“Silverbacks are typically more aggressive than other group members since the troop’s safety is their responsibility. The silverback makes all group decisions, is responsible for most of the calls, receives the dominant portion of food and can terminate troublesome behavior with just a look. The dominant silverback is responsible for the protection and safety of the troop. When in a threatening situation, the silverback will ferociously beat its chest, produce loud scowling vocalizations and a pungent odor (which humans can detect from over 25 yards away), throw vegetation and charge at its opponent or intruder. Researchers have discovered that 99% of their charges are bluffs; providing the rest of the troop time for retreating to a safe distance. However if pressed, the silverback will follow through with his threat.”
– Upon conducting prudent research for this article, I ran into the above description of typical silverback gorilla behavior and actually thought that, outside of the smell and throwing of vegetables (of which I have no conclusive proof of, either way), the rest of the behavior may just describe my next interviewee to a T.
When it comes to outspoken figures within our Houston MMA Community in recent years, few have been as polarizing and controversial as “Silverback” Tony Orozco, co-founder and coach of Silverback Fight Club. The reason of this fact is probably very simple. The man doesn’t believe in a filter and has never been shy about speaking his mind. From supporting his team during times of duress to voicing his displeasure or praise, the man known as “Coach Tony” to his students doesn’t really care whether his opinions cause him to be liked or disliked, and it has been both. He believes that as long as he stays true to living his own truth, despite the opinions of others, he’ll at least command respect and that’s the most important thing.
Although Orozco is primarily known as a coach, it is interesting to note that he will also be making his cage debut as a fighter this month at IXFA on February 26th against a Team Hoger fighter by the name of Shawn Machado.
With that bout in mind, I recently had an in-depth conversation with Tony Orozco on behalf of area fans to learn more about his background, what makes him the way he is, and why exactly he has decided to step into the cage at the ripe-old (or young depending on how you look at it) age of 43 instead of just coaching.
Now before we get into Tony Orozco’s thoughts on many enlightening and perhaps controversial topics including his team and the scene as a whole in the Houston area, let’s take a look at his own background.
Delving into his personal history, one can surmise that Tony Orozco’s primal attitudes were shaped by a tumultuous upbringing. Originally born in Reynosa Tamarita, Mexico, the now-43-year-old moved to Houston when he was just four years old and spent much of his formative years living in East Houston, an area which even now suffers from an epidemic of gang violence.
Tony didn’t exactly grow up in the safest and most nurturing of environments. In fact, for him, fighting for survival was a daily struggle, one where a person was never just given respect but had to command it in order to maintain. “I was in a gang for six years, growing up on the rough side of Houston,” Orozco says. “Last time I gangbanged… I remember I was just fourteen years old. My cousin died in my arms man but not before he made me promise to him I’d never do that stuff again. Even crazier about it is I didn’t even know we were cousins until his funeral. I saw my mom and his mom talking. We were hanging out since we were little kids until the day he died and I just this out?”
As he told me – that was the day he decided to change his life.
And so the world went on for him without the sins of gang life. Tony graduated from Austin HS in 1986 and had his first child, Crystal, when he was just seventeen. Through high school, he had a short-flirtation with a baseball career and has since had a total of six kids and been married twice. As far as his foray into the fight world… well that all stemmed from his work as a bounty hunter.
In 1996, Tony Orozco was employed by a criminal attorney by the name of E.J. Van Buren who wanted to take Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu lessons as a means to learn self-defense due to the nature of the business. This interest coincided with the emerging popularity of no-hold-barred fighting in America. As Tony would describe it, at the time Royce Gracie was choking people out on tv but he wasn’t for sure if what he was doing was the real deal. Despite that, and at the urging of Van Buren, he went to check out anyways through a class by a man named Tom Dinklage.
“I used be to into power-lifting big-time. I was about 215 (Ibs) at the time and bench-pressed 420. I went in there and this little guy,named Eric who was about 5’3’ and 135 tapped me out three times in less than a minute! Ever since then I’ve been training jiu-jitsu, three years with Tom, and then with my coach now, Calvin Carter, who is at TNT off Gulfline. I’ve got my brown belt right now from Pedro Valente out of Miami.”
