“Among the map makers of each generation are the risk takers, those who see the opportunities, seize the moment and expand man’s vision of the future” — Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Who would have thought that one day Emerson’s beautifully crafted words could be tied in with the sport of mixed martial arts? That’s what life is all about. Risk-takers. Seizing opportunity. Expanding the vision of the future. These are elements that can be applied to any person at any time within their life. Without taking a risk, the opportunity may be lost, and the future is therefore directly affected by those actions. Athletes in any sport must take a risk by putting their bodies on the line to achieve greatness and victory. It’s what drives a person to decide that this is worth it. This is that one chance. Enter Matt “Steamrolla” Frevola.
The nickname alone is enough to stop one dead in their tracks, pun intended. The UFC newcomer will make his Octagon debut this weekend at UFC Fight Night 124 in St Louis after securing his roster spot via Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series in August. While the usual selection for the UFC roster in recent years has come from The Ultimate Fighter, DWTNCS may have changed the sport for the better. There were also some added benefits for Frevola.
“Well, going through the [TUF] house — I talked to my boy Billy Quarantillo, who went through it — and having to live with all the guys that you’re gonna fight and not sure who you’re gonna fight — I’m pretty sure that they fought like every couple weeks — and having to cut weight there, it’s just another element that you have to deal with,” Frevola told Combat Press. “It’s kind of like a mind fuck in there, [whereas] I got to do my whole fight camp at home.
“I got to train with all of my trainers at home and then just go in and fight with the Contender Series. So, not having to go through that whole house and having to live with everyone was nice — being able to train with my own trainers and my own training partners and do my own camp and then go fight at the TUF gym. I only had one fight to go in there and prove myself, to show them what I’m all about, to show [UFC President] Dana White that I belong, and that’s exactly what I did.”
Frevola, a lightweight fighter, will enter what is no question one of the toughest divisions not just in the UFC but in all of MMA. The weight class is currently home to UFC interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson, top contender Khabib Nurmagomedov, former UFC champ Eddie Alvarez, former World Series of Fighting champ Justin Gaethje, and Dustin Poirier, just to name a few. It’s also home to Frevola’s upcoming opponent, Marco Polo Reyes, who is 3-1 inside the UFC.
“Well, everyone knows that the 155-pound division is like a shark’s tank,” said Frevola. “There’s no easy fight in there, and when you get to the UFC, everyone is game. Every single person in the UFC is a game opponent. I just gotta take it one fight at a time, and right now we got Marco Polo Reyes in my radar and I’m coming for him. I’ve been training hard. This is my 17th fight total, when you add up my amateur, Muay Thai and pro fights.
“Every single fight camp that I’ve had, I have improved. I have notebooks full of every fight camp I had, and I always look back and see [that] this is what I did and this is where I can improve. I’m always improving, whether it’s the training aspect, the weight-cut aspect, the recovery aspect, [or] the mental aspect. I’m always looking to step everything up, and it’s all gonna cultivate with this next fight and this next big finish, and we’re gonna start our climb in the UFC now.”
If you’re sitting here reading this and wondering if Frevola just said that he keeps physical, handwritten notebooks, it’s 100 percent true. In an age where paper is a thing of the past and a smartphone is able to track schedules, diets and notes, Frevola is going old school. It’s a novel concept that separates him from the pack.
“That’s what gives me the confidence for every fight I have,” Frevola said. “I look at my notebook and I flip through my pages and I look week after week. I killed it this week. I killed it this week. I’ve been training my ass off for 10 weeks. I put in the work. I see that, because I never lie in this notebook. I always plan out my week before, and if I don’t do something, I gotta erase it. It keeps me accountable for my training, and I look at all my training and I know I put in the work and I know I’m ready. And then we get to go out there and do the fun stuff. I’m always prepared, and I always know I’m ready for the fight. I put in the work and it shows in the cage.”
The showroom for the MMA fighter truly is his or her body of work inside the Octagon. Many fighters amass at least 10 professional fights before the UFC comes calling, but this will only be the seventh outing for Frevola, which speaks to the performances he has had and how they caught the attention of the right people at the right time.
