Interview with Mike “Joker” Guymon
December 16, 2008
If you grew up in Southern California, you had the privilege of growing up in one of the three hotbeds of MMA (Brazil and Japan being the other two). Such is the case with Mike “Joker” Guymon, whose life in MMA offered him the unique chance to watch and observe the sport from several different perspectives as it grew. Of course, some may write him off as the proverbial “fifth Beatle” of the TapouT crew, but Joker’s involvement with MMA started long before that chapter of his life. And in the subsequent pages, Joker has reinvented himself – as a fighter, a trainer, and as a businessman.
In this interview, Joker paints the picture of a self-aware man at peace with his choices and happier because of them. He’s optimistic about his future, self-effacing about his fight career, and very comfortable about having control of his own life.
VB: Where did you first see MMA?
MG: I was born in Newport Beach and raised in Irvine, CA. I went to school all through there. Woodridge High School is where I graduated from. Then I went to Orange Coast.
I saw my first UFC on a PPV when I was in high school, and it was something that struck my fancy. I was this all-star athlete, supposed to go play baseball and make all my money there. I was like “man, these are the baddest people on the planet.” Seeing is believing for me. I knew that even the guy who lost, just to have the guts and courage to step in front of all those people and do that. . . When it first started out, all the qualifications that they were listing off . . . Taekwondo, “this guy’s a third degree black belt.” It brought my curiosity up, and I always was competitive. I finally got enough nuts myself to go in there and train.
And I was a stand-up guy. My friends brought me into a studio in Southern California. They said “hey, you’re good on your feet, but let’s see you roll with one of these Jiu-Jitsu guys.” And I rolled around with one and holy crap, I mean literally, a kid, fifteen, sixteen years old, just rolled me up into a pretzel. And I was hooked.
VB: Had you done martial arts previously? You talked about having a really athletic upbringing.
MG: I did Taekwondo, and dabbled in a bit of kickboxing. I was alright. I wasn’t the best in the world or anything. You can be as good as you want in Taekwondo, but that’s like getting gold in the Special Olympics. You’re still retarded.
VB: Did you start out as a fighter and then get hooked up with TapouT, or what were the early days of your MMA career?
MG: Shoot, I was just training, loved training, loved doing the Jiu-Jitsu, loved doing the striking and putting it together and trying to improve. One day, I was over at some fights in Long Beach. No gloves, no rules kind of fights – how it was when it first started out. Thugs. We were just out there street fighting, basically, in a cage with a referee. One guy dropped out, and they were like “hey man, you’re freaking killing everybody in class. Why don’t you try it?” I just had something to prove to myself so I went in there and did it. And I did pretty well, so I stuck with it.
I always said every fight would be my last, and I still say that to this day. I’m like “oh yeah, one more fight and I’m done.” And it’s going like that for ten years. I guess I’ve turned it into something.
VB: Every time you try to get out, they pull you back in.
MG: Exactly. And I keep getting thrown back in the mix. The money sucked in the early years. The money’s still not great unless you’re in the top three of an organization. But, for the guy coming up, it’s definitely going up. My fight purses are going up, my sponsorship money is going up, so it’s like “how can I step away? In another year, I’ll be getting paid this much.” It’s not about the money, but it sure does help.
VB: And that’s not a bad thing either, if you can make your living off of it.
MG: As long as you’re going out there and trying to compete and win, and put on a good show, I think it’s totally okay. But the guys who go out there just to get a paycheck, and don’t give it their all . . . “Oh, I’m just gonna give up or give up my arm or a choke.” I don’t accept that.
VB: Are there a lot of guys out there that still do that?
MG: There are some guys that I don’t think should be fighting. I don’t think they’re giving 100% or training 100%. They’re not giving the fans what they deserve. I’m not saying all the fighters are like that. There’s a handful.
I think all the fighters coming up right now are just hungry and want to get in that light and prove themselves. And I hate those guys. Those little young bastards – I cannot get them to stop. I’m like the slow guy in there. These guys are going 100 miles an hour, with all reckless abandon. I’m in there freaking out.
Age doesn’t play a factor there. It’s just what they’re giving the fans. It could be a young guy in there, but [if he’s] not giving it his all and just getting a paycheck. Or just to say “hey, I’m a fighter.” I don’t like that.
VB: What do you see as the bigger differences in the MMA world, from when you were a young guy coming up to where it is now? The good and the bad.
MG: I think there’s a lot more good now than there is bad. There’s always going to be good and bad in anything you do. The good in the early years is the raw aspect of the sport. I mean, it was limited rules, no gloves. That was cool, but at the same time, all it attracted was the thuggish side of it, and we got labeled one way, and in not a good way. That’s the bad part I saw.
Nowadays, I just think it’s really positive. The rules have made it better for the fans. It’s increased the level of competition and made it mainstream. UFC had a huge role in bringing it mainstream. Some of the bad is that you get a Kimbo Slice situation. Some of the fighters just fight to say “hey, I fight, and I’m cool because I fight.”
