This is number eighty-eight in Jack’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re pleased to feature veteran MMA heavyweight and super heavyweight, Jimmy Ambriz. Ambriz is a former King of the Cage super heavyweight champion and is still currently fighting all around the world. Ambriz most recently had two victories in India’s Super Fight League, but he is currently awaiting his next matchup. The fight he wants most? It’s a rematch with TUF 10 competitor, Scott Junk. Please enjoy the conversation below.
Jack Brown: What was your first experience with martial arts/combat sports, and how did it become more than just a hobby for you?
Jimmy Ambriz: Well I started out wrestling in high school, and I would do a week of Karate here and there, but nothing serious. I ended up training with some guys who were winning in the early UFC’s, and as a 17 year old high school kid manhandling these guys on the mats, I knew I had something. When I was recruited to play football as a guard/defensive tackle and accepted a scholarship, I chose football over wrestling. Then when my football career ended, I had fighting to fall back on.
JB: What do you recall about your first professional MMA fight, a win back in 2001, and how prepared do you feel you were at the time?
JA: I wasn’t really prepared, with less than a month of Jiu-jitsu and MMA training. I was training at Todd Medina’s school and after about three weeks, I was told that they had a fight for me. I said, “Sure, I’ll try it out.” At the time, my wrestling background really carried me. I couldn’t get submitted easily, and being a wrestler helped me control people. My advantage was obviously my physical strength. I was able to overpower people, and during that period of the sport my strength alone carried me to many early victories.
JB: You were 5-0 when you fought UFC and Pride veteran, Dan Bobish, for the King of the Cage super heavyweight championship. You won, remaining undefeated and becoming champ. What did winning a championship fight mean to you then and now?
JA: It was a really big deal for me. Here I was, with just a few fights, and I knew that I hadn’t really fought anyone too good up to that point. I hadn’t really been really challenged yet, and I thought that this was going to be a big challenge. Everyone was saying that Dan was unbeatable, but I found a lot of holes in his game. His previous fight before me was Mike Kyle, and after Kyle exposed a lot of Dan’s game, I thought I could do it as well. I think the only reason Mike Kyle lost is because of his lack of confidence. I thought that I was going to do the same thing that Mike had done, but with more confidence. I went in there to out-strike Dan and do heavy damage, and that plan worked out. After that win, I believed I was a real fighter and could make a run with the sport. I emerged from the win thinking I was unbeatable and wanted to test myself against the very best in the world, which I proceeded to do for many years afterwards.
JB: You lost for the first time in your ninth professional fight. It was a battle in Japan against the former UFC champion, Josh Barnett. How did that first loss affect you at that point in your career?
JA: I was devastated. My whole gimmick was one of invincibility, and he proved I was far from that. He just came at me with a variety of tools that I never experienced before. He’s one of those guys that just keeps coming. I was used to just overpowering my opponents, but Josh's game was much more evolved. That was ten years ago, and Josh has been consistently in the top ten in the world ever since. He has achieved levels of success that I once aspired to and it was really an honor to fight him. But it was a real humbling experience and it put me in touch with my own mortality. Man, in this sport the highs are so high, but the lows of a loss can be so low. It really is the fear of that low and the quest for the high that keeps you in the game.
JB: Over your 36 professional fights, you've had just one decision win and no decision losses. You have also knocked out and submitted an equal number of people in your wins, and you have been knocked out or submitted an equal number of times in your losses. It's a very interesting record. What do you make of it and what were your most satisfying performances thus far?
JA: Because I don't have the financial luxury of training full time, and given my size, I realize that cardio plays against me as fights draw out. That is why my style now is to attack from the opening bell, kill or be killed. I want to put a good show on for the fans and think I have been booked fairly regularly because I do that. I like to come right out and bring the fight to my opponent, swarm him early and put it on him.
I never really thought of the stats of all of my fights like that. My most satisfying performance was definitely winning the unanimous decision in Canada against Nick Penner, a former Canadian kickboxing champion, on his home turf. Usually when a fight goes to a decision in another guy’s backyard, most of the time it doesn’t go your way. But I beat him convincingly every round. I was very well conditioned, which was a big deal for me, and I was very happy. Also, winning the King of the Cage title, and my last two wins in the Super Fight League, one of these which lasted about ten seconds, were also highlights. Looking back, finishing guys that have made it to the Bellator finals, like Eric Prindle and Rich Hale, in the first rounds were big wins for me. These were all convincing one way victories, and all were very gratifying.
In March of 2010, I remember being in a night club on a Thursday night, having a good time when my phone rang and it was Ken Pavia. He had been in the corner against me a few times and we were only informally acquainted. He said, "This is Ken Pavia. What are you doing this weekend?" He asked me if I could be in Japan by Saturday to fight in Dream on the opening bout of the TV card. When I asked what it would pay, and he told he 20k, I said, "I’ll start swimming right now and I will make it!" Well I forgot that in Dream you fight a ten-minute first round! Most finely tuned welterweights who have eight weeks of preparation would struggle to finish a ten minute round. I was 320lbs! I controlled my opponent and won the first round, but when you are my size your second wind usually comes in about two weeks. I wanted to make a good impression on Dream and Ken so I would get booked again. So I convinced my mind that my body wasn't really about to completely shut down and went out for the second round. Again, I was dominating when I got caught in a super slick foot lock about three minutes in. The stats you read do not adequately tell the story of my sacrifice and commitment that night. Ken told me that he recognized and respected it, and we became good friends. We’ve had some great times. He has booked me like six more times over the years.
