Photos by Kasia Meow
"It happened. But I'm not proud of it."
The speaker is Dave Camarillo. And if you paid attention at all to the UFC the last few years you've seen him do the bucket and stool walk up to and in to the cage with any number of American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) fighters. Which is to say heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez, and a whole other raft of bad asses like Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch and the list goes on and almost endlessly on.
But beyond the bucket and the stool? Those in the know, know that Camarillo was the Rickson Gracie Cup Champion when he was a blue belt, a belt it took him only 10 days to get since he'd been training in judo already since he was 5 years old. And the judo and Brazilian jiu jitsu championships reel off the roll: Joe Moreira International Champion in 1999 at purple belt, Copa Pacifica Champion, Canadian Open Champion in Judo and so on.
"Well, it was just me being cocky," he says from his 10,000 square foot training facility in Pleasanton, California, where he's decamped after separating from AKA two years ago. "The years change everything but when you're in that environment, back then it was like the wild west with all of the challenge matches and if you're the top dog under Ralph [Gracie] and Ralph says "sic 'em" You sic 'em."
Previously assumed to be only half truth the still super-intense but totally physically NOT imposing Camarillo (a lightweight on a good day) is holding forth about the time when Judo killer James Brewster Thompson, all 220 pounds of him, had walked into Ralph Gracie's place on El Camino Real and challenged the new kids on the block to a match.
Ralph said that he was too tired right around then but he'd consider it if Thompson made it past one of his lower belts. Camarillo was that lower belt and caught up in the middle of a weird judo vs. Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ) class struggle, he threw his lots in with BJJ, and slapped an armbar on Thompson.
Which Thompson responded to by standing up off of the tatami mat and heading for the door to drop Camarillo on his head on the pavement. The door was blocked and he was told all of the martial arts at a Gracie academy took place IN the academy and he turned and promptly had his arm broken by Camarillo before he was thrown out into the street.
"But that was a long time ago," Camarillo says. Since then all kinds of wild fortune has headed his way. From his time at AKA and the UFC and the life under the klieg lights and on stage and screen that that entailed to his books. And now?
"Outside of the academy I work with Special Operations Teams for the US Military." Watching the 37-year-old Camarillo toss some of his students around for a photo op we're reminded of what it was like to see him train 14 years ago at the Gracie academy when you never didn't get a sense that someone was going to get very hurt, very fast. And we're not talking about feelings.
"Yeah. They specifically asked me to train them."
But training in martial arts since he was 5 and coming from a family that featured a father who was deep into judo and a brother who was four years older and wanted either a voluntary or involuntary training partner, Camarillo would probably have been the right guy to ask.
Which has not at all stopped the detractors who point to his parting from Ralph, his parting from AKA and the UFC, and the inevitable steady flow of coaches in and out as part of "rotten in Denmark" scenario of things not being as rosy as they might seem. Camarillo, rather than evade, goes long and gives a nod to the fact that things are indeed not as rosy as they seem but sees the source of the sour as not being something he's generated at all but just part of the game.
"Machida and GSP are pretty good people. But the culture of MMA, even if most fighters are pretty good people, if they're throwing the f-bomb around and cursing? Well, people create culture. And if when they win all they talk about is how badly they beat someone's head in and not how hard they trained and how great it is to have that work out, this being the culmination of all of their experiences competing and thank their coaches? Well, nothing is perfect, and I'm not down on MMA but there's a lot more to it than beating people's heads in."
And the people talking shit about you are driven by?
And on the way out he chats easily about 32 years neck and knuckle deep in the fight game before saying that for him martial arts is about an approach to reality that would stand many in good or much better stead than not and is about a guiding principle that he holds dear.
"My job is to simplify."
Which probably couldn't be simpler.
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