But I absolutely love the sport. I love the fans. I love fighters. I love training. I just hate fighting [laughs] . . . it’s not fighting as a whole, but me fighting? I’m a pussy. I hate it.
VB: That speaks to a question that I normally ask later in the interview, but we’ll just cut to it now: What’s the toughest part of fighting for you? It sounds like it’s the part about stepping in the cage.
MG: I’m scared of my own shadow. I do not like fighting. Even now, supposed to be training for so long. I’m still scared to fight. But I think it’s more the mental . . . the pressures, the psychological stuff, the anticipation, the training. A lot of the fighters out there, we all pretty much know what’s out there, as far as the wrestling, the Jiu-Jitsu, the striking. It’s just a matter of who’s gonna apply it.
Just to give you an example, today, I’m riding before I start my Jiu-Jitsu, strikes, and wrestling workout. I did a 40-mile bike ride, which took just over two hours, and the whole time I’m riding, the only thing I could think of is the guy I’m about to fight, what’s on the line, what’s gonna happen. I don’t think about any of the stop lights, the cars, how tired and miserable I am. I’m just thinking about what’s gonna happen.
VB: Well, you’d better be thinking about stop lights and cars, because thinking about the match too much when you’re biking could cause a problem for you!
MG: I hit a bus full of nuns, almost.
VB: You opened up Joker’s Wild about a year ago.
MG: About two years ago, my business partner Andre Julian and I opened it up. I’d been teaching for about three years prior. I started out at a place called Cardiofit, and then I moved to a place called Bodies in Motion. The whole time I’m teaching there, a buddy of mine, whom I’ve known since forever, he’s like “man, we gotta open up our own spot. This is the time to do it.” So I said “alright, let’s do it.”
He’s a very good businessman and training partner. We just jumped in and did it. And I absolutely love it. I’ve got a great gym to come into. We teach everything there. It’s a total pleasure. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d own my own business and be this business guy on the other end of the stick, and here it is.
VB: Who are your training partners? Who should be we watching for in the future?
MG: My training partners are Mark Munoz and Mitch Mellotti. Those two are perfect for me. Mitch is a 170-pound southpaw who can strike, can wrestle, got good Jiu-Jitsu. Mark is a 205’er, who’s just got wrestling out of this world. Those guys push me to my limits.
James Wilkes actually teaches at another gym, but he’s been fighting with us for awhile now. He’s been doing well. He just won the Gladiator Challenge belt.
I’ve got some very good fighters in there that come in and train hard. I’ve got Babalu and Eric Apple to work with. Babalu – I wouldn’t fight him with a machete and a flamethrower.
My under guys are like Raja Shippen, who’s one of the instructors there. That kid, if he would listen a little bit, he’s going to turn heads. He’s a freak.
VB: Tell us about your sponsors? Who should the fans know about and why?
MG: Randy [Couture], I think, said something about how it’s him in the ring, but there’s this huge network and team behind him, and that’s what’s able to get me in that ring or cage.
My sponsors are Sprawl, Fairtex, Toyo Tires, Lexani RBP, Boneheads – it’s a restaurant out where I live in Southern California. I have a new clothing company named Labeled Insane, so they’re going to be my main sponsor now. Legacy Farms, Mike’s Tickets.
All these people have made it possible for me to get in there. Some of them don’t even give me money. Some of them, like Boneheads, just take care of my meals and get me ready for my fight. And that means all the stuff in the world to me. And when I’m not getting ready for a fight, they take care of my family and different things like that. I could not do it without those people.
VB: It seems like in MMA, with sponsors and the sport, a lot of these guys grew up knowing each other as friends and now everybody helps each other mutually as they can. But yet it’s also grown into this larger industry where the deals are based on business relationships, as opposed to longtime friendships.
MG: It’s hard to explain, but it’s just a big machine driving everything. The organizations bring a lot of attention. Look at how much exposure you get in the UFC. The fighters, they have their little areas where they live, and people who want to see them do well. My area, I’ve got all these people just trying to push and help me get my dream. But at the same time, I’m trying to help them out, get them more marketing and exposure. It’s just one symbiotic relationship, I guess is the best way I can put it.
I can’t believe I came up with that word. Where the hell did that come from [laughs]?
VB: Has maintaining relationships become more difficult, as the sport has grown?
MG: Some aspects, yeah. With the TapouT situation, anything that deals with them, I just steer clear of it. I don’t like being around the guys. My fighters, if they got sponsored by them, hey, just do it. I want my fighters, my friends, to make money, take care of their bills, and succeed in life. If they get sponsored by them, hey, great, man. At least you made some money from them.
VB: Was it bad from the get-go? There must have been warning signs at some point that it wasn’t the right road for you.
