The job of a professional wrestler is a lot different than that of a professional tree climber. Wrestlers need to fit an image within the entertainment world where fake flash and ridiculous behavior are rewarded. In the world of arborists, hard work is rewarded.
Nobody can ever accuse Tanner Saraceno of slacking off. He was a college wrestler at Limestone College, where he also got a degree in strength and conditioning. Saraceno went on to pursue a career in mixed martial arts. He has several hobbies too, including working on old trucks, blacksmithing, metalworking and woodworking. He owns his own business, Tanner’s Legendary Tree Services, where he not only handles his own clients, but also does contract climbing for other companies. He is not, however, known for goofy self-promotion, which made it all the more strange when he was approached by WWE’s Tough Enough reality show for a chance to become a pro-wrestling star.
““I thought I was getting pranked by my buddies at first,” Saraceno told Combat Press. “For a long time, I thought I was getting catfished or something. They kind of just found me and said they liked my look and my background. I told them what I was about and what I’d been doing. They invited me out to the show, and I was still an amateur then. I went on the show, competed, and got pretty far. I made it to the second-to-last week, and I got third place. After that, I went right back into MMA. I took a fight shortly after the show. I haven’t really heard anything from them since. At the time, they said they weren’t really interested in offering me a contract.
“It was definitely a unique experience. You get the reality TV — and definitely more performance — aspect of the physical competition, rather than MMA, where it’s pretty important how well you fight. I learned the transition of how to do that and interact with the crowd more, rather than just going out there and competing. I also learned how not real reality TV is.”
The pro-wrestling world may not be a great fit for Saraceno, but the pro MMA world certainly has a star in the making. After his stint in reality TV, Saraceno returned to win two more amateur fights and eventually turn pro. Three years later, he is 7-2 with seven finishes. The Legacy Fighting Alliance came calling, too. Saraceno was able to make his promotional debut at LFA 49 in September. Unfortunately, he dropped a decision to Jonavin Webb in an unlikely fashion.
“It was stupid and upsetting, to say the least,” Saraceno admitted. “It’s kind of ironic that I’m a wrestler, and I pretty much got outwrestled. I was feeling very confident in my striking. I had gone up to Duke Roufus at Roufusport in Milwaukee. I felt I made some pretty good improvements up there. I was working on my striking and focusing primarily on that. Every camp that was leading up to whatever fight I was getting ready for, I just wanted to strike more. Unfortunately, I didn’t really transition any of that. When I was striking, I got so obsessed with the striking that I forgot he could shoot. He didn’t do anything crazy, fancy or super tricky. It was all basic stuff. He was able to get me down, stay on top, and put me in submission defense. It was a lot of stupid mistakes, primarily on my part.”
Saraceno has a solid wrestling background and submitted four of his previous opponents. He was chomping at the bit to get redemption, but instead has had a bit of a long layoff. On Friday night, he will finally return to action at LFA 71, where he faces Gregory Rodrigues live on AXS TV.
“Since the Webb fight, I’ve been dealing with numerous small injuries, here and there,” Saraceno explained. “They just kept me out of training and getting ready for a fight. I would get a couple weeks in and then something would just pop up that I wouldn’t be able to train. I also got married recently and had to take some time for that as well. There was a UFC in Greenville [S.C.] just a couple weeks ago, and I started training for that. I wasn’t expecting to get a call, but I wanted to be ready just in case there was a short-notice drop-out. We were looking at LFA as our primary. We thought we had an opponent, but that fell through. Then, they sent over Rodrigues, and we accepted the fight that night or the next day.”
Saraceno trains at Revolution Martial Arts in Inman, S.C., which is where he has been for pretty much all of his career. He and his team finally got word only a few weeks out from the fight that Rodrigues was his next opponent.
“When we took the fight, I thought he was actually a purple belt [in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu], but then we found out he’s a black belt,” Saraceno said. “He looks to be an all-around fighter. Having a black belt, I imagine he’s going to want to be on the ground. I’m sure he’s training to work hard to get there. He doesn’t seem to want to strike. He looks like he’s a resilient guy. He took a lot of damage on the ground in one of his fights, and he was able to keep his composure and come back to TKO a guy.”
Rodrigues earned his black belt under Henrique Machado. He has won the IBJJF World Championships in the past. However, this is an MMA fight, and Saraceno has a few more fights, including some against more experienced opponents.
Regardless of what happens on Friday night, the wrestler-turned-fighter has plans for his future, but they don’t necessarily involve pro wrestling. He is a business owner, a new husband, and a hardworking MMA fighter. Like many others, Saraceno has his sights set on the UFC.
“I’m looking to keep pushing toward that goal and getting to that spotlight, and winning along the way,” said Saraceno. “There is really no specific goal I have. I just want to get this fight in and get back to competing, get back to fighting, and do what I do best: pursuing gold and pursuing a contract.
“I finish fights, and I’m exciting. I go out there to fight. I don’t go out there to get to a point victory. I actually feel sick if I ever do. My last fight was just an extra motivator after that. Going into that decision, I felt sick. If it were up to me, there wouldn’t be a time limit on a fight. We would just go in there and fight to a finish.”
Definitely no slacking here.