GARFIELD, N.J.– Mixed martial artist Frank Buenafuente of Garfield was a prospect on the rise before a car accident nearly ended his fighting career.
Doctors told Buenafuente that neck damage would keep him from ever fighting again.
"I had no feeling in my left side," Buenafuente said. “It was very, very frustrating having someone tell me I can’t do what I love to do.”
After two years of rehabbing with chiropractor Charles Bonanno – who wrestled at Garfield High School with Buenafuente's father – the 5-foot-9, 145 pound fighter returned to the cage.
He's gone 3-0 and is scheduled to fight for Ring of Combat's Featherweight Title at Tropicana Casino & Resort in Atlantic City on June 3.
“It’s just Step One of my plan to move forward and become a full-time professional fighter," Buenafuente, 28, told Daily Voice.
Winning his first professional championship could catapult him to a deal with Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Bellator, or the World Series of Fighting, which signed Buenafuente to a deal before his injury.
Buenafuente, known as "The Preying Mantis," may have already caught UFC owner Dana White's eye.
In the first episode of White's web series "Looking For a Fight," the UFC boss appeared excited over Buenafuente's knockout victory in just his second fight since the injury.
“All want to do is take you down to the ground and pound," Buenafuente said of his fighting style, which relies heavily on his wrestling background.
The 2007 GHS graduate and two-time state place winner owns nearly all of the school's wrestling records.
Buenafuente, who began wrestling at four, feels most at home on the mat.
He was introduced to MMA after wrestling for Bergen Community College under head coach Mike Massenzio . The Paterson native was a two-time NJSIAA state champion wrestler for St. Joseph Regional (Montvale) before joining the UFC.
Buenafuente currently trains with Paul Carnicella at the latter's Clifton gym.
He credits his success to his coaches and teammates -- and to his fans.
“I’m never in the cage alone," Buenafuente said.