Fast forward ten years of training and Orozco would open up Silverback Fight Club.
This is where we continue the story though Tony Orozco’s own words. Enjoy.
Tony Orozco on opening up Silverback Fight Club…
Well ever since I was a kid, I dreamed of opening up my own gym. I didn’t care if it was weightlifting or sports or whatever. It turns out I like MMA and loved the contact so I ended doing it. My son Scotty (Scotty Juarez, 1-0 pro record) had been training since he was twelve so once he turned eighteen, I wanted to open up a gym to help him get better and bring in other good people to train with him. Me, Jose Santibanez, Daniel Pineda… at the time those guys were with me so we had a lot of good people to help him (Scotty) get better. Actually, me and Bobby Perez from 4Oz, me and him were the original guys over here. He helped me start Silverback back in 2006.
On how he got his “Silverback” nickname…
<laughing> Well my kids at my old jujitsu gym TNT… Like I said, I was a lot bigger then, pretty muscular, more muscular than I am now… every time I rolled, I would always stand on my knuckles and on my knees and they called me a gorilla because I’m so hairy. I would take my shirt or my gi off and they’d be like, “Damn you look like Congo!” Then that turned into gorilla and then it turned into Silverback and that’s how I got that name.
Why he refers to his fighters as his kids…
When you have a child that’s first in your hands, you love them, you care about them… You show them what’s right, what’s wrong, how to be respectful, what to do and not do in life… It’s just like that. When you have a fighter that first walks into the gym, it’s the same thing. Perfect example. Derek Lewis. He came into to my gym less than a year ago. He didn’t know how to fight, how to throw a left punch, a right punch, he didn’t know nothing. And now he’s raised up to be a champion. You raise them up to be the champion that they are. You raise them to be respectful, you raise them to speak their mind, and you raise them the proper way of doing technique. Show them there’s a proper way to walk, a proper way to eat, to run, to do an armbar. It’s the same thing as your kid. They’re your childen. You teach them. And when they lose or they win, it’s an emotional roller coaster. They lose, you feel bad because you were the one teaching them. And when they win and you’re excited and you’re like yes, he listened and you feel good too!
You know, there are a lot of gyms here in Houston that have good fighters. But show me a gym that has produced their own fighters. Not fighters that come from another gym or another city or another country but show me somebody that you yourself built up. You didn’t bring in a boxing coach or wrestling coach or jujitsu coach or anybody else but you yourself taught them… Then I can tell you that you a badass coach. There’s a lot of coaches out there… and those guys always has a boxing background or a kickboxing background and all they’ve done, the only thing, the little thing they’ve done is just refine (fighters). Not teach them everything from the bottom up … That’s what I mean by having your own kids.
The majority of guys that come to my gym are all people that don’t know a damn thing about jiu-jitsu or fighting. They come here and we teach them. I don’t bring in a black belt or anybody else. They come here and I teach them. My fighters that have come a long way help me and I thank them. My son Scotty, Little Tony who has been doing jiu-jitsu since he was six, Dale Mitchell, who I think is one hell of an excellent wrestler, Derek “The Black Beast” Lewis, who is one of top heavyweights here in Houston, Larry Crowe, who is another one, David Armas, I’ve got a lot of guys here that help each other out. We may not be name brands but we’re another year or so and we will be. We’re gonna grow. That’s why I consider my guys my children. So when people talk bad about my fighters, I don’t care who you are. You talk bad about my fighters, you talk bad about my gym, or about me… I don’t care who you are. I’m going to come at you like a mad father or just like a madman and defend my kids.
On fighter leaving his Silverback. Does he feel betrayed?
I don’t feel betrayed at all. I just feel that they think they can be better somewhere else or didn’t get what they needed here. It’s like your kids sometimes. As they get older, they don’t pay as much attention to you and got their attention somewhere else. I’ve seen some of them end up being good fighters, I’ve also seen others be the same as they always were. Either way, the only problem I have is when you leave, don’t talk bad about me. Perfect example, Kendrick Holloway. This young man came here two years ago. He paid me for 3-4 months. After that he said he couldn’t do it anymore and that he’d do whatever, clean the gym, whatever… I told him cool, you have a lot of ability and I’ll train you son, don’t worry about it. Just respect me and help me out whenever you can.
