Joe Camacho gets ready to throw a left hook against Akiyo Nishiura. Photo by Rick Estrada. Used with permission.
During these modern days of MMA, many fighters like to stick with one promotion or fight inside the confines of a single country. Not Joe Camacho.
In just this year alone, Camacho has fought in the United States, Japan, and Guam all while compiling a five-fight undefeated streak, defeating two of the top-rated international fighters along the way.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Joe and discuss a number of things with him, including his career, his biggest fights, his future, and the controversy surrounding his record and his fight against Akiyo Nishiura earlier this year.
MMA on Tap: How did you get into MMA?
Camacho: I got into MMA back in 1998. I was a blue belt in BJJ and I was asked by my instructor, Pedro Carvalho, if I wanted to compete in a lightweight tournament that was taking place on this MMA show. It was an eight-man tournament featuring fighters of all different styles. So I agreed. I won all three fights by KO and TKO and from then on I was hooked.
MMA on Tap: You ended up breaking things off with Carvalho…
Camacho: I left Carvalho when I was a four-stripe purple belt. That was after six years with him. I kind of flat lined and I wanted to learn more. Pedro has a falling out with Terry Trebilcock of King of the Cage and ever since that falling out he didn’t really want me competing in MMA anymore. At that time Terry was running the only MMA show around (at the time it was called Vale Tudo or NHB) and I still wanted to fight.
He didn’t want me to fight but since I was a grown man I had to make my own choice. I made the decision to leave Pedro. I didn’t want to fight behind his back and I didn’t want to make a bad example for his students so I left to continue my fighting career. At the time it wasn’t really a career though, more of a hobby. It was all about having fun and competing because there was really wasn’t any money in it at the time so I mainly did it for the glory.
MMA on Tap: So you’ve been training under Aloisio Silva for a few years now. How did you get hooked up with him?
Camacho: I met Aloisio through Pedro at a seminar. I saw him teaching a group and I saw that he had love for the game. He had passion and that’s what I was looking for at the time so I left Pedro and went to train with Aloisio and I’ve been with him since. I earned my brown belt under him and recently received my black belt.
MMA on Tap: Are you still running your school in Pasadena under Silva? If so, how is that going?
Camacho: I teach a BJJ and MMA team right now. I’m training and teaching out of California Kickboxing in Pasadena. I’m not teaching at the exact moment though. I took some time off to focus on my MMA career and my training. When I am teaching we usually help each other get ready for any fights or grappling tournaments that we might have coming up. It’s not an Aloisio branch however; it’s just his brand of jiu-jitsu. My guys do wear his logo when they compete but they also wear mine as well.
The game that I teach them is a mixture of Silva’s jiu-jitsu and wrestling plus all of the other cool and neat tricks that I’ve learned along the way during my eleven years of training. I also have an affiliate school based out of Riverside called Riverside Submission and Muay Thai. Those guys fly my flag and wear Silva’s logo too.
MMA on Tap: Do you have any students that might be making splashes in MMA anytime soon?
Camacho: I actually have several champions right now. Armando Sanchez and Todd Guymond both hold titles in Total Fighting. Todd also holds two other belts in other shows in Mexico as well. Albert Rios is the featherweight champion in Ring of Fire in Mexico. Plus I have a solid group of jiu-jitsu students who place in tournaments all the time.
MMA on Tap: Good stuff… Before we dive into your career, we understand that the record many people see at sites that carry “fight finders” such as Sherdog and Full Contact Fighter isn’t all that accurate for you, correct?
Camacho: They’re missing the eight-man tournament that I mentioned earlier. Winning that tournament landed me my first Pancrase fight with Joe Stevenson. That was in the Inland Empire Classic. It was Terry’s first production before KOTC. It wasn’t until after that show that KOTC was born. Carvalho told Terry that I smashed three guys in an eight-man tournament and Terry immediately decided that he wanted me in his show to fight against Stevenson who was only 17 at the time.
