm going to be working on that diligently over the summer to prepare for this tournament. I want to go into this as a much better wrestler. I don't want to just wait until the last minute and say, 'Michael Chandler is right around the corner, I better start wrestling.' He's just too far ahead of me in wrestling, and I need to learn how to shut that down.
I don't need to learn to be an offensive wrestler so much as I need to learn how to defend the takedown. I really feel that my boxing is better than most guys in Bellator, and if I get that opportunity to expose these guys with my hands, that's definitely going to be the plan, but I've got to keep it standing first [laughs].
Stephie Daniels: Are you doing anything special to beef up your wrestling? Have you made any camp changes or brought in specific people to help you out?
John Alessio: I've actually left Xtreme Couture. It just happened over the last few months. I'm pretty much full time at Syndicate and Drysdale's. I do my boxing with Gil Martinez at a different gym called Epic, but it's not really open to the public.
There was just nobody left at Xtreme. I was one of the first, with Pyle and Heiron and those guys, to come into Xtreme Couture. We built that gym, basically. When we first started, there was nothing but an octagon inside of a big, empty warehouse. That's how we trained, to start. Then the gym got built up from there.
It was really hard for me to leave. I'm a very loyal person, and that's a rare quality these days. I understand that in mixed martial arts, you kind of have to be selfish, because it is a one on one sport, it is all about you. At the same time, you can't forget about the people that helped you along the way and what they did for you. I appreciate everything I've learned from everybody, whether it was just one small move or if they worked with me for years.
I will never forget my time at Xtreme Couture. Those were some of the greatest years of my career. It was a blast, but it's unfortunately died down, and the fighters have moved on, and I needed to do the same thing. I needed a change, personally, anyways. I needed to reinvigorate my career.
I'll be honest, those two losses inside the UFC, and then getting cut, hurt me inside, big time. I really thought that was gonna be my time to shine in the UFC, and I was gonna bring it and eventually get a title shot. It really hit me hard and I kind of got depressed. I just wasn't into it and then I hurt my knee, which was even more depressing. I thought, 'Where is my career going now? I'm kind of getting old, I lost in the UFC, I got cut and now my knees hurt.'
I just took some time and made some more changes. I changed the gym, I got healthy and started getting motivated again. I was looking for fights, but nothing was panning out over the last few months. Finally, the clouds broke, the sunshine came out, and Bellator offered me a contract. I've got a fight June 29th, I'm opening my business this week, and things have really turned around for me. I'm feeling supercharged and excited. I'm ready to start a new chapter.
Stephie Daniels: Last question. What is your new business venture?
John Alessio: Yeah, it's called The Sweat Store and the grand opening is going to be on June 5th. It's from 6-9pm, so if anybody is in Las Vegas, please stop by. We're at 9809 West Flamingo. It's going to be catered by Greens & Protein, which is a new chain out here in Vegas, and it's all super healthy food. We're gonna have a DJ and a bartender and all that stuff.
The clothing store itself is an athletic / yoga / training / active wear boutique. Anything you need to work out in is here. Our slogan is "Look good while you sweat". We don't even officially open until Wednesday, but we've had a bunch of customers coming into the store already. It seems like it's really going to catch on.
You can follow John via his Twitter, @JohnAlessio79