(Picture courtesy of Dan Rod/MMAPhotoNews.com)
You might not know it, but Mike Constantino fought to get where he is.
Constantino recently revealed some of the stunning details about his career when he was a guest of Joe Rizzo and Jeremy Fullerton for Rear Naked Choke Radio on the MMA DieHards Radio Network.
The trainer and manager for a growing group of fighters, Constantino is the founder and head trainer at AMA Fight Club in Whippany, N.J. Some of the names you know are UFC lightweight contender Jim Miller and his brother, middleweight Dan Miller. AMA’s Charlie Brenneman and Ricardo Romero are also in the UFC, and Rafaello Oliveira is close to getting back into the big show. Another Constantino pupil, Andy Main, was on The Ultimate Fighter’s 12th season.
But one of the names you most likely have not heard of exemplifies what Constantino and AMA are all about.
Jonathan Helwig is just 3-1. On the night before Thanksgiving in Atlantic City, Helwig battled to a bloody TKO victory over Lewis Pascavage at DaMMAge Fight League’s inaugural event, with Constantino and up-and-coming flyweight Sean “Shorty Rock” Santella in his corner.
(L-to-R) Santella, Helwig and Constantino at DaMMAge Fight League (Joe Rizzo/MMA DieHards photo)
While the battered Helwig was not pleased with his performance in victory, he managed to earn his win and shrug off three years out of the cage due mostly to back injuries.
Helwig might not have been there at all if it were not for his second fight, on Aug. 5, 2006. For his first career win that night, Helwig slapped an anaconda choke on none other than Constantino, completing the now-rising coach’s 83-second professional MMA career.
But there is a lot more to the story.
“Technically, he did (retire me),” Constantino said on the show. “I kept trying to get back in the ring after that. I had two opponents that backed out at the last second.”
Constantino was at a disadvantage in his debut/swan song.
“I was supposed to fight a 205er, but he pulled out four or five days before the fight,” Constantino recalled. “Helwig had a fight on the card at like 230, but his guy pulled out. So we just agreed to fight each other, even though he was significantly heavier. I had just sold like 150 tickets. I was really anxious to do it.”
It was a little bit of ego and a lot of balls that took over after the contest. The beaten Constantino approached the man who vanquished him, essentially birthing his new career a mere moment after his time as a fighter was complete for good.
“After the fight I went up to him and said, ‘I worked really hard for this fight, I know what I can do as a martial artist and a fighter. You beat me. I think you have a lot of potential and I’d like to train and manage you,’ ” Constantino said. “And he looked at me like I was nuts.
“If you know Helwig, he has a unique personality anyway. But he just beat me in an MMA fight and was (probably thinking), ‘What the hell is this kid going to do for me?’ ”
More fuel was added to the training fire in the ensuing months. Constantino aspired to fight more, but it was not in the cards.
“So after that, the same thing happened two times in a row and I did not want to take a fight to just take it,” he said. “I just never wound up doing it.”
There was more and more work to be done honing the skills of others. The Millers, former wrestling prodigies from nearby Sparta, were slabs of marble waiting to be chiseled.
“Right after that (series of canceled fights), Jim and Dan Miller came to AMA Fight Club,” Constantino said. “Before you knew it, I was training and managing four or five solid fighters, and Jimmy and Dan were the best around at the time. So I figured I would be a better trainer than I was a fighter in the long run.”
While he never got back into the pro ranks to disprove it, the results suggest he need not try.
The coach has Jim Miller on the verge of a title shot in what many consider to be the deepest division in any promotion in the world: the UFC’s 155-pound class. He negotiated the spirited Dan Miller from a losing streak to a murder’s row trio to a pair of recent wins. He has Brenneman and Romero as mature and promising prospects, while Main is young and highly skilled.
Then there is Helwig.
“He had very bad lumbar problems in his lower back,” he said. “He had numbness in his fingers and his arms. He really rehabbed very hard to get back to where he could be competitive. You saw him get in the cage. It wasn’t pretty; he ate a lot of punches. You lose a lot of that sharpness for being out for a long time. But he’ll be back among the 205ers on the East Coast.”
This time Constantino will gladly stay out of the mix. His fights are over, but his career is just beginning.