GARFIELD, N.J. — The call of the ring continued to come to Clifton's Frank Buenafuente long after his days as a Garfield High School wrestler.
Buenafuente turned his desire to compete into a career as a mixed martial arts fighter. He started his career 4-2 while hoping to climb the ranks and enter the UFC Ultimate Fighting Championship.
"The smell of the arena smelt like a wrestling room to me and I missed it," Buenafuente told Daily Voice. "I had to get back on the mat."
The 28-year-old owned many of Garfield High School's records as a Boilermaker. He then continued his wrestling at the University of Southern Maine.
His wrestling coaches recommended MMA to him, and he took a fast liking to it.
The feeling when he enters the ring is hard to describe, he said.
"I pretty much black out and all I hear is my coaches," he said. "Everything's just happening so fast. There's no real time to think. I'm just listening."
When he's not fighting, Buenafuente works as a supervisor of an environmental company. After work much of his time goes into training.
Six days a week he hits the gym usually until 9 p.m.
It almost all came to an end two years ago, though, when he was in a car accident.
"They said I would never fight again," he said. "It was an overwhelming feeling being told I was never allowed to do what I love again and it was getting taken away from me before I was ready. But to be back in there, it's where I want to be."
Buenafuente won two fights since his recovery, with his next scheduled for March. The first victory came in a unanimous decision from the judges, and the second by knockout after 42 seconds.
He credited his coaching team of Todd Williams, Dominic Tafuri and Paul Carnicella for helping him prepare and move toward his dreams.
"I would love to be in UFC, that's the ultimate goal," he said. "I want to be a fighter full time and not have to work a job."