How Darth Rigatoni Embraced a Muay Thai Mentality: Mikey Musumeci Breaks Down Latest Victory

Mikey Musumeci may be one of the most dangerous professional limb wreckers in the business, but when he reflects on his latest leg entanglement in the ONE Championship Circle – against Atos up-and-comer and current IBJJF no-gi champ Osamah Almarwai, no less – he offers a new perspective.

“I’ve learned not to celebrate too early when I have a joint lock submission anymore,” he tells me wryly. “I don’t get too excited. I’m like, ‘Alright, I have it, but it’s not over!’”

“It was a great match – he’s a really tough guy, and super flexible,” Mikey says of his opponent.

According to Mikey, he heard a few pops and crackles during his leglock shootout with Almarwai. However, having learned from his grisly war with sambo champ Gantumur Bayanduuren (who, last we heard, is still recovering from a torn ACL, torn MCL, torn meniscus, and broken ankle at the hands of Darth Rigatoni), Mikey chose to see his leglock game as a means, rather than an end.

“My goal was to attack his feet and knees during the first two to three minutes, then sweep, and do literally the exact sequence I did to find the choke from the back,” explains Mikey. “That was literally my game plan, that exact sweep and everything.

“I stayed on his legs a little longer than I wanted to – I wanted to switch to sweeping at the three-minute mark, but I stayed there until the seven-minute mark, I believe. So it was an extra four minutes, and in a perfect world, if I could go back, I would have transitioned four minutes earlier, but it didn’t matter, it was fine – and what I felt was good was that I was damaging his legs, so it made it easier for me to sweep him, once I damaged his legs.”

It worked. Darth Rigatoni emerged from his latest title defense – against perhaps his most challenging foe yet – with a victory by rear naked choke, to the wild applause of the Colorado crowd.

“The energy was insane,” Mikey reflects. “They were giving out so many good vibes. It was the same energy they gave to the Muay Thai and MMA fights – like, they were that into the jiu-jitsu match.” He grins, wide and pleased and more than a little relieved. “So, we did it!”

Mikey credits much of his approach to the match – from weigh-ins to leg attacks – to the influence of his close friend, the charismatic terror of ONE’s Muay Thai flyweight division, Rodtang Jitmuangnon.

“I kind of see my style now more like a Muay Thai fighter,” says Mikey, who likens his leglock threats to the devastating leg kicks that Thai kickboxers are known to throw. “Once you break the person’s legs down, it’s easier to start knocking the person out. So, that’s how I see my style now, and I think it was the perfect strategy.”

Chuckling, he adds, “It’s because now that Rodtang and I are best friends, I’m really liking Muay Thai.”

You’ll rarely find two top-seeded athletes in the same promotion with more opposite public personas: earnest, bespectacled pizza aficionado Mikey has been described as a “super nerd,” in contrast to “Iron Man” Rodtang, a classic fighter’s fighter famous for his rock hard chin and mean mugging game. Yet the two get on like lifelong brothers-in-arms.

“I love him – he’s the nicest guy, and he has such great energy,” says Mikey.

“The top Muay Thai guy and the top jiu-jitsu person are from two different sports, two different countries, two different languages – and we’ve still become best friends and connected because of ONE Championship and martial arts. It brings us all together, and it’s beautiful to watch.”

Rodtang, in addition to his stellar Muay Thai credentials, has also dipped his toes into the world of MMA – even taking on a special mixed-rules superfight against all-time great Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson. Though Mighty Mouse ultimately emerged victorious in the second round by out-grappling the Muay Thai specialist, Musumeci wants to help Rodtang develop better jiu-jitsu for future MMA opportunities.

“One hundred percent, I’d help him out,” says Mikey. “And he’s gonna help me with Muay Thai if I decide to do MMA as well. We’re a hundred percent collaborating.” Mikey even has eventual plans to train Muay Thai with the Iron Man in Thailand, where he’ll also work with Rodtang on submission grappling.

“He’s like a brother to me,” adds Mikey. “When we both won our fights, everything was closed, so we just went to Denny’s to eat afterwards – like, we were both eating at Denny’s at 2 AM.” A fitting and deeply American celebration for ONE Championship’s US debut, by any measure.

Darth Rigatoni is no stranger to the spotlight – or to high-profile submission grappling – but he’s rarely felt as much pressure as he did entering his match against Almarwai. “I had so much stress and pressure [going into the match],” admits Mikey. “The reason being that it’s the first American card for ONE Championship. We needed this card to be super exciting – like all finishes, beautiful matches.”