For two years this kid trained from me for free. I let his family train for me, we’d go to the fights, we traveled, I’d feed him, I had them over to my house, my daughter’s Quinceañera, he went everywhere with us. He was like a family member. So all of sudden for him to leave and then talk bad about me, that’s what f*ckin pisses me off. You’re gonna leave me, come to me like a man and tell me, hey, I think I want to train somewhere else or I think these people can help me. But don’t show me or tell one of my students on Facebook that you’re at a better gym now and you have better training partners… Dude you couldn’t even tap out my seventeen-year-old. My son Scotty used to throw you around the gym and beat the sh*t out of you standing up. How are you gonna go and tell me you have better sparring partners, you have black belts teaching you, and this and that. You gonna leave a gym, leave it with good intentions and don’t badmouth the person that took care of you.
On his future prospects at Silverback Fight Club…
Definitely a young guy by the name of Jacob Silva. He’s fighting February 18th for the title shot against Joe Trevino from 4oz. for Legacy. Of course my youngest son Little Tony Orozco at 135. He’s going to be someone to recon with. David Armas, who I call my fifth son. He fought Colin Wright and gassed out in the third round and Colin armbarred him but he learned from that one. My other son Laramie Scott, he’s 1-0 as a pro was 1-0 as an amateur. I think in two or thre years people are going to really know who he is. And I got a lot of other kids here. Cody, Ignacio, Chile, I got like 8 or 9 more guys but those I mentioned are gonna be studs next to Larry, Dale, and Derek.
On a perceived rivalry between Silverback and Team Hoger…
I think it’s a good rivalry. The reason we called out Sam Hoger because he’s the #1 heavyweight and Derek Lewis is #2. People say oh, it’s disrespectful that you guys are calling out Sam Hoger; he fought Machida and blah, blah, blah… <fart> That’s what I think about that. You know, I just heard that Artenas Young called out Jason Frank and said he’d fight him for a dollar. That’s not disrespectful? Okay, nobody’s making comments about that to Sam Hoger saying that’s disrespectful. What’s the difference between Jason Frank and Sam Hoger? All we’re saying is we think that Derek is the #1 heavyweight fighter that he’s just getting better.
Sam, you don’t want to fight us, we’re gonna respect that, we’re not gonna call you a pussy, we’re not gonna call you chicken… Just tell CageDoor you’re retired and to get you off the list so Derek can be known as the #1 fighter. Then anyone that wants to step up to Derek, we’ll fight them. If you look at Derek’s track record, he’s fought nothing but the top heavyweights. He hasn’t shied away from anybody in Houston, Louisiana, Colorado… Nick Mitchell, Ryan Martinez, all these guys were undefeated when they fought him. The only guy he lost too was Jay Ross and he’d only trained with me for three months. But now Jay Ross doesn’t want to fight him because he knows what Derek Lewis is about. Here at Silverback we’re not afraid to fight nobody. You put them in front of us and we’ll fight them.
On the difference between calling out Jason Frank vs. calling out Sam Hoger…
One time, Jason Frank asked me, “why do so many people hate me?” I told him because he was a known-name, that’s why. He’s not doing this become a baddass UFC fighter, he’s just doing this to make some money, make some recognition for his name, and grow. So there’s always gonna be haters. I don’t understand why so many people are always like, Jason Frank, he fights all these no-name fighters… I’m like okay… what’s your point. The man has money, he’s not fighting to make this a career. He’s just doing this to get his name out there, let people know who he is. But if you’re ranked top-5, making a career out of this, and you think you’re a good fighter, the #1 fighter, then the best have to fight the best. Fight the other top fighters. If not, sit back, take your winnings, fight here and there, but don’t pretend to be the best.
About his upcoming fight against Shawn Machado and why he wanted to make his debut at age 43…
That’s a good question and this is what I feel. I feel that way with age you get better, you can hang in there. And of course I didn’t pick on Machado just because I don’t like him. I picked Machado because he’s 39 years old, I’m 43. I’d be a fool if I say I want to fight somebody like that Mike Bronzoulis from Paradigm or Hulk from Submission Boxing or these other young cats that are up-and-coming. All I want to do is show my fighters that if I can run two miles in the morning, two miles at night, and I can do my sit-ups, I can do my push-ups, can lose my weight, eat right, and all that, they can never say Coach, we never seen you do it.
