Frank Camacho had been through the wars on fight night, good and bad, but this may have been the worst case scenario for the pride of Saipan. Pitted against rising welterweight star Geoff Neal at UFC 228 last September, Camacho wound up on the wrong side of a second-round stoppage, leaving him at 1-3 in the UFC.
As he sat in a local hospital waiting to get stitched up, he thanked his best friend for making the trip to Dallas and being with him. Then he had a question.
“Dude, want to hear something weird?” Camacho asked. “I still love this s**t.”
Camacho laughs, the fighting blood in his veins flowing stronger than ever. He knows many consider this an odd passion to have, but he doesn’t care about what his words mean to others, only what they mean to him.
“It’s crazy, but these experiences that I’m having, even with tough losses and ruthless knockouts, it’s really molding the man that I am right now,” he said. “I am a better person because of that loss, I am a better person because of my wins, but this is still my best teacher.”
On Saturday, Camacho makes his first start since the Neal fight when he faces Nick Hein in Stockholm. He’s still the same person as he was, but he expects to be a different fighter when the Octagon door closes, something he owes to new coach Colin Oyama and his squad of standouts in Southern California.
“The first thing he had me drill was defense,” laughs Camacho, whose reputation has been as a guy who is willing to take one to give two back. That’s always a recipe for thrilling fights, but it can also shorten a career and lead to nights like Frank “The Crank” had against Neal. And though Camacho was confident going into the UFC 228 bout, he knew early on that he was in trouble.
“Not only was Geoff Neal super good, and not only did he beat me, but it was him and his team that beat me,” said Camacho of the Sayif Saud-coached Neal. “Never have I ever experienced being in a fight and hearing his corner telling him exactly what I’m gonna do. This guy knew everything that I was about to do.”
For most, that would be the scariest thing to know in the midst of a prizefight. Camacho’s reaction was to do what he does best – throw caution to the wind and simply start throwing.
“I was gonna lose the decision in this, so I thought I’m gonna live and die by the sword right now. I’m gonna try to finish this guy right now because I don’t want to take this beating for two more rounds.”
Camacho went for it, but ended up getting stopped. And when it was over, he had a long talk with his wife Sarah.
“What are we gonna do next?” she asked. “Your first three fights, you had me going crazy and this last fight, you can’t be doing this. I need you to be in the best position possible to do what you need to do.”
That means a return to 155 pounds for the Hein fight. The next conversation was with his manager, Jason House, who recommended that Camacho consider talking to Oyama, and as Camacho visited California for House’s wedding, he found time for a workout with Team Oyama.
“I loved it,” he said. “Me and coach clicked and he compliments my style. So I came out again in February with the fam, so that my wife could see everything and that we could all be on the same page, and we made the decision that this is what we’re gonna do.”
So for the last two months, Camacho has been in California, nearly 6,000 miles from home, and being separated from his family hasn’t been easy.
“Being away from my family is the hardest part,” he said. “But thank God for technology. I brought some dinosaurs with me so I could play with my boy. (Laughs) The attention span with the three-year-old is kind of difficult, so I can lure him in with some dinosaurs on the other side of the screen.”
If you haven’t been following the journey of Camacho, it’s important to point out now that there aren’t too many fighters as laid-back and affable as he is. That’s outside the Octagon. Inside it, he’s as fierce a competitor as you’ll find, and while you hope the union with Oyama will bear fruit, you have to wonder if it will dull some of that fire. Camacho insists that it won’t.
“I have an appreciation for the art even more, and this is why I love doing this,” he said. “And being here, I’m very stimulated every session. I’m a student again and it’s so awesome. I’ve been doing this for so long, longer than a lot of people, but I’m still an infant in the game and it’s so fascinating. Yeah, you can be tough, you can be strong, you can be fast, but there’s more to the game and I need that guidance and maybe I need that elevation and I need to take that next step.”
“I just turned 30 and I’m starting to put it all together and I’m very excited."