Andrew Calandrelli, the owner of North Haven's Ultimate MMA & Jiu Jitsu Training Center, has trained, sparred with and competed against some of the toughest people in the sport of mixed martial arts.
However, the toughest individual the former professional fighter has ever encountered is Marissa Messer-Belenchia.
"I’ve never met or trained someone so determined and who is willing to do anything to win and be the best, like her," Calandrelli gushed. "She’s so tough because, in her mind, she’s already the best in the world and thinks nobody can beat her."
Messer-Belenchia’s mental grit was on full display this past year.
In May of 2017, she was set for her first professional mixed martial arts fight when an injury forced her to pull out.
A month later, it was revealed that she suffered from a torn hip labrum. She underwent surgery in September and was sidelined for several months.
Just when Messer-Belenchia began training again, she experienced a devastating personal loss. Her longtime boyfriend, David Baviello, died unexpectedly in early April.
While she could have been excused for retreating to a dark place, Messer-Belenchia continued to train. And the fighter nicknamed “The Spider Monkey” decided to compete in an amateur fight at Mohegan Sun on May 5.
However, just hours after the weigh-in for her fight at Mohegan Sun, Messer-Belenchia became sick and vomited profusely for several hours. She was hospitalized with a stomach virus and dehydration.
Calandrelli, her coach and trainer, wanted to cancel the fight, but Messer-Belenchia was convinced she could step into the ring.
She did, and went on to win a hard-fought three-round unamimous decision over Grace Nowak, to improve her record to 4-1.
Messer-Belenchia said she simply “had to go through with it.”
“It was my first fight since having surgery, first fight since losing my boyfriend, and I knew I had a lot of people coming out to support me,” she said. “It was a big deal and I knew it was something I needed to do, no matter what.”
Soon after, Messer-Belenchia announced her next fight would be as a professional.
On June 16, in Springfield, Massachusetts, Messer-Belenchia faced off, once again, by Nowak. This time, however, the fight didn't go the distance. Messer-Belenchia would win by submission at four minutes and 15 seconds into the first round using an arm bar.
Now, Calandrelli is looking for Messer-Belenchia to fight in some bigger promotions.
"We are in talks with CES for Aug. 3 and Bellator for Oct. 12," Calandrelli stated. "But the goal is the UFC by end of 2019."
Calandrelli and Messer-Belenchia believe it’s only a matter of time before she gets to the UFC.
"The loss of David," Messer-Belenchia stated. "It's the hardest thing I've ever been through. And then, on top of it, having to train for fights right through it. His family has been supporting me every step of the way, right there with me at all my fights. All I can think is that this is what he wanted me to do, and if he were here, he would be right there cheering me on as well."