by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
When Rich Clementi looks back over 2005, he’ll be able to say it would be one of those years that tested him but he ultimately came out on top of. After suffering major damage to his knee in his first fight of the year in February, Rich would spend the majority of the next eight months recovering and watching the region he lives in get ravaged by hurricanes.

Now after having recovered from injury and gotten his career and life back on track, Clementi will be returning to the ring for the second time since returning to action to face Ryan Schultz in the main event of this weekend’s Absolute Fighting Championships 14 show in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Shortly before leaving Louisiana for Florida for the fight, Clementi spoke to MMA Weekly to discuss his return to fighting, the effects Hurricane Katrina had on his life, and where he hopes to see himself in 2006.

MMA Weekly: First off Rich tell us how it feels to be back in action after missing most of this year due to injury?

Rich Clementi: I feel good, cutting weight good this time so it seems, I still have two days, everything’s going on schedule as far as that goes. I’m feeling real strong and I’m anxious to have my second fight back since my injury.

MMA Weekly: For fans that might not know, can you tell us about the injury and how it happened?

Rich Clementi: I tore my ACL, meniscus, and MCL in Euphoria earlier this year in USA vs. The World. I tore that about a minute into the bout (against Daisuke Hanazawa). I just got that tape and was listening to the commentators, I’m falling all over the place trying to stand up, and the commentators are like, “oh I think he wants to work Jiu-Jitsu techniques, that’s why he fell down after the kick,” just like ridiculous stuff [laughs].

MMA Weekly: How were you able to go the full three rounds on a tore up knee like that?

Rich Clementi: I never had that kind of injury before so at first I didn’t know. He kept going back to and that’s what made it worse and worse as the fight went on. I sustained some more damage, it definitely wasn’t easy and really Monte (Cox, Clementi’s manager) had helped me win. He thought I was ahead on the first two scorecards and I definitely wanted to quit after the second round and he was like, “basically glide through the third round if you have to and you’ll pull off a victory.” So he really helped me out a lot mentally.

MMA Weekly: Nothing like Monte cracking the whip to get you motivated huh?

Rich Clementi: [Laughs] Actually he kind of did that to me, because he reminded me I had a three-fight deal with Euphoria and if I quit the third fight would have been null and void.

MMA Weekly: You’ve been a very competitive fighter over the last few years, fighting often, how did it feel to have to sit on the sidelines for much of the year and be out of competition?

Rich Clementi: It was really tough. I think I was averaging eight to nine fights and all high level fights, not just Joe Schmo from so and so’s promotion, they were all decent level or top-notch guys. It was definitely tough to sit back and not do anything and it was quite depressing to an extent. Luckily I was still training my guys and still doing promotion, so that helped get me excited and keep my spirits up.

MMA Weekly: I’m sure then you were happy to get back into action in October.

Rich Clementi: It was definitely weird, I just fought Chris Mickle for the Extreme Challenge Lightweight Title, that I won and it was definitely a little different coming back. I was in such a groove being in the ring and fighting every month, cutting weight consistently, it was tough for my first fight back. Hopefully things are a little worked out and we’ll see where I stand after this weekend.

MMA Weekly: Was there any kind of hesitation or apprehension during the fight having come back from injury?

Rich Clementi: No, I do what I do. My injury is 100% healed and is probably stronger than my other leg. So I didn’t look at things like that.

MMA Weekly: Let’s talk about your upcoming fight with Ryan Schultz. He’s mentioned you before in interviews with us as being one of the guys he’d love to fight and he’s a very aggressive fighter that will bring the fight to you. How do you feel about a guy like that who is gunning for you and is going to push you right from the start?

Rich Clementi: I like guys like that. The worst thing I hate are tentative guys that don’t put it on the line. I like that (he’s aggressive), it excites me, I seem to perform best with guys that come at me. I’m excited, he’s a good fighter, he fights a lot like I do, he’s hard-nosed, he doesn’t quit easy. I like that; it will make me perform better.

MMA Weekly: Ryan’s coming off an injury as well. He said in an interview with us that he wouldn’t specifically target your knee and that he’d stick to his normal gameplan. Are you going to do the same with him?

Rich Clementi: You mean his left ribs? [Laughs] Notice I never put in any interviews which leg I injured, big mistake [laughs], but I mean I know it’s there and if I’m gonna win a fight it’s not like I wouldn’t do those techniques anyway. Everybody knows I kick to the body, I knee, it’s part of my gameplan. I’m not changing my strategy for it, but definitely it’s a target like anything else.

MMA Weekly: Assuming all goes well this weekend, what do you see for yourself in the coming year.

Rich Clementi: I’d like to come back to Euphoria, I have some tentative things with them, and some talks with TKO. I’m really trying to establish myself so if the 155lbs come back to the UFC people can actually see what kind of exciting fighter that I am and that I’ve evolved into.

MMA Weekly: The lightweight division is flourishing in Japan right now, is that something you’d be interested in or would you rather stay here in the States to make your mark?

Rich Clementi: Pride’s always been one of my dreams, it’s kind of my last goals that I’d have. Also Hero’s pays well and their 155lbs division has been getting a lot of press, but I don’t think their division is as deep as Pride’s maybe. Let’s face it, Pride has like the top six guys. Hero’s is something I’m interested in as well, but the bottom line is I’d like to be with promotions that will push me and are excited to have me there.

MMA Weekly: Is there any one in particular you’d be looking forward to fighting?

Rich Clementi: Because of promoting I keep dibs on a lot of people, even up and coming guys, so I’m familiar with the guys coming up in the ranks. I usually have some names I’d like to call out but I really don’t (right now). Probably the only one I’d like to fight just because of it being pride is Charles Bennett because he’s ran his mouth. The first time we fought I absolutely destroyed him, it was a pro fight, it’s listed as an amateur, I don’t know why, but I think with the way we fight it’d be an exciting fight. So I’d like to fight someone like him or someone real flashy in Japan, actually there is someone I’d really like to fight and that’s (Hideo) Tokoro.

MMA Weekly: Living in the Louisiana area you dealt first hand with the effects of Hurricane Katrina earlier this year. Can you tell us how that effected you?

Rich Clementi: What sucks is that no matter how hard I try I can’t get my fighting and promotion going at the same time. It’s like right when I was coming back and expecting to have a good year with Reality Combat here comes the hurricane and wipes out the whole Mississippi Gulf Coast and hinders us from doing multiple shows that I was planing on doing. The hurricane knocked me out of doing three scheduled shows. That’s kind of rough, for a guy who lives off this sport basically with fighting and promoting, it’s like I’d love to have both things taking off at once.

MMA Weekly: What did you think of the devastation it caused in the areas around you?

Rich Clementi: You know it’s weird, this is going to sound weird, I was in the military and went to some pretty bad places, so it’s like even though it was bad it wasn’t like the first time I was seeing that type of thing. I didn’t get to see a lot of the things first hand that was in New Orleans, but I know it was tough and hardship with people loosing their homes and living so close and having my own life effected like having my own home damaged. It wasn’t my first time going through that kind of tragedy.

MMA Weekly: Thanks as always for your time Rich. Is there anything you’d like to say in closing out this interview?

Rich Clementi: I’m just real excited about this fight, Ryan’s an exciting guy and I’d like to consider myself an exciting guy. We’re two tough guys and that’s what people like to see. They don’t like to see guys who are passive and blah, blah, blah. I’d like to thank one of the companies that helped us with some gear after the storm and that was Full Contact Fighter. Thanks for my training partners and of course Monte Cox for helping me out and making things happen.