EXCLUSIVE: An interview with ‘The Crank,’ professional mixed martial artist. By: Vicente “Ben” Salas II
An interview with ‘The Crank,’ professional mixed martial artist. By: Vicente “Ben” Salas
Article reposted from Marianas Variety website.<–
IT has been approximately eight years since I first interviewed Saipan’s own Frank “The Crank” Camacho for a magazine publication I was writing for at the time.
Then just a fledgling 18-year-old newcomer to the increasingly popular sport of mixed martial arts Frank exhibited tremendous potential and prodigious talents for a fighter so young.
The last few years have seen Frank grow into a mature, well rounded full time professional athlete and one of the sport’s top international prospects. Today, at age 26, having been training for a total of 11 years and fighting for 10, he is both a celebrated local hero and model ambassador to MMA in his native Marianas.
Despite all the spotlight attention and endorsement offers coming his way, Frank still remains every bit as humble and a class act as he was at the start of his career. I caught up with the man they call “The Crank” to talk about his mental, physical and spiritual journey to becoming the best he can possibly be and his thoughts heading into his match against Japan’s Miura Yasuaki on July 3 at Rites of Passage 18: Warpath.
Wow. It’s been quite a ride, hasn’t it? It’s pretty crazy when you consider that I was just starting out as a writer covering this sport when you were just beginning to take off in your MMA career! This is like our reunion piece. The writer and the fighter.
Yes! The writer and the fighter! I’d watch that movie. (Laughs)It’s such a pleasure and honor to be having another long overdue interview with you! I was just a kid starting out back then. It seems like things have gone completely full circle. That was the beginning and this is like…the beginning of a new beginning! (Laughs) I started fighting when I was 16 and you interviewed me when I was 18—I had just turned old enough to sign off on my own fight waivers.
There was no fully sanctioned amateur circuit at the time so I was thrown straight to the lions and had to fight pro from day one. Good thing I had the best support group and people in my team who pushed me and never went easy on me. I still do. Training with people who are just as good as me, if not better, only made me work harder and strive to get better all these years.
You originally left Saipan to further diversify and heighten your MMA and BJJ (Brazilian Jiu-jitsu) skill set overseas. What life lessons and experiences have you come away with, from your time abroad, that you’d like to share with us since returning to the Mariana Islands in 2013?
I don’t recall anyone ever asking me that up to this point.
I remember in 2007 I had closed my interview with you saying that the fighter I most wanted to test my skills against was Guam’s Ryan Bigler, who at the time, was considered by many to be the best pound for pound fighter in the Marianas. Ironically, Ryan is now one of my close friends and training partners.
After making that statement in our first interview, the fight itself actually materialized by the end of that same year and I ended up winning! I took it as a sign and realized that I could really achieve things I desired for my career if I actively pursued them and stayed focused on the goals that I set in life. As a matter of fact, it was you who had shared information with me about a world-renown MMA and BJJ trainer in the state of Maryland named Lloyd Irvin who had a history of turning aspiring fighters and grapplers into future champions.
After graduating from high school, I wanted to explore my options and see how far I could take my MMA career so I saved up a bunch of cash and sought out Lloyd Irvin’s gym with my original intention being to train there for a couple of months and see where it took my MMA game before returning home.
I ended up staying there for six years.
My time spent with Lloyd Irvin’s team opened my eyes up to what elite level world class training was and how far I had to go in order to really take my game to the next level. I was training intensively in regimens used by Olympic level athletes and pushing my mind, body and spirit to absolute limits. It was tough. At times I thought I was going to break but I grew to love it.
I already had a solid foundation and a proper attitude heading into my training at Lloyd Irvin’s though. My original instructor the world class Tetsuji Kato, my mentor the legendary Enson Inoue and my Saipan MMA family,which included Saipan MMA pioneer Cuki Alvarez of Trench Tech, had engrained in me the samurai warrior code and philosophy of Yamato Damashii—“Exhaust the body, proceed the mind, cultivate the spirit.” This helped me a lot psychologically when I was adjusting to the higher levels of training at Irvin’s. It wasn’t just better work ethic and hard work that I learned the value of but also how to properly treat my body and not overwork it either so that I could live healthy to fight another day.
The experience made me a stronger, wiser and more disciplined martial artist and fighter. It will be a part of me forever and I now apply the same mindset to everything I do in life not just training and fighting. Last but not least, I grew to realize that MMA may be a one on one match between two people but it is, was and always will be a team sport. Your teammates and coaches who you train with are like a brotherhood. When I walk into the cage, my whole team is in there with me in my heart and in my mind.
Speaking of your roots, Trench Tech Saipan, the very gym that you began your humblest and earliest days, how does it feel to see Trench Tech still going strong despite difficult economic times?
Even with Kato no longer teaching there, Cuki Alvarez is doing an amazing job running the gym and promoting the sport through his Trench Warz and Rites of Passage events.
