UFC Charlotte: Jordan Rinaldi Plans on Breaking Into the Rankings, Welcomes Stricter USADA Penalties

Jordan Rinaldi UFC Charlotte UFC 230
Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

In MMA, it’s not always where you’ve fought, but who you’ve fought. Such is the case with Jordan Rinaldi, who battled the likes of Dennis Bermudez and Brian Ortega before ever setting foot in the octagon.

UFC lightweight Jordan Rinaldi picked up his first win in the promotion last August at UFC Mexico City. He did it in style, submitting Alvaro Herrera via Von Flue choke. Now, Rinaldi (13-5) will look to string together his first win streak in the UFC when he takes on Gregor Gillespie at UFC Charlotte.

It’s a big fight, no doubt one of the toughest of his career. Yet Rinaldi, who holds degrees in both accounting and finance from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, sounds ready. Getting the win in his last fight “absolutely” helped take the pressure off, he told Cageside Press ahead of this Saturday’s fight. The bout brings him back to familiar territory, though he has fought in Charlotte just a handful of times as a pro.

Looking back at the Herrera fight, Rinaldi figured going in that “if I had lost, I was probably going to get cut, so there was a ton of pressure.” Instead of losing, he won big, with a Von Flue choke that would get lots of notice, but no bonus.

“I was a little upset about that” he said of the snub. “I was thinking for sure I was going to get it. When they gave it to one of the guys for a rear-naked choke, I was like ‘What? How is this possible?’ So I just figured whoever decided that doesn’t like me for some reason.”

Still, the fight cemented his spot in the UFC. And he allows that, when it came to his opponent that night, “his ground game was suspect at best, so they weighed that in also.”

For anyone who has watched Jordan Rinaldi and takes a glance at his record, they’ll instantly recognize the talent he has faced. In just his fourth fight, Rinaldi defeated a more experienced Dennis Bermudez. He also had scraps with Brian Ortega and James Moontasri before landing in the UFC. So while those who saw the Von Flue and rarity of it “might have been intrigued to look into me a little more,” there are plenty who have taken notice already.

This Saturday, he’ll have more eyeballs on him than ever before, with a main card slot on UFC on FOX 27, as UFC Charlotte is more properly known. Yet he’s also more comfortable going into this bout, given it’s his third in the promotion. “Now that I’m doing it for the third time, it’s just more comfortable. With that win under my belt, it’s relaxed me a lot.”

Relaxed is a good state of mind to be in when training for a fight with a tough wrestler like Gregor Gillespie. When it comes to training camp, Rinaldi told us “I’m always trying to improve every part of my game.” Yet with Gillespie, there’s a particular focus on the ground game. “Takedowns, and wrestling and grappling and everything like that is up there on the list because he’s such high level wrestler” said Rinaldi, adding “and his top game is very good, it’s very disciplined and strong, he’s got great hips. We’re definitely working on the wrestling, working on the takedown defense, getting up from bottom, sweeps and everything like that. Certainly highlighted in this camp.”

In the end? “Just being a multi-faceted athlete, and showing skill sets in all parts of it. I’m not going to go out there and just wrestle with the guy, he’s going to beat me in that. But if I do the striking well, if I incorporate the jiu-jitsu and the takedowns with the striking, and just chain everything together and do it all mixing and blending it well, and those grey areas, I think that’s how I win this fight.”

As good as his opponent might be, Rinaldi sees flaws in his game. “I think he’s pretty basic on his feet. Even though he’s good on his feet, it’s basic stuff that he does” he suggested. “His wrestling is fantastic, his top game is good but when he does get in certain jiu-jitsu positions, he does back away from from that.” The key to winning, for Rinaldi, is “all about being a more well-rounded Martial Artist.”

Jordan Rinaldi, on Brian Ortega: “I was probably the closest to beating him, and that was pre-UFC, so who knows what kind of stuff he was on then.”

‘All Day’ has studied the tapes — though not too much, “because then you think about his game plan and his style more than focusing on my own.” Now it’s just time to get in there.

