It’s a cliché to talk about the power of the human spirit, but not when it comes to the mixed martial arts career of The Ultimate Fighter 22 and 25’s Tom Gallicchio. For the New Jersey native, this isn’t just a career. It’s his life, and watching him dodge the boulders the world has thrown at him is inspiring.
“I’m like Tom Everyman,” he said. “I’m a working class man. I do odd jobs to get by, and everybody loves an underdog story. It’s something people can rally behind.”
As MMA has gotten bigger over the years, it’s more common to see fighters with a handful of bouts get their shot in the big show. Some pan out, some don’t, but it isn’t the several year-long climb that it might have been in the early days of the sport, or even in the time just after the MMA explosion in 2005.
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Gallicchio is from that era, having turned pro in 2006, and while he compiled a truckload of wins, key losses at inopportune times and bad timing kept him from the big show. And as the disappointments piled up and injuries entered into the mix, he heard more than once from people around him that maybe it was time to go into another direction.
“I enjoy fighting,” he said. “I love it. I enjoy getting up and training. I enjoy all aspects of it, I’m good at it. And why I really wanted to get into the UFC is to be paid well to do what you love. And you’re not gonna get that unless you get in the UFC. You need to make a certain level of money to live well and the UFC’s the major leagues. So it’s that and the competition. You can’t be the best without fighting in the UFC.”
Eventually moving to California six years ago to train with Team Quest, Gallicchio seemed to be closing in on his dream, where the big fights would be big and not just another rung on an apparently never-ending ladder.
“There are plenty of guys regionally who could beat guys in the UFC, but you’re only going to get one and one to fight those guys,” he laughs. “And I’m still gonna take it, but after I beat them and destroy this guy’s dreams of getting into the UFC, no one sees it. I had a great fight against a great opponent, but it doesn’t really mean much.”
Three wins in a row in 2013-14 changed everything, as he got an invitation to compete for a spot on season 22 of TUF in 2015, and he earned that spot with a submission of Mike Flach.
He would lose his next bout on the show to Marcin Wrzosek, and his injury woes continued to mount. Following six weeks in Las Vegas, he thought he reached the end of the line.
“I’ve been close to hanging it up, and right after TUF, I had trouble getting fights and I also had some nagging injuries.”
They were more than nagging, but after an April 2016 loss to Andrew McInnes, he finally got his detached labrum and bicep repaired. Finally, the 30-year-old was going to get a chance to make a healthy run at the UFC. All he needed was an opening.
Then he heard about TUF 25 and its redemption theme.
“I was in a sling when I put my name in the mix and said, ‘What the hell,’” he laughs. “I’m healed up enough to go get punched and go get broken again. So of course I’m going to jump at the opportunity, but now this is something I could do. I never thought I was gonna get on it.”
Gallicchio began training, hoping for a call back. And while this first camp after surgery was rough, eventually, it all clicked, right in time for a trip back to Vegas for another six weeks on TUF.
“It was such an uphill battle the whole camp,” he said. “I was getting beat up left and right. Until about the last week before I left for the show, I said to myself, ‘Oh my God, I’m ready. I’m finally ready.’ It was such a hard thing to go through, going from a disabled adult to an elite level athlete. But the opportunity called and I took it.”
Now it’s time to see what he can do with it.