“It definitely gives me a sense of confidence,” said Frevola. “I’ve never been knocked out before. I’ve been hurt in training, but nothing out of the normal. I’ve had worse concussions playing football and lacrosse than [in] my entire fighting career. I’ve lost wrestling matches. I’ve lost jiu-jitsu tournaments. I know that when I’m in the UFC, I’m gonna keep fighting better and better guys and eventually, if I take a loss, that’s just a stepping stone. Another obstacle. [Another] learning experience.
“I truly feel that the way you come back from setbacks defines your character, and I’ve had setbacks in my career with injuries and whatnot. I’ve always come back stronger from those, and a loss would be no different.”
Injuries are unavoidable in a sport where the main goal is to inflict as much damage as possible upon your opponent before their body, mind, or both, wilt under the sheer force that is a skilled fighter. Former UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz suffered injury after injury after injury, but he was still able to come back and recapture his title in a thrilling performance against T.J. Dillashaw. Injuries happen. It’s all about how one deals with the injury that separates the true fighters from the rest.
“I broke [my] hand a couple times. I fractured [my] ankle a few times. I had some knee injuries,” said Frevola. “It’s always tough, because I train all day. And when I can’t train, I feel like something’s missing in my life. But you gotta take care of your body and you gotta rehab and do what you need to do to get back to the mat. You can’t rush anything, and every time that I have that injury, I kind of work with what I can work, you know? When my hand was broken, I was kicking the shit out of that bag [and] I was working my footwork. When my ankle was broken, I was swimming. I couldn’t run, so I would swim. You do what you can, and sometimes that helps you improve on areas that you usually wouldn’t focus on.
“You need to always be adapting, especially in a fight. You can go in with a game plan, but what does Mike Tyson say? ‘Everyone has a game plan until they get punched in the face.’ You have to be able to adapt. You have to be able to read what you see, read your opponent and make the most of the opportunities that present themselves.
“Everyone now is well rounded. You have to know what to do on the ground, know how to wrestle, and know how to strike now. The UFC is way different than it was five or six years ago. The talent is stepping up and the sport is growing as a whole.”
Along with new talent comes new forms of recovery. Gone are the days of just an ice bath and a trip to the chiropractor. Many fighters swear by the benefits of cryotherapy and the time it adds to a fighter’s career. Frevola has begun early and found exactly what he needed right at home.
“US Cryo Tampa. The cryotherapy. I go in there for three minutes and I come out and I feel like Superman,” Frevola said. “It’s great. They also have local treatment, and I do it on my ankle, I do it on my hand, [and] I do it on my knee. I go in there, and they have the Normatec boots and on my hands, which kind of compresses everything and increases blood flow. US Cryo Tampa helps my recovery. I also swim a lot, [which] helps with my recovery. I do hot yoga, too, and that always helps with my stability, my flexibility, my balance, my mind, [and] my breathing. It’s important to incorporate those kinds of aspects into my training just to keep your body fresh.”
Frevola’s notebook and cryotherapy are accompanied by yet another strange tool within his arsenal: the aforementioned Hot Yoga.
“Your balance. Your breathing. It’s kind of like the yin and the yang,” Frevola explained. “We’re here choking each other out [and] punching each other and then I go do yoga, and it’s all about sticking a pose and breathing through the discomfort. Breathing is huge. Breath intention. When you’re in a pose and you’re trying to hold the pose and make it perfect, and my yoga instructor is always like, ‘Breathe. Breathe through the discomfort.’ I focus on that breath and I hit that pose even better.
“And you can translate that over to fighting. If someone’s got your back and they’re trying to sink in a rear-naked choke, it’s not very comfortable and they got a body triangle on you and they’re squeezing you. You gotta focus on staying calm and working your way out and continue to breathe.”
Today’s fight scene has started to showcase another evolutionary tool: cross-training with other gyms. It’s a concept that just a few short years ago seemed asinine and completely out of the question. But with changing times come changing methods.
“[My] training situation couldn’t be any better,” admitted Frevola. “Up in New York, Long Island — That’s my home. I was born and raised in Huntington — I’m over at Longo/Weidman and I’m also getting my jiu-jitsu at Serra BJJ. There’s UFC fighters on the mat. There’s black belts everywhere. Training is great. I’m getting my strength and conditioning in with Acceleration Sports Training, and the fight camp has been going perfect. But I always want to come down to Tampa [Fla.] and do a week or two with [Matt] Arroyo and everyone from Gracie Tampa South. I’ve been here my whole amateur career. There’s something real special here with the training. So, with this and everything that I have up in New York, I couldn’t ask for anything better.
