Team Alpha Male’s Chris Gonzalez returns at Bellator 226 this weekend — and in a roundabout way, Ronda Rousey helped get him there.
If you’re not familiar with Bellator lightweight prospect Chris Gonzalez, you probably at least know his camp. That would be the fabled Team Alpha Male, led by UFC Hall of Famer Urijah Faber. Gonzalez (2-0) returns to the cage this weekend, taking on Luis Vargas at Bellator 226.
What he lacks in cage time, Gonzalez certainly makes up for in credentials. Team USA wrestling. Six-time Greco-Roman All-American. MMA clearly loomed large in his future throughout his college days, Gonzalez noted, speaking to Cageside Press ahead of this weekend’s fight.
“You know obviously when you’re growing up in the wrestling community, it seems like now more so than ever, a lot of wrestlers seem to make that transition from wrestling to MMA,” observed Gonzalez. Nor was the success many of those high level wrestlers found in MMA lost on him. “A lot of the wrestlers who do come from extensive wrestling backgrounds or have that All-American status seem to have pretty good MMA careers, at least as far as [the money] goes, and the success they have competitively as well.”
“As much as I loved wrestling I knew that it was always kind of a stepping stone to get out of inner city Chicago and get into college and present me with a better opportunity out of the environment I was brought into,” he continued. “Once I got out of Chicago and got into college and started doing better for myself, you know, you always got to kind of look at what the next step is, and for a lot of wrestlers, since wrestling isn’t really a lucrative sport, MMA just seems to be the next step. So yeah I would say it’s always been in the cards for [me], and been in the back of my mind.”
The journey to Team Alpha Male, however, was anything but expected. Enter the biggest star in women’s MMA history.
“You know it was kind of crazy how it happened,” Gonzalez explained. “I always wanted to transition to MMA. I’m 28 years old now, I decided officially to commit to the transition two years ago.” At that point, the then-26-year old was in his physical prime, “and I was actually in the transition period with my ex-girlfriend who was kind of at a crossroads herself as well, coming over from amateur boxing.”
“The stars kind of aligned.”
Making the leap together, the pair went out and “checked out a few different camps. We went to Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, we checked out Factory X in Denver Colorado, I checked out Elevation Fight Team also in Denver.” It wasn’t visiting gyms that led Gonzalez to finding a home with one, however. “My ex actually ended up being Ronda Rousey‘s sparing partner for her fight with Amanda Nunes. She was coming off of the Olympics, so Ronda had reached out to her to get some sparing rounds and at the end of the fight camp Ronda hooked her up with a couple ticket to her fight with Nunes.” That, of course, was UFC 207.
“So we were attending the UFC card in Vegas, we had some pretty good seats,” Gonzalez recalled. Taking in the fight, the pair noticed Urijah Faber snapping photos with fans, with a large line of hopefuls having formed. “Urijah is one of the OGs in the game and he was always one of my ex’s favorite fighters. So we’re like ‘oh lets go get a photo with him.’ We just walked over there and said whats up, kind of just introduced ourselves, told him that we were both transitioning over to MMA.”
Faber took an immediate interest. “He kind of just put everyone in line waiting for him on hold. I gave him some information, he was like ‘yeah I would love to have you guys out here to check out the gym.'” A couple of weeks later, Gonzalez made the trek out to Team Alpha Male solo just to check out the camp, staying at Faber’s house for about a week. After that, he returned home to Colorado Springs, “evaluated all of the gyms and just decided that Team Alpha Male was the best fit for me personally, and then I moved out here about a month later and never looked back.”
“The stars kind of aligned. I didn’t even really have Team Alpha Male on my radar prior too just kind of running into Faber at the UFC card,” Gonzalez admitted. “From the minute that I approached him and started talking to him there was just good vibes, good energy and [he was] just welcoming. I came out here and the facilities are top notch. I compared it to all of these other gyms and you know a lot of these other gyms have good coaching and good things to offer too. What set Team Alpha Male apart is obviously you’ve got 10 to 15 UFC fighters, so you’ve got a lot of guys in there who are professional and top 10 fighters in the world. And right around my weight class, and in addition to that they have everything underneath one roof.”
The transition from wrestling to MMA has been pretty smooth thus far. “I think like you said wrestling is probably the best discipline to have coming into MMA. Obviously there is a lot of things and areas that I am improving on every day, but I would say it was pretty much what I expected it to be.”
When it comes to branching out into other disciplines, “I’m just trying to keep that white belt mentality, even when it comes to wrestling,” said Gonzalez. He’s rubbing shoulders with some of the best, after all. “Everyone at our gym is pretty high level and can tech you something, regardless of what martial art you are training on that particular day. I’m just trying to become obsessed with striking and not just being that guy that who goes out there and just wants to wrestle you or just grapples you or just holds onto you. I want to have exciting fights. So I’m doing everything that I can and making sure that I’m getting in all of those striking classes as much as possible.”
One thing that has improved is Gonzalez’s ability to secure opponents. “I think there might have been one other guy who they offered me, that I accepted and he ended up turning the fight down, but it wasn’t as bad as the last couple of fight have been,” he said. “I think the last two fights I have gone though five or six different opponents, which is pretty frustrating at times but fortunately up until this point at least, I think it was just one other opponent, so this one has been a little more.. a little bit easier in that regard to not having to prepare for five or six different guys.”
Looking back at Bellator 221, Gonzalez’s biggest takeway was focus. The experience itself “was great, being able to debut for Bellator in my home town of Chicago, having all of my friends and family there was a once in a life time opportunity, and I’m super grateful for that. The biggest takeaway, I would have thought as far as learning experience goes would be making sure you stay focused for the entirety of the fight. I think that I dominated that fight for 14:40 and I then got a late take down with about a minute left.”
“I was on top, I knew the fight was over with, I had won the first two rounds decisively in my opinion and as long as you don’t get finished at the end you’re going to walk away with the unanimous decision, worst case scenario.”
Then, a momentary lapse in focus. “I ended up getting caught in a triangle. I knew coming into the fight that the guy was a high level jiu-jitsu player and I was respecting that and I was a little cautious on top, I wasn’t trying to over-extend or over-commit to any punches and get caught in any triangles or arm bars or anything like that. Like the last 20 seconds, I like kind of just relaxed, took a breath and he saw an opportunity and locked up a deep triangle.”
He wasn’t about to let the victory slip away, however. “You know it was close, it was close, I held on, there was no way I would tap out you know,” he said. “Especially in front of my friends and family like that.”
Now it’s on to Luis Vargas (2-3), for Gonzalez’s sophomore outing in Bellator. As for this fight, “ideally I walk in there, dish out a lot of punishment, I don’t take any,” he said. “I get on top, ground and pound, you know and then I go and celebrate with my team.”
Chris Gonzalez returns at Bellator 226, this Saturday, September 7 at the SAP Center in San Jose, CA.