Five years ago, Josh Rettinghouse had his first brush with greatness.
At World Series of Fighting 9 on March 29, 2014, the then-24-year-old Rettinghouse was matched up with future UFC star Marlon Moraes. Make no mistake, Rettinghouse wasn’t some star-struck token challenger. He’d earned his spot with an upset of bronze-medal winning Olympic wrestler Alexis Vila, who’d made a name for himself in Bellator MMA.
But when the time came for Rettinghouse’s big moment, it was Moraes who dominated the action, brutalizing Rettinghouse with leg kicks and out-striking him en route to a lopsided unanimous decision win after five rounds. Moraes earned the WSOF bantamweight title for his performance, and he would go on to log several successful defenses before signing with the UFC. Rettinghouse, meanwhile returned to the regional scene, and he lost his next fight to Josh Hill.
This is normally the part of the story where a fighter fades into obscurity. It would be easy for Rettinghouse to have done just that, especially because it became difficult for him to find opponents in the aftermath of his two-fight WSOF stint. He was a victim of his own success, with his high-profile fights marking him a tough out. In other words, a booking to avoid if you wanted to make a name for yourself.
Rettinghouse also had options outside of fighting. He currently works as a certified public accountant, which gives him the kind of financial security not afforded many of his peers. If he wanted out, he could get out.
It wasn’t that simple, of course, and Rettinghouse instead continued to compete, racking up six consecutive wins after losing to Hill. He emerged as the clear-cut No. 1 contender at 135 pounds for Russia’s M-1 Global promotion.
This Saturday, Rettinghouse challenges Sergey Morozov for his title in the main event of M-1 Challenge 105 in Morozov’s home country of Kazakhstan.
When asked to recall his last championship opportunity, it’s clear as day in Rettinghouse’s mind.
“That feels like just yesterday to me,” Rettinghouse said of the Moraes fight. “It’s crazy to think that that was five years ago. Definitely in terms of how I’ve grown as a fighter, it feels like a lifetime ago in that sense, just like the fighter that I was then compared to now. But thinking back on it, the years just fly by.
“At the time I was still in college, and I was actually on spring break that week – that was my spring break, senior year. In that sense it definitely feels like a while ago, (and) now here I am graduated, five years further into a professional career. But yeah, it feels like just yesterday.”
Rettinghouse is 29 now, and if anything, he’s more eager than ever to fight after losing almost two years of his competitive prime to injuries and his CPA career. He suffered an injury ahead of his last fight with Aleksandr Lunga in November 2017, and though he went on to defeat Lunga by split decision, he found out later that he would need surgery to address a nerve issue with his left bicep. That turned out to be a minor procedure. The major one was the Achilles tear he suffered during a 3-on-3 basketball tournament in his hometown of Spokane, Wash.
Another surgery, and just like that, Rettinghouse was left unable to train or fight for months.
His untimely leg injury sidelined him, tut thankfully, it didn’t breach any sort of contract with M-1. Rettinghouse had actually become a free agent after the Lunga fight. But the organization was happy to bring him back, and though the plan was initially for him to compete earlier this year (a July booking fell through due to the event being canceled), the delay ended up working out for Rettinghouse.
Morozov now beckons for a second time as he prepares his return to the cage.
The two first fought at M-1 Challenge 73 in December 2016, a bout that Rettinghouse won by first-round knockout. Given that win over the champ and his 4-0 mark in M-1, it would seem logical that he was always in line to challenge Morozov.
On the contrary.
“Definitely that was not the understanding,” Rettinghouse said. “They told me I was supposed to fight for the title two or three different times at this point. Actually, when I fought him the first time that was supposed to be a title eliminator, but then it didn’t end up happening. I forget what happened there, but then my last fight with Lunga, that was supposed to be a title fight and the champ at the time, Movsar (Evloev), he had broken his hand so he couldn’t fight, so I took that fight.
“And then when I came back, they were actually trying to have me fight a different guy, kind of a ‘tune-up fight’ or see if I still got it, I don’t know. They said I’d been out too long. But when that event got canceled, basically it just kind of worked out. They’re going back to Kazakhstan, and that’s where the champ’s from. He needed an opponent, and they ultimately decided on me.
On Saturday, Rettinghouse hopes to “put a stamp” on his career with his first-ever championship win. He’s long past the point where he considers signing with a major North American promotion like the UFC as being the “be-all, end-all” of his career, though he’s not shying away from it either.
Evloev and Nate Landwehr are two M-1 Champions who were recently scooped up by the UFC, and Rettinghouse realizes that having a title around his waist greatly increases his chances of getting noticed by Dana White and Co.
“If it comes, yeah I would definitely welcome it, but at this point it’s not something that I’m necessarily striving for and that’s not like the light at the end of the tunnel,” Rettinghouse said. “Yes, I would welcome it; I would want that, and it would also be cool to fight in North America again before my career’s over so my family and friends can come.
“Aside from that, as long as I’m getting paid well and I feel like I’m fighting good competition and getting treated well, (and) that’s all that really matters.”
Rettinghouse thinks that at the very least it would be cool to have a fancy belt to hang in his office one day, something he could tell the grandkids about. It makes for a much better highlight in his MMA career than just saying he once survived five rounds with a champ.
As rough as his loss to Moraes was, Rettinghouse has not let it define him. And he certainly doesn’t have any regrets about reaching beyond his grasp so early in his career.
“Definitely with the Moraes fight, that was a little too soon, I knew that going into it,” Rettinghouse said. “And I know a few guys turned down that fight prior to me, and that’s kind of why I got that fight, is because two or three people had turned it down. Ultimately, I just felt like it was too big of an opportunity to pass up, and I knew it was going to be a huge learning experience. Ultimately you fight high-level guys, you’re only going to get better from the experience.
“But the Josh Hill fight, I hate looking back on that fight. That was a little different. I’d just started my career in accounting, and I think I was out for over a year at that point, I was out 14 months, we were in this weird contract situation with World Series of Fighting. I wasn’t really able to get fights, and that one popped up on super short-notice and so we went back-and-forth on taking it, I honestly wasn’t in great shape, went in there, decided to take the fight last minute, and I was just flat and second-guessing why I was even in the fight the whole time. Would love go get that one back too. Definitely the Moraes fight I would say was a little bit too much too soon, but I still wouldn’t change anything going back.”
M-1 Global Challenge 105 airs on FITE TV PPV on Saturday at 6:30 a.m. ET.