UFC veteran Chris Camozzi spent a chunk of 2020 outside of a formal training environment. It was a step — or step back, to be more accurate — that he needed in order to get going in the right direction.
Camozzi’s storied career now spans a decade and a half. He made his pro debut when he was 19 years old and went 12-3 through his first 15 outings. He eventually made it onto The Ultimate Fighter in the show’s 11th season. He was only 23 years old at the time, and while he won his fight to get into the house, an injury prevented any further advancement. Camozzi didn’t get to go through the TUF season, but a win on the show’s finale event was enough to secure a UFC roster spot.
By May 2017, Camozzi had been through three stints with the promotion. He had fought some of the best guys in the UFC middleweight division as well, including Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza twice on short notice.
Camozzi spent a collective seven years as a UFC company man, but he was released in mid-2017. The longtime member of the Factory X Muay Thai fight team tried his hand at GLORY Kickboxing for a few years. He hadn’t entered the MMA cage for a couple years until he returned in 2019 to fight Muslim Magomedov in Russia. He then submitted Tony Lopez under the Sparta Combat League banner.
Camozzi was a middleweight for most of his career, but he decided to jump up to light heavyweight, which is 209 pounds in GLORY and 205 in MMA, over the last couple of years. His teammates Anthony Smith and Dustin Jacoby had done the same around this time. This was the start of a paradigm shift for the 6-foot-3 brawler.
“I was always big for middleweight, and I think I’m average size for light heavyweight,” Camozzi told Combat Press. “They definitely have some monsters in the UFC. Some of those guys are cutting from 250 down, but I really think the cut plays against you to where I almost wish I went up earlier in my career. Not suffering and killing myself now is a lot nicer mentally, and my body feels better. I would walk into the cage at 210 anyway when I was at middleweight. It kind of seems like I should have been fighting at 205.”
In early 2020, the Professional Fighters League invited Camozzi to join its light-heavyweight tournament. His last fight against Ryot Waller took place at GLORY 72 in late 2019, so he was excited to have a full year focused just on MMA. His first fight for the 2020 PFL season was supposed to happen last May against 2019 champion Emiliano Sordi. However, the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down, and the tournament was postponed to the following year.
“I was still training, but I took some time off during COVID,” Camozzi said. “I got a job, but I also kept doing strength and conditioning, which was nice. I always wanted to get stronger and build more power. It’s kind of hard to do when you’re just stringing fights back-to-back. I didn’t really have time to put on size or anything.
“Taking that step back through COVID was actually good — I could do things that are harder to do during training camps — but I’ve been back formally training every day since November. It was good, and my body got a chance to heal up. [It] was the best my body has felt in years — I wasn’t getting out of bed and limping around — so I think there were some positive effects through the COVID thing.”
Last year, Camozzi, who had since left Factory X, started working for one of his sponsors: Resilience Code, a state-of-the-art physical therapy center located in the Denver area. Dr. Chad Prusmack founded the company in 2016 and has always been a supporter of Camozzi’s fighting career.
“I’ve known Dr. Chad a long time,” Camozzi said. “Resilience Code approached me, because some people were interested in kickboxing. They also thought that hitting pads and stuff is good for motor function for people with brain injuries and other things they rehab there.
“I started teaching some private [lessons] for some clients they have there and then I realized their mat room was fully empty — like, nobody used it. The bags, the pads, and everything. So, I started doing some classes for the people that just wanted to train and have fun, but also wanted to work out and learn something. I don’t have fighters in there, which is good. It’s a little bit higher end of a gym.”
As 2020 was winding down and the PFL was gearing up for the 2021 season, Camozzi had to find a fight camp and breathe some new life into his training. He sought out the help of Professor Steve Hordinski, a Relson Gracie black belt and head Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructor at Katharo Training Center.
“It’s been a really good change-up,” Camozzi said. “At this part of my career, changing stuff and learning new stuff has been super refreshing, instead of just doing the same stuff over and over again. I’ve learned a lot of new things.
“I’ve known Steve Hordinski since he moved from Hawaii to [Colorado]. He actually used to train at Brad Gumm’s with me — the first gym I was ever at — when he first moved from Hawaii. So, I met him there, and I trained with him on and off for my entire career, really.
“Then, at Factory X, Marc [Montoya] put out there that nobody could train with me or they were off the team. So, I had to find some new coaches and training partners. Steve was always at the top of my list. I always liked his style, and I think his jiu-jitsu is great for MMA. So, I talked to him, and he told me he’d love to do it within three minutes of us talking. It just showed me that he was all-in and ready to go.”
In addition to Hordinski, Camozzi was in need of a striking coach with deep roots in MMA. A longtime training partner introduced him to Jake Ramos, one of the best striking coaches in the region who has worked with a lot of UFC athletes, both at the old Grudge Training Center and at his own more newly formed gym, Genesis Training Academy.
