~Joe Camacho died suddenly on Monday. We are all rocked by his sudden and early departure. Again the Jiu-Jitsu community has rallied together to help the family he left behind.~
If you can donate money please go here -> http://www.gofundme.com/5t5ss0
And if your free on Sunday please attend the memorial open mat here -> https://www.facebook.com/events/219018178277390
I met Joey, that is what I called him, when he started training at the Pedro Carvalho Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Rancho Cucamonga in 1996. I had already been training there a little over a year. He was very excited about learning Jiu-Jitsu. He was very dedicated and trained as often as he could. He would even have his girlfriend record him so he could play it back see his mistakes and then try and correct them during class. Back then and for many years, Pedro was the only BJJ Black Belt in the Inland Empire. If you lived in the IE and wanted to train BJJ, you trained with Pedro.
I was a purple belt teaching the Friday evening No-Gi class. This is where my bond with Joey started to really build. Because of his interest to do MMA, he would come to the Friday classes religiously. This was an old school BJJ gym so No-Gi classes regularly consisted of punch and kick defense to take downs and ground control with striking to set up the submission etc. It was a basic training ground for early MMA style fights. Joey loved it. There was nothing I could throw at him that he would ever complain about. No task was too difficult. He loved sparring guys bigger and better than him even if he would get smashed. It was just a challenge that he was determined to overcome.
One of those Friday night classes we had a visitor from Europe wanting to try BJJ. This guy was already an experienced kickboxer. We were practicing timing the kick to step in get the clinch and take your opponent down. This guy did not like the technique. He proceeded to tell me that if he was truly trying to kick, the power of his kick would prevent him from being taken down. I realized at that point that he was not there to learn BJJ but to test himself. So technique time was over now time to drill full speed. The drill consisted of one person acting as the kick boxer and the other the grappler. The kickboxer would try to kick his opponent while the grappler could only take the kickboxer down without using any strikes to set it up. So I put the visitor in the kickboxer role first and Joey as the grappler against him. I told the kickboxer to not hold back. Joey was preparing for MMA and he welcomed his attempts to kick him as hard as he could. By the way, this was without Joey’s pre-approval. I told Joey what I instructed the kickboxer to do and he didn’t bat an eye. They proceeded with the drill and needless to say, the kickboxer didn’t get one kick off on Joey while Joey punished him with repeated takedowns. I was so proud watching Joey just turn it up and represent Jiu-Jitsu right at the spur of the moment with no hesitation. The kickboxer didn’t return.
Joey loved getting submissions and would study outside of his regular training to find tricky submissions to try in class. It was a real Jiu-Jitsu lab for him trying to invent himself. He would try subs on me while giving up dominant positions. He would find himself either with his guard passed and or mounted while trying to get the submission. I would tell him “why are you letting me mount you” he would say, “I saw a cool submission and I wanted to try it out.” I would tell him to stop because it was not working and putting him in a bad spot but he would keep trying convinced he could get the submission. Eventually his better judgment told him to listen to his coach. But I admired that about him. He understood that the technique doesn’t always work at first and that you need to keep trying so he did until he would realize it was just a bad technique and finally discard it.
He was a great teammate. Everyone at the gym loved having him there. He was always willing to help others and explain to them why he keeps tapping them out with a particular move. He had no ego telling him not to share the info so he could continue to tap them out. He understood that when they finally stop him he would have to change his game to progress only making him better. He was a sneaky little devil on the mat and if you weren’t paying attention, he would slap on a submission and make you pay for your lack of focus. I remember once as a Blue Belt he was competing at a small tournament in San Bernardino. His opponent managed to pass Joey’s guard and mount him. His mistake was believing he was safe. He didn’t realize that Joey didn’t care that he was mounted on him. Joey proceeded to apply Ezekiel choke from the bottom of the mounted position and put his opponent to sleep. I don’t have to tell you how often that happens.
Joey was really found of the scissor kick take down. He became very good at this technique. I think he saw Cung Lee do it in a fight and fell in love with it. He loved those flashy techniques like flying armbars and flying triangles. The scissor take down later became illegal in tournaments. I am not sure if it still is or why it was deemed illegal in the first place. I like to think it was because Joey kept landing it on his opponents.
