This Friday night at Bellator 161, Derek Campos (16-6) will face Djamil Chan (11-2) in a lightweight feature bout. We last saw Campos at Bellator 149 in February, when he knocked out UFC veteran Melvin Guillard in the second round. He was then set to fight Patricky Pitbull at Bellator 152 in April, but had to pull out of that fight with a knee injury. Luckily, it was not a serious injury and did not require surgery.
“I’m good. I’m 100% healthy. I feel great. I had some time there to focus on recovery and rehabbing, and I feel good. I’m at 100% and I’m happy to get in there on the 16th and put on a performance.” Campos explained, “It was a grade two sprain on the inside of my knee. It was from a previous injury during wrestling training. The knee just sort of popped. It hadn’t bothered me too much since then, but it was there. Unfortunately before the Patricky fight it popped back up again, and affected me to where I couldn’t compete. But I’ve done what I’ve needed to do now, from my doctor’s standards. I took the time off to just really rest it. I took a whole two weeks off to rest it, and my doctor said if it wasn’t bothering me then, then I wouldn’t necessarily need an MRI. So then I started slowly rehabbing it and strengthening it. I did that and just followed the routine that I needed to, and it feels a lot better than it did before then. It feels great and I’m ready to compete.” With a few months off to heal, rehab the knee, and then resume training, he’s ready to start fighting again.
Texan Derek Campos is one of the newer breed of MMA fighter who entered the sport without an extensive base in wrestling or one of the traditional martial arts. While he did have a little wrestling background, he really took up MMA as a separate sport unto itself. “Honestly, I wrestled like a year in