January 26, 2011 – It was recently announced earlier today that Austin, TX native Nick “The Ghost” Gonzalez has been added to the Strikeforce Challengers 14 card and will be taking on David “Tarzan” Douglas of Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.
The showtime-televised card, set to take place on February 18th at the Cedar Park Center in nearby Cedar Park, Texas will mark the hometown MMA return for Gonzalez since he made the move to Carslbad, CA in order to train full-time with the Alliance team to expand upon his talents as a fearsome striker.
A win in his bout against David Douglas (5-2) could be significant for the resurgent Gonzalez (16-8). He has not lost since August of 2009 and looks to make waves towards a possible shot at the (currently shallow) UFC feathweight division not-so-far down the road.
I caught up with “The Ghost” via telephone from his home in California late this evening to discuss his upcoming Strikeforce bout, along with is beginnings in the sport at the dawn of Texas MMA.
Read on as Nick shares his experiences and even offers advice for up-and-comers looking to come up on the trail he has helped to blaze.
Hey what’s up Nick. Thanks for taking the call and congratulations on the upcoming fight at Strikeforce man! I know you have roots down here but how does it feel to actually be fighting in your home city bro?
Oh man, it’s always extra motivating for me because I’ve never lost a fight in Austin actually. I actually had my arm popped, broken in a Renegades fight in 2006 in Austin but I wasn’t going to tap! At that time, a lot of events were going around Texas – Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Corpus, the Valley… and finally they came back to Austin. For me it was a big thing to be a part of, a wave I wanted to jump on, and I was of the first guys to start fighting in Austin so I was motivated. Now you got a lot of guys coming along there now with Kamal (Shalorus), Roger (Huerta), Yves (Edwards), here’s there now, even Phil Cardella, Brandon McDowell, and the list goes on with all these newer guys. I was born and bred in Austin so coming home and fighting is a big thing for me.
From what I remember, you were on of the originals down here in the Texas fight scene man. In fact, you’ve been fighting as long as TXMMA has been around, since 2001, the slap-boxing days. Before we talk Strikeforce, take us back to the beginning. How did you get your start in this sport?
Man I really don’t have anything special as far as my story. I was probably like a lot of young Hispanic males growing up in my hometown. Of course you never back down from a fight and you wanted people to respect you so I grew up fighting a lot man. I got into a lot of fights… I spent a couple of years in high school trying to wrestle but I got into some trouble and had to go away for a little while. I got out and had my first child. I started noticing myself getting out of shape and I was like, “man I need to do something.” Really, that’s it man. I looked up gyms in the phone book and I found the Vasquez Academy. I walked in and the rest was history. I went from there, took my first pro fight six-months after I started training with Rudy and never looked back.
I remember even as a fan back then that Rudy is known for his ability to coach striking. Did that kind of just fit into the mold as far as what you ended up being good at?
Yeah, I mean, I had couple of pretty brutal fights growing up so fighting somebody, hitting somebody… that was the easy part. As far as training, I think I took to that quicker because you know, a lot of guys when they start, they get a bad taste with striking. They flinch, close their eyes… I had a knack for it. I grew up watching boxing greats like Julio Cesar Chavez, Oscar De La Hoya in the early boxing in the 90’s and 2000’s. I was a big fan of it. My grandfather, when he was younger, boxed as an amateur and was in a couple of Golden Gloves so I think it was in my blood. I took to learning boxing, kickboxing, and that was it.
What was it like getting into the sport back then compared to where it is now?
I think back then, even with the open-hand rules, it’s a pretty simple format on how to beat somebody. Hit them and move, kick the shit out of them, knee them in the stomach, whatever you have to do. Most of those guys back then couldn’t with me in that department. I think the way it’s evolved and where I’ve come into some hard times in my career is that I’d finally meet someone that could take me down, outwrestle me, submit me… Now it’s become an evolution that you can great at one thing but you have to be good at everything else too.
In the past ten years, you’ve been fighting everywhere from Strikeforce, Bellator, even K1. Any interesting stories?
Oh man, I’ve got a ton of them. Let’s see… I did get to meet Chuck Norris when I fought for the World Combat League. That was pretty cool and now people make Chuck Norris jokes and I’m like, “Oh yeah? Chuck Norris used to sign my checks b*tch!” LOL. But yeah, meeting him and another time, I was in Japan for a fight and wearing a Texas Longhorns t-shirt and this random Japanese guy that worked at the hotel stops me and he’s like, “Roger Clemens, Roger Clemens, Texas! Texas!” and you know, that was pretty neat since I’m a very prideful Texan.
After fighting for all these different promotions, do you have any advice for the next crop of guys out here looking to make their way up nowadays?