His first opportunity to try an MMA style fight was at a local Full Contact Karate Tournament. The promoter was claiming to allow ground fighting but for a short period of time before the fighters would be stood back up. I can’t recall the exact time allowed on the ground but it didn’t matter. Joey won the tournament for his division. If I recall correctly, he subbed one opponent while breaking the others nose in the final. All he could think about from then on was training and becoming a famous MMA fighter.
His first pro MMA fight was in 1999 at an event called the “Inland Empire Fighting Challenge” or something to that effect. It was in a ring instead of a cage. He fought a young and talented Joe Stevenson for his first fight. Joey ended up getting caught in Joe’s triangle choke. He knew how to escape but got too excited and proceeded to just start reigning strikes down on Joe from inside the triangle instead of using the proper technique to escape. Joe held on tight and eventually Joey had to tap. Normally that would bring someone down but not Joey. Right away he was just excited about training some more and winning the next one. That same event later became King of the Cage. That is where Joey’s relationship with King of the Cage and Gladiator Challenge was born.
The President of King of the Cage, Terry Trebilcock, really liked Joey’s aggressiveness in the cage and was always looking for opponents for him. Terry was also partnered with the Gladiator Challenge President, Ted Williams, so he helped Joey get his fights there as well. From his first 11 Pro MMA, 10 were for KOTC or Gladiator Challenge. Those organizations really helped Joey build up his fight experience, which brought other events calling. All the while, he stayed active in Jiu-Jitsu tournaments, competing at as many tournaments as he could. During that time, the big tournaments were being run by Cleber Luciano, (Joey’s last MMA opponent in Bellator November 2013) Joe Moreira and Pedro Carvalho with Rommel Dunbar and many smaller tournaments. I would go to as many tournaments as I could to coach him as well as corner him for his MMA fights.
With every fight brought new challenges. Three of his early fights were against some BJJ practitioners from Chris Brennan’s school in Lake Forest. These guys were experienced wrestlers and would just take Joe down and sit in his guard head down trying to strike Joey and grind out the victory. Just like Ken Shamrock’s later fight with Royce Gracie. This drove Joey to want to add wrestling to his Jiu-Jitsu. Fortunately, his cousin Charlie Valencia was an excellent and gifted wrestler who was also getting involved in the MMA scene. He would start bringing Charlie in occasionally to train BJJ with us as well as go to Charlie’s school to learn wrestling techniques. Charlie is a great guy and those two were very close. I loved it when he would come around and we would share techniques with each other. This also sparked his interest in striking. He understood that the guys he was fighting were strong in either wresting or striking and only learning BJJ to counter his BJJ so he did the same by adding striking and wrestling to his repertoire of skills.
It was about 2002 when Joey was faced with a decision that would change my world and our relationship as teammates. He told me he was going to leave the school to train elsewhere. He started to cry and told me that this was very difficult decision and he always envisioned us getting our Black Belts together under Pedro. So did I. Loyalty to his team, friends and family was a high priority in his life. Fortunately, the new team he was going to was a friend of Pedro’s, Aloisio Silva. Joey came to meet Aloisio immediately after Aloisio moved here from Brazil. Aloisio did not have a school of his own yet so he spent a lot of time with us at our school in Rancho Cucamonga as well as with some of his other friends who owned BJJ schools. Soon Aloisio opened his own school. I believe the relationship our school and Pedro had with Aloisio made him feel more at ease with his decision to start training there and eventually getting promoted to Black Belt by Aloisio. I think Joey was Aloisio’s first American student that he promoted to Black Belt. Although we were no longer training partners, our friendship never faded. We kept in regular contact as he did with most of the other teammates from Pedro’s school. When he was promoted to Black Belt, he made sure to come to the school and pay his respects to Pedro and train with us.
He was always open about his aspirations to be a champion MMA fighter and run his own school one day. His heart was always in helping others achieve their best potential, which is why he loved to teach. So as I followed him and witnessed him achieve these goals, I always felt a great sense of pride and joy for him. He deserved for all of his dreams to come true. I never knew someone more dedicated to reaching his goals.
Whoever coined the phrase “Blood is thicker than water” never trained BJJ. There is something about the blood, sweat and tears you share with your teammates that creates an inexplicable bond that never fades after even almost 12 years not training with each other anymore.
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