Ivy League Grad Cholish Does ‘Homework’ to Improve MMA Game

By Mike Whitman Apr 13, 2011
John Cholish is not your typical fighter.

Though his athletic build may look familiar to fight fans, it’s the matter between Cholish’s ears which sets him apart. A graduate of Cornell University, the Ivy League product currently works as a full-time institutional energy broker in New York City.

While majoring at Cornell in Applied Economics and Finances, the 27-year-old also wrestled for the NCAA Div. I school, an exercise in balance that Cholish still uses to this day to manage his dual careers.

“I’m in the office usually by 6:30 or 7:00 a.m. The markets open at 8:00 a.m., and from there it’s pretty balls-to-the-wall. I basically match up markets between buyers, traders and sellers,” Cholish tells Sherdog.com. “That goes pretty much till 3 or 4 p.m. Then I go straight to the gym on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.”

The gym to which Cholish refers is the Renzo Gracie Academy, the site of Cholish’s transformation from MMA neophyte to intriguing lightweight prospect. Wrestling since the age of four, a fascination with fighting quickly became a fixation for the New Jersey native when he wandered into the studio in early 2007.

“When I got my first job, I was kind of looking for a place to train. I had always watched mixed martial arts in college and thought it was really cool. I thought jiu-jitsu would be fun, and so I thought I’d check it out,” says Cholish. “Literally a block away from where I worked was the Renzo Gracie Academy. They happened to have a no-gi class going, so I hopped in and I’ve been going ever since.”

Only six months after he stepped through the academy’s doors, Cholish had his first professional fight. Possessing little in his arsenal save for his wrestling skills, he was submitted with a guillotine choke in the first round. Though Cholish absolutely hates to lose, the fighter also admits that he learned much in defeat.

“I knew nothing about fighting. I was getting takedowns, but with three minutes to go, I did exactly what you’re not supposed to do. I shot in, and he got a perfect guillotine. I tried to pull out, and he just sunk it in deeper,” says Cholish. “It was pretty neat having Renzo in the locker room after the fight.”

After more than a year away from the cage, Cholish returned to action in December 2008. He’s since rattled off six straight victories, including his most recent performance, which was broadcast nationally on HDNet. Thrust unexpectedly into a lightweight clash with Marc Stevens on the undercard of February’s StrikeforceFedor vs. Silva,” Cholish dominated the “Ultimate Fighter” Season 12 alum with superior wrestling from start to finish. After a scramble late in the second frame, Cholish dropped for a rolling kneebar, flawlessly executing the maneuver and submitting his foe.

Cholish claims that he acted on instinct in executing the risky maneuver, as fighting is simply an extension of his training.

“That move, I’ve drilled it hundreds of times. Whenever we drill a move, we’ll work on it for half an hour with a lot of repetition. I think I just felt natural rolling through, and I knew his leg was there,” says Cholish. “You’ve got to have faith in the move you’ve trained. The reason you drill is to use them one day, not just to drill.”

According to Cholish, that quest for practical application comes from his trainer and friend, John Danaher. Not all of the work is done in the gym, however. Cholish receives what he calls “homework” assignments from Danaher -- fight tape that Cholish studies at home.

“A hundred years ago, if I wanted to train [with the best], I’d have to travel. Nowadays, I can see the fights on my TV and watch what [the best fighters do]. I can study and try to mimic [their technique] to the best of my ability. It amazes me that people don’t do that more often,” says Cholish.

“I’m kind of a freak, but I’ll also put a [homework] fight on my TV and watch my recorded sparring sessions on my computer side-by-side and I try to see if I’m doing things right. But I can’t take any credit for that. It’s all John Danaher. I’ve grown so much in the last few months with him.”

If the approach sounds academic, it’s because it is. Danaher earned his Master’s degree in Philosophy from Columbia University. The coach’s analytical approach to fighting shines through in Cholish, as it does in another of Danaher’s students: UFC welterweight king Georges St. Pierre.

“You’re only wearing four-ounce gloves. With some of the guys who just stand there and trade, it’s a crap shoot. You can train as hard as you want and go in there and get caught with an overhand right. It doesn’t mean you didn’t train hard. You just got knocked out,” Cholish explains. “If I could have either a round where I hit [my opponent] 100 times and he hit me 50, or a round where I hit him four times and he hit me none, I’d take [the latter] all day.”

Although Cholish’s performance against Stevens exemplified his desire for excellence, it wasn’t quite perfect.

“Sadly, there was no UFC ‘Submission of the Night’ bonus. That would have been nice,” says Cholish.

But such bonuses might yet be in Cholish’s future following the buyout of Strikeforce by UFC parent company Zuffa, LLC. Though the lightweight does not know the next step in his fighting career, Cholish will be ready if and when an opportunity arises.

“I think I’ve had five fights in just over a year, so if I could stay active, that would be good,” says Cholish. “I’m definitely looking to fight in the next couple of months.”

And with his foot now in the door leading to larger events, fans can be sure that the broker-cum-fighter will be studying up for his next exam in the cage.
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