It’s such a great feeling to see a local Saipan guy holding things together after all these years and doing all he’s done to help keep the sport alive not just in the Marianas but internationally. Cuki has succeeded in bringing in fighters from all around the world, from Korea to Russia, to fight in Saipan and he continues to work on expanding his efforts. He’s also done an excellent job at molding the new generation of Saipan based fighters—rising stars like his son Shane “Pikaboo” Alvarez, his nephew Roman “Sonic Boom” Alvarez, Vince “The Clinch” Masga and Jordan “The Machine” Manglona to name a few. Being a former fighter himself, Cuki knows what it takes to bring out the best in anyone. Like you mentioned, Trench Tech also provides a great positive training outlet for not just pro and amateur fighters but everyday people looking to either try something different or give themselves martial arts fitness and discipline.
Trench Tech started out as a handful of guys training to be MMA fighters. It was strictly a fight gym for fighters, by fighters. Today, it has evolved into so much more. Now it’s a safe haven for once wayward kids looking to stay out of trouble and channel their aggression into martial arts training and competing. It’s a brave new way of generating revenue for the local economy through honest hard-working sports entrepreneurship. Trench Warz is not just one of the top MMA events in the Marianas but in the Asia-Pacific region, especially for UFC and Bellator scouts looking to recruit rising talent into their big league organizations. I know I’ll always have a home at Trench Tech and I still do all or most of my final preparations there whenever I fight on Saipan.
How often do you travel abroad to prepare for big fights these days and where if so?
Stateside and alliance MMA have always kept their doors open to me. They are a team comprised of mostly UFC and Bellator veterans, champions and contenders. Guys like Dominic Cruz, Phil Davis, Brandon Vera, Ross Pearson, Alexander Gustafsson, Norman Parke, Michael Chandler, and Guam’s own Baby Joe Taimanglo. There are just too many elite MMA fighters training there to mention. I prepared extensively at Alliance honing my striking skills for my fight with Pride FC and UFC veteran, Keita Nakamura a year ago in PXC. A little known fact is that quite a few of the Alliance guys were also my teammates at Lloyd Irvin’s and began there just like me. I have also gotten offers from Korean Top Team stating that if I’m ever in their area, they are more than willing to facilitate my training. However, for the sake of time and money purposes and practicality, I try to keep majority of my training in the Marianas at Spike 22 when I’m on Guam and Trench Tech when I’m on Saipan. The level of training they offer is now on par with high level MMA gym standards in other places. There couldn’t be a better time for me to situate my primary training camp on home soil. Things really have come full circle.
Your fight before this last one saw you handily dominating and almost finishing your opponent before a critical positional error, on your part, suddenly turned the tides of the fight.
The loss to Kasuya actually brings me back to my loss to Neil Magny when I was trying to advance into the house on The Ultimate Fighter TV show. There are a lot of parallels between the two. Just like against Magny, I was too one-track minded against Kasuya. I had Kasuya badly rocked early in our fight just like I had completely dominated Magny in the first round of the TUF fight. But instead of pacing myself and focusing on staying clear headed and strategic, I ended up seeing red in both fights and only wanting to pursue the knockout. Against Magny, that approach caused me to suffer an adrenaline dump and I wasn’t the same in rounds two and three. Against Kasuya, my tunnel vision and desire to only get the knockout win is what worked against me. I committed an amateur mistake by giving up my back to a dangerous submission artist when all my training I have ever done has taught me never to do such a thing. The Magnyfight was very tough for me because I fell into a period of depression afterwards knowing I had screwed up an opportunity of a lifetime. I even started to question my place in the sport and whether it was really the career for me. There was a period of reevaluation and self-realization that followed after that though. As I began to recollect myself, I realized how much time I was wasting feeling sorry for myself. Everyone was supportive of me following the loss—Lloyd, Sarah, everyone. Even UFC veteran Pat Barry gave me strong words of encouragement. After the Kasuya fight, I was able to handle my thought process more objectively. Instead of becoming depressed, I became more motivated. I also became wiser. I vowed to never to look past another opponent by getting overly excited but focus on one fight at a time. That is the mindset I have going into this next fight. I’m going to treat him like he’s the champion of the world and put all my focus in beating him in every possible way there is instead of only the knockout. Having good fight IQ is important. When you are able to think clearly and strategically while simultaneously fighting, you are exercising good fight IQ and lessening the likelihood of foolish mistakes.
I wish you all the best success in your upcoming fight. May you continue to have a prosperous careerin the years to come. I’m proud of you, Saipan is proud of you and the entire Marianas is proud of you. Keep doing what you do best. Crank it up!
Thanks. That means a lot to me. I wouldn’t be where I’m at without the love and support of the islands. I’m always happy to represent the Marianas to the best of my ability.
MMA is a game of millimeters and milliseconds. Physically, spiritually and mentality. Giving it your all means investing everything in every little detail of commitment and preparation.
I’m going to give it my all this Friday and make the fans and supporters proud. Get ready to see a smarter, wiser, and improved Frank Camacho come fight night. Crank it up!