Interview with Dave Cryer
February 6, 2009
The Dave Cryer story is one we all know well – to never judge a book by its cover. It’s one that many fans find to be the truth about MMA fighters – that despite tattoos, shaved heads, threatening muscles, and the habit of looking you right in the eye, most fighters are easygoing, approachable, unassuming, friendly guys (and girls).
He’s the fat kid who didn’t like sports, but ended up training to be an MMA fighter. He has no arrest record, but looks like many guys who do. And despite standing at a meaty six-foot even and sporting more ink than a Sharpie factory (including where his eyebrows used to be), Dave Cryer is jovial and self-effacing, almost to a fault. In this interview, we discussed male role models, the meaning of team loyalty, and life as “the tattooed guy.”
VB: Tell us about where you’re from and how you got into mixed martial arts.
DC: I’m from all over Southern California. I was born in Anaheim, but I’ve lived everywhere. I went to high school in Orange County, and then on weekends I hung out in Norwalk. But I’ve been all over the place. I’ve been to 30 different schools, just from my mom moving all over the place.
VB: Did you have brothers and sisters or anything?
DC: Yeah, it was me, my mom, and my sister. And my stepdad came around when I was about ten. That’s when we settled into the one home.
My stepdad showed me a lot of good worth ethic. I’ve been working with him since I was 10 years old as a diesel mechanic. Then I stopped working for him when I went into the military for awhile. I was in the Marine Corps for four years. Then I came back and worked for him. He was definitely a father figure.
VB: Did you go overseas or anything? What was that like for you?
DC: September 11th happened, and everyone got motivated after the Twin Towers. I figured “hey, there’s a reason to go into the military now.” And I went in on December 11th, hoping to go to war, but it never actually happened. I just did my time and that was pretty much it. I can’t say it was the best experience but it was an experience. I put it on the line. I just didn’t get to go over there.
VB: Tell me about your martial arts training. Did you do anything either in the military or high school?
DC: I was a big fat loser in high school. I played football for two years and then I decided I didn’t like sports. I remember the wrestling coach was like “hey, you wanna wrestle?” I was like “nah that looks like it’s a lot of work.”
Then there was this old fighter from King of the Cage, Dave Step. He fought on a very early King of the Cage, he was at 145 pounds. We were working on the same construction site together. Someone told me that he was a cage fighter. And I didn’t really know much about it. I said “hey, you’re a cage fighter.” He said “yeah.” I said “there’s no way you’ll kick my ass. I’ll whip your ass.”
And thank God he didn’t kick my ass on the job site. He says “hey, come over to my house.” And he and his old man beat the shit out of me. And I remember going “wow, you’ve gotta be kidding me. Can you teach me some of this stuff?”
I trained with him for five or six times and then I went in the military. The military martial arts are garbage. You gotta teach thousands of people, and you can’t really teach them too much. It doesn’t matter when you have a rifle anyway.
I did some Muay Thai down in San Diego, and then I met John Munoz at Team USA, now Team Pinnacle. I came to him and said “hey, I want to fight.” He goes “You should learn first. We’ll wait until you get blue belt [in jiu-jitsu], then fight. Do a lot of tournaments.”
And I just started competing. And I got tired of getting my ass whooped. Then I started winning. I won Grappler’s Quest. Got third in the Pan-Ams, got second the next year, made it to the semis at the World’s, won the Copa-Pacific Open. Before my first [MMA] fight, I think I competed in like 40 different jiu-jitsu tournaments. I had never wrestled, so that really helped me out with the ability to compete in front of everybody. I really thank John for that.
Then John started to teach me some striking. He called Terry [Trebilcock] and I did my first fight with Uber [Gallegos]. I had so much support, it was amazing. I think I sold like 250 tickets my first fight. I was so damn nervous; I don’t remember any of it. I think that was my first time in a cage, but it went good for me. That guy was pretty tough.
VB: Talk about the guys you train with.
DC: I’ve been fortunate. Now I train at Millennia [MMA]. John Munoz still manages me. I’ve got “Concrete” Chad Davis. He took me under his wing and put me through the ringer. I’ve got Ryan Munday, he wrestles. Then I’ve got Romie [Arum], Betiss [Mansouri], Will [Sriyapai], Reggie Orr. All those guys help me out a lot. I still train once in awhile over a Pinnacle. Those guys helped me out a lot to get me a good solid base, and they still support me and they’re still solid friends of mine. It’s all about team. I know it’s an individual sport, but man, without a team, you’re crap.
VB: Neil Cooke (also a Pinnacle MMA fighter) recently said the same thing. Even though you’re the one guy that steps into the cage and performs, it’s all about the support network you have around you to get to that point.
DC: That’s exactly it. I’ve had so many people help me out, that, if someone didn’t show up, I [had] a big hole in my game. Because if you’re not getting pushed by your teammates, then you’re gonna lose. You can’t do this sport on your own. Some of the guys that are training, they don’t get nothing out of it sometimes. They just work their ass off every day, for you. And then you’re the one getting all the money and the glory. I feel kinda bad for them in that way, but it’s a special breed of person.
