November 26, 2021

Mixed martial arts leads local fighter to clean life

'Hard work pays off'

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Mike Diorio, of Homer, trains at Cortland Elite Mixed Martial Arts and Fitness in the J.M. McDonald Center in Cortlandville.

This story appeared in the November 7, 2017 edition of the Cortland Standard. To become a subscriber, email us, or call us at (607) 756-5665. Back issues available by request.

Mike Diorio’s life was on an unhealthy path. From drugs to alcohol, and weighing more than 300 pounds, as Diorio said, he was “screwing up his life.”

Now clean, in good health and good shape, Diorio, of Homer, is a champion mixed martial arts fighter who recently spent six weeks in South Africa competing on an MMA television show.

“Hard work pays off,” Diorio said.

Four years ago, when Diorio was at a low point in his life, he got a call from Randy Smith, owner of Cortland Elite Mixed Martial Arts gym in the J.M. McDonald Sports Complex, asking if he would participate in a fighting event. But first Diorio had to get clean.

Diorio took the challenge, and after 30 days of training he got into better shape and won the fight. He kept sober, entered another fight and won again. Six months later, another fight, another win; this time putting him in contention for an amateur championship.

“At that point I decided to dedicate my life to the sport,” Diorio said. “It just opened up a good lifestyle.”

He has won two heavyweight championships in the past two years, and turned to professional fighting. He won his first professional fight, putting him at 7-0 as a fighter.

Due to his success he signed with Florida management company, Stay Vigilant Management, which helped
him get a role on the first season of “The Fighter” — a 10-part reality television series featuring undefeated MMA fighters from around the world, produced in South Africa.

Diorio said he made an audition video, and shortly after he was chosen to represent the United States.

“It was an opportunity of a lifetime,” Diorio said.

The show was produced by the Extreme Fighting Championship organization of Johannesburg, South Africa, where all 10 fighters lived, all expenses paid, for six weeks.

The fighters lived in a mansion together, trained three times every day and had a fight once a week. Each episode would showcase a fight, eliminating the loser, eventually crowning a winner by the end of the season, bringing a cash prize of about $50,000 and the opportunity to be coached by an Extreme Fighting Championship professional and the chance to fight the organization’s champion fighter.

The show is now airing in South Africa, but has yet to be purchased by an American network.

Diorio, having recently returned from shooting, isn’t allowed to say how he fared, yet.

But it is an experience he won’t forget.

“I’ve made lifelong friends and bonds,” Diorio said.

While there, he got to do more than just fight.

The fighters represented a charity, called Fight with Insight, meant to give kids an alternative to life on the streets.

“Something in Cortland we struggle with here — drugs and alcohol,” Diorio said. “I beat it myself, and I know others can.”

He got to spend a day with some of the kids.

The kids are given a boxing class, and one-on-one counseling, which they do not know they are getting because the counselors are also coaches.

He also got the chance to visit Soweto, South Africa, which he called “a ghetto of Africa.”

“It was amazing to see these children that have maybe a stick and a rock, but make the most of it, and they don’t realize what they’re missing, nor do they care,” Diorio said. “It humbles you.”

Now back in Cortland, Diorio said he has learned a lot from the experience, and become a better fighter.

“I know if I work hard, be humble and take nothing for granted I can be a world champion,” Diorio said.

MMA gave him a second chance, he said. Through having a better diet, staying clear of drugs and alcohol and managing his time better, fighting has helped him stay motivated.

It has also allowed him to experience things he would never have been able to do, such as visit South Africa and be on a television show.

No matter where his career takes him, Diorio said he plans to stay in Cortland.

His goal is to help people who may be struggling, like he did, to find inspiration and a better life.