Interview

“Getting my hand raised, I think about it every minute of the day. I’m obsessed with it.” Miguel Diaz, Renzo Gracie Philadelphia & Extreme Evolution Fight Camp

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Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with an exciting young prospect fighting out of Renzo Gracie Philadelphia & Extreme Evolution Fight Camp named Miguel Diaz.  And, when you’re given the chance to speak with someone who trains with Daniel Gracie (Renzo’s Cousin) and the likes of Paul “The Irish Dragon” Felder, you don’t let the opportunity pass you by.

Meet Miguel Diaz

Diaz is currently fighting in the CFFC (Cage Fury Fighting Championships), and he’s riding a three fight win streak.  Diaz is undefeated as a professional and he’s looking to extend his streak on the 17th of this month when he fights at CFFC 74 from the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City (you can purchase tickets here or catch it live on UFC Fight Pass).  Diaz, being from New Jersey, is excited about fighting in front of a home crowd.  He told me that he feels this is the biggest fight thus far of his young career:

“[This fight is] pretty big, I feel that each fight that comes up for me is bigger and bigger.  I fell in love with this sport and I decided that it’s what I wanted to do. Hopefully in the next few years, I make it so that it’s what I do, and I won’t have to work.  It’d be nice to make it a thing where the only thing I have to worry about is training.”

Obviously, fighting isn’t going to last forever.  I want to go as far as possible, but it can’t last forever.  But, I can do jiu jitsu until I stop walking.

Diaz has been training for this moment for five years.  He’s a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, and he’s hoping to get his brown belt after a victory on the 17th.  Diaz trains at the illustrious Renzo Gracie Academy in Philadelphia with the likes of Paul Felder and Sean Brady.  When I asked Diaz about his biggest strength, he told me that it was definitely his jiu jitsu.  I asked him what he loved so much about jiu jitsu.

“You can do it [jiu jitsu] for the rest of your life. Obviously, fighting isn’t going to last forever.  I want to go as far as possible, but it can’t last forever.  But, I can do jiu jitsu until I stop walking.  I want my own gym, and I want to teach, and do it every day.  I encourage people every day to do jiu jitsu, I tell them it’s fun, it’s a great way to stay in shape.  It’s almost like a cult, the people who do jiu jitsu, it’s like its own religion.  You come in, you roll everyday, you have your own group of friends, people that you wouldn’t know otherwise. Everything about it, it’s just a way of life.”

Getting into MMA

But, Diaz didn’t dream of becoming a professional mixed martial artist from an early age.  His love of the sport was kindled a bit later in life while he was considering a career in law enforcement:

“I didn’t start training at all until I was 25 years old.  I originally started because I was in the process of becoming a New Jersey State Trooper, and right before I got into the academy, they told me that I should start boxing.  So, I decided to pick up a couple of lessons.  I walked into this gym that was right down the street from my apartment, a UFC franchise gym, and I started doing kickboxing.  But, later fell in love with jiu jitsu.  I started competing in a few amateur tournaments and won my first as a white belt.  One of my coaches convinced me to take an amateur fight, and that was pretty much it from there.  I fell in love with the sport little by little, and here I am, taking my 2nd professional fight.”

Early Fight Experience

Diaz’s first experience fighting in the cage was anything but ordinary as well.  He took his first amateur fight in November of 2015 (also in Atlantic City), and ended up fighting in some non-traditional garb:

“My first amateur fight…  It was a weird mixture of confidence and nervousness.  I actually had to fight in my underwear.  I remember, right before the fight my coach told me to make sure that the shorts I had on didn’t have any pockets, because they will make you take them off.  So, [after] warming up in the back, as I was walking up to the fight, the ref was like ‘hey, you got to take those off.’ And so I pulled down my shorts, and showed him my white compression shorts, and I asked ‘hey, can I go in these?’  And he was like, ‘sure, whatever man.’ As I was walking to the cage, I could hear people laughing at me.  I ended up winning by TKO in the first round, but it’s a story that I tell people about my first fight, like yea, I fought in my underwear.”

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And the feeling that Diaz experienced that night has stuck with him until this day.  Once he tasted victory, Diaz developed an insatiable appetite for that same sensation:

“Just there’s nothing like the feeling of getting your hand raised in victory, that moment where you think about all of the crap that you had to go through during training, the weight cut, the ass whoopings from teammates. Getting my hand raised, I think about it every minute of the day. I’m obsessed with it.”

“It turns out that my mom got kicked out of the arena, because she was trying to get into the cage when I was on the ground getting my face crushed, but it all proved to me that I can do this; just a little bit of mental toughness and you can overcome.”

The Highs & Lows of Fighting

Diaz recalled his time as an amateur fighter, and some uncertainty that he experienced along the way.  He won his first two fights, then went on a two fight skid.  Diaz described the first of those two losses as the lowest point in his career:

“That fight, I remember, the dude was very tall, so I couldn’t get inside.  Also, I had this fear where like I didn’t want to get hit. I was very afraid of getting hit, so I didn’t get inside enough.  I ended up taking him down in the 3rd, but he armbarred me.  After that fight, I lost all of my confidence, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to fight anymore.  I was afraid, but I wanted another opportunity to fight again.  When I say I lost all confidence, I lost all confidence.  I was thinking maybe I should just make jiu jitsu a hobby, and that’s it.”