“And jiu-jitsu can be boring,” ONE’s flyweight grappling whiz tells me bluntly. “So having that as a co-main event on this crazy card – I had so much pressure to make this fight exciting. And I really didn’t want to let down the jiu-jitsu community. I didn’t want to let down Chatri [Sityodtong] – I was so grateful to him for giving me this opportunity. Chatri’s like another parent to me, and I didn’t want to disappoint him!”

In the immediate aftermath of Mikey’s submission victory over Almarwai, he remembers his first words to ONE Championship CEO Chatri Sityodtong: “Was it fine? Was it fine?” Mikey kept asking frantically, over and over again.

It wasn’t until Sityodtong reassured Musumeci that the match went well – and that the American fans loved the performance – that the newly re-crowned flyweight king finally relaxed. “We stood our ground,” marvels Musumeci. “Jiu-jitsu stood its ground with Muay Thai and MMA, thank god.”

He’s proud, also, that he and Almarwai were both able to pull off a crowd-pleasing performance as clean athletes. Given several recent high-profile scandals surrounding PED usage in IBJJF competition, ONE’s flyweight submission grappling king is pleased to take a stand against steroid abuse.

“ONE Championship tested both me and Osamah after [the match],” confirms Mikey. “So, they’re testing us athletes, which made me so happy.” He laughs. “I was so happy to pee in that cup this time! I was like, ‘I want to give my urine, please take it, take my urine!’”

It’s often lonely at the top. Mikey, however, is delighted to have recently welcomed his older sister – and fellow multiple-time black belt world champion – Tammi Musumeci to the ONE talent stable. Mikey has previously gone on the record describing his sister as the “alpha” between the two of them, playfully characterizing her as his childhood bully – an allegation that Tammi has just as vehemently denied during my conversations with her.

How does Darth Rigatoni react to this contradictory account of their childhood? Indignantly, to say the least.

“Every day we would train, she would submit me like a thousand times,” ONE’s flyweight king insists. Growing animated, he adds, “She would get mount, trap both my arms, and just slap me in the face over and over! This has to be put on the record right now.”

Doubtless, Tammi will have something to say on the subject the next time we speak.

Lighthearted sibling quarrels aside, Mikey has big dreams for Tammi. “It’s my dream for us both to hold belts for ONE Championship,” he shares.

“One thing I’d like to say about all this is that ONE Championship treats the women the same as the men,” he adds. “I think that’s very special. And I think that it’s very discouraging as a high-level woman competitor in jiu-jitsu today, because a lot of women feel that they have to sell themselves with sex appeal, and do all these different things, and it’s kind of ridiculous how it is in society today. And it can make a girl feel discouraged to keep competing, if that’s the way that you get publicity.

“So, ONE Championship being how they are, where the men and women are equal, it gave my sister a passion for jiu-jitsu – not just as a hobby, but where she really loves it again. I actually got emotional when she came to Singapore, and got to experience ONE Championship for the first time, and how Chatri runs it, and how the women and men are treated the same, and are paid the same. It’s incredible.

“I got so emotional, seeing my sister happy again, and enjoying jiu-jitsu – more like when she was a kid, and was up-and-coming, and trying to win Worlds, and was excited. There was an older Tammi that I haven’t seen in a long time [because] the regular, toxic jiu-jitsu community kind of killed her enjoyment for competing. So I’m just so thankful for ONE Championship and what they’re doing, and I think that they deserve recognition for how they treat the women. I think it’s amazing.”

As far as what comes next for Mikey himself, the world remains Darth Rigatoni’s oyster. “Right now, for sure, two people I’d like to grapple this year would be Mighty Mouse and Adriano Moraes because both of them want to have matches with me,” he reveals.

Mighty Mouse and Moraes recently concluded a highly-anticipated trilogy fight of their own, settling a longtime rivalry. For both of these hardened veterans of the cage to take on Darth Rigatoni in submission grappling would likely create some crossover appeal for their existing MMA fanbase.

Mikey also hopes to follow new bestie Rodtang to his other cards. “Every event Rodtang’s on, I want to be on, so that we’re together,” says Musumeci. “So, hopefully, every card where they feature Rodtang, he and I can be together.”

And as far as Mikey is concerned, if these two end up in each other’s fight camps for potential MMA opportunities, all the better.


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