As he puts the finishing touches on his fight week weight cut, Chuck O’Neil can’t even remember what it was like to fight at welterweight, nearly 15 pounds lighter than his current middleweight limit of 185.
“It’s insane,” said O’Neil, who returns to the cage Friday, Aug. 12th, 2016 on the main card of “CES MMA 37” at Twin River Casino.
“I’m like 197 ½ [Wednesday] with abs showing. I don’t know how the hell I used to make 170 a year ago. It’s crazy.”
The Bourne, Mass., native always found a way to get to 170, but not without sacrificing his long-term effectiveness in the cage. His inability to fully recover the following morning showed in his last fight at welterweight, a loss to Dominique Steele in June of 2015 in which O’Neil (16-8, 5 KOs) looked sluggish from the opening bell.
“A minute and a half in, my arms just felt like shit,” O’Neil said. “I knew I was in for a long haul in that one. I never want to feel like that again. That was terrible. It’s just not worth it to feel like that and fight.
“The biggest thing is I’m obviously very heavy into lifting. In between fight camps at 170, I’d work so hard to get myself strong again and then during camp I’d lose so much muscle mass trying to get myself down to cut that water weight. It was this back-and-forth yo-yo effect and I would just feel like crap at the end of camp where now I feel good the whole camp. I’ve put a lot of substantial muscle on. I’ve never felt this strong before. It’s awesome.”
The move to 185 didn’t come without its own setbacks; O’Neil actually lost his first fight in the middleweight division to Daniel Vizcaya via rear-naked choke, but fought old friend and rival Dennis Olson five months ago in an exhausting, 15-minute war that put his conditioning and cardio to the test, a sign that 185 was the right place to be. O’Neil won by unanimous decision.
“Dennis was in great shape then, too, and we both kind of got up and were joking around that we really weren’t breathing too heavy,” O’Neil said. “That was a really grinding kind of fight, too, where there was a lot of wrestling and Jiu Jitsu going on and grinding back and forth. For both of us to stand up afterward and be OK and show we were both in great shape, I felt great.”
In preparing for Olson, O’Neil had plenty of background to work with since he and Olson were former training partners. Friday’s fight features more of an element of the unknown; O’Neil faces Roy Jones (7-4, 3 KOs), a native of Waterloo, Iowa, who moved to southern Florida three and a half years ago to train with American Top Team.
Jones last fought in October and 2012 and later broke his leg training with former professional football player and Bellator vet Matt Mitrione, a freak accident in which Mitrione rolled over onto his leg.
“He easily had me by 100 pounds,” Jones recalled. “You could hear the snap. It was nasty.”
A full-time security guard, Jones couldn’t always balance work and mixed martial arts, so the post-recovery layoff grew longer and longer, but he’s always had the desire to step back into the cage.
“You know how it is when you miss something so bad you get depressed,” Jones said. “There are always those one or two good fights on TV you see that make you think, ‘I can do better than that guy.'”
Now Jones will get his own shot at television stardom against the experienced O’Neil, who is no stranger to fighting on the big stage. Facing The Ultimate Fighter alum is a strong test for a fighter making his way back into the cage for the first time in nearly four years.
“For me, it’s not even about testing myself,” Jones said. “Personally, I don’t feel like he’s that much of a threat to me. I take everyone seriously at the end of the day. Anyone can have that one lucky punch, but, at the end of the day, you can’t be afraid of people. I don’t fear anybody. I don’t care how big he is, how tall he is, how old, young. I’m coming to rumble. That’s the way it is. We can shake hands afterward.”
“This guy is obviously a real wild card,” O’Neil said. “You never know what you’re going to get coming into this fight. At the end of the day, I feel I can beat a lot of the top-level 185-pounders in the [Ultimate Fighting Championships] or Bellator, so if I can’t get past this guy, what the hell’s the point of talking about any of that other stuff?
“Whatever this guy brings to the table, I’m not going to overthink it or overplay it. I’m just going to go out there and play my game and he’s going to have to deal with me. That’s what’s going to happen at the end of the day.”
With a few more fights at 185, O’Neil’s comfort level in his new weight class will continue to grow. Whether or not he makes it to the next level depends on a lot of factors, luck included, but without having to think about drastic weight cuts, losing muscle mass or running out of steam in the cage, the veteran middleweight can instead focus on training for each challenge one fight at a time.
“Realistically, I just have to keep my nose to the grind and keep doing what I’m doing,” O’Neil said. “It’s time to move forward and keep that winning streak going now and just be smart. I had a lot of wins at 170. They know I’m not some bum.
“Now I have to carve my stone at 185 and show I’m capable of fighting in the bigger organizations at 185, which I honestly feel I can do. I train with heavyweights now and I toss them around in training, so it’s fine.”
Tickets for “CES MMA 37” are priced at $40.00, $55.00, $100.00 and $125.00 (VIP) and can be purchased online at www.cesmma.com, www.twinriver.com, www.ticketmaster.com, by phone at 401-724-2253/2254 or at the Twin River Casino Players Club. All fights and fighters are subject to change.
The main card features three, five-round title fights. Woonsocket, R.I., native Andre Soukhamthath (10-3, 6 KOs), now fighting out of Boca Raton, Fla., defends his CES MMA Bantamweight Title for the first time against Cambridge, Mass., vet Kin Moy (8-2, 2 KOs) in the main event, a rematch of their back-and-forth war in January of 2014 in which Moy won by unanimous decision. Providence’s Greg Rebello (20-6, 12 KOs) faces Oklahoma’s Ashley Gooch (9-4, 6 KOs) for the vacant CES MMA Heavyweight Title and Johnston, R.I., featherweight Joe Pingitore (6-2-1, 2 KOs) faces Matt Bessette (19-7, 5 KOs) of Stafford Springs, Conn., for the vacant CES MMA Featherweight Title.
The preliminary card features four exciting bouts, highlighted by a middleweight showdown between Berkeley, Mass., vet Pat McCrohan (2-0, 1 KO) and Russian Ruslan Melikov (3-1), fighting out of Fairfield, N.J. Providence bantamweight Marquis Brewster (1-0) faces Turtle Creek, Pa., native Roosevelt Archie (0-1); and Dylan Lockard of Derry, N.H., makes his professional debut against Seldon, N.Y., featherweight Mak Kelleher (1-2). Quincy, Mass., middleweight Mike Rodriguez (3-1, 1 KO) battles Stephfond Ewins (3-3-1, 3 KOs) of Pennsylvania.