Perspectives: Fighting for a passion

Nikolai Gionti raises in victory after the final amateur bout of his career on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016.

Zachary Popik

The bell rang, ending the third and final round. Exhausted, thirsty and bruised, Nikolai Gionti walks over to his corner of the ring to get his gloves removed. Copious amounts of endorphins and dopamine filled Gionti’s head as he smiled to coach Jason Dent of GriffonRawl Combat Sports and Fitness Academy.

The referee announced the results, and the Goodyear Hall in Akron, Ohio, filled with cheers as Gionti’s hand was raised in victory.

Gionti, a 24-year-old MMA fighter from Willoughby, Ohio, got into martial arts while studying journalism at Ohio University. He started training and competing in the art of Jiu-Jitsu during his college years before pursuing a career in mixed martial arts.

It was time for Gionti’s last fight as an amateur before going pro. The fight lasted three rounds. All geared up with shin guards and boxing gloves, he touched gloves with his opponent Billy Freedson and began throwing hands with him.  

After a long three rounds of back and forth action, Gionti was declared the victor. With the support of the gym cheering for him — including his dad and younger brother in the crowd — he used their support to will himself forward to victory. He was enthusiastic to end the year 2016, and his amateur career, on a high note.

Spending 12 plus hours with Gionti, I was asked to share a Thanksgiving meal with his entire family. The following morning, surrounded by all of his family members, we gorged ourselves with turkey and pumpkin rolls. It was a stark contrast to the person I saw the night before.

You could see the fire in Gionti’s eyes when he talks about making his pro debut in January.

“Don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path and piss someone off,” he said. “Because at the end of the day, it’s just you.”

I remembered those words while watching him eat Thanksgiving dinner with his family. A week later, Gionti would leave to train at Jackson Wink MMA Acadmey before his first professional fight as a mixed-martial arts fighter.

He was willing to risk anything to see his dream come true.

Zachary Popik is a photographer, contact him at [email protected]