Alessio Di Chirico isn’t one for thinking small. Just ask the newest member of the UFC’s middleweight roster about the state of the fighters in his native Italy, and it’s clear that he’s aiming high.
“Italian fighters are very good, both in boxing and MMA, and the best boxer is an Italian fighter, Rocky Marciano,” he said. “So in Italy, we will make another champion like him.”
The 26-year-old Di Chirico hopes he’s the one. Unbeaten in nine pro MMA bouts, with four knockouts and four submissions, Di Chirico will get his chance to fight in the Octagon against the best in the world at 185 pounds, and when he got the call, he couldn’t have been happier.
“I can’t believe it’s now,” he said. “I have no words.”
Coached by Fabio Cioli in Rome, Di Chirico used to play football before moving to MMA, and that’s not soccer, but American football, as he was a tight end for the Grizzlies Roma team from 2008 to 2011. And at home in Italy, his manager, Karsten Wuerz, said the buzz is growing louder and louder, with the biggest sports newspaper in Italy comparing him to a modern day gladiator while several promotions looked to sign him. But for the team, especially Di Chirico, there was no question that the UFC was the place for him.
“I imagined the voice of Bruce Buffer calling my name when I started this sport years ago,” Di Chrico said. “This is a dream that became real.”
That didn’t mean his call from the big show wasn’t a surprise. Admirably, Di Chirico has been focused on his work in the gym and getting the job done on fight night, so even after his most recent victory – a November decision win over Andrzej Grzebyk – he wasn’t thinking his next fight would be in the Octagon.
“It was a very big surprise,” he said. “I don’t ask any questions, I only work and fight, so it was a big, big surprise for me.”
A welcome one for the prospect, who is expected to make his debut at the UFC’s first event in Croatia this April. Describing himself as a well-rounded fighter, a description backed up by his equal finishes by knockout and submission, Di Chirico has the opportunity to not just win for himself, but for Italy, which has only sent two native sons, Alessio Sakara and Ivan Serati, to the UFC.
Most are well informed when it comes to Sakara, who fought 15 times in the promotion from 2005 to 2013, and Di Chirico has even been in the gym with “Legionarius.”
“Yes, I train sometimes with Sakara,” he said. “He’s a very good fighter and a very good warrior.”
As for Serati, he was one and done in the Octagon, getting knocked out by Tomasz Drwal in a single round in 2009.
So will Di Chirico be the first great MMA fighter from Italy to compete in the UFC? Only time will tell.
“We are growing up,” Di Chirico said of MMA in Italy. “It’s not so big right now. There are really good fighters, but there is no big show.”
For Di Chirico, there is now.