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UFC on ESPN 36: Frank Camacho still loves everything about fighting

After nearly two years on the shelf, 'The Crank' still driven to compete.
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It was just another fight week for Frank Camacho. He was driving in Southern California, running some last-minute errands before heading to Arizona to face Matt Frevola at UFC 263 last June.

"We were in Long Beach on the 405 heading back to Irvine, and then all I hear is this screeching of tires," Camacho said. "An F-350 slams into the center, hits my car in the carpool lane, ricochets off our car and we're almost about to spin out of control. We're at a 45 degree angle, sliding on the freeway. It hits the center wall, the F-350 flies over our hood and then lands on the Ferrari that hit him. It was apparently racing the Ferrari and it slammed into the F-350 from behind and broke it's axel. There was a pinball machine of cars but our only impact was from the F-350. It was straight out of a movie, like a Final Destination type of thing."

Camacho's destination that week wasn't final, but it was going to be the hospital and not the octagon at Gila River Arena. And while a separated shoulder and a couple herniated discs in his neck weren't ideal, those injuries were minor compared to what could have happened on the 405 that day. It made an already optimistic young man even more so. 

"Talk about perspective," said Camacho. "I have a very positive outlook on life, I feel. But what a wake-up call to appreciate life even more. What a life-changing experience and I was so lucky."

Camacho's wife and three kids got plenty of hugs when he went home, but then the reality set in that an already long layoff was going to get longer.

Out of action since a June 2020 loss to Justin Jaynes, the Saipan lightweight was expected back in September of that year, but a positive COVID-19 test forced him from a fight with Brok Weaver. Then came the car accident that scrapped the Frevola fight and the subsequent rehab for his injuries.

But on Saturday, nearly two years after his last bout, "Frank the Crank" (22-9 MMA, 2-5 UFC) returns in an attempt to snap a two-fight losing streak against Manuel Torres (12-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC), and he's back in California with the Team Oyama squad, just a little shorter this time.

"I was able to start off my camp really well on Guam with the team, and I got it going really, really well so that I could spend a little less time out here," he said. "And I'm taking advantage of technology, working remotely with Coach Oyama and with Alex (Perez). I've been very proactive with it, but yeah, being away from the family is getting harder and harder."

But once in California, the big question had to be asked. Who's driving?

"Alex," laughs Camacho, referring to flyweight contender Alex Perez, who has been pivotal in preparing him for a bout he feels more than ready for.

"The way I see it is that I've been out, I've been shelved for two years, but I've had three or four fight camps," he said. "It's so cool to have been training and been working and having the anxieties of a date to fight, but I really didn't take the damage going into a fight that I would have taken in a competition. So I feel like I've learned a whole lot and haven't really taken the damage from a fight."

That's one way to get longevity, but in all seriousness, Camacho does see the end of the road approaching … maybe.

"I've got maybe another two years in me as far as competing full-on," he admits, but, at the same time, Camacho does feel better than ever, and the love of the game is still there. 

"I told my wife I still wake up and I still love this," he said. "I wake up and I want to do this. At 32, I didn't know that stretching and warming up actually helps you get better and stronger. (Laughs) I'm making all these leaps and bounds and I feel like I've been doing it for so long, but I still love it. I still love the grind, I still love pushing, I still love learning."

And in this sport, a two-fight losing streak can quickly turn into a two-fight winning streak, and if Camacho does turn the corner and start making noise again in a stacked lightweight division, well, that two-year exit strategy might change.

"I'm saying two years, but maybe down the line it may turn out to where I'm able to move my family out here, and all those little sacrifices and little sufferings of the fight game that are kind of irking me are solved," he said. "Then let's say I get three fights and I get three wins with no scuffs. Oooh, OK what's next? I guess we'll see. But just for my mind, of course I have MMA goals, but I still do understand what my body has to go through. And I have three kids, a wife, and I want to have longevity, not just in the sport, but in life. 

"When I first started, when I was a hungry 18-20 year old, I'd say, I wonder what it feels like when you're gonna go. There's no way I'm gonna say quit in this game. I'm unstoppable. But then as the years progress, I got to see guys that were fighting a little past their time or being worn out and fighting for the wrong reasons. Being honest with myself and having that open communication with my support system is gonna be the key. But the fact that I'm waking up every day and loving this and being so excited to talk about it, and feeling that this is what makes me me, I just feel so alive. Even after a sh-tty run, two years off, two losses, not getting out of the first round, I'm like, no man, I still got it. It's still in me."

Welcome back, Frank.

This story first published at UFC.com.