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.
JT: 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.
JT: 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.
JT: 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.
JT: Every time you try to get out, they pull you
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.
JT: 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.
JT: Are there a lot of guys out there that still do
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.
JT: 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.
JT: 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
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.
JT: 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.
JT: 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.
JT: 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
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
JT: 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
JT: 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
JT: 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.
JT: 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.
JT: 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.”
JT: 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.
JT: 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.
JT: 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.
JT: What is your best / worst memory in your MMA
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.
JT: What are your goals, within and away from
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
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.
Who is Jay Tan?
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