After four fights at the highest level of mixed martial arts (MMA) with the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC), former King of the Cage (KOTC) Welterweight Champion Mike Guymon recently announced his retirement from the sport.
Already the owner of Joker's MMA in Lake Forest, CA, Guymon is now preparing to open Gracie Fighter OC in Orange County, CA along with Jason Manley. Bleacher Report recently had the pleasure of speaking with Guymon about his new gym, his recent retirement and the possibility of a return to fighting.
Despite his retirement, Guymon has continued to train and improve his overall skills, which has made it difficult for him not having the opportunity to showcase his talents.
"[Retirement from fighting] is going great," Guymon said. "I love not having the stress of fighting, but it's hard because I still want to fight. I feel like the medication I'm on is forcing me to retire. I feel like I've got better all-around skills. My wrestling, my striking, my jiu-jitsu just all feels so much better and I'm doing so well in the training room. To not be able to go out there and display it is hard for me to do."
"Yeah, I'm having second thoughts," Guymon told Bleacher Report. "I'm sure if someone came up with a good offer I probably would take it. I'm definitely open to it. It's just frustrating knowing your talent has gotten better, you're progressing in everything and then just not being able to go out and display it."
Before becoming a professional mixed martial artist, Guymon's dream was to compete in professional baseball. A talented athlete, Guymon probably could have been successful in any sport he pursued. In the end, he decided to try to prove to himself that he could make it in MMA.
"If I would've stuck with [baseball], I know I would've gone somewhere," Guymon said. "It was more that I was burnt out on it. I always did martial arts and just loved anything contact-wise. I wanted to test myself to prove something. Fighting all the years I did and fighting in the UFC, it was just a dream come true. I proved to myself that I am that good enough to compete on that level."
Guymon had many bright moments throughout his MMA career, but two have stuck out to him as the most meaningful. The two most satisfying moments of Guymon's career came when he won the KOTC Welterweight Championship and in a moment before his UFC debut.
"I was in the UFC and it was my first fight," Guymon said. "They were staging me to go out and everybody kind of knew my story. Here's this kid who tried to commit suicide, took him 10 years to get here, had a hard life and whatnot about depression. All the guys backstage knew that and all those different camps. When they called my name, all the fighters in the room and all the UFC staff that was in the area all stood up and started clapping. I wanted to cry my eyes out right there. Obviously, going to a fight I'm not going to do that, but that was probably one of the biggest moments I've ever had in mixed martial arts. It just meant a lot to me."
Guymon fought in MMA for more than 10 years prior to his UFC debut. During that time, Guymon only lost two fights. Both of those losses came against UFC veterans in Diego Sanchez and Pat Healy.
Part of what made that moment prior to his UFC debut so special may have been the doubts that crept into his mind during his long road to the UFC. At one point, Guymon wasn't sure if he'd ever get his shot to fight on the sport's biggest stage.
"Yeah, 10 years into it," Guymon said. "I beat everybody, I saw people go up [to the UFC] out of my weight class who I was fighting, and I got a title. At that point in time, I was like, 'Man, I'm never gonna get in.' I was just going to fight a couple more and just see how it goes and do my thing. I could end my career knowing I won a title and I could be good with that, but I'd feel incomplete."
Guymon also spoke about his emotions when that moment finally came and he received that invitation to compete in the UFC.
"After I hung up, I cried and cried and cried and cried," Guymon told Bleacher Report. "A lot of everything came out because I was just thinking about the whole road traveled, everything I sacrificed, friends, family, relationships and just everything in general. It all came flooding to me at that time."
With his fighting career at least on hold at the moment, Guymon now has the opportunity to focus on another one of his passions in MMA—coaching.
"Before, I was splitting duty between teaching and training guys and training myself for the fights," Guymon said. "Since I've stopped fighting, I've put so much into training and teaching guys. I can focus and I've never been able to do that ever since I started this whole thing. I get to do that here at Gracie Fighter OC with Jason [Manly], a good friend of mine, and I am pumped and excited about it. I know Jason is just chomping at the bit. He's really excited about it and it's going to be fun."
Guymon's original gym, Joker's MMA, will remain in operation with the opening of Gracie Fighter OC. Affliction Vice President Tom Atencio presented Guymon with the opportunity to open the new gym in Orange County, which Guymon viewed as an opportunity to repay Manly for being there for him in the past.
"We've got everything," Guymon said. "We've got a full ring, we've got an Octagon, we've got the mat space, we've got gym. Within the locker room, we have a washer and dryer and dry sauna. We've got just like a full fighting gym and we love it."
Manly has been training and coaching under the Gracie Fighter banner for well over a decade, which is a main reason for the new gym's affiliation with Gracie Fighter. The new Orange County location will benefit much more from Gracie Fighter than just sharing its name, though.
As Guymon told Bleacher Report, he fully expects well-known Cesar Gracie-trained fighters, such as Jake Shields and Gilbert Melendez, to visit the new gym on a regular basis, which will surely help generate buzz and popularity for the new gym.
"They're going to be there this Saturday, Jake Shields, Gilbert Melendez, Daniel Roberts, who I fought in UFC 121," Guymon said. "Can't wait to punch him in his face [laughs]. No, we're friends. All the guys, we're going to be training. We're going to have one big happy family. We want all the best fighters in here. We just want to be smashing faces, training technique, working out hard and building better fighters."
"Just from a recognition standpoint, to have those kind of fighters come into the gym is huge," Guymon said. "You've got a gym that's got all these UFC guys coming in and it gives it an aura. There's a reason all these UFC guys or high-level fighters are in this gym. It's because there's good training, good technique and a good atmosphere to train in and develop all these techniques together."
Guymon reached heights in MMA that most could only dream of. With his focus now on coaching, Guymon has the ability to place his full focus on helping his students improve as fighters.
As Guymon explained, his goals are now focused on training his students to reach their full potential and get the notoriety and sense of accomplishment that he once felt as a fighter.
"I know what MMA has done for me," Guymon said. "I know how much it has impacted my life. I know how rewarding it's been and it's just an accomplishment how it feels. Whoever wants to fight, I will do whatever I can to get them that same feeling, to get them those victories, to just get them in there and show them the same thing I got. I want to see a big smile on their face, I want them to get in there and get those 'Ws' and show what they can do. That's what being a coach, for me, is about is just putting that smile on their face and getting them to their goals and getting the stuff that they deserve. All my guys that I have training are just great guys, great individuals. They don't go out on streets, not trying to punk anybody and they try to good for other people. To see a smile on their face, to see them make money and get the respect and recognition they deserve, it just means the world to me. It's very rewarding."
In and out of the cage, Guymon's life has been full of ups and downs. In August 2009, Guymon wrote a suicide note to his family and attempted to take his own life. Since the incident, Guymon has spoken openly about his suicide attempt in hopes that he can help others thinking of giving up.
With those events now behind him, Guymon has a unique perspective to pull from to teach his fighters and help them, based on the experiences he has been through.
"It got so bad for me where I tried to commit suicide," Guymon said. "Now, I'm using my support system, using my friends and not trying to be a stubborn a-hole and do it all on my own. I've got friends like Jason Manly, who will come along and pick you up. That's why I'm going to be there for my guys. When they have bad times, I'm going to be there through thick and thin, and they know that."
Gracie Fighter OC will hold its first training session on June 12, 2011 at 12 pm PT. For more information, check out the gym's website here.