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Chris Camozzi - An Alternate No Longer

“The bigger the crowd the better. I would fight at the Super Bowl if I could, which is basically what this is gonna be. It’s a huge arena and I like being in a big crowd like that. It kinda amps me up even more because you don’t want to go in there and get your ass kicked in front of thousands and thousands of people."

In a tiny Colorado apartment without a phone, Chris Camozzi would have watched as his future seemingly passed him by, but as luck would have it, he didn’t have cable television either. Instead, he could just imagine what was going on in Las Vegas as a bunch of middleweight prospects fought for the right to make it into the competition for The Ultimate Fighter season seven title.

Camozzi wasn’t one of those selected, as he just missed the cut and instead was given a spot as an alternate. That call to replace an injured or ousted fighter never came though, and as 2008 dawned, it was back to the drawing board to find another route into the UFC.

“I worked my ass off to get on that show,” he said. “I tried out for season seven and they had me as the alternate, so I never got to make it to the actual tournament and that was pretty devastating at the time.”

But Camozzi, as his current job description denotes, is a fighter. It was something he realized as a hobby to keep him busy after playing rugby at Fort Lewis College turned into an obsession. So he quit his day job and picked up a night gig as a bouncer in Denver in order to train full-time.

“I was hooked on training and once I had my first amateur fight and got to get in the ring in front of a crowd, I had a lot of fun with it and after that first one I decided to dedicate all my time and effort to it.”

But his first big opportunity turned into a dead end. What do fighters do? They put a nose to the grindstone and find another way. Camozzi’s other way led him back to the local fight circuit, and after picking up his 12th pro win, a submission victory over UFC vet Chad Reiner in November of 2009, he got another shot at making the Ultimate Fighter cast. This time, he made the cut and was given the opportunity to fight his way into the house for season 11.

He won his fight, scoring an exciting decision victory over Victor O’Donnell. Then disaster struck, as it was discovered that he broke his jaw in the bout. He didn’t care. But it didn’t matter, as he was sent home without the opportunity to compete for the six figure UFC contract. Yet despite not even fighting on the show after that first bout, Camozzi’s name was still on the mind of fans who respected his willingness to scrap even while injured.

“I watched every season of the show and I’d see all these guys complain, and I said that if that was ever me, I’d do everything I could to stay there,” he explains. “It’s still that way now. If I break a bone in my next fight, I’m not gonna quit there. I’m gonna go until I physically can’t. Broken bones and everything will heal.”

Camozzi’s jaw did heal, he got back in the gym, and even received a call to fight on the TUF 11 finale card against James Hammortree in June. He accepted the bout and fought like he had been in the Octagon for years as he delivered a clear-cut three round unanimous decision victory.

“I didn’t feel nervous at all,” he said. “I’ve been fighting for a pretty long time and I had a lot more experience than a lot of the guys on the show and I think that helped. I’ve done it over and over again, and I felt like my fight to get on to the show was like my UFC warmup fight. After that I felt comfortable in the Octagon, and I’m not nervous for it now either. It’s gonna go how it’s gonna go and I think once that door locks, nerves aren’t gonna help me either way.”

If the 23-year old Camozzi doesn’t sound like he gets rattled by too much, that would be an accurate statement. Yet when you ask him where such an attitude comes from, he doesn’t really have an answer.

“I don’t know where it comes from, to tell you the truth, I’m kinda weird I guess,” laughs the Alameda, California native. “If I do a wrestling tournament or a grappling tournament, I get super nervous, my stomach gets queasy, and it still does today. But I think I’m just meant to fight. I was born to do this and I feel comfortable and confident in there.”

On Saturday, his steel nerves will be put to the test once again, this time against Korean import Dongi Yang. Unbeaten in nine fights, eight by knockout, Yang comes to the Octagon with rave notices, but unfortunately for Camozzi he doesn’t come with a library of video clips like most of his peers do.

“I kinda laughed about it at first because we’re at the highest point in our careers now and I still can’t have tape on my opponent,” said Camozzi. “It can be a little frustrating, but I trained hard and I prepared well, so I’m not worried about where it’s gonna go.”

It isn’t the first time he’s faced an opponent who he didn’t have the opportunity to study chapter and verse on though, so he knows how to adjust on the fly.

“Not having much to go off, I don’t go in there thinking about what he’s gonna do, so I can work on implementing my own gameplan, which always helps a lot,” he said. “Sometimes if you know a lot about your opponent, you might focus too much on what you think they’re gonna do and maybe they’ll come out and do something different. So I’m just going in there to impose my will on him and go with the gameplan I made, make sure I get off first, and come out with the win.”

As for what is expected to be a packed house at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Camozzi has no problems going from an intimate spot at The Palms in Vegas to a huge hockey arena. The Octagon’s the same size in both, and truth be told, he kinda likes playing the big rooms.

“The bigger the crowd the better,” he said. “I would fight at the Super Bowl if I could, which is basically what this is gonna be. It’s a huge arena and I like being in a big crowd like that. It kinda amps me up even more because you don’t want to go in there and get your ass kicked in front of thousands and thousands of people. (Laughs) And I just want to put on a good show.”

So far so good when it comes to putting on a good show, and at this point in his young career, the 13-3 prospect with the unlikely journey to the UFC is content to bide his time, learn his craft some more, win, and build his fanbase a fight at a time.

“Every fight is very important,” he said, “and I’m just gonna go in thinking that way. I wanted to secure a win in the last one and this time I want to secure a finish. I want to keep moving my goals up and keep working up the ranks, but most importantly I want to put on exciting fights. I think that’s how you get recognized the most. You definitely have to win, but if you win in exciting fashion, that’s how you jump up and get even bigger.”