JB: In the twelve years that you've been competing professionally you have been part of many different MMA promotions. Some of your stops have included the King of the Cage, Pancrase, WEC, Dream, and the SFL. What were some of your best and worst experiences along the way?
JA: By far my worst experience was the one and only actual knockout I’ve experienced in my entire career, against Jerome Le Banner. It was a situation where I was winning the fight with some good ground and pound, but getting stood back up, and walking into a right hook, which unfortunately landed in an ideal place on my face. Landing head first was devastating inside and out. I was actually out for maybe only a second, and I didn’t even know I was falling on my face. I remember telling myself to put my hands up because I thought he was flurrying on me. If you watch the video, I was trying to put my hands up as I was falling. Next thing I remember I am looking at the canvas.
My best experience was winning the King of the Cage title. That was a really good one for me. It was a TKO victory in less than a minute, and this was a pretty reputable title at the time. I only had three weeks to train, was going to make the best of it, and it worked out. I was able to study some film, saw some holes I could capitalize on, and was able to take advantage of them and come away with a quick victory.
Going to Bulgaria and fighting a national icon, Lubo, in MaxFights, was a great experience and they treated me really well. The show was a major event with 10,000 people in attendance. Of course, as of late, I have enjoyed being the “bad guy” and going to India and winning my two fights there. I look forward to the opportunity to be the SFL champion.
JB: You have fought all over the world in your career. Your fights have taken place across the U.S., and in Canada, Mexico, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Japan, and most recently, India. What have been your favorite places to fight, and how, in particular, has it been fighting in India?
JA: I can’t say that I’ve had a favorite place. I couldn’t just pinpoint one favorite. I loved competing in Calgary. There was a great crowd and I really enjoyed interacting with the people. And I won, so that helped. The Japanese fans are always great. They have a lot of respect for the warrior, so you can’t beat that. Indian MMA is really growing. The fans are really interested and are learning about the sport. Eastern Europe fans are also great. There is definitely a language barrier there, but it was still a lot of fun.
I have come to appreciate the different cultures, cuisines, and the different way people watch fights. Some places are loud and excited, others are quiet and reserved. MMA has been great to me because I got to experience all of this firsthand. The cool thing is I go there as a professional athlete and am treated as such. It is great to interact with the fans before and after the events. I do what I can to help the promotion and put on a good fight, and have been lucky enough to get booked pretty consistently for twelve years as a result.
JB: Your last fight was a win in the SFL back in November of 2012. What's next for you in your fighting career? Are there any particular opponents that you want to fight?
JA: Playing the waiting game. I know there are a lot of organizations out there, but I’m kind of in limbo with what’s next. I haven’t been to Japan in a while so that sounds interesting. One rematch that I would want is Scott Junk. This was one of my worst experiences, and it really left a bad taste in my mouth. He should have been disqualified for that fight. The sport of MMA is not a schoolyard brawl where you hit a guy a few times in the nuts and prevail because you’re a bully. This is supposed to be a sport. He took the cowards way out and took a cheap shot to get the victory. The way I approach MMA is as a sport, but I want to fight Scott Junk!
JB: What else do you enjoy outside of training and fighting, and who are the individuals who have supported you most in life?
JA: I enjoy personal training, bodybuilding, strength and conditioning, athletic improvement. This is what fills my day. After a lot of years competing in different sports, I like to be a part of other people’s lives and help them achieve their goals. I’m in a position where people trust me to help them improve and I really enjoy being a part of their success.
My family has always supported me. My parents never really liked what I do, but they always support me. Looking after my dogs, giving me rides to airports, helping me maintain my diet, anything they can help me with they have always been there. Every once in while they speak their opinion about me fighting, and I can understand that. Sure wouldn’t want my kids to get beat up in a cage. But to this day they have never turned their back on me. When I’m away there are always lots of phone calls and texts, so I take my family with me wherever I go.
As far as my career goes, Ken Pavia is always someone who believed in me. He really helped me get my career going. Any time there was an opening anywhere in the world where I could compete, Ken would always be there for me. I really appreciate how Ken has always looked out for me.
JB: Last question, Jimmy, and thanks for taking the time to do this. What does it mean to you to be a fighter and how much do you enjoy it?
JA: I enjoy fighting so much that I have sacrificed a lot for it. There was a time where I could have taken a normal job, worked regular hours, and would have made decent money. You have to choose between that type of job or being a fighter. I chose to be a fighter. I have probably sacrificed a lot of money, and many relationships, but it has been a huge thing for me to fight and I love what I do, training, competing, seeing the world. For example, being in India was just a whole another thing. It wasn’t just traveling to a foreign country. People were excited for you to show up, talk to you, learn about you, the person and fighter that you are. How do you not just love something like that? I love what I do.
Lastly, I would really like to thank the world of MMA. MMA has opened a lot of doors for me. Being a personal trainer and a bodyguard, MMA has really given me some credibility to succeed outside of the sport. Thank you to all the promotions, all the fans, to everyone I’ve trained with, from the big gyms to the small gyms in their garages. Thank you.
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