VB: You spoke about it a bit just now, but how would you describe your approach or your philosophy behind your training?
DC: A lot of people say I abuse my body and overtrain. I think, just annihilate yourself in the gym, and it comes back to you when you fight. Because a lot of times, when you’re fighting, you can’t think. It just comes out of reaction. And if you just murder yourself in the gym, I think it benefits a lot.
I’m a big fan of wrestling. I never wrestled in high school, but I’m a big fan of Dan Gable, and all those guys just murder themselves in the gym, and they become Olympic champions. That’s my philosophy. Not everyone agrees with me. I don’t think it’s necessarily the right way or wrong way. It’s just kinda . . . that’s how I train. But I still think there’s more levels I gotta reach.
VB: What’s the toughest part for you? Is it the training? The mental?
DC: The hardest fight is all the time away from my family. I got two kids and an old lady. I wake up in the morning, I train, I got to work fulltime, I come home, and I train. So my day starts about six and its ends around eleven o’clock at night. Sometimes, when I’m leaving, my kids cry because they want to hang out. And I’m just hoping that it picks up to where I don’t have to work and I can just fight full-time. But that’s probably the hardest part, being away from all them. It kinda sucks.
VB: Tell us about your family life.
DC: I have an 18-month old and a two and a half-month old. Both boys. I can’t handle having no girls. My old lady has five sisters or something like that. It’s insane! But my old lady is so supportive, I couldn’t ask for anything more than that. She’s real responsible, loyal, and good-looking. Maybe I’ll have three or four more [kids]. I’m pretty good at it, so I might as well stick with it.
VB: When did you first watching MMA, as a fan?
DC: Didn’t watch it very much. I remember the first UFC happened. I didn’t see it. One of my stepdad’s friends brought over a tape and I saw 30 seconds of some guy getting elbowed in the head. I went “oh my gosh, are you kidding me?” I was young. Then I just put it to the back burner, never saw fighting again. I met Dave, still didn’t watch fighting. Started training jiu-jitsu, still didn’t watch fighting much until about six months before I started fighting.
VB: So you’ve only been watching it on TV for about two years or so.
DC: Yeah. Like when you start talking about the old shows, there’s people that I don’t really know. Everyone’s bringing people’s names up and I had no idea who they were. Now I gotta pay close attention because I might be fighting some people some day.
VB: Let’s switch gears here and talk about your artwork.
DC: I do plan on covering myself. No more on the face, because it really hurts the kind of job you can have. Almost all my work is Celtic and Viking work. The one on my eyebrows: “Valhalla Bound.” Valhalla is this belief where the Vikings, when they would die in battle, they would go to Odin’s Valhalla. And there’s a symbol on each side – one stands for life, one stands for death.
A good friend of mine, Jeremy Huckabee, died in a car accident, and that was his saying. And I have it tattooed on my face. A good friend of mine, Mark, had it tattooed on the back of his head, and Jeremy’s wife has it tattooed on the back of her arms. I think I got it a week after he died.
I got “Hooligan” tattooed across my throat. Before I had my kid, I was kinda a knucklehead. Everything else is pretty much all Celtic and Viking. I’m not a big fan of tribal style. But I wanted to get something meaningful. Like the big one on my chest is a Thor’s hammer. And the ones on my shoulders is for Odin the Viking God. I have Vikings on my arm and Viking boats and stuff.
Tattoos don’t make you tough. Sure, there’s a lot of guys covered in tattoos who’ll stab you, but tattoos don’t make you tough like people think. I don’t have tattoos because I want people to think I’m tough. And most people who are covered in tattoos don’t know how to fight. They get tattoos because they don’t want to get in fights, and sometimes it intimidates people away. But if you watch the heavily-tattooed people specifically, most of the time, they’re the ones getting their ass beat.
VB: I’m always curious to hear from fighters why they got into the sport. Do you ever look back and contemplate how far you’ve come and what drove you to fighting?
DC: When I was a kid, I was always going to punk rock shows, and I really thought I was tough. But really, I was just big, fat, and dumb. I had no idea. And maybe being dumb helped me think I would be tougher, but ever since I really started training, I haven’t been in a street fight. Which has been about four years. I haven’t thrown fists with anybody on the street for that long. And now I never go out anyhow. Because every drunk guy wants to fight the guy with tattoos. And I’m not that small of a guy, so everybody wants to fight me. So I don’t really go out much for that.
But I do look back and I say “man, I’m lucky I never really got hurt too bad.” Because I did not know how to fight. And I still have a long way to go now, but back then, I REALLY didn’t know how to fight. I look back and say “wow, I was an idiot. I got lucky. Thank God I never came across anybody who knew what the hell they were doing. ”
VB: What would you say is your best and worst memory of your career so far?
DC: The first fight is the most emotional fight ever. Luckily, I won. I had people coming up to me, taking my picture, and shaking my hand for the next hour. That was insane. I’m so happy I never have to do my first fight again, because I was so nervous. I just wanted to get it over with. There was just so much emotion in that.
