Sacrifi ce is a word that goes hand-in-hand with being a champion, and nowhere is that maxim truer than in the world of mixed martial arts. When fans see an MMA match, they know the fi ghters have shed blood, sweat, and tears to prepare for combat, but what many don’t realize is that few fi ghters have the luxury of working out and training exclusively. Most mixed martial artists, even successful ones, have to hold down nine-to-fi ve jobs to support themselves and their families, while struggling to fi nd time to train for the next match. Three examples are World Extreme Cagefi ghting (WEC) star Charlie Valencia, King of the Cage (KOTC) Lightweight Champion Joe Camacho, and King of the Cage veteran Dave Rivas. While their names are well recognized in the sport, what many people don’t know is that these three mixed martial artists have held down day jobs for years, balancing the demands of fi ghting at a professional level while supporting and providing for their loved ones.
Charlie Valencia is probably best known for his impressive performance on the TapouT television show where he scored a KO, and a recent win at WEC 31, where he punched, kicked, and suplexed his way to victory. However, although fans are awed by his displays in the ring, it’s Valencia’s dedication to supporting his family that deserves the most commendation. “I drive for Anheuser-Busch,” Valencia explains. “I get in at seven and get done around fi ve.”
It’s not the life that most fans picture for an MMA star. The average day for Valencia consists of a routine that encompasses work, family responsibilities, and training. “I wake up early,” he explains, “I have an 11-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son, so I get them up for school. I get my son dressed, and then my wife takes over.” Knowing the constraints of his day, Valencia makes every effort to share as much quality time with his family as he can. After work, there’s fi nally time to train at Classic Kickboxing in Pasadena, California, but it’s not always easy to fi nd the motivation, especially after a grueling day. “It’s tough because I drive all day and then I have to drive to practice,” Valencia relates. “I start training at seven-thirty, and try to get done by ten.” The short training period isn’t by choice, but due to the fact that Valencia must integrate all aspects of his life, a job made particularly diffi cult in knowing that he has to do it all again the next day.“ I try to wind down but it’s hard,” he says. His strong mental outlook keeps him going. “You have to battle through it,” Valencia attests, “because without great sacrifi ce there are no great rewards.”
The people that best know of Valencia’s sacrifi ces are his family, and the MMA fi ghter is grateful for a strong support system that helps him overcome the hurdles of balancing fi ghting and a day job. “My wife understands the sacrifi ces,” Valencia explains. When he has to travel for a fi ght, other members of his household chip in. “My father and mother come to the house to make sure everything is okay, and other family members too. They all come and do their part which makes it easier for me,” he adds gratefully. Even with the support, Valencia acknowledges that it might be the point in his career when he needs to solely focus on training. “It’s tough because I’ve always had a job since I was sixteen,” he explains, noting how diffi cult it is for fi ghters to gain the kind of sponsorship necessary to be able to dedicate themselves to training. “People don’t understand how signifi cant sponsorship is,” Valencia explains, thankful for the help of his own sponsors. “Fighters don’t get paid that much, so it makes a big difference if you win,” the MMA pro says. “And I want to win to provide for my family.” Another fi ghter who is no stranger to the diffi culties of juggling work and training is Joe Camacho. The MMA star scored a decisive TKO victory over Thomas “The Wildman” Denny to capture the 160-pound KOTC Lightweight belt on January 23, but what’s even more amazing is that for years Camacho has been working as an art director of graphic design, coaching other fi ghters, and still fi nding time to train. “I get up every day for work at seven, and all day I’m on the computer,” Camacho explains. “It’s funny because people think it’s easy, but the computer drains you. It’s the kind of work that wears you down so by the end of the day all you want to do is rest.”
But for Camacho, it’s not time to rest, it’s time to train. That task is made even more diffi cult by the fact that the MMA fi ghter also teaches classes at California Kickboxing. “ I have to balance training, teaching, and private classes,” Camacho explains. This in addition to his regular job. The grueling routine makes it diffi cult to balance another aspect of a fi ghter’s career; nutrition. “I have to eat late at night since I train from fi ve-thirty to ten, so all that’s open is fast food.”
In light of the championship win, Camacho has decided to make the transition to training exclusively. “It’s been really tough to balance it all out,” Camacho says. In a sport where reactions are everything, it is very diffi cult to not have the kind of training opportunities that your opponents have. “A lot of the fi ghters that I’ve fought train exclusively,” Camacho explains. “They’re always on the mat.” Camacho, who has faced Joe Stevenson and Rob Emerson, explains the diffi cultly of not being able to solely train. “ They focus on what they have to do. I have to focus on work and meeting deadlines, then I have to get back into fi ght mode.”
Still, Camacho has handled the task well, having maintained the balance for over a decade, even as he separated his day job from his MMA career. “ I never really advertise what I do,” the fi ghter explains, “so it’s kind of been like Fight Club, showing up to work with a black eye, that kind of thing.” But now, with the championship belt around his waist, Camacho is ready to make the transition to training exclusively to defend his crown as King of the Cage.
Another King of the Cage veteran who handles the daunting task of balancing a strenuous job, family responsibilities, and training for MMA is rising star Dave Rivas. Coming off a unanimous decision win in early January, Rivas is no stranger to the pressure of preparing for fi ghts while juggling professional obligations. Rivas, who works for Countrywide in the loan business, knows the kind of mental strength it takes to be a champion. “I put in nine to ten hours, then right after that it’s training,” Rivas says. “It’s very hard. Your body is tired and you’re mentally tired, too.” Even though his work day starts at eight on an average day, Rivas is up well before that.“ I get up at fi ve and run for thirty minutes to an hour,” Rivas explains. “I have a son and drive him to a different district for school. Then I drive back and get to work doing loans.” Rivas breaks up the daily monotony with some quick exercise midday. “ At lunch I try to get an hour workout,” Rivas says. “Then it’s back to work, and after that I pick up my son and get to training.” The MMA fi ghter has a long day, with his training lasting several hours. “ I get back at around ten to eleven and try to go to bed around eleven-thirty.” Like other fi ghters who balance full time jobs and their training, Rivas recognizes the diffi culty and sacrifi ce it takes. “ I’m still almost a newlywed, and it’s very stressful for the family when you’re away for
so long,” Rivas explains, grateful for the support his family gives him.
After a while though, the balancing act becomes increasingly diffi cult. “Sometimes you start questioning if you want to do this,” Rivas describes. “It puts a block in your mind and when you question your drive, you don’t want it as much.” Rivas’ determination keeps him going, and for him, it’s not about the money, it’s about the love of MMA. “ When I started fi ghting I got $250 a match, but I loved doing it. That’s the thing with fi ghting, is we go back in for the challenge.”
The juggling act of maintaining a day job, making time for family, and training can take it’s toll, but Rivas sums it up well: “When you go out there and you get your hand raised, it’s all worth it.”