This is an interview originally posted on Gals Guide to MMA. Join me over there for part two of this interview tomorrow.
MMA is a sport filled with false bravado and superfluous machismo, with many fighters' personalities bordering on professional wrestling-like caricatures. In some cases, it should be lauded and taken with a grain of salt, as it is a technique to sell tickets and buys on pay-per-view. Others, the fighters begin to become polarized figures in the sport. Their persona bleeds over from the arenas to the interviews on television and during training camps.
In a sport filled with braggadocio and hype, it was such a refreshing thing to get to talk to Cole Escovedo. The guy is honest about where he is in the sport and doesn't make ridiculous excuses about fighting with cracked skulls or anything in that realm. Coming off of three tough losses, Cole is looking to make his next fight in the UFC a memorable victory. In the mean time, I caught up with Cole to talk about his career and personal life.
Mountaineer: Cole, how are you doing? How is training and what is new in the world of the Apache Kid?
Cole: I have a crushed septum, so as good as can be. Haven't had too much training lately. Can't have any contact 'till after the surgery is done so gonna go in and keep cardio and technique up. And nothing "new" just spending time with my daughter and at my iPhone shop. Gonna get some christmas shopping done and hope I get a call soon for a fight date.
Mountaineer: Well, there is some good and bad in that. The down time sounds good, but I'm sure you get antsy for a fight. What were some of your initial thoughts after your bout with Alex Caceres? Did you immediately feel like you were going to be sidelined for a bit? And how do you feel about him as a fighter after that fight?
Cole: My thought after the Alex fight...disappointed, very disappointed with my performance. Even had I won, I wouldn't have been happy. I honestly thought I would get cut from the UFC after that performance. I think 135 is a good class for him but wouldn't be against fighting him again! Just sayin'!
More of my chat with Cole Escovedo after the jump!
Mountaineer: Well, with the present day covered, I just wanted to document a little about you before your career started. What was life like for you growing up and what got you into martial arts?
Cole: I got beat up alot growing up. My folks decide for both self defense and confidence building to put me into karate at 6 and have been involved in martial arts in one way or a other ever since.
Mountaineer: What is the first fight you recall watching?
Cole: The first UFC tournament was around the time I was starting jiu-jitsu and watching it really helped me feel that doing jitsu was the right decision as it was effective.
Mountaineer: What martial arts did you train and what made you decide to devote your life to fighting?
Cole: I did karate and judo growing up. And putting food on the table is what made my decision to fight full time.
Mountaineer: Did you have any amateur fights or beginner's grappling competitions, etc. before starting your pro career?
Cole: Never fought ammy. I started pro but I had done jiu-jitsu competitions since I was 16. I've got a buttload of medals and trophies.
Mountaineer: Looking at your record, you started off 11-1 before hitting your first rough patch in your fight life. What was it like during that stretch in turns of training and life outside of the cage as well?
Cole: It's like any rough patch you hit with a chosen career path. You have to really dig down and decide if it's really something you have fun doing. Also, you have to decide if it's time to move on or if it's what you feel you should be doing and you find the inner strength you need to keep pursuing the goal. Outside the cage, it's just a matter of surrounding yourself with positive people and those who support what you're doing and the decisions you make as long as they're properly thought out decisions, not hasty ones.
Mountaineer: You were one of the first homegrown WEC stars. You were there from the second event to the point where they were becoming big nationally and almost at the point where they were bought out by Zuffa, in addition to becoming their first featherweight champion. Firstly, can you describe the feeling of being a champion that early in your career and the feeling that you'll be remembered as the first champion in the division of such a storied and respected promotion?
Cole: It was DEFINITELY a high point in my career and life. I had achieved something at such a young age that most will never reach. It was an honor to be part of such a growing sport and organization. I was young and still in that "nothing can hurt me" phase of life. Looking back, I know I never fully understood the pressure and responsibility that would come with being in that position in the sport or how much of an impact and significance it would have later on.
Mountaineer: What was it like being on that ride and then watching them on Versus and eventually being absorbed into the UFC?
Cole: It was killing me actually. Even though I couldn't be happier for the WEC, Reed (Former WEC Reed Harris), and the fighters involved at the time, it just hurt to see not only MMA but my weight classes explode so much while I was stuck sidelined wondering if I'd ever be able to rejoin them.
Mountaineer: Do you wish you had been there during their run on Versus?
Cole: Very much so! I feel it would have made my story more known. My marketability at that time, with that level of exposure, would have been gotten unmeasured growth.
Mountaineer: After your previously mentioned 11-1 streak, you ran into a three fight losing streak in some tough guys like Urijah Faber, Jens Pulver, and Antonio Banuelos. What do you think made the wheels come off at that point and how did those losses help build you?
Cole: First off, no excuses will ever be made for those losses I got my butt kicked fair and square! But, with the Faber fight, I feel I was still pretty young to be a champ and maybe wasn't being responsible enough about it. I think I trained like 2 weeks for that fight. I had too much personal stuff going on and training really suffered. Jens...well, Jens just kicked my ass. End of story. And with Antonio, I didn't really do anything in the fight, much like the last fight I had. It was my first attempt at 135 and I had never cut weight before so it was a very new experience to my body.
Mountaineer: In addition to those losses, you had a severe case of staph which left you partially paralyzed and caused a need for spinal surgery. When it struck you, what were some of your first reactions?
Cole: I'm screwed for life. I feared I'd never fight again, let alone walk. I can't explain the fear as it's almost impossible to grasp that life-ending fear without having actually felt it. Just like...I can't feel someone's fear of being pinned under a burning car, waiting to die only to be pulled out at the last second. I'll never know what that's like.
Mountaineer: How was that period of your life in terms of feeling and expectations?
Cole: Depressed and low. There was an large amount of time I would truly start to believe what the doctors would say. and my days of fighting were over.
Mountaineer: What inspired you to fight through that and did you always know that you'd be stepping into the cage again?
Cole: I'm stubborn, no real motivation there. I simply woke up one day and knew if I wanted to make it happen, I would. It was just a matter of making that decision and knowing how hard the road ahead would be. But, deciding to commit to it was like jumping out of an airplane or walking out to the cage. Once you start, there is no turning back. You're going to do it, like it or not. But again, I had surrounded myself with supportive positive people who believed in me and my desire wether they agreed with the point of it or not.
Mountaineer: Now, to come back from all that, do you have any recollection at all of what it was like walking back into the gym for your return fight against Michael McDonald in Palace Fighting Championships?
Cole: For a while, I avoided the gym entirely and I couldn't take the looks of how others in the gym would see me, going from champion to cripple. It killed me, but once I walked, or wobbled in and told my coach and team I was making a return, they were concerned but supportive and were willing to do whatever it took to get me ready and back in the sport. And they all knew the risk of coming back let alone against an undefeated young gun.
Mountaineer: In addition to the feeling of being able to return to your passion for a living, what was it like stepping into the ring with McDonald? And to go further, what was it like not only fighting, but winning with an impessive TKO in the second round?
Cole: It was awesome. After the ref stopped the fight, I was beyond happy because I truly realized at that moment you can do anything you put your mind and body into if you want it bad enough. It became an even bigger feeling when the reality set in of how big of win McDonald was at that time in the local MMA scene.
Join me tomorrow on Gals Guide to MMA as we cover Cole's dive into Japanese MMA and the UFC, as well as some of the more personal aspects of "The Apache Kid."