However low the feeling after his two fight skid, it wouldn’t last long.  Diaz rebounded with a 2nd-round submission win at KOTC: Locked In, back in October of 2017.  That fight would launch the current win streak that Diaz sits on, though his career could had taken an entirely different trajectory.  Diaz’s parents were in attendance that night, and the fight did not begin the way that Diaz had planned on it:

“I was coming off of back-to-back losses, and I kind of lost all of my confidence.  So, it was like the most scared that I had ever been, because I wasn’t sure that this [fighting] was for me, or if I could do this.  I was thinking that no matter what happened, this was going to be my last fight.  Also, my parents came to this one, so it was a mixture of a lot of things.  The ref walked up to me right before the fight, when we were in the cage, and he told me that ‘hey, we are starting right when y’all touch gloves,’ and it was kind of like a warning, because the other guy, right when we touched gloves, he grabbed my head and kneed me in the face, knocking me to the ground.  I was on the ground and my nose was bleeding, and I had so many things going through my mind, like this is it, I’m going to lose in front of my parents.  But his arm was too low, and I grabbed it and almost got an armbar, but he got out of it.

After the round, I walked back to the corner, and I was bleeding all over the place.  [I remember] my coach yelling at the ref, like ‘he’s alright, he’s alright.’  Then I saw my mom looking at me, and I remembered her being closer to the cage then where she should had been.

The second round opened up, and I took him to the ground, got him in a rear naked choke, and threw my mouthpiece into the crowd.

It turns out that my mom got kicked out of the arena, because she was trying to get into the cage when I was on the ground getting my face crushed, but it all proved to me that I can do this; just a little bit of mental toughness and you can overcome.”

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Diaz would win his next fight, bringing his amateur record to 4-2.  And, on February 6th of this year, he took his first professional fight.  Diaz won the fight, extending his win streak to 3, and he described it as the greatest feat he’s accomplished yet:

“There were a lot of people from my hometown watching, and I feel like that night I proved that I wasn’t just a BJJ guy; I could strike, I could wrestle.  That night was definitely the greatest accomplishment so far, just finally doing it professionally and proving that I’m a very well-rounded fighter.”

“If I did everything that I should had, but it just turned out that the guy I was fighting was better, then I could die in peace.”

What the Future Holds

Training with the renowned Daniel Gracie definitely has its perks.  Gracie has helped Diaz to plan the next steps in his career, and Diaz is looking to continue his win streak in hopes of making it to the next level:

“In the next 6 months to a year, this year specifically, I want to finish my contract with CFFC and hopefully finish on a 3 fight win streak to possibly get on the Contender Series (Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series).  My coach Daniel has some connections with the UFC, and he’s gotten one fighter on the Contender Series already, so he’s telling me that if I get these next 3, he can probably get me on there.

In the meanwhile, man, I’m training everyday, strength and conditioning, wrestling, BJJ, sparring three times a week, just doing that.  Even after a fight, I might take a week off, then right back to training.  Because, number one, I want to be ready if another fight comes up, and number 2, I love it so much, I can’t stay away.  So, I want to get better, try to get my name out there, and try to get some sponsors.”

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I asked Diaz about more long-term goals, and what he hoped to accomplish over his career in order to think of it as a success.  Even though Diaz dreams of becoming a world champion, the parameters of his success do not specifically rely on UFC gold:

“Honestly, I have this will to win, but it’s not necessarily about the wins themselves.  I want to be able to look back and know that I put forth my best effort, whether win or lose, whether I become a world champion or if I end up losing my next 6 fights in a row.  I always think to myself of me sitting in my deathbed, like what would my regrets in life be. I just want to know, that even if I lose, that I put out my best effort.  If I did everything that I should had, but it just turned out that the guy I was fighting was better, then I could die in peace.”

My Brother’s Keeper

Diaz is not only a well-rounded mixed martial arts practitioner, but he also seems to have a hell-of-a head on his shoulders.  But, to quote John Donne, “No man is an island.”  Diaz has had a tremendous team supporting him along the way, training at both Renzo Gracie Philadelphia & Extreme Evolution Fight Camp.  I asked Diaz if there was anyone that he wanted to thank for their help along his journey:

“For sure, definitely my coaches, shout-out to Daniel Gracie for giving me the opportunity, my striking coach John Marquez, he’s got my undying loyalty for making me a better striker and an overall better person.  [Shout-out to] Cody Hier, who’s fighting the same night as I am.  He’s my close and personal friend, another one that kind of shaped my fighting career with not just teaching me how to wrestle (Heir is a former Division I wrestler) but he’s always pushing me, saying one more round, always in my ear, giving me the confidence to succeed.  Also, a shout-out to my girlfriend Megan.  Ever since she’s walked into my life, she’s helped me a lot with the promotional side.”

Miguel Diaz fights at CFFC 74 on Friday, May 17th, at the Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena – Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  If you’re not on the East Coast, make sure to check it out on UFC Fight Pass at 7:30 pm EST.

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