A Stranger in a Strange Land

Jim Genia

It was in August of last year when Tom Gallicchio decided he needed a change.  So, like many before him, he packed up his things and left, eschewing the daily comforts familiarity brings for a new life, a new setting, and a new world of possibilities.  What makes Tom story different is that he's a fighter by trade, a fighter who exchanged his native New Jersey for the sunnier skies of Murrieta, CA, and the training prospects available.  In other words, Tom moved so he could join Team Quest.

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You know Team Quest as the place where the legendary Dan Henderson trains, the place where Chael Sonnen gets in occasional workouts and where at any given time UFC, Strikeforce and Bellator fighters like Yushin Okami, Ed Herman, Tarec Saffiedine and Tyson Nam can be seen getting their spar on.  But it's also a kind of mecca for the aspiring, or — as is the case with Tom — for accomplished dudes keen on taking things to the next level.  In that regard, it's similar to Greg Jackson's camp, or American Top Team, or Xtreme Couture, or wherever else people trek to like pugilistic pilgrims eager to worship at the altar of combat.  Tom is one of those pilgrims.

Snapshot of Tom: his first fight was in 2006, and in the span of 12 years, he's amassed a 16-8 record fighting mostly in the Northeast.  He was Ring of Combat's welterweight champ, a Battle Cage Xtreme champ, and when M-1 Global held a tournament in the States, he won it, defeating three opponents in the process.  He's fought in Russia, fought on Showtime, and battered Igor Gracie for three full rounds.  He's always been sort of a wrestler-face puncher hybrid, and if he's got a signature move — a finishing technique or "go to" that he most frequently pulls out of his bag of tricks — it's taking an opponent's back and sinking the choke (he's won nine bouts that way).  He's also, for one reason or another, never been able to burst through the invisible ceiling that's hovered over him.

"I had the opportunity to train out of a more prestigious and bigger facility, with more experienced coaches," says Tom on why he made the move across the country.  "Honestly, I kind of felt that I was going stale where I was at.  Especially being with the hometown distractions, and knowing too many people.  I just felt that the coaching staff was a lot better at one of these bigger camps than at one of the local camps.  I was at a good local camp, but I really had to step up my game if I wanted to make it to the next level and pursue my goals."

Prior to the move, Tom was a Jersey Shore denizen, training with UFC veteran Kurt Pellegrino's crew.  How does Tom get along with his new team?  "The whole team is great," he says.  "I mostly hang out with my team, and they're kind of all in the same boat.  One of the fighters is from Alaska, my roommate is from Wisconsin, a buddy here is from France… we got a lot of French people, actually.  Our Muay Thai coach was the head of the French national team, so he came down, and Cyrille Diabate comes down — I guess they're a tight-knit group.  We just had the Bellator champ, Christian M'Pumbu down, getting ready.  You get all walks of life, and even a few locals here and there."  He adds, "I live with some pretty good fighters.  My buddy Sam Alvey is on this season of 'The Ultimate Fighter'."

How many of the fighters there have traveled from distant locales to train at Team Quest?  "I would say half.  Maybe even a little bit more than half."

For a lifelong resident of the Garden State, transplanting to California can mean quite a bit of culture shock.  "It's a lot different," he says.  "I hear there's a thing called 'California time', and that's where everybody's a little late.  The weather's a lot nicer, so that's nice...  It's definitely a lot different, but overall it's the same.  You see the same chain restaurants, same places everywhere."

How's the food in California?  "The Italian sucks, the Mexican is good.  You get great Mexican food, but you won't get a good bagel, or pizza."

To pay the bills, Tom bounces at a local bar, and when he can, he helps out with the kids' class at Team Quest.  "I don't even have a car out here," he says.  "I have a little scooter I ride around."

Of course, it hasn't been all smooth sailing since Tom made the move.  He tore his meniscus checking a kick in training, which required coming back to the East Coast for rehab and downtime, and he's had trouble finding fights.  "For a while, with my experience, people were saying no," he says.  "Especially since I have to fight back at the local shows again.  There's not a lot of guys that have 24 professional fights at local shows."

Still, as grim as things were when Tom was injured, things have started looking up.  He's since fully recovered, and an opponent has agreed to fight him at an upcoming King of the Cage event, and another has agreed for a show after that.

"I want to just keep moving forward and keep moving up the ranks," he says.  "I had a slump and I want to get out of it, so I'm taking it one fight at a time.  But I don't want to say no to tough fights, either.  I'll take all bets."

 "It's nice to have everything in one facility and not have to go to several different locations — to a boxing coach, to conditioning place, to a jiu-jitsu guy," says Tom, reiterating his motivation for moving.  "That's one of the reasons I went to a place that had it all."

Years ago, when the sport was much younger, what Tom has done would be considered something of a phenomenon.  But times have changed.  Where once it was unique that Jens Pulver had moved to Iowa to train with Pat Miletich, or that Forrest Griffin had ditched Georgia and Amir Sadollah had bailed on Virginia for Las Vegas, it's become more commonplace. 

Does Tom ever miss New Jersey, the place he'd called home for most of his life?  "I miss my family," he says, "and certain friends, but no.  When I was in New Jersey [rehabbing], I couldn't wait to come back and train."

Hopefully, for Tom — a stranger in the strange land that lacks decent Italian food and bagels — the move to California and Team Quest will pay off.

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