Yeah. Being that I’ve been building my name up for awhile and fought in a lot of places, I find that coming back, a lot of guys try to call me out or whatever. My advice to them would be to do what I did. At the time I fought primarily in Texas, I fought and beat everybody and was one of the top guys and it’s like, at some point, you’ve got to move on you know. My advice would be to not spend all your time fighting in Texas because there are so many schools, so many people, it’s very easy to do that. You can get hung up on, “who’s the best 55’er in Texas, who’s the best welterweight, etc. etc.” It’s one thing to be the best in Texas but try to be the best in the world. My advice to them when they have some momentum behind them is to start breaking out man. Get a hold of different promotions, get a hold of different management companies, get a hold of some people to try to help you move up to that next level. I love MMA in Texas and the passion and camaraderie everybody has with the teams and “this school is better than that school,” etc. but at some point, you got to think about what you really want to do with it. You got to think outside the box and that’s what I’ve been trying to do the last four or five years and I gotta go, gotta keep on moving. I can’t spend my career trying to be King of Kombat Champion, XFC Champion… You know? I love these guys for wanting to give me title shots or whatever but it’s just a thing to put on your resume in order to get you to the big show.
As far as your career, you recently made the move out to California to train with with Alliance right? How’s that move been for you?
Originally I was brought out a year ago today when they brought me out for camp with Dominick Cruz for his fight with Brian Bowles. Coach Eric from Alliance saw me and had me come out to train. Joey Beltran, the Mexicutioner, is my buddy so I’d catch a ride to train with him down there. We’d spar and Coach Eric told me they’d love to have me out since that they needed a pressure fighter, somebody that could stick him (Dominick Cruz) and make him move since he was whipping up on all the other midgets there. So I was, like yeah cool, fly me out there, help me find a place to stay, help me fight and train to my full potential since I have a lot left. When I got here, everything worked out. My manager Manny, who’s also been a great mentor to me, said “you haven’t even peaked out, you have so much potential left and you’ve already done a lot but there’s still so much to do.” I think I’m at the right place at the right time. I’ve been part of Dominick’s camps three times now and for me, with wrestling coaches, jujitsu coaches, it’s been phenomenal. I feel like I finally have a team behind me to help put everything together and piece it all together for me and it’s been great. I have no regrets. The hardest thing about being here is being away from my kids and that’s probably the hardest thing man. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t want to move back but I gotta succeed and make something of myself for them. It makes me try harder. I talk to them but that’s probably been the hardest thing. Other than that and I love the training out here, the weather is great.
Working with those guys like Dominick, Phil Davis, Ed Ratcliffe, etc. What do you think it’s done for your own game? Do you feel yourself getting more well-rounded?
Besides your kids, is there anything else you miss about Austin?
Yeah, just the entire city in general man. I’ve been everywhere and I’ve got to say that Austin is by far one of the best cities in the world. I’ve been a lot of places and nothing tops Austin.
Well you’ll be back there next month, that’s for sure. Speaking of which, your next opponent for Strikeforce, David “Tarzan” Douglas – What do you know about him?
I know he’s very, very tough. Very wiry, kind of that Cesar Gracie jiu-jitsu guy. Not really great at any one thing but he’s willing to get in there and bang it out. He has all his wins by TKO. He’s a tough guy and I think it’s gonna be a good fight. Stylistically, I think I have to impose my will or my style over his, you know. I have to dictate the pace of the fight. I think that’s going to be the big thing because from what I’ve seen from him, he pushes aggressively the first couple of minutes in each round and kind of blows his wad but I think if I can kind of tone him down and get him to fight my pace, which is still wild but under control, it’ll be a good fight. He’s a tough guy and he brings it.
Are you doing anything special to prepare for him one way or another?
Actually we haven’t even discussed game plan yet but I’m looking for an exciting fight and I’ll ghost him. I’m going to do my thing, make him miss, make him pay. Also, I have a lot of other tools now and if I can use them in the fight, that would be great. My last two fights I haven’t really had to but you know, it’s there so if I get to that point, I’m really confident in my abilities. I’ll be well-prepared and I’ll try to put him away with punches, kicks, knees, whatever but I’ll be ready with jiu-jitsu and wrestling as well.
In a perfect world, would you rather have a knockout of the night or the submission of the night?
I always love knocking people out man. I love hitting people and knocking them out, I really do.
What’s next for Nick “The Ghost” Gonzalez after this next Strikeforce win?
Just keep on working that win column and pick up a few more and keep working towards the UFC man. They’ve got the 145’ers now and it’s not a really stacked division. Hopefully they’re looking at people and I think I’m in the right place at the right time.
Cool. Well thanks for the interview and good luck in your upcoming fight on February 18th. Any last words for your fans here at TXMMA.com and in Austin, TX?
Look forward to an exciting fight and thanks for the support. Keep it Texas-proud and make a lot of noise on fight night because these guys are coming from California so we’ve got to scare them and show them where they’re at and how Texans do it out there man.
Alright man. Well take care and good luck with the fight next month Nick. See you soon!
Author’s Note – I hope you’ve enjoyed this interview with Nick Gonzalez. Over the past few years, we’ve worked tirelessly to bring the TEXAS MMA Community and its fighters the in-depth exposure they deserve. If you’d like to be a part of that in any way – whether by assisting with coverage, sponsoring articles (and growing your own brand), providing criticism, or by letting us know of other ways we can work together, please, don’t hesitate to contact me. I can be reached via email, on Facebook, or via Twitter. – Mike Calimbas