Seeing the success of past opponents is a motivator, however. “Absolutely” he said when asked whether seeing someone like Brian Ortega hit it big fuels the fire. “I was just watching the Swanson-Ortega fight right now when you called. It certainly does. I haven’t watched the film of that fight actually, for some reason I can’t find our fight, but I was winning that fight the whole time, I was probably the closest to beating him, and that was pre-UFC, so who knows what kind of stuff he was on then.”

“Nobody in any of my fights has dominated me at all.”

“Seeing these guys that did beat me go on to do well, it makes me understand that hey, I’m still right there. Nobody in any of my fights has dominated me at all” Rinaldi said. He went on to explain that “with Ortega I was winning the fight, with Moontasri I was winning the fight, and just made some mistakes and got caught.” That led him to “clean up those holes that I had, and then I realized that without those holes, I would have beaten those guys. I’m on that level, I should be getting to that next level, I should be a ranked 55er in the next year or so.”

When talking about Ortega and the “stuff” he might have been on, Rinaldi was of course referring to the featherweight’s failed drug test in 2015, which saw him test positive for Drostanolone, an anabolic steroid. Ortega’s first UFC bout was subsequently overturned to a No Contest, and resulted in a nine month suspension. Having fought in similar circles, what’s Rinaldi’s take on testing on the regional circuit, and the job USADA is doing?

“On the regional scene, it’s very minimal” he said of drug testing. “I don’t know if I ever got drug tested before the UFC. Maybe once, twice maybe.” It’s really just the big players that seem to test, be it promotion or commission. “The WSOF, they definitely tested me, but I don’t know about anyone else. USADA is doing great, it’s catching people, it’s making the athletes more accountable. I like the penalties that are happening, I wish they were a little more strict, especially for the high profile guys like Jon Jones. I don’t know how he’s even going to get past a four year suspension, but somehow they’ll bring it down to one or two years I’m sure.”

Rinaldi feels things are moving in the right direction, and one of the keys is “having it being random. That’s because “if we had a fighter’s union that said ‘Hey, you can only test us at certain times’ — morons could pass those tests.”

Getting back to the subject of Charlotte, will being a local hero of sorts play a role? “Once the cage door closes, you can’t hear anything” Rinaldi explained. “I’ll hear my coaches a little bit. You can’t see anything outside of the cage because the lights are so bright and kind of beaming on you. So it really does just like close it off, it’s only you and the opponent in there. But I will definitely have a substantial amount of people there, and on the walkout I’ll get pumped up while they’re announcing my name and everything, it’ll fuel me.”

Ultimately, “I’m just blessed to have the opportunity, not only to get to fight in the UFC but in Charlotte, on the main card, it’s just a blessing.” And while he doesn’t make predictions, he added “it’s going to be a good fight on the feet, it’ll be a nice chess match on the ground if it does get there, and it’ll be pretty violent.”

After that, the goal is three more fights this year, winning those fights, and “getting into the rankings with those four wins. Beating Gregor will be a huge step up, that’ll put me closer to the rankings for sure.”

That’s an achievable goal for a man who has been fighting the best since day one. In fact, it was crossing paths with Dennis Bermudez that allowed Rinaldi to see fighting as a pro as more than just a lark. “Even when I turned pro, I had no idea I was going to keep doing this for a living” he said. The allure of travel and a few extra bucks was the main attraction. Yet “after I beat Bermudez — I was still in college at the time I believe when I beat Bermudez — once that happened and we saw how successful he was on TUF, I was like ‘Maybe I should, after I graduate, put all my eggs in this basket for a little while.”

And here he is, with a main card fight on the big FOX network Saturday. It’s another adventure for Rinaldi, who feels that’s one of the things life is about. In fact, it’s that lust for adventure that helped him in the decision to fight originally. “One, glorifying God in everything I do, but also having adventures, going out there and being uncomfortable. Doing things that are absolutely insane, and getting out there and putting it all on the line.”

Watch Jordan Rinaldi put it all on the line against Gregor Gillespie at UFC on FOX 27 at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, NC this Saturday, January 27. The card is live and free on FOX (CTV 2 in Canada) starting at 8PM EST.