MG: No, I actually love and miss the guys in some respects. When we were together and in a group, we owned rooms. We were all good at our particular spot and aspect, and it was just fun. When we were traveling on the road and talking about stuff and goofing around and all the different antics that would happen and situations that arose – I wouldn’t trade that in for the world, when I think about it.
But the business end of it, putting so much work into someone’s company and not getting anything in return just sucks. It was right before the TV show was coming out, we were actually filming for it, and I just one day said “I’ve had enough of it. You guys can take this show and have fun with it. I’m going to go my merry little way.” They’re all “you sure? The contracts are on my desk.” I said “I don’t care. I’m gonna go do my thing.” And that was pretty much the end of it.
VB: Have you had second thoughts on your decision?
MG: I had every thought in my head. I was scared, nervous. I had anger. I had all these different feelings in my head. I’ve definitely come to grips with the whole thing, more so than ever of late.
It’s funny, Steve Moreno from Sprawl called me up out of the blue one day. He said “I gotta ask you something – do you realize that you could be a millionaire right now?” I said “Steve, I would be lying through my teeth if I said I couldn’t use that money, or that wouldn’t be the neatest thing in the world. But I sleep great at night knowing that I did the right thing. I don’t like being taken advantage of, or putting time into something and not getting rewarded for it. There were also some other issues at the time in my life when I left. I said “Steve, I did the right thing, and I sleep well at night knowing that.”
VB: At that point, I’m sure you were going to have to go through a bit of reinvention. What was that like?
MG: Interesting. I had my haircut before the TapouT thing, and I eventually started to scrap the haircut, because I didn’t want people associating me. I still get it every now and then if I’m hanging out somewhere. I’m just Joker, the fighter from Joker’s Wild. I’m quite happy. I’ve got the gym. The clothing line – Labeled Insane – coming out. I’ve got our fighters in training.
It’s been a cool trip, and I would do it all over exactly the same. I would still do the TapouT thing; I would go through that crap again, because it’s all led me to where I am now. And I’m happy at the end of the day. I’ve got a great wife, I’ve got a good house, good cars, and most importantly, good friends. And that’s what it all comes down to.
VB: What is your downtime like? What do you do for fun / away from training?
MG: Watch TV; watch movies, music, and people-watch. I’ll go to the beach, I’ll go to the mall, or I’ll sit on a bench at a restaurant there and watch people. I’m a quiet, have-fun, hang-loose kind of guy. Even when I’m in at an event, if I’m on the radio station, I’m a pretty big yahoo, so I gotta balance it out. I gotta hit that off-switch.
VB: From a fan’s perspective, who are some of your favorite fighters?
MG: Geez. I have so many, but a big one for me are Jeremy Horn. That guy’s my idol. You look at him and you wouldn’t think he’s anything special, but he can roll, he can strike – just a nice guy. So many of my friends, they’re awesome to watch. Randy Couture – I saw him last week before he fought, and when he lost to Brock, my heart broke. He’s such a great guy. And everybody else sees it too.
Everybody in this sport is somebody I look up to. It could be the kid that’s just starting out, like he’s 0-0 or 0-1, or 1-3. . . I respect everybody and there’s always something fun to watch. Like Urijah [Faber], his loss to Mike Brown – it was crazy. After he loses, he was like “ho-hum, what can I do? I’m just gonna be me.” I love fighters like that. Humble, respectful.
VB: What is your best / worst memory in your MMA career?
MG: How about this answer: TapouT and TapouT. Like I said, when we were all together, it was so freaking fun. It was a blast. Part of the reason why I stuck around without getting paid a dime, literally, was that. Just the camaraderie and how fun it was to go walking down the street as a group, or go into a room and go talk to a fighter and see Chuck Liddell, Vitor, or Randy, just before he goes into a fight. And to get in the back door and sit there, easy access into everything, all the fighters, all the camps. That’s a huge experience.
But the worst is doing all that and still getting screwed. So it all balances out, I guess.
VB: What are your goals, within and away from fighting?
MG: The first goal I had was to actually step in the cage and have a professional fight. I’ve done that. The next one – I really never thought I’d go for a world title anywhere or be the best in the world at anything. And that would be what’s in front of me now. Just to win the world title in something. I don’t care if it’s a backyard fight. I want to win a world title. That’s something which not a lot of people in the world can say at all.
Outside of fighting, it would be just to be successful in teaching and business and helping fighters out. Make some money and make a living at it. Even if I don’t have that, I just want to have the students and train and teach and roll with them. Help them out, and get them into good shape. Grow the school and hey, maybe God willing, maybe open up another one and have some guys under me, in a gym, that are employed. I’d be providing work and help out this crappy economy.
Mike “Joker” Guymon challenges Anthony “The Recipe” Lapsley for the King of the Cage Welterweight championship on December 11th at San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino in San Bernardino, CA.