Since Charlie Brenneman’s stunning win over Rick Story on June 26 in Pittsburgh, it has been hard times for his AMA Fight Club teammates fighting in the UFC and Strikeforce.
Mike Constantino is ready for that to end.
Constantino is the proprietor and head trainer at AMA, which has its main location in Whippany and another in Pompton Lakes. He talked to knotmove.com from Washington, where he is preparing Brenneman and Rafaello Oliveira for their respective bouts Saturday at the Verizon Center in the UFC Live on Versus 6 event.
Brenneman takes on Anthony Johnson in a welterweight match on the main card, while Oliveira meets fellow veteran Yves Edwards at lightweight on the undercard. The main card starts at 9 p.m. on Versus, while the prelims will stream live on Facebook and are slated for a 6:40 start.
Constantino acts not only as a trainer, but as manager, friend, father figure and tough-love giver when needed to his stable of fighters, who have well-earned their “anytime, anywhere” label by taking countless fights on short notice.
But lately Constantino’s big-show athletes have not been winning.
“There’s a lot of pressure on me, losing all these fights in a row,” Constantino said. “To see them suffer a loss is devastating, and sometimes they get hurt, too. No one wants to see someone they love get hurt. The emotional side is way more important to me.”
If that’s the case, then his emotions have been a wreck for most of the summer as the losses piled up for AMA.
Jim Miller fell to Ben Henderson on Aug. 14, losing his bid for a lightweight title shot. Brother Dan Miller fell to Rousimar Palhares on Aug. 27 in Rio de Janeiro. Amanda Nunes figured to end the slide at Strikeforce on Sept. 10, but was pounded out by underdog Alexis Davis. Then Ricardo Romero was knocked unconscious by James Te Huna on Sept. 24.
You could even add former WEC lightweight champion Jamie Varner to that mix, as he was defeated Sept. 23 by Dakota Cochrane at Titan Fighting Championships 20 in his effort to get back in to the UFC.
Yes, that’s a lot of losing to handle, but one of the trademarks of Constantino’s style is keeping calm in preparation, even if he sometimes gets caught with his potty mouth in between rounds of his fighters’ contests.
He says the fighters, their friends and family have been taking it easy and hanging out in Washington. On Tuesday, the group congregated in Brenneman’s room and just talked. Oliveira, whose training camp took place near his Tennessee home at Knoxville Mixed Martial Arts under Eric Turner, philosophized spiritually with a fellow Brazilian friend while the others tried their best to get across to them the meaning of some of their bad American jokes.
“Bonding and relaxing,” said Constantino, who had a heart-to-heart with Brenneman ahead of what is the biggest fight of the new East Hanover resident’s career.
Constantino feels that the brain will be as important as the body for Brenneman on Saturday.
“We kept doing what we’re doing, but we just did more of it,” Constantino said of Brenneman’s camp. “We did a lot of mental preparation, we had a really great talk last night. It really hit home and it made him mentally focused. Anthony Johnson is an intimidating fighter.”
Brenneman is a well-educated former Spanish teacher, which is how he earned his nickname. Constantino says Brenneman is easily the most equipped of anyone in his stable to handle the media responsibilities that come with being on a UFC main card. It’s no surprise Brenneman readily admits his comfort in front of cameras, behind microphones and talking to media members.
Perhaps Brenneman used up some extra shares of the team’s good karma or fortune at that June event. He learned of the fight 10 minutes — yes, minutes — before weigh-ins, after his originally scheduled contest had been cancelled earlier in the week. Suddenly, Brenneman made weight, was fighting in the co-main event in front of his friends, family and fans, and earned an emotional unanimous decision over the much higher-regarded Rick Story.
He had a full camp for Johnson, though, and comes in as a solid underdog. Thing is, Johnson had plenty of time to prepare for Brenneman, too. It was pointed out that the usually fiery Johnson was giving Brenneman significant and legitimate praise in his media sessions, and Constantino was pleasantly surprised by the clear measure of respect.
As for Oliveira, he has not been to North Jersey in a while.
“The last time he was here was before we booked the fight,” Constantino said. “We chose to let him stay in Tennessee to help with his allergies. We kept him close to home.”
After Turner’s everyday tutelage and fueled by his wife’s home cooking, Oliveira is in the key match of his second UFC stint. He was beaten by Gleison Tibau on May 28 in his return, and added to AMA’s reputation by taking that fight on short notice in order to earn his new contract.
Oliveira went 1-2 in his first try, then went 4-0 outside of the UFC in order to get back in. He has the chance to gain some more followers with this match, as it is the top prelim and should have the most views on Facebook.
In his corner, Constantino will be guiding his fighter, hoping for the end of the AMA losing streak.
Brenneman-Johnson will be the second fight aired on the Versus broadcast. The other Versus fights are lightweight Matt Wiman vs. Mac Danzig, heavyweight Stefan Struve vs. Pat Barry, and the bantamweight title bout between champion Dominick Cruz and Demetrious Johnson.
The undercard will be streamed live on Facebook, and you can watch for free by going to the UFC’s Facebook page, clicking the “like” icon and then finding the link in the left navigation.
Oliveira’s lightweight match with Edwards is the final bout of the Facebook stream. There are two other lightweight undercard matches, with Ultimate Fighter season 12 finalist Michael Johnson vs. unbeaten Paul Sass, and Shane Roller vs. T.J. Grant. In the bantamweight division, Mike Easton meets Byron Bloodworth, and Walel Watson takes on Joseph Sandoval. The other preliminary fight is between veteran welterweight veterans Josh Neer and Keith Wisniewski.