My record with the fights that are missing is 12-11-3. Sherdog knows this and yet they fail to make a correction. With the additional events, the number of knockouts that I have would rise to nine. Sherdog even posted a press release for Shooto’s first event in the United States that had my record stated correctly so it’s not like they aren’t aware of the situation.
You’ll see for yourself and will agree that they should fix it. Furthermore, the last draw I had was actually a win. You can look at the pictures on Sherdog for my fight against Akiyo “Wicky” Nishiura and see that my hand is raised. Somehow my win gets reversed and goes into the record books as a draw.
MMA on Tap: That’s crazy. We’ve also heard some things about your fight with Nishiura, something to the effect that the scorecards were messed up and that you didn’t even receive your bonus for the fight because of it?
Camacho: Exactly. Gene Lebell, who was one of the judges, deducts a point in his head and then scores it. He turns in the cards and then they see that he didn’t write the deduction down so they deduct another point. That’s fucked up don’t you think?
MMA on Tap: Very fucked up.
Camacho: Lebell tries to argue it and the commission says “Gene, you know better. Once you’ve turned in the cards there’s no changing them.” That’s the black cloud that seems to follow me everywhere I go in MMA.
MMA on Tap: Did Gene say anything to you after the fight?
Camacho: Yeah, he said “Sorry Joe, I tried.” He goes ahead and shrugs his shoulders with his palms up and gives me a Gene LeBell patch for my troubles.
MMA on Tap: Damn.
Joe Camacho has his hand raised by Nelson Hamilton at Shooto Season One: The Arrival. Photo by Rick Estrada. Used with permission.
Camacho: Bao Quach got his win overturned too from what I heard.
MMA on Tap: Back to the Stevenson fight… Like you said he was only 17 when you fought him. What was that experience like? Did you realize that he had the potential to make it to where he is now, about to fight for a title in the UFC?
Camacho: Now are you talking about my rematch with him for his KOTC title before he went on The Ultimate Fighter?
MMA on Tap: The first fight in 1999.
Camacho: Ok, he subbed me then and he subbed me in our second fight. He was 17 at the time. We fought an open hand fight. He was a young wrestler. He didn’t want anything to do with my wild open palm swings. In fact, I took him down because of it and he caught me with a triangle. I didn’t even attempt to escape it. It was loose and like an idiot I kept palming his face and before I knew it I was tapping out. Every strike I threw tightened the triangle for him.
You know we were new to MMA then. The UFC wasn’t even in our thoughts. We had no idea MMA was going to be as big as it is now. Back then the UFC was banned. It went underground.
MMA on Tap: KOTC made a pretty big deal about the rematch against Stevenson in 2004 as it was the main event. Is it safe to assume that the rematch was pretty important to you?
Camacho: Yes it was. It was really important. It was redemption. It was my turn to show who I was after maturing in the sport. That was fight was on. Our fight was the main event, it was PPV. We fought three tough rounds. My hands were lighting him up and forced Joe to take me down. He beat me with his brute strength and his great ground and pound game. He used every bone in his body to bruise me up. His elbows forced me to turn and give up my back and I gave him a clear choke for the finish. Still, I was pretty proud of the fight considering he came into it twice as big as me.
It was a good night to die that night. I fought hard and gave it my all but fell short. Yeah, there were moments when I hesitated when I should have let my knees go or go for a submission but it was one of those things where stuff happens to fast to think. I know now looking back that I could have done so many things to prevent that loss but hey, that’s what videos are for, learning tools to prepare me for future fights. Losing sucks but it’s alright in my book. I tend to learn from my losses.
MMA on Tap: You were with KOTC for a long time. Would you consider it your favorite promotion that you’ve fought in so far?
