For Ricky Bandejas (8-0 MMA), his love for mixed martial arts started in Brick, New Jersey.
Bandejas wrestled all four years for Brick Township High School from 2006 to 2010. He competed on the junior varsity team in his first two years, but won four varsity matches in his sophomore season.
In 2009, Bandejas started as a junior on varsity at 112 lbs. Before graduating in 2011, Bandejas collected a 62-8 record, including a District 23 first-place finish in 2009 and a trip to Atlantic City for the 2010 NJSIAA Championships.
After graduating in June 2010, he opted to not continue his wrestling career at the collegiate level. Instead, Bandejas joined Nick Catone MMA in Brick.
The gym opened on Sept. 18, 2010 and Bandejas joined as a member within the first month of it being in business. Bandejas shared something similar with the owner, Nick Catone.
“Nick and I had a great relationship right from the start,” Bandejas said. “Nick is a great coach and we share several similar traits/mind sets, we are both hard workers and love to accomplish success.”
Like Bandejas, Catone found success as a high school wrestler. He competed on the opposite side of town at Brick memorial High School.
Catone won the district championship two times in 1998 and 1999. In 1999, Catone finished first in the district.
After a successful high school campaign, he earned a scholarship to wrestle for Rider University. He earned two conference championships and was named the male athlete of the year during his senior season in 2004.
The two wrestlers never crossed paths before meeting in Catone’s gum, but it is MMA that brought them together. When Bandejas joined the gym in 2010, Catone already competed in 10 professional bouts and fought for the world’s leading MMA promotion, the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) four times.
Catone decided to give Bandejas a chance to compete on his gym’s fight team.
“As time went on, Nick asked if i wanted to have an amateur fight,” Bandejas said. “I told him absolutely and from that point on we were winning and figured there is no reason to quit something your good at.”
On Dec. 17, 2011, Bandejas made his amateur MMA debut against Keyner Rodriguez at Dead Serious Two. The former Brick Dragon submitted Rodriquez with a arm-triangle choke in the third round.
He continued to compete, winning six of his next seven amateur bouts, winning the two championships with the Dead Serious Promotion in 2012 and 2013.
Bandejas decided to follow a similar path as his coach when he made his professional debut in April 2014. At the age of 33, Catone retired as a professional fighter in March 2015.
Instead of focusing on his own fighting career, Catone continued to help his fight team improve.
Today, Bandejas is (8-1) and is eyeing a chance to be signed by the UFC, using Catone’s past accomplishments as inspiration.
“It is motivational because he is my coach and he already made it to the UFC,” Bandejas said. “So he knows exactly what it takes to get there.”
With the two fighters sharing a similar past, Bandejas is looking to continue the trend on his way to the UFC octagon. Throughout Bandejas’ entire career, Catone continues to mentor the 25-year-old.
As Bandejas improves as a fighter and Catone evolves as a coach, the gym grows with them.
“As the gym grew, so did my career,” Bandejas said. “It gives you a lot of confidence knowing you listen to him and he’s going to be giving you the cards you need to get to the big show.”
By Connor Northrup