Interview – Tony Ricci MS FISSN CNS

Tony is a Fellow of the ISSN and ISSN Certified Sports Nutritionist.  He sat down with SNI to chat about training and the fight sports!

SNI:  The majority of your career is dedicated to sports nutrition. However your focus in S & C is exclusively to combat sports, why just this particular sports discipline? And besides, MMA is one of my favorite sports to watch! (Jose Antonio).

First, because I have a lifetime of practice dedicated to multiple disciplines within the combat sports. Secondly, I love the challenge of conditioning the biomotor abilities in combat sports. I enjoy balancing the delicate art and science of training protocols for these athletes. The fact that linear periodization models for strength, power and speed, can rarely be applied due to a host of variables, really makes S&C for elite level fighters as much of an art as a science. Your protocols can put a fighter in rehabilitation for 3 – 6 months, or potentially contribute to a world championship/title performance. And, then there is the psychological aspect of conditioning a fighter that I love most. You are not just training their biomotor abilities, you are training their mind. You are further instilling a belief within them that they are a champion, and no matter what happens on the mat, in the ring, or the octagon, they have been there many times over in their training, and then cannot be broken mentally as a result.

SNI: What is your first line of strategy in program design for fighters?

Oh boy, first the balancing acts. That is, balancing the egos and concerns of every coach, manager and promoter. You find most of the people you deal with in the combats sports are themselves well-balanced, as they have a chip on each shoulder. After that, I collaborate extensively with the coaches from all disciplines. I need to know what they want out of their fighter and how they want to dictate the fight. Once this is done I gather an extensive background on the fighters past training disciplines so immediately I will know how they have been conditioned previously and where they may lag as a result. I will review all the available data and film of my fighter as well that of their opponent. Once I have this information I know how each fighter wins or loses, submission, knockout, decision, and how long it takes them to do so. Have they won early and never gone 3 five minute rounds, or have they historically taken it to the bell? With this data I can now start formulating my program to my fighter’s strengths and weaknesses, conditioning them to ensure a  rough night for his/her opponent.

SNI: After consultation with trainers, coaches, and aggregating data, what is an example of how you may design protocols specifically for a fighter?

Once we establish peace and consistency amongst trainers, managers, etc, I will design the program with two things in mind first, their previous conditioning experience and the conditioning necessary to dictate the fight. For example, if I have a wrestler with supreme systemic cardio conditioning and the ability to fight endlessly on the ground, when transitioning to MMA, we will do extensive conditioning on strike specific exercises, both for punching and kicking, as they may have to further enhance their localized endurance and buffering capacity in the extremities to ensure high striking volume if needed. For the experienced Jiu Jitsu competitor moving to MMA we emphasize a lot of explosive level- changes. This sport occurs with the body horizontal to the ground most of the match, so standing them up to improve striking ability and endurance on their feet is vital as they already have an established conditioning base for ground fighting. And for the boxer or kickboxer going MMA, they will now need absolute power and strength not used as much in a stand-up game, so we’ll emphasize grip strength and endurance, full body isometric strengthening, and movements enhancing the biomotor abilities for take down defense and surviving on the ground.

SNI:  Is developing S & C programs for the combat athletes distinctly different than other sports?

Yes! Of course all elite level athletes have enormous training volume, but the pro fighter may supersede that of any athlete with the exception of some Olympic athletes. There are so many interdisciplinary training practices and coaches involved that you really have to carefully adjust your program based upon total training volume, or be sure to be scolded by everyone, including a pilates coach who once took it to me for my training protocols as she insisted her discipline took greater precedent over mine in fight specific preparation. Nevertheless, remember, you win these sports by knocking out or hurting your opponent more than they hurt you, so the fighter will go through a camp with multiple minor and major injuries, so your best calculated plans and periodization models are likely to be incessantly interrupted. And while true of all elite athletes, more often than not you will have to pull your fighter away from training and force them to rest as opposed to telling them to turn it up.

SNI: Is there a significant difference in training the stand-up fighter, for example, as opposed to wrestler or mma ground fighting specialist.

Definitely! I emphasize relative power, speed and strength more with the stand up fighter, power to bodyweight ratio. That is, the ability to relocate their body at high speeds. I have always said fighting is like real estate, in which they say all that matters is – location, location, location! Fighting too is location, location, location, particularly for the boxer and kickboxer if they wish to hit with maximum power or avoid being hit by maximum power. I do extensive footwork and lateral plyometric work with my stand up fighters. The MMA fighter will tie up, hold, grab and literally lift their opponents at times, so there is a much greater emphasis on absolute power, speed and strength. The MMA protocol will include a lot more loads in various exercises to assist in manipulating their opponent’s bodyweight. Additionally, the differences may be most evident in their cardio conditioning, as a stand up fighter may require some road/distance work, whereas the cardiovascular protocols of the MMA fighter generally emphasize sprinting/interval training. There is course interdisciplinary carry over in training, but these are some possible differences.

SNI: The art and science of S & C for combat sports seems to be progressing rapidly, nevertheless, where do you think improvement is needed.

In short, assessing the needs of each fighter is imperative. I understand the difficulty in individualizing programming when working with multiple fighters or a large camp, but conditioning is best when specific to the aforementioned variables for each fighter. A training program that may improve the performance and fighting style of one athlete can truly impede the performance of another. I have said the same about nutrition, while it is necessary and beneficial to scale dietary practices, is it also at times a travesty to attempt to do so.

SNI: Which training camp are you affiliated with now? Bellmore Kickboxing  and Long Island MMA

A shout out to my business partners @   Chris Algieri, fellow CISSN and Dr Michael Camp who always further my knowledge in fight science. Thanks to good friend Doug Balzarini from whom I have learned much and JC Santana for pioneering S&C for combat sports. 

Contact Tony @ 917-520-7819 or