My worst one was when I fought the guy from Holland [Noufel Amellouk] from last December. He punched the hell out of me. Busted my nose in the first round, and I got gassed. And that is the worst feeling in the world, to get gassed. I think it had something to do with all the blood going down my throat [after the nose was broken]. We went all the way to a decision, and I ended up winning, but that was one of my tougher fights.
VB: What’s your downtime like?
DC: There’s not much of it. I work six days a week. We (the family) just hang out; take the kids to the park. My oldest one is walking and somewhat talking. He’s happy as long as he’s outside and someone’s playing with him. We’re trying to buy a house, so a lot of times, we’re shopping for a house. Once in awhile, I go out and see my buddy’s band, Brassic, play. But really, I have a good time just hanging out with the family. I don’t need to go to the bars. I don’t drink.
VB: Did you never drink, or did you give it up for family or fighting?
DC: I drank a lot when I was a kid, up until I turned 21. And since I’ve been training a lot, I’ve had a lot of good influences. John [Munoz] said “hey man, there’s no point in doing that.” He was kinda a big role model for me, and John still gives me a lot of good advice. I look up to him and this old man Jeff, and my buddy Matt. They gave me a lot of good advice.
Now, I probably drink once a year. I’m getting older now. I’ve never done a drug in my entire life, and I’ve never been arrested, contrary to what everybody thinks. I know I look like a convict-tweeker-dopehead, but I’ve never done any of them.
VB: How do you deal with that dichotomy? With all the tattoos, you throw a certain image that everyone stereotypes when they see you walking down the street. But you’ve got this otherwise clean family life. You’ve [gotten tattoos] voluntarily, so did you just accept that this is the price you’ve paid for it? Or is there anything more to it?
DC: Well, the cops love me. Man, they’ll pull me over. Luckily, it hasn’t happened with my family in the car, because that’s real embarrassing. Once, they pulled me over and had me half-naked, taking pictures of all my tattoos.
And I know a lot of people decide “man, this guy looks just like some prison white supremacy prick.” I know some people think that and I’m like “whoa, that’s not how it is. I just have a bunch of tattoos.” I’ve got a Mexican manager; I’ve got an Afghan trainer. I just ended up being covered with tattoos. And once people get to meet me, they’re like “oh, shit, this guys pretty funny. Not just funny-looking, he’s actually funny.”
That’s why a lot of people support me. People are really nice to me, but I do get the “man, this guy looks like a dickhead. He thinks he’s a badass.” No, I don’t think I’m badass. There’s a lot of people out there I know who would kick my ass, but I’m working on getting better [laughs].
VB: Tell us about your sponsors. Who are they and why should the fans know them?
DC: I was just picked up by Toe-To-Toe clothing. My good friend Jeremy from Focus Victory hooked me up. Jeremy’s been with me since my very first fight. Focus Victory has helped me out with tournaments and everything. 309 helps me out. Shameless Ink out of Riverside – they help me out a lot. C&D Pumping, JTS Insurance. There’s so many; Nutrishop Norco, Sub Q tattoo, my family, everyone at Pinnacle Jiu-Jitsu - Matt Curl, Jeff Stiller, Ken Knapp, Ryan Mundy, Chad Davis, John Munoz, and the Millennia Fight Team.
I also want to thank San Manuel for letting me fight, because they almost cancelled my fight last time. They got me confused with Melvin Costa. [Editor’s Note: At a King of the Cage event on October, 7th, 2007, at Soboba Casino, Dave Cryer lost to Roch Worthy. After the match, fans that were mistakenly identified as Dave Cryer’s fans racially harassed Worthy as he walked backstage. They were later identified as fans of Melvin Costa, who was scheduled immediately after the Cryer-Worthy fight.] When I went to San Manuel, I explained the situation [that Dave’s ringside seat fans got in a bar fight the night before and missed the event altogether]. She said “well, if any of your fans say anything racial, we’re gonna pull the fight.” I said “yeah, that’s not a problem.”
But I understand where they’re coming from, because you don’t want a bunch of fights [in the crowd]. Then nobody’s gonna show back up. You don’t want a rough crowd. The sport’s evolved for that too much anyway. At least they weren’t there to see me get knocked out [laughs].
VB: What are your long-term goals, with fighting or without fighting?
DC: I think I’ve got about 10 to 12 years left. I love fighting, as much as I can. I’ve got a good manager, a good team. John takes care of me. If I’m ever doing something wrong, he’ll let me know. Same with my team. If I start getting 35 and I’m getting my ass kicked all the time, they’re going to let me know “this is a good time to retire.”
My main dream is that I’d love to fight in a King of the Cage event in Japan. I wish someday King of the Cage would go to Japan, and I’d love to fight over there. The Japanese are the greatest fans. They love martial arts, and I think they’d get a kick out of me.
Terry’s helped me out. He’s been loyal to me and I’m not going anywhere. King of the Cage is my home.
Dave Cryer steps in the cage against Lucas Taber at King of the Cage: Immortal, on February 26th, at the San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino in Highlands, CA.