Back Against the Wall

By Jason Burgos May 25, 2019

Frank Camacho’s spot on the Ultimate Fighting Championship roster appears to be in jeopardy. The Guam native owns a 1-3 record inside the Octagon and finds himself on the first two-fight losing streak of his 13-year career. With his back against the wall, Camacho made changes to his training and weight regimens with an eye toward returning to the winner’s circle at UFC Fight Night 153 on Saturday in Stockholm.

The 30-year-old draws determination from his upbringing.

“If you grow up in the islands, you’re going to grow up fighting,” Camacho told Sherdog.com. “It’s just an island thing. I’m going to get in your face and make you fight me.”

That innate toughness and durability took him from the MMA scene in the Mariana Islands to the UFC after he racked up 20 wins, 15 of them knockouts. However, the competition only gets tougher at the highest level of the sport -- a reality Camacho has come to understand since he joined the UFC roster in 2017. Even so, the former Pacific Xtreme Combat champion has not felt overwhelmed by the challenges he has faced inside the Octagon thus far.

“The UFC was just a bigger, more well-organized PXC,” Camacho said. “The jump really wasn’t too bad.”

Camacho did not feel additional pressure to keep his spot on the roster after signing with the UFC. Perhaps, he admits, that was an issue. Once he achieved his ultimate goal, he failed to reevaluate the situation as the start of another difficult journey.

“After my four fights, it was kind of like, I think I had a little too much fun, and I need to focus on creating goals,” Camacho said. “For 14 years, the goal was always to fight in the UFC. When I finally made it, I never really had time to sit back and assess, [to set] more goals ahead and crush them.”

The situation became clearer for Camacho at UFC 228, where for more than a round and a half he had no answers for Geoff Neal’s hand speed. “Frank the Crank” compared it to a scene from “Rush Hour” in which Detective Carter was struck by a low blow after being surrounded by several unruly Triad members and had no idea who hit him.

“Dude, Geoff Neal’s left hand was so fast. I was like, ‘Was that the freaking ref?’ He was so fast,” said Camacho, who concedes he was also outmaneuvered from a strategic standpoint. “Geoff Neal and his team beat me. I could hear his corner yelling, ‘Neal watch out. You know what to do. We trained this. He’s setting up the big left hook. Watch out, Frank’s going to pressure. I need you to circle the way that we worked.’ [I was like], ‘Yo, I can’t do anything.”

Camacho’s frustrations became visible in the second round. After an exchange between the two men, he screamed out in what announcers and viewers thought was a case of his emotions boiling over. In reality, it was his arriving at a conclusion after being unable to counter Neal’s attack.

“When I yelled, I was like, ‘You know what? If I lose a decision, it is still an L on my record,’” Camacho said, “because I am not going to technically beat this guy. So I just yelled and [thought], ‘I’m going to try and finish him right now. I’m going to go out on my shield, live and die by the sword.’”

Minutes later, his night was brought to an abrupt end by a thunderous head kick from Neal. The fight sent a message to Camacho that rang loud and clear: He needed to make some changes, and he was not just hearing it from a voice inside. He also heard from his concerned wife afterward: “‘We need to adjust,’” she told him. “I don’t want you to do this if this is what we’re going to be getting all the time.’”

Camacho believed he had good coaching for every aspect of the sport but lacked a true general, one person who could provide guidance through each fight and serve as the primary voice in his corner. On the suggestion of manager Jason House, he left his gym in Guam and undertook training at Team Oyama in Irvine, California. He sees head trainer Colin Oyama as the missing piece for which he has long searched. The 28-fight veteran admits wholesale changes do not occur overnight, but he does feel he has become a different fighter since being knocked out by Neal in September.

“Let’s just say,” Camacho said, “[that] the Frank Camacho now would totally jack up the Frank Camacho from five months ago.”

Along with the change in gym, Camacho will return to the lightweight division at UFC Fight Night 153. He enjoyed a limited weight cut as a welterweight, but views 155 pounds as his optimal weight. He competed at or near the weight from 2009 to 2015 and posted a 6-1 record.

“I think I took time to reflect and be truthful with myself, [and] at ’55, it would just be optimal,” Camacho said. “[Competing at] 165 [pounds] would be perfect, but there’s no [such division]. At 155, I’m an optimal race car. At 170, I’m undersized. You could see it against Geoff Neal. I’ve got fat on me.”

Difficulty making the 156-pound limit was what prompted his move to the welterweight division. However, Camacho believes experience and maturity have better equipped him to cut the weight in a manner that will be much healthier for him. He has a meal plan in place and secured the services of weight-cut experts George Lockhart and Dan Leith -- men who have worked with Conor McGregor, Max Holloway and Daniel Cormier.

When Camacho faces Nick Hein inside the Ericsson Globe in Sweden, he will try to maintain his job security while attempting to avoid a third consecutive defeat. The pivotal nature of the bout has not resulted in added anxiety. Instead, Camacho sees it as just another day at the office.

“I guess the politically correct answer for me to say is yes, but I feel like I don’t [have any added pressure],” he said. “I’m just going to go out there and do what I do.”

In addition to earning his first win since November 2017, Camacho has designs on getting back to his fight-ending ways of the past.

“If there’s any pressure on me personally, it’s [that] I hate going to a decision,” he said. “If you look at my career, I’ve been getting finishes, and then in the UFC, I’m a decision guy. I want to get this work in. I want to get this finish.”

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