Josh Harvey has made quick work of his first five professional mixed martial arts opponents — none has lasted even one full round in the cage against him.
Now, the 28-year-old fighter from Young’s MMA in Bangor is faced with a challenge that could elevate him from the regional scene much closer to the national ranks.
Harvey is scheduled to fight Joe Giannetti of Whitman, Massachusetts, in a lightweight (155-pound) battle Saturday night as the main event of Cage Titans 41 at the Plymouth (Massachusetts) Memorial Hall.
“I think this is the fight that will do it for me, undoubtedly,” Harvey said. “I’ve just got to win.”
Not only will the bout be Harvey’s first main event, but in Giannetti he’ll face an opponent who was a finalist in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s production earlier this year of The Ultimate Fighter 27. It was the latest installment of the cable television series that has launched the careers of numerous competitors in the world’s top MMA promotion.
The 23-year-old Giannetti (6-1) scored two first-round submission victories in the preliminary rounds of TUF 27 before losing a split decision to Mike Trizano in Las Vegas on July 6 and subsequently being released by the UFC.
“If the UFC didn’t cut me I’d be fighting the best guys in the world,” Giannetti said in a recent Flocombat interview. “But they did, so I’ll be fighting the best guys in New England, and I’m going to fight my way back there.”
Both fighters have done some training for this bout at prominent West Coast camps.
Giannetti, who was coached during his TUF experience by current UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, spent October at Cormier’s home gym, the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California, where he worked out with the likes of undefeated UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Harvey spent a week last month with Team Alpha Male, based in Sacramento, California, and has trained more regularly at the Westchester Fight Club in New York in addition to his work at Young’s.
Both fighters began as wrestlers but with vastly different degrees of success. Harvey was a two-time Class C state champion in 2007 and 2008 for Dexter Regional High School, while Giannetti estimated that he lost his first 30 high school wrestling matches before improving as a senior after deciding he wanted to pursue an MMA career.
“I’d say he’s a [jiu-jitsu] guy,” Harvey said. “He fancies himself a striker. That will be tested Saturday night and then we’ll see how well he can wrestle because I think he’ll be trying to take me down, and if it goes to the ground I think he’ll find himself being outmanpowered.”
There’s a healthy dose of respect on both sides of this fight, likely because each sees a victory as a big step toward their sport’s big time.
“I think I have every tool in my arsenal to beat him, and I think he has a perfect style to beat me, but that’s what I want,” Giannetti said in the Flocombat interview. “I want all my holes from my previous fights exposed. I want people to realize that I’ve fixed them, and I want the UFC to realize that I’ll fight anybody.”
Harvey first sought to fight Giannetti three years ago when each was the amateur lightweight champion of his respective regional promotion, Harvey with New England Fights and Giannetti with South Shore Sportfighting.
Three years later the stakes are much greater.
“He’s not to be taken lightly,” Harvey said, “but he’s a perfect opponent for me right now because it’s a step up in class just at a time when I think I need a step up in class.”
If there is one downside to this bout for Harvey, it’s that he sees his best chance to maximize his fighting potential by fighting in the featherweight (145-pound) division. He’s fought twice at featherweight as a pro after dividing his six amateur bouts evenly between featherweight and lightweight.
“That’s where I have to fight to be the best in the world. I can make featherweight, and I can beat anyone who can make featherweight,” Harvey said. “I feel like I have a speed advantage at lightweight, but I don’t think there’s anyone stronger than me at featherweight anywhere.”