“He’s been in the game a really long time — I’d seen him at boxing — but we never really trained together,” Camozzi explained. “Ian Heinsich started going over there, because he left Factory X in 2019. So, he and I were talking, and Ian came to train with me on a Saturday at Resilience Code, and he brought Jake with him. Jake held mitts for me, and he’s a super-nice guy. We got to talking, and Ian told me I should come check out Genesis, so I did.
“I realized their team is a lot smaller than Factory X, which is kind of what I wanted. I think I’m done with those giant teams, because you don’t get the coaching you need. The coaches are always gone, because there are so many guys to deal with. I like that Genesis has good guys, but there isn’t a massive amount of them. They’ve got good training partners, but I need just a handful.”
Heinisch provided Camozzi with a familiar face. Another former Factory X kickboxer, Chris Lockhart, has also been sparring with Camozzi. In addition, he got new looks from guys like Grant Neal, Anthony Adams and Nick Roehrick, the latter of whom is also in the 2021 PFL light-heavyweight division. Roehrick, like Camozzi, makes his PFL debut on Thursday night.
Camozzi has taken charge of his own career, as opposed to sticking to one coach and one gym. As with many of the guys on the Elevation Fight Team, he has utilized coaches and training partners from different gyms to keep things fresh.
“The coaches each know my schedule and what I’m doing each day,” said Camozzi. “It’s good, because they’re not both trying to crush me with the same practice each day. For example, on a Wednesday, both of them wouldn’t have me train hard as hell at their training sessions, because it’s got to mix together right or you’ll get burnt out and beat down. So, I’ve been going down to Katharo [to do] jiu-jitsu separately on my own. Actually, Art Petrosyan, who I’ve been training with a ton too, goes down to Katharo. I’ll get to work down there and then it gives me a chance to work on things at Genesis that those guys aren’t seeing.
“We would all do the same jiu-jitsu class [at Factory X], so if you learn something new and you try it, everybody’s expecting it. They also learned how to defend it and do it with you, whereas, now, I can go some place, learn something new or different setups, and guys might not realize it.
“I think it’s been a lot more realistic.”
The PFL finally kicked off the first event of the 2021 season last week. The show was full of upsets. One of the top-seeded lightweights, former UFC and WEC champ Anthony Pettis, was dominated by veteran Clay Collard. Meanwhile, 2019 PFL champs Natan Schulte and Lance Palmer both got beat. Now, Camozzi has his opportunity to surprise the league and its fans when he meets Sordi. The Argentinian might be the betting favorite, but Camozzi could easily follow suit and upset another 2019 champ.
“He’s good,” Camozzi admitted. “I don’t know much about him on the ground. He’s primarily a striker. He seems to knock people out when he hits them. He’s definitely dangerous. I’ve never seen him in person, so I don’t actually know how big he is. He looks big on TV, but Rashad Evans looks huge on TV, and he’s like 5-foot-9. Other than that, he’s got good striking. It’s clean. He doesn’t do anything fancy, but he’s good at everything he does.
“It’s going to be a little bit of a puzzle to figure out, but I’ve always done great against strikers. The only striker I’ve actually ever lost to is Lorenz Larkin, but other than that, it’s always been world-champion jiu-jitsu guys. So, I feel good about it. I’ve always gotten the crazy, world’s-best jiu-jitsu guys. Against strikers, I’ve always done pretty well.”
The PFL has definitely beefed up its roster this year with a ton of former UFC and Bellator talent. A lot of these guys have fought at the highest levels of the sport, and this is shaping up to be one of the most exciting seasons yet.
“This season is going to be tough,” said Camozzi. “This might sound terrible, but I used to watch the PFL, and some of the fights — there are no easy fights, but some of them looked very favorable. The PFL divisions weren’t really stacked with high-level guys. Now, it’s easy to sit on my couch and say that. This year, there are a ton of familiar faces I know from the UFC who are in my division. The talent pool seems a lot deeper.”
This is Camozzi’s time to shine. He is still only 34 years old, so his best could very well be yet to come. His eyes are on that million-dollar prize, and it all starts at PFL 2021 2, which airs live on ESPN 2.
“I’ve got a ton of experience,” Camozzi said. “I’ve been doing this forever. One thing I’ve got going is that I’ve fought the world’s best for 10-plus years now. I don’t feel like anybody’s bringing anything crazy [that] I haven’t seen before. I just feel these are going to be tough fights. I’ve always expected every fight to be tough. I’ve spent most of my career in the UFC. I never went into a fight there that I thought was easy. It’s going to be tough, but I think my chances of winning this year are great.”
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