BOLZANO. The cage is now as if it were his home. Raphael Federico is taking the stage in MMA, the mixed martial arts, a spectacular and very hard discipline that is gathering immense success all over the world. And the 21-year-old from San Genesio, son of art, is growing very well This is demonstrated by the silver won at the beginning of September, in Prague, in the IMMAF World Cup. The athlete of the Italian national team grew up in the Gracie Jiu Jitsu gyms in San Genesio and Bolzano, led by his father, Alessandro Federico, but at 19 he packed his bags and left South Tyrol to take flight alone. Destination: Dublin.
Many sacrifices, a lot of work and a lot of desire. To amaze. And he did it in the Czech Republic, where he won an excellent second place, losing on points only the final in the 66 kg category after having previously eliminated thick athletes. And to think that two weeks before the World Cup the South Tyrolean talent was walking with the aid of crutches due to an ankle problem. He gritted his teeth, got into that ring, locked in the cage, and gave his all, giving himself this well-deserved silver medal. In Ireland, Federico prepares in what we can define the European temple of MMA, or the gym where Conor McGregor, one of the most famous fighters in mixed martial arts, also trains.
Raphael, let’s start from Prague. What emotions did you feel at the end of the World Cup?
At first I was very disappointed. Then, however, I reflected on what I had done and I can feel very proud of this result. I defeated two of the best fighters in the world and still fought well in the final. I found more experienced opponents, yet I managed to prevail over a multiple kickboxing champion in Asia like Tajik Rioev. Before the match, people warned me that Rioev was going to be a really tough opponent, but I didn’t think about it too much. I got into the cage, took a good hit, but held on and in the end I won with my head.
In the end, however, how did it go?
I faced the Spaniard Izquierdo, an athlete already trained, at the top of his career. He is a very strong judoka, who has thrown me several times. I tried, I hit him, but he’s not backed an inch. Hats off to him. As soon as I return to Ireland, I know that I will have to train with greater intensity, as I have met opponents with more experience.
In Prague he gave a nice medal to Italy. How does it feel to wear blue colors?
There is a lot of satisfaction. I am proud to represent my country and I entered the cage holding the tricolor flag high. It was a unique emotion.
When was your passion for MMA born?
I grew up in the brazilian jiu jitsu gym with my dad and have always trained with him. Then at 15, watching some MMA videos on Youtube, I discovered this new passion. My father helped me a lot, since he has been training in the fighting disciplines for many years. Then, in 2019, after high school, I saved up some money working as a waiter and lifeguard and in February I left for Ireland.
Which has become his new home …
Yes. I train in Dublin in the gym, the best there is in Europe, where Conor McGregor, the most famous fighter in MMA, is also training. He is not often there, he does whatever he wants, but his coach trains me.
Did you get to know McGregor?
Yes, I met him when I lived in the gym, where there are dorms. Now, however, I live 5 minutes from the implant and have a room in a shared apartment, but before I had a small room inside the structure that I shared with five other people. In Dublin, as soon as I arrived I had no friends and it helped me not to be alone, even though I had little privacy. Since I lived there, I opened the gym to Conor McGregor in the evenings, because he had to train alone.
What type is it?
He’s an out-of-the-box type. Even in training he does absurd things.
Can you describe your day?
I get up around 8 and then start working. I work for a company connected to Youtube and I take care of the reports that arrive for some videos, which must be checked and possibly blocked. It’s a perfect job, because it gives me the opportunity to train twice a day. At 11, during the break, I do a specific MMA job. Then I go home, have lunch and go back to work until 5 pm. In the evening I go back to training.
What is its strong point?
I have been training in Brazilian jiu jitsu for a lifetime and in this discipline I can give the best of myself.
In what, however, do you feel that it still has to grow?
I have to improve in everything. I am already quite well trained, during the fights I felt comfortable in every position, but obviously you can and must always improve.
MMA, especially with the top federation, the UFC, are very popular all over the world …
Yes and potentially they could become the new Olympic discipline of the future, given the great expansion they are having and the interest that revolves around this world, especially abroad.
For the Playstation there is also the UFC video game which has a large following. Does she play with it too? And which fighter did he choose?
Yes. In the early editions of the game, like UFC Undisputed, I almost always used Chuck Liddel. In the new UFC 4, on the other hand, I choose Georges St-Pierre.
To those who comment that MMA is a violent sport what does it say?
Which is a very tough sport, but it is very technical and there is a lot of control. It is certainly not made for everyone, but it helps to manage emotions, values such as respect and discipline are transmitted. Nobody forces you to do it. Whoever does this knows what can happen inside the cage and accepts it.
How do you feel when you enter that cage?
Let’s say that at the level of emotions, getting into a cage is one of the worst situations in which you can find yourself. You are in front of your opponent and you are aware that you could make a fool or finish kappa. I manage emotions by telling myself that I am the best in the world. I repeat it a thousand times. It gives me security. Then go as you go. There are wrestlers who panic as soon as they enter the cage. I, on the other hand, get high.
Do you have a reference athlete?
Yes, Georges St-Pierre. It is my favorite. He is very technical and intelligent and despite all the victories he has always remained humble.
What could be the opponent to face in the match of his dreams?
I don’t know, but I would like to become world champion of the UFC (the most important world organization of MMA, ed). It would be like winning the Champions League.
Did you also practice other sports besides jiu jitsu and MMA?
Yes, I have been playing football for ten years and I have skied a lot. But my way was another. And I found it at 15, 16, when I decided what to do in life: MMA.
In the UFC there is a guy from Trentino who is making his way: Marvin Vettori. He knows him?
Yes. He just fought for the UFC title and lost, but he is young and sooner or later he will make it, I’m sure, because he has the right mind. We trained together, but we are completely different weights.
How important was your father Alessandro in your career?
My dad is very important. He gave me all the tips, from how to behave to how to train. Without him, I wouldn’t have those qualities in jiu jitsu that helped me win silver. Without him I wouldn’t be here. Now I train in Dublin, but he always follows me, advises me and is very influential in my life and career.