I want to show my kids that if a 43 year old can do It, you 18, 21 year olds can do it even easier than I can. And that’s the reason. Like I said, I didn’t pick Machado because of any other reason than he’s 39 years old and I think he’s also an up-and-coming 170. I respect him, I don’t hate the guy, and I think he’s in the game just like me. He wants to get his feet wet but he’s also a pretty good. He ain’t no young, fat kid that people can say I beat because he was easy. Machado’s a big boy. He ain’t no slouch and he’s a tough son-of-a-bitch, he’s not gonna be easy and I respect him.
His predictions for the fight…
I’m gonna bite the motherfucker, I’m gonna pull his hair, I’m gonna kick him in his nuts, I’m gonna do everything possible to beat Machado. <laughter> No, I’m basically going to come up to Machado and see whatever he wants to dictate. Everybody says he has good hands. Well unfortunately, nobody’s seen me and that’s the truth. Nobody knows if I have good hands, everybody just knows I have good ground. I’m gonna approach the fight aggressively and I know he’s gonna try to prove a point because I’m a coach and he’s a student. I’ve heard he’s been saying the only reason I picked him is because he’s a prodigy of Sam Hoger and my prodigy is Derek Lewis and if I beat him, then Derek should fight Sam. It’s nothing like that but I’m gonna come up to Shawn Machado like he f*ckin stole something from me. If he stands up, we’re gonna stand up. If it goes to the ground, we gonna go to the ground. I’m bringing 3 rounds if it goes 3 rounds but if it ends in the first, which I’m shooting for, then let’s take him out. That’s the bottom line. No disrespect to Machado but this is a fight. I’m gonna fight him like he stole something from me. Afterwards, I’ll pick him up or I hope he picks me up also if he submits me or knocks me out. Then we can leave the cage, hug, and I’ll go buy him a beer.
On why he speaks his mind always…
My grandpa always told me you know son could be you could fat, you could be skinny, you be rich, you could be poor, you could be ugly, you could be beautiful, but people are always gonna talk bad about you. As long you’re honest, tell people exactly how you feel, and be who you are, they gonna respect you.
His message to his fans and haters…
To everybody – It doesn’t if you do good or bad, people are always gonna talk bad about you. If you want people to respect you, be who you are, don’t change for nobody. If you have an opinion, speak it. If you don’t want so speak it, then shut the f*ck up if you can’t back it up. Never, ever act like something you’re not. People are never gonna respect you, people will freekin hate you, and you’re not gonna be someone to look up to.
Who he wants to pay his respects to….
The only guy that’s ever tapped me in competition and I hate him and I wish I could fight him again but I love him is Travis Tooke. I respect the man and he’s a great black belt. I’m man enough to say it and I have a lot of respect for him.
A man that I really respect a lot here in Houston is Saul Soliz. I want to pay my respects to Saul and Metro Fight Club because he has given me a lot of good advice, he always helped me out every time I had a question, he’s always one of the guys that’s showed me how to relax and he calms me down. If it wasn’t for Metro Fight Club… 4oz, Westside… no other MMA gym here would be here because if it wasn’t for Saul because nobody would know about MMA here in Houston.
Also have to pay my respect to Kru Pong – My #1 respect for muay-thai here in Houston. Him, Rommel, Lloyd, Ed, and those guys. Man, they kicked my ass bro. They’re the ones that taught me my hands, my kicks bro… Oh my God, they used to torture me Mike. Kru Pong kicked me one time and I thought I died.
Also thank you to my cousins Armando and Alfredo Deleon. All my kids and my wife Samantha. Also to to my right-hand man Mabel Armas – I love you guys. You also asked me earlier who is my inspiration. My oldest son Anthony Orozco, he was born with arthrogryposis and now he is a single dad. I’m crying right now, I love him so much. To everybody at Silverback, all my kids, I love you guys too.