“I started going to Serra BJJ before I even moved down to Tampa. I was doing about four months of jiu-jitsu at Serra’s and then I told them I was going down to Tampa Florida to go to school at the University of Tampa and I wanted to keep training while I was down there, so [did they] have any recommendations. And [Matt] Serra told me right away, ‘Hey, Matt Arroyo is down there.’ So, I googled Matt Arroyo and I found Gracie Tampa South.
“Then when I moved down here, I kept training at GTS and eventually started fighting amateur when I was down here, and I continued to train at Serra’s when I would go up [to New York] for summers and Christmas. Then I started dating my girlfriend, Billie, and she lives right next to Ray Longo’s gym. She actually got me a private [session] with Longo when I was home for Christmas or something, and I did that private with Longo about three or four years ago and me and Longo just clicked. He’s such an awesome striking coach and just a good guy in general. Then, every time I would go home, I would do private [sessions] with Longo and train at his gym and Serra’s and then I would come back here and train with Arroyo.”
Sometimes it’s as easy as having another set of eyes take a look at a problem before a solution is found. Cross-training in the MMA world gives fighters the chance to really see a different fighter, a different grappler and different techniques that may not normally present themselves within their home gym.
“I think it’s good to get different looks and to cross-train with different gyms, but I think you do need to have a little sense of loyalty,” said Frevola. “I will always have Arroyo in my corner throughout my whole career. He’s brought me from my amateur days all the way to my pro fights. It was no question to go up and train with Longo and Serra, because I started my jiu-jitsu journey with Serra and I continued to train with Longo going up. I’ve also trained a couple days here and there at Long Island MMA with Dennis Bermudez and Ryan LaFlare, and those guys are all awesome. I feel awesome to feel a part of the team with Longo and [Chris] Weidman and Serra and part of this team down here. When we cross-train, it’s great to get new looks and stuff, but I always know where my home is and what team I belong to. [At] the super gyms like the [American Top Team]s and the Jackson-Winks, that happens all the time. I think cross-training is important, but it’s nice to have that home.”
Home is truly where the heart of a fighter lies. It’s that extra motivation to finish the fight, often called the killer instinct. Frevola has taken this concept and refined it into his own brand of success and victory.
“Killer instinct is something that you can’t really teach, and it’s something that you either have it or you don’t,” explained Frevola. “With experience, you gotta be calculated with that and going there, and having that calculated killer instinct is something that’s gonna be important at the next level. [The UFC] is essentially the major leagues. It’s where everyone wants to get to, it’s where the spotlight is in the sport, and it’s the toughest to get into and the toughest to stay.
“That’s the best part about what we do, about being a martial artist, is that you could train for a lifetime and you’d still have something to work on. Depending on what kind of fighter you want to be is where you put your focus in. You want to focus on your striking, your grappling, your wrestling and then being able to put all that together and being able to put that on display under the lights when it matters.
“That’s another big part of fighting that I think gets overlooked, and that might even be the mental aspect. There’s a lot of gym stars out there, and when they are under the lights, they freeze up. You have to be able to go out there and put it all on the line and throw your techniques in. I’m prepared to push the pace and go in there and break this guy. I know that my cardio is on point. I know that I can go for 15 minutes and keep going and keep pushing it and keep throwing and looking to knock this guy out. Keep slamming him on his head and ground-and-pounding him and working for the finish.
“This is my first fight in the UFC, so I’m looking to make a statement. I need to put the whole lightweight division on notice with this fight. Go in there, fight my fight and steamroll this guy. [I want to] get through this fight and fight camp healthy. I want to fight four times [in 2018]. That’s what I want.”
Seizing opportunity is the name of the game.
“Fighters get their opportunity, and once you get that shot, you have make the best of it,” said Frevola. “I knew this was my shot, my opportunity, and I wasn’t going to let it pass. I was going to make the most of it and I did, and now I’m in the door and it’s time to make a statement.”