How did you get your start in MMA?

This is one of the oldest and, frankly, most played out questions in the world of MMA reporting, but what can be even more played out are the answers journalists get from some of the fighters. Some guys had rough childhoods, some are lifelong athletes, some are thugs, and some just thought it sounded cool. But it seems that the longer a guy is in the game, the more elaborate the answers can get. For a good non-manufactured answer, sometimes it’s best to go right to the roots.

Joe Guerrero is a 19-year-old Colorado native with a “long” background in the oldest combat sport, and he was pretty good at it.

“I’ve been wrestling since I was four years old,” said Guerrero in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “I was varsity captain my junior and senior year in high school, and I wrestled varsity all four years. I did my freshman and sophomore year at Adams City High School and my junior and senior year at Standley Lake High School. I never achieved a state title, but I did qualify for state my senior year with a record of 40-5.”

Okay, so with all due respect to Guerrero, there’s nothing eye-opening there. Wrestling, especially among American fighters, is a very typical base for transitioning into MMA. However, wrestling is not why Guerrero is in the sport, but it definitely helped him segue from the couch to the cage.

“I graduated from high school and I couldn’t make it to college to wrestle, because of my grades, and I landed an electrician job that didn’t pan out,” Guerrero explained. “I was playing the UFC video game and I was telling my mom that I could do this sport. There was a friend she worked with, a gym teacher, who trained at Grudge Training Center. She asked him about it, and he told her where to send me. I looked it up the next day and went down there a couple days after that, and it was set from there.”

Trevor Wittman’s Grudge Training Center, located just outside Denver, is one of the premier MMA gyms in the Rocky Mountain region. UFC veterans like Shane Carwin, Duane Ludwig, Rashad Evans, Pat Barry, Eliot Marshall, Alvin Robinson and Justin Salas, among others, have all spent significant portions of their careers fighting on Wittman’s team. Needless to say, the suggestion that Guerrero received was definitely some sound advice.

Guerrero joined Grudge in February with the specific goal of becoming an MMA fighter. Nearly 10 months later, he is finally ready for a fight, and, amateur or not, he was given a pretty big card on which to make his MMA debut. There’s no real equation to why he thinks he’s ready, but the decision was guided by some professional input.

“I just knew from the fact of how long I’ve been training and how hard I’ve been working,” said Guerrero. “I’ve been wrestling all my life, so I know what it is to do one-on-one competition. I asked a lot of the big-name guys at the gym and a lot of my coaches what it would take to get ready for my first fight, and the information that they gave me let me know that I was ready.”

Guerrero’s primary coaches on the amateur team are Luke “Lil Hulk” Caudillo and James “Steele” McCall. Caudillo is a 32-year-old Nebraska native who has been in the business for a long time. Since 2003, he has 34 pro fights under his belt, including appearances in the UFC, Strikeforce and Ring of Fire. McCall is also a pro fighter, having gone undefeated in eight amateur bouts and 5-2 as a pro. He recently came to Colorado from Georgia. Guerrero has great coaches backing him up, which also adds to his confidence in his debut.

On Friday night, Resurrection Fighting Alliance returns to Broomfield, Colo., for the first time since RFA 7 in March. Headlining the RFA 11 card is the flyweight championship bout featuring Zach Makovsky and Matt Manzanares. The first fight on the card is Guerrero’s MMA debut, and he also happens to be fighting at flyweight. His opponent is also making his amateur debut.

“My opponent is Joey Espinoza,” Guerrero stated. “He’s having his first fight as well, and he used to be a wrestler too. He trains out of Trials MMA in Fort Collins.”

Trials MMA is UFC veteran Ed Herman’s gym. With coaches like Herman, IFL and WEC veteran Ryan Schultz and third-degree BJJ black belt Fabiano Scherner, one can be sure that Espinoza will also be well-prepared and ready to go to battle. However, Guerrero is no stranger to competition and knows where he needs to keep his head.

“I’m excited,” Guerrero intimated. “I’m happy to get my career going. I’m just trying not to think about it too much. I’m just trying to stay calm and go into it like any high school wrestling tournament. I’m just going to treat it like it’s win or die, life or death.

“I train six days a week. I train about five to six hours a day. When I’m not there, I’m at home with my family, my parents, my sister, and I have a godson who’s at my house a lot. So, I just hang out with him. I don’t do much. I just stay home and train.”

So, all the critics that think the wannabe-thug losers that wear TapouT gear are what real MMA athletes are all about can take a seat. Work hard, train hard and stay at home is not the same work ethic as the guys wearing beanies with pot leaves on them at the mall. Guerrero represents the new breed of real combat athletes. It takes this type of dedication and drive to go from new guy at the gym to amateur debut in less than a year. Guerrero is ready to see the results of his labors.

“I know I’m going to put on a great performance,” said the former wrestler. “I know that my time and my dedication that I put into practice, and what I do to train six days a week, I know it’s going to pay off. It’s going to show up in my performance. That’s what the crowd likes to see. They like to see big performances. If they want to see someone that has the talent, who has the work ethic for the sport and the love for the sport of one-on-one competition, I’m the guy that they’re going to want to watch.”

Guerrero provides great reasons to get out and see his fight, but that’s not the only reason why Guerrero deserves support. He really is a genuine, good guy, and if nothing else, his sole sponsor is reason enough.

“I don’t have any real sponsors yet, but there’s a guy in the gym, he takes one of Coach Steele’s fitness classes. I’ve been friends with him since I got to the gym,” Guerrero said. “It’s a great story. His son actually asked me for an autograph about two months in. He told his dad, ‘Hey, he works hard.’ He was going to talk to all the pros at Grudge and get their autographs, and he comes up to me and asks me for an autograph! That caught me completely off-guard.

“I found out he was going through a rough time, because he was a gymnast and his coach was being real mean to him, so he got into the gym to get his mind off of things and stay in shape. He started looking up to me, and his dad and I have become good friends. His dad owns an upholstery business, so he said he’d be more than happy to sponsor me and put his logo on my shirt and my fight shorts.”

The sponsorship that Guerrero’s work ethic has earned him is a real testament to the type of fighter and person that the 19-year-old is. He may not have gotten that shot at wrestling in college, but there are some things in life that you can’t be taught. Guerrero has a quality that cannot be defined, and come Friday night, on a huge card, he will be ready to show the fans the fruits of his labor in his MMA debut.

Joe Guerrero got his start in MMA by playing a video game, or at least that’s how it appears on the surface. However, get to know the guy, watch him fight and understand that this is not some kid that just thinks Affliction shirts are cool. He knows competition, he loves the sport, he works his butt off, and he’s determined to make a name for himself.

Guerrero would like to thank all of this coaches and training partners at Grudge Training Center, including Steele McCall, Luke Caudillo, Jake Ramos and Trevor Wittman. He would also like to thank his sponsor, Western Upholstery Supply, and most importantly, his parents, who have supported him since day one. Follow Joe on Twitter: @Mamushka125

Photo: Joe Guerrero (Dan Kuhl/The MMA Corner)