Camacho: Yeah, I was with KOTC for a long time. I grew with them. Favorite promotion? Umm, not my favorite. Yeah, they’re big in the States with shows all over and DVD sales and some PPV shows and what not but I wouldn’t say that they’re my favorite show. KOTC got my name out there and I thank them for that. Those DVD sales and PPV showings gave me loads of exposure so I have to appreciate what they’ve done for me as far as exposure but as far as being my favorite promotion, I can’t say that they are because otherwise I’d still be fighting for them to this day.
MMA on Tap: So what would it be?
Camacho: My favorite promotion is PXC (Pacific Xtreme Combat) in Guam. They run a solid show and their pay is grand as well. I like PXC over any show that I’ve fought in for sure. They just know how to treat a fighter you know? They run an entertaining show and the fans there are real MMA fans, not the trailer trash folk who scream and yell to rip someone’s head off or break an arm or whatever. These fans know MMA. They know technique. They appreciate the sport as an art, not some bar brawl. Feel me?
MMA on Tap: We feel you brother.
Camacho: I like DEEP too. It was fun going to Japan but that show is no comparison to PXC. If a fighter fights sin PXC he’s going to be matched up against a solid fighter, not some tomato can.
MMA on Tap: Speaking of Japan, your first fight over there was one of our favorite fights of yours, a spectacular knockout of Masaki Yagyu with a left hook. How did you end up fighting overseas in Japan and Guam and what was the experience like?
Camacho: Fighting overseas is awesome. Traveling to another exotic place is a gift in itself. The experience alone just being there… how many people can say that they’ve gone to Japan or an exotic island, you know? My first fight was a nightmare though. I didn’t know that humans bloat when we’re in the air so like an ass I ate food thinking that I’d only be cutting five pounds.
Five pounds is cake to me but when I was in Japan the cold air and bloating made it hard for me to cut. I was five pounds over before I got on the plane and when I arrived in Japan I was fifteen pounds over. Man, that was a nightmare cutting… I was ended up cutting fifteen pounds in twelve hours. Going from bathhouses to saunas, putting suppositories up my ass to make me shit, shaving all my body hair off, I almost died out there.
I didn’t make weight twice. The third and final time they came to my room with a scale and I made it by half a pound. After carbing back up and drinking gallons of water and Pedialite, I was pretty lucky that the fight with Yagyu was short. That knockout was a gift from God. He saw how bad I wanted this win and he gave it to me. He put that power in my left hook and wham! KO. Plus that patch over his eye was a nice target too, haha.
MMA on Tap: So you fought a few more times overseas before coming back to the States and taking on Roger Huerta. How was that fight?
Camacho: Haha, that fight was one of those chance cards you get in Monopoly. I knew the UFC had their eye on Roger and when this fight was pitched to me by Monte Cox, I knew that was my ticket to the UFC. You see, the UFC was looking for a Hispanic fighter who can actually speak Spanish and I knew if I beat him, I’d be the monkey wrench in their plans and maybe take the spot from Roger.
I took that fight on a week’s notice and without training. I was running around trying to get all of my medicals done and get approved by the CSAC plus cutting weight. I took that fight unprepared and while I was weak as hell. He was in training already and I replaced another guy so he was already one week away from fight time. With all that on my mind, running around like a chicken with his head cut off and being weak and fatigued, I had no business taking that fight but I said what the heck. It was an opportunity knocking and I had to let take it.
I took that fight knowing that I was willing to die out there. I had him in so many submission holds but I was too weak to finish any of them. I dropped him in the opening minutes of the first round with a right cross and he got up, took another shot and then took me down. I was too weak to stop his shot, too weak to maneuver like I normally do. I was too weak to do anything.
He elbows me on the bridge of my nose in the third round and I get a nasty gash and Big John McCarthy ends up stopping the fight. Roger wins by TKO.
MMA on Tap: Tough luck.
