Ghost Pepper Bringing Extra Heat for the Biggest Fight of His Career

Erick "Ghost Pepper" Gonzalez against Won Sik Park in April 2019. Photo: Scott Hirano/Combate Americas

Erick “Ghost Pepper” Gonzalez reflects on career so far ahead of his shot at the inaugural Combate Americas lightweight title against Rafa Garcia at Combate Mexicali.

Erick “Ghost Pepper” Gonzalez wasn’t with Combate Americas since day one, but he certainly entered the promotion while it still had that new car smell.  The lightweight contender has been with the company since he was 24 years old, and Combate Americas had only put on five events when he made his debut back in 2016.  As with most new promotions, Gonzalez remembers the growing pains of a company at the ground level.

“When I first started, it didn’t seem as organized as it is now.  From the weigh-ins, to even the fight line-ups on the card, nothing was as organized as it is today.  They obviously didn’t have Univision.  I was on UFC Fight Pass when they were on there so that was a pretty cool opportunity that I had.  But the opportunities they have to now being on DAZN, being on Univision, even the people like the celebrities coming to the events now and the people involved with Combate from the Latin world and the hispanic culture is amazing.  It’s a big thing when the Hispanic culture has your back because we support each other a lot.  From that  point of view with the organization and publicity getting way better, I can’t stress how happy I am to be with Combate throughout that time. 

Aggressive, durable, and unorthodox, the Redondo Beach native quickly became one of the stand-outs of the company.  He’s had eight fights under the promotion’s banner, with five of his six victories coming by way of stoppage.  The promotion has taken notice, making him a featured fighter in nearly all of his appearances.  Today, Gonzalez steals the show on DAZN and Univision.  But becoming that person and that fighter wasn’t immediate.

“As a person in general I’ve grown a lot.  The way I think, the way I prepare myself and view things from an outside perspective.  I’ve matured myself as a fighter.  I was very wild a few years ago and not as composed or as calm.  I think that over the years I’ve learned to adapt and overcome the obstacles that were thrown at me from training camp, to anxiety, to nervousness, to all these emotions that just bottle up inside you before a fight.  I think I’ve learned how to just adapt and overcome all that stuff and I think that’s changed me as a person.  The difference from me then to me now is just the maturity level.”

Alongside his fight career, Gonzalez has also started another venture as a streamer on Twitch.  A member of the Las Vegas MiniGunners Esports team, “Ghost Pepper” frequently takes his talents to Twitch where he streams even during Fight Week.  It’s a community that translates into his MMA career: Gonzalez has brought some of the popular Fortnite celebrations into the cage following his victories and the clips are quickly spread by his team on Twitch.

“My fighting career is way beyond my Twitch career.  It’s not even a real career, it’s more of a hobby.  I’m a small streamer.  I publicize my fighting career all over my Twitch.  It’s a different thing because with streaming you have to build your community.  I can’t just get big off of it in three or six months.  There’s so many streamers and gamers who are better than myself.  I’m a guy who just completely moved from a console to a PC.  I’m still getting used to learning and editing everything and making videos.  As soon as I figure out how to properly smooth everything like these other guys I think I’ll be able to take off.

I have a team behind me which is the Las Vegas Mini Gunners that help me a lot.  They are the ones that that help me get the most viewers and help people get to know me, not just as a fighter but the guy that nobody ever sees: the guy just chilling behind the camera playing video games.  I’m just an every day guy.  You see me on a stream and never knew I was a fighter you’d think ‘oh he’s pretty chill and laid back but then you find out I’m a fighter you might think ‘oh, he’s kind of crazy.’  After the fights, the gamers are all watching.  There’s about 30-40 guys just in my organization, they make a gif of the cool stuff from my fights.  They’re on it too.  As soon as I did the L dance, the Tidy dance, the Flipping Sexy dance, they made the gif.  That’s all the guys at the org making those.”

For Gonzalez to claim gold, he will need to remove the 0 from the undefeated Rafa Garcia.  Parallel to Gonzalez, Garcia has also recorded five finishes in his six victories with the company.  Combate Americas CEO Campbell McLaren has also gone as far to say that he believes that Garcia is the best lightweight in the world who could be the next crossover star in the sport.  Gonzalez recognizes the challenge in front of him, but also sees his path to victory.

“He’s a good jits guy.  He pulls the trigger and he doesn’t hesitate.  I think his persistence on not hesitating is going to be one of his biggest attributes as far as his grappling.  His grappling game is strong and I’m sure it’s getting better and better as the years go.  But I’m also a grappler myself and I’m dangerous.  A lot of guys think I’m not just because of my history and the submissions that have been gotten on me but I’m also dangerous.  If he gets a chance to take me to the ground we’ll see what happens but I think his grappling his biggest strength, for sure.”

There is plenty to be excited for if you’re a veteran of the promotion.  Friday’s winner will be only the third champion to be crowned in the short history of the promotion.  Gonzalez is a new phase of his life as well, having moved into a new place and signing a new contract with the company.  While the belt makes a beautiful trophy for himself, “Ghost Pepper” is more excited to share it with the others who made winning it possible.

“It’s hard to put it into words.  When I get the belt I’m going to be very excited.  I want to bring the belt home to my mom.  That’s what I want.  To be able to hand her the belt in the cage and hold it together.  I’ve been working at this for so long and my mom has had my back for so long, on top of my girlfriend and everyone else who’s been supportive.  I think that’s what’s going to mean the most.  This is bigger than a belt.  It’s been a long time struggling.  It’s an emotional state to think about having the belt afterwards but I’m excited and I’m going to walk away with it.  There’s no doubt in my mind.  I’ve been working so hard for so long and Rafa is just going to be another guy on my list.”

An interesting wrinkle to the fight on Friday is that the two could find themselves fighting again soon.  The promotion is expected to hold another one-night tournament at the end of the year and will feature lightweights.  While it is still unclear how the champion will factor into the Copa Combate, Gonzalez is prepared to relinquish any title necessary in order to enter the bracket.

“I have not heard a word.  If I have to abandon the belt to get in the tournament I will.  I don’t even care.  It’s bigger man.  I want to fight everyone in the lightweight division that Combate has.  The belt is something that’s going to be with me, it’s going to stay with me no matter what.  They haven’t told me any details, I am going to be the trophy holder for the division but if they tell me I have to abandon the title then I don’t mind it at all.  To me, it’s just a belt and to be able to fight everybody in the division is what I want.  I want to take everybody out and want them to know that whoever comes through that whole division is going to fight a whole list of guys and I’m going to be the top dog.”