How John Gotti III found a new path in MMA

Yahoo Sports Contributor
Yahoo Sports
John Gotti III is 3-0 as a professional mixed martial artist. (Screengrab)
John Gotti III is 3-0 as a professional mixed martial artist. (Screengrab)

Fighters, the disciplined ones, lead simple lives. Some get involved with the flashy, peripheral elements of the business – the partying, the shows of wealth, all the glamorous things that can often make their actual job tougher.

The fighters who choose the spartan route often keep to themselves and away from distraction. For such professionals, everything is measured and calculated, nothing wasted or done without purpose.

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That includes every early morning wakeup, every jog, every meal, every early night. Fighters like that, who get their rounds in, watch their weight, push their limits and limit distractions to reach their peaks get to a point during training camps where they look toward even the smallest future indulgence with relish.

John Gotti III (3-0), 26 years old and looking to make a name of his own in mixed martial arts, has about reached that point in his latest camp. The welterweight prospect next fights near home on May 31 in the CES promotion at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford.

After fighting as an amateur, Gotti went pro and insists it wasn’t “professional” in name only.

“Once I decided I wanted to do this, I made it my full-time work,” he tells Yahoo Sports, the day after his last hard training sessions before tapering down.

With just a few days before weigh-ins on Thursday, Gotti now turns his attention to continuing to drop pounds and make the welterweight limit of 171 pounds. His twice-daily training routine during camp has been paired with reduced calorie levels and once he successfully hits the scales, he knows exactly how he’ll celebrate – substantively but quietly.

“Oh, I know what I’m eating after I make weight, for sure,” he chuckles.

“It’s always a homestyle, good Italian meal with family and friends.”

Gotti insists that most of his days and nights are that plain. In order to become what he wants – a successful professional athlete – the young fighter with the notorious name says that he keeps to a basic and effective lifestyle.

“We’re simple people,” he continues. “I hit the gym twice a day, try to eat and live clean, sometimes go out to a restaurant to celebrate, sometimes catch a movie, but that’s pretty much it. It doesn’t take much to make me happy. Doing what I love and being around those I care about is all we need.”

The fighter as classic archetype. In a life of intentional austerity and controlled violence, little pleasures stand out.

A homestyle meal after months of dieting to make weight, perhaps, a night of quiet leading up to or after doing battle. Behind the public rancor, years made up of moments and hours of disciplined solitude and focus. That seems to be the goal, here, at least, as the young fighter attempts to pave a road both familiar and exceptional given his lineage. Gotti says that the routinized lifestyle of professional fighting is a large part of what he likes about MMA.

“I think it fits my personality well,” he considers.

“I like a routine, I like planning things out – what I eat, when I sleep, when I train. It’s a very regimented lifestyle.”

Gotti says that he doesn’t feel he was treated any differently by his Oyster Bay community neighbors despite growing up with the infamous name. Still, when asked about pressure, expectations and assumptions felt from the outside world as the grandson and son of some of the most famous bosses in American organized crime history, he doesn’t deny being aware of it all.

“I got used to that a long time ago,” he says.

Gotti, says he’s taking control of his name, identity and life. “My name is my name, and I’m doing my own thing with it. I’m making my own path.”

He enjoys the routine of professional fighting. What is intentional, planned routine pursuant towards one’s passion, after all, but the taking control of one’s life?

Gotti didn’t grow up with the type of militaristic approach to the day’s hours that he now imposes on himself. “We were just regular kids, living life, having fun,” he says.

In some ways, perhaps. In others, that seems unlikely, if not impossible.

Whatever loving home environment Gotti may have grown up in, his young life certainly also must have been impacted from the outside by the profound consequences of the loss of freedom experienced by his seniors. By the time Gotti was an infant, his grandfather was in prison, where he would die just 10 years later.

By the time John III was 7, his father was convicted and sentenced to his own prison term. Gotti spent many formative years without his dad at home, and it seems to have made an impact.

These days, John says that he and his father value their time together. “I spend as much time with my dad as I can,” he admits.

“I was very young when my grandfather went away, but I remember those early days and years with my dad. Then, I remember going up with my family to visit him. Once he came back home, I knew I would spend as much time as I could with him, always. That was something I decided a long time ago, as a kid.”

Gotti’s introduction to MMA also came during childhood, and because of his father. Though boxing was in his life at a very young age, John says that it wasn’t until he and his father watched Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz fight in 2004 that he became enamored with MMA.

“Boxing was very common amongst us at home. It definitely wasn’t foreign. We had a gym at the house and would mess around,” he says.

“But when my father first came home he introduced me to the UFC. Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz II, I believe, was my first experience with watching it. Then, I watched a program on the top-25 slams of all time, saw [Quinton] “Rampage” [Jackson] power bomb Ricardo Arona and I was hooked.”

Gotti became a “big fan” of MMA at that point, and his interest slowly developed into the participatory kind. He says he played football in high school, running back and strong safety, before trying college for a bit.

Football was great, but “school wasn’t for me.” Searching for purpose with his own life and eager to make his own mark, Gotti says he turned his attention back to the sport his dad introduced him to, MMA.

“I fell in love with the sport at 12 years old … I started training in MMA eventually, and then took fights as an amateur,” Gotti says.

The lifestyle took. After fighting six times as an amateur, he decided to go pro.

Thus far, he’s 3-0 in the cage as a professional. This week he’ll take his 10th MMA fight, overall, and he doesn’t appear to be looking back.

“I decided I wanted to go full-blown into it, and so we did,” he ends.

Though his family’s name affords him attention someone as early in his career as he is doesn’t ordinarily receive, Gotti says he isn’t in MMA for glamour or attention. He says he loves the sport, meaning the daily grind of it, the self-discipline of it, the self-directed and determined nature of it.

“I tell young guys starting out who say they want to fight all the time, ‘Don’t do this unless you want to commit to it 100 percent,’” he said.

Perhaps professional fighting is too dangerous a livelihood to embark on without keeping things simple. “This isn’t something to do just for the thrill. It’s serious and takes dedication.”

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