When Toms River, NJ is brought up in the MMA world, it's fair to say Frankie Edgar is the first name that comes to mind. However, there's a new surging talent on the block and his name is Richie Lewis.
Richie Lewis is known as a dominant wrestler, as he's an U23 World champion in freestyle wrestling and a 2-time NCAA qualifier at Rutgers University. On Friday, Lewis will add “professional martial artist” to his resume, as he is set to make his pro debut against Danny Vega (1-2) at Titan FC 68.
Growing up Lewis knew it was inevitable he'd one day be a professional mixed martial artist.
"I always knew MMA was my route," he said. "I grew up watching guys like Tito [Ortiz], Chuck [Liddell] and Forrest Griffin with my pops."
Although his father was a prominent basketball coach in New Jersey, Lewis was first put into Taekwondo at age 5.
"I started Taekwondo at age 5," he stated. "The dojo was the only place I was disciplined."
Even after continuing to play basketball, he never felt in place there. Following the realization that there wasn't enough physicality, he started playing football. In high school he got into wrestling and this is where it all began for Richie Lewis.
After a standout wrestling career in high school, he had to choose between pursuing an MMA career or going to wrestle in college to achieve his goal of winning a title. Lewis ended up accepting a full scholarship to Iowa Central Community College for wrestling. Iowa Central was home for the likes of Jon Jones, Cain Velasquez and Colby Covington, so it’s safe to say Lewis was in a quality place. His career at Iowa Central was a great success, ending a 2-time All-American for the Tritons.
Lewis then took his talents back to New Jersey, as he transferred to Rutgers University. At Rutgers, he was a two time NCAA qualifier and is said to be one of the more notable names in the recent history of Rutgers wrestling. Following a successful collegiate career, he went on to represent his country and even earned himself a gold medal at the UWW U23 World Championships.
One thing few realize, is that Richie Lewis was training for his MMA career throughout this entire process. His performance in college opened a ton of doors for his MMA career. He had the opportunity to go train at gyms like American Kickboxing Academy, Team Alpha Male and American Top Team working with the some of the best martial artists on the planet.
A gym that Lewis credits immensely is Renzo Gracie NYC. Not only will Richie Lewis be one of the craftiest wrestlers to step foot in the Titan FC cage, but he has some slick jiu-jitsu he's ready to show off. He's had the opportunity to roll with and be coached by some of the most prolific jiu-jitsu practitioners on the planet, in Gordon Ryan, Garry Tonin and John Danaher.
"I can take anyone down in any organization," he stated. "But I have more than just wrestling, my MMA jiu-jitsu is high level."
While training at Renzo Gracie NYC, he met Asim Zaidi. Zaidi, current head coach at the Goatshed Academy, came to train for a few weeks at the gym and built a strong relationship with Richie Lewis. Zaidi had Lewis travel to South Florida to teach clinics at his gym. Fast Forward, Zaidi convinced him to move down south and is now Lewis' head coach and will be in his corner on March 26th.
"South Florida is a breeding ground for MMA," said Lewis. "The talent here is unmatched."
Lewis also discussed how Zaidi helped him through the evolution of his skillset.
"My time and development with Asim has been unmatched," he explained. "Asim understands the game, he's been all over the world."
Training out of the Goatshed Academy, alongside three other fighters on Friday's Titan FC 68 card, brings a certain expectation at this point. The Goatshed has been one of the most successful MMA gyms in the country in the last few years. From the outside looking in, they bring a certain culture that is unmatched by anyone and they are fun to watch while doing it.
"Everyone thinks we are clout chasers, driving Lamborghini's around," he said. "When people want to see you fail, it makes it real and makes them want to watch more."
On Friday, Richie Lewis will make his first ever walk to the Titan FC cage with Zaidi and the goats in his corner. It’s safe to say Lewis has the mindset and passion of a warrior.
"I signed a contract to go to war," he stated. "I'm willing to die every time I step in that cage."
Although Richie is a superior grappler to his opponent, he claimed this will be a test to see where his striking is at. Not only is he dangerous wherever the fight goes, but also Lewis has one of the highest fight IQ's that I've ever encountered from someone with no pro bouts. He will begin his journey to achieve his goal of becoming UFC champ.
"I always knew MMA was my route," he said. "In four years I see myself becoming UFC champion."
If there is anyone qualified to fight professionally, its Richie Lewis. The quality training he's had over the last 5+ years parlayed with his high fight IQ, is a recipe for success.
On Friday March 26th, Lewis will look to display all the tools in his arsenal and show the world who Richie “Savage” Lewis really is.
By: Coby Weinsier
Photo Credit: Rutgers University