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Nick Piccininni

Nick Paccininni during his days as a Ward Melville wrestler. File photo

Hometown supporters of a Ward Melville graduate and Head of the Harbor native will gather to cheer him on virtually at a popular local spot when he makes his mixed martial arts debut in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Friday, June 18.

Nick Paccininni training in San Jose, California. Photo from Nick Piccininni’s Instagram

Nick Piccininni, a 24-year-old MMA fighter, will be fighting during the XFN-371 event at the River Spirit Casino. While Piccininni is competing in Tulsa, family and friends can gather at The Bench Bar and Grill in Stony Brook to watch the match, which will be live-streamed. Owner Marios Patatinis said the fight will be shown on all the TVs in The Bench, and the night will feature various drink and food promotions. At the beginning of the week, reservations were already limited.

The Bench, with the Country Corner bar in East Setauket, which Patatinis also owns, are sponsoring Piccininni. The restaurant owner said the sponsorship came about because one of his managers, Michael Cohen, is a friend of the MMA fighter. Sponsorships help athletes with expenses incurred while training.

“Ultimately, what we get in return is partnering up with a local kid who’s on to some big dreams, and we’re glad to be part of that,” Patatinis said.

Piccininni is currently training at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California, according to his father Anthony Piccininni.

His father said his son began wrestling in the Three Village school district when he was in seventh grade, but was unable to compete that first year in the league and county tournaments due to being too young. He went on to become a four-time New York state champion.

After graduating from Ward Melville with an impressive high school wrestling career under his belt, he attended Oklahoma State University where he continued competing in the sport. During his time with the university, he was a three-time NCAA Division I All-American and a four-time Big 12 Conference champion.

“Ultimately, what we get in return is partnering up with a local kid who’s on to some big dreams, and we’re glad to be part of that.”

—Marios Patatinis

The folkstyle wrestler decided to compete in the flyweight division of MMA when the 2020 college sports season was cut short due to COVID-19. His father said Nick attended the university on a full scholarship, and while he thought about continuing to achieve his master’s at OSU where the odds of becoming an assistant coach at the university were good, with the 2020 wrestling season cut short, he decided to go into MMA.

“He was only 23,” the father said. “He still had his competitive spirit, and he wasn’t ready to enter into the coaching world, which he probably will do sometime down the road, whether it be 10 or 15 years.”

Anthony Piccininni said it’s not unusual for OSU wrestlers to go on to compete in the MMA world. Among the former OSU athletes who went on to become MMA fighters are Johny Hendricks, Randy Couture and Nick Piccininni’s mentor Daniel Cormier.

The father said his son was always a fan of MMA but the family didn’t realize how much so until recently. When he was younger, Nick always thought he may be a professional athlete, as he also excelled in baseball as a pitcher for the Patriots.

“When he was going through college, I had no idea that he had the passion for MMA,” the father said. “But in his senior year is when he obviously had to make his decision, and he did. We support him. It’s his dream.”

Nick Piccininni said in an email from California that he appreciated the support he has received from home. He said The Bench and Country Corner are two of his biggest sponsors.

“I am grateful to come from a town where so many people continue to care about my career,” he said. “So, seeing everyone support me on my upcoming fight is amazing to see.”