Camacho: I know that I can beat the guy. I see a lot of holes in his game. He’s an intense fighter and keeps coming and is hella good but I know that I can finish him with a left hook or a submission. I was slapping on subs from all angles but I was just too weak to finish him off. I know if I had the proper time to prepare I’d be able to finish him. My hands won’t fail me neither will my submissions. I’m confident in my game and I know Roger’s game and habits. He’s a great fighter but I know I’m better.
MMA on Tap: So has the UFC ever contacted you at any point in your career?
Camacho: Joe Silva years back told me to give him a call if I beat Wander Braga. He ended up beating me with a bad decision and there went my chance with the UFC. I’ve been in communication with Joe since then and he said that if I got my record fixed I’d probably have a better chance. Maybe not the UFC but the WEC instead. Man if only Sherdog would do that for me. It would be the right thing to do and my debut in the WEC would be a reward for all of the hard work I’ve put in to get where I am now. It would totally rid this black cloud over me.
I’ve fought the toughest guys out there that were available for me and I’ve held my own and put on a great show. If that’s not what people want to see then I don’t know what is. People are getting in the big shows with padded-up records fighting guppies, tomato cans. These are the guys that don’t last. I’ve fought some of the best out there and they will tell you that I belong in the UFC or WEC. I don’t fight paper fighters; I fight real fighters, fighters who have paid their dues just like I have.
MMA on Tap: We know exactly what you are saying. So another fight in Guam and then a pair of fights against Hector Pena come along. You dispatched of him pretty quickly in the first fight. Did he ask for a rematch?
Camacho: Well here’s where I had to reinvent myself. I knew I had to start over somewhere and make a career change. I decided to take smarter fights and I knew if I was going to do that, I had to be more selective of my opponents. I needed a fan base in the Hispanic community since that’s what the market was targeting in California so I left KOTC and went to California Cage Fighting. I wanted to pull the Latino boxing fans away, let them start supporting me and get them into MMA.
Pena is known as a seven-time world kickboxing champ outside of MMA. It was his choice, not mine, to fight me in his debut. He brought his following to the show and I shocked the crowd when I knocked him down in seconds with a left hook. He felt that it was a fluke win so he asked for a rematch and the following year I gave it to him and beat him again by TKO. That’s twice with Bas Rutten in his corner and that’s when I got the belt.
After that I fought Tetsuji Kato in Guam. He was the Shooto veteran that recently fought that three round war with Gilbert Melendez and I knocked him out too, first one to ever knock him out in his career. I’d say that was my biggest win of my career so far.
MMA on Tap: We would have to agree based on the hype that was surrounding Kato at the time. Would you say the Kato win shot you up the Shooto rankings?
Camacho: Possibly. It does make sense since I had the win over Nishiura too. He was the Shooto rookie of the year that year so that had to help a lot. Man, I’m ninth in Shooto’s world rankings and second in North America at lightweight. That’s big. The funny thing is that I beat Nishiura under Shooto rules too so if the fight was in Japan points wouldn’t have been taken away and everything would have turned out fine.
MMA on Tap: Pretty interesting.
Camacho: You know what’s funny, not to stray off topic or anything but I just got a call from Terry at KOTC. He pitched me a fight at 160 lbs for January 24th. Guess who?
MMA on Tap: A rematch with Nishiura?
Camacho: Haha, no. Thomas Denny.
MMA on Tap: Sounds like another opportunity.
Camacho: I can beat him. The pay isn’t that good but the opportunity definitely is.
MMA on Tap: Going to take it?
Camacho: I think so. I have a couple days to think about it and so does Thomas. I don’t know if he’ll take it though. He’s trying to steer his career on the right path as well. We’re on the same boat. It’s a double-edged sword. He’s a really good guy, good fighter.
MMA on Tap: Guess that takes care of the “What’s next for Joe Camacho” question…
Camacho: Well I had a fight in Guam lined for January 25th for a whole lot more money but now I have this in mind. Opportunity is more important than money to me. I’m not a sell out so I really have to think about this pretty hard. Denny is a guy obviously involved with Pro Elite and it seems that Terry is trying to promote him in this fight. I definitely know it’s not me, that’s for sure. It’s like I’m a dog looking at two fire hydrants you could say.
MMA on Tap: Nice analogy.
Camacho: I was supposed to fight in Shooto on New Year’s Eve but the promoter asked me about it two months ago and I haven’t heard anything since. I don’t want to see a flyer two weeks before the event with my picture on it saying that I’m fighting, haha.
MMA on Tap: No fighter out there wants that to happen.
Camacho: HDNet Fights has shown some interest in me. I’ve been in communication with Kevin, their matchmaker about fighting on a future show. Pro Elite has contacted me twice but I’ve had to turn them down. They want my Latino fan base, I know it. I’ve also talked with Jeff Osborne of Bodog some. Man, a lot is on my plate but nothing is happening.
MMA on Tap: Everything can’t just stay sitting there forever…
Camacho: Only if my record was fixed, maybe that’s when the wheels will start to turn in my direction. It looks like this Denny fight might be something here. Anyways as I always say, we’ll see what happens when it happens.
MMA on Tap: So your last fight was a split decision over Anthony McDavitt and a successful title defense. Can you elaborate on how that went?
Camacho: Anthony is a tough up and comer. It was his shot at the title and I had to defend it. We fought three five-minute rounds all standing up, never went to the ground. We were on a brand new canvas, the silky kind and for both of us it felt like we were fighting on ice. Neither of us could have taken a clean shot so we were forced to stand. I knew for sure I didn’t want to attempt a shot because I didn’t want to mess up and give him an advantage.
He tried to take me down a couple of times but I ended up stuffing it and we were back up on our feet in seconds. It more like a kickboxing match than anything. It was non-stop action. That was pretty much it. I broke his nose at the beginning of the first round. There was a nice gash along the bridge of his nose but the fight kept going. He kept coming and I kept on countering and blasting him with some pepper of my own.
It was a good fight. I did what I could do considering the surface of the ring but I think it might have worked to my advantage anyway.
MMA on Tap: You’re on a pretty impressive winning streak as of late. What would you attribute it to?
Camacho: Well like I said earlier, reinventing myself made me more focused and I was able to see things more clearly. Before I was just taking stupid fights thinking that they were tickets to the big show when really they weren’t. This year was a great year for me because now instead of me looking for shows to fight in, it’s the shows that are looking for me now, you know? This reinvention paid off big time and I’m still in the game at a time where I thought that I wouldn’t even be around anymore in the past.
MMA on Tap: Is there anything that you would still like to accomplish before the end of your career?
Camacho: Look, any show that I’m in I bring it and with the support of my friends, family, and fans, my aim to win and put on an outstanding performance is always going to be greater than my opponent. I’d like to make it to the UFC or WEC, at least for one fight. That’s my goal. PRIDE was another goal back when it was still around. I want to prove to those who’ve told me to give it up and hang up the gloves that I can thrive when the spotlight is on me. I want to show the world that fighting for what you believe in comes with a great reward in the end.
If you have a dream, go for it. Always aim high and aim for the stars because one day you’ll probably end up being a star yourself. MMA is a fun career. I love it. When the times comes where I feel like I’m burnt out and it isn’t fun anymore that’s when I’ll quit and just stick to teaching and coaching. Until then, I’m going to ride this wave until the wave is no more.
MMA on Tap: Would you like to thank any sponsors or people, Joe?
Camacho: Sure, special shout outs to Ed Hardy, Christian Audegier, SMET, Koral Kimonos, Jiu-Jitsu ProGear, Shoyoroll Clothing, Alphadog Combat Gear, Pro Boxing Equipment, and a special shout to all those who supported me. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my friends, family, and fans. To all you naysayers, thanks to peeps, your hate lights the fire under my ass.
Special thanks to Joe for taking his time to do this interview. Thanks also go out to Scott White, David Singer, Bill Reger, and Billy Dee Williams.