He's a two-time state champion wrestler, a two-time All-American lacrosse defender and a former professional lacrosse player, but Dave Daniecki doesn't get his biggest adrenaline rush on the wrestling mat or lacrosse field.
That feeling, Daniecki says, is reserved for whenever he steps in a cage as a mixed martial arts fighter.
The 36-year-old from Baltimore has always savored the hard hits that came with wrestling takedowns or protecting his turf as a defender in lacrosse. His mentality, in any sport or venue, has always been to use his 6-foot, 195-pound frame to leave a mark on his opponent.
But ever since he picked up MMA five years ago at Ground Control Gym in Baltimore, Daniecki has found his ultimate satisfaction.
"It's so much more intense. I love it," Daniecki said. "There's a little bit more pressure and anxiety that comes with it, but the reward, especially when you win, feels ten times better."
On Saturday, Daniecki will fight in his fifth professional MMA bout in Shogun Fights V at 1st Mariner Arena.
"Dave looks the part," said John Rallo, who organized the Shogun event and runs Ground Control Academy.
As a three-sport athlete at Loyola, Daniecki won two state wrestling championships in 1992 and 1993 and finished second at the National Prep Tournament his junior year. But he decided to pursue lacrosse at the Division I level, choosing Penn State over hometown powerhouses Maryland and Johns Hopkins.
Daniecki quickly established himself as a force for the Nittany Lions, becoming a two-time captain and earning back-to-back All-American selections in 1996 and 1997. After a successful college career in State College, he continued his lacrosse career in the MLL, eventually playing for the Baltimore Bayhawks.
After he retired from the MLL, Daniecki reconnected with Rob Mulqueen, an old friend that had started Ground Control Academy — a jiu-jitsu and mixed martial arts training ground in Baltimore — with Rallo. With the help of Mulqueen and Rallo, Daniecki started to shed his old wrestling habits and adapt to become an MMA fighter.
"He came here with his wrestling ability," Rallo said. "In my opinion, in this sport wrestling is the best base to have. The wrestler can dictate where the fight is being fought."
He had no intention of fighting or competing, but after a few years of training, Daniecki's competitive urge pulled him back in.
"I always liked the one-on-one competition, man vs. man thing," Daniecki said. "The high, the adrenaline-rush is 10 times greater than wrestling."
The pharmaceutical sales representative went from fighting in grappling tournaments to becoming an amateur fighter. After a few years as an amateur, Daniecki compiled a 5-0 record and was on the verge of becoming a pro.
When Rallo finally received enough support to get MMA legalized in the state of Maryland in 2009, Daniecki climbed on board and fought his first professional bout at the first Shogun Fights.
It wasn't close. Daniecki routed Wade Drake and won by a submission choke in just 2:25.
"It was definitely a lot of excitement, a lot of pressure, a lot of emotions all across the board," Daniecki said. "It couldn't have gone any better."
Daniecki (3-1) faces 5-foot-11 Donald Crawford Jr., undefeated in his four professional MMA matches. Daniecki doesn't expect a huge crowd supporting him, as his parents have shied away from the sport after seeing him bloodied and beaten during a match earlier in his career.
"It's going to be a tough fight for Dave," Rallo said. "But again, stylistically if Dave does what he's good at, then I think he can win."
Daniecki certainly expects a victory.
"I plan on putting on a good performance and having a dominating victory. The real fun starts afterward," Daniecki said. "This weekend is going to be awesome."