The wonderful thing about babies is that they do what they want, when they want to do it. That includes making an entrance into this world, and when Nora Lynn Solecki decided to arrive in the late summer of 2020, she wasn’t worried about dad’s fight on August 22.
“We almost had a close call there,” said UFC lightweight Joe Solecki, who was thinking that maybe Nora was going to make her first appearance while he was in Las Vegas fighting Austin Hubbard. Thankfully, she waited until after her proud papa earned a first-round submission victory before her mom Kacey delivered her.
“We got home Sunday, Tuesday she started having contractions, and the baby didn't come for another week or so,” said Solecki. “I got to be there for it, and it was fantastic.”
It was a perfect wrap to an imperfect year, not just for the Solecki family, but for the world. Yet as he looks back, he has no complaints.
“Obviously, the world was in a lot of trouble with the pandemic and everything else, but for us, personally, I got to fight, I got to get a win, came home, the baby was born, so it couldn't have been a better year for us. Maybe a couple more wins, but one for one and a new addition to the family, I really can't complain at all.”
Solecki, 27, isn’t the complaining type anyway, so while he would have fought as many fights as he was offered in 2020, that’s the fighter in him talking. The father and husband, he’s pretty happy with where things are at the moment, especially the fatherhood part.
“It's been amazing,” he said. “It's the best thing I've ever done. It's unbelievable. It's crazy how you realize that everything you've done in the past doesn't matter. I spent my whole life worrying about wins and losses and all this other stuff, my record, my reputation, and then this little one comes in and I don't care about any of that. I care about maybe giving that stuff to her as a good example, but I don't care about it for me anymore. It's not about me anymore. So it's been unbelievable. There's just a whole new meaning to life.”
It was always the plan once the Soleckis got together that all the sacrifices would be made so they could one day have a family. That’s not easy while fighting on the regional circuit, where paydays aren’t reliable or too lucrative.
“We didn't want to bring a baby into such uncertainly of fighting on the regional scene for five hundred bucks,” laughs Solecki, who started to see the light at the end of the tunnel when he got invited to fight on Dana White’s Contender Series in the summer of 2019. Here was a chance to make his mark, secure a spot in the biggest promotion in the sport and know that the paychecks would support a family.
Solecki got that UFC contract after submitting James Wallace in less than four minutes. Then as the weeks went by and he got his first Octagon assignment against veteran Matt Wiman in December 2019, a fight he won by unanimous decision, his mindset started to shift, especially after Kacey got pregnant.
“I didn't want to be a guy that comes out and gets embarrassed,” he said. “Then the closer and closer it came to the baby coming, it was like, my job's to go out there and provide. And the mindset on fight night was I'm ready to die tonight because it's for my family. And that's where the big switch came. So now it's about providing and setting a good example.”
Joe Solecki Post-Fight Interview
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Joe Solecki Post-Fight Interview
Now the winner of five straight, a stretch that includes a pair of UFC victories, North Carolina’s Solecki isn’t the same person – or fighter – that he was a year ago.
“I feel like I'm definitely coming into my own and I feel comfortable in there,” he said. “I feel like I'm starting to figure out what works for me as far as my training schedule, as far as getting on that right page with all my coaches and everything else, and really just getting into the perspective of what fighting is to me. It's different to every single person and everyone has their different motivating factors, everyone has their why, and I really stopped caring what people think. I have to. I have a lot left to prove, but I'm done proving stuff to other people. I'll be exhausted if I try to do that. So I think that took a big weight off my shoulders and now I feel like I figured out what I need to do, the headspace I need to be in. Anything can happen on any given night, but I truly, truly feel like I can compete with anyone. And I don't think I felt that a year ago or two years ago.”
As for what’s next, Solecki is open to whatever the UFC throws at him. No, really, he means it.
“I wish they'd just give us a date and tell us to show up and then you find out ten minutes before you walk out, like jiu-jitsu tournaments,” he laughs. “There was almost more peace of mind that way.”
Unfortunately, Solecki will know who he’s going to be facing well ahead of his next assignment, but that’s okay; he’s exactly where he wants to be, and he can’t wait to top 2020 in 2021.
“I think it's gonna be fantastic,” he said of the year ahead. “Every time I get this long break between fights, I feel like I really get to grow and come back and really look like a different fighter. So that's really the plan. It's gonna be my time to really come out and show that I'm a mature fighter, way beyond my years, with the ability to do all the work of a young man but the maturity of a much, much more seasoned person and fighter.”
Yeah, fatherhood will speed that maturity process up. Then again, Nora has always had a dad who carried himself the right way. Now she’ll get to see it for herself.
“I'm somebody that's been so competitively driven for my entire life, whether it was for my own ego or fulfilling my own attempts at being successful, or whatever it was, and now it's just not that,” he said. “Now, I want to be the champion because I want to provide the best life possible for my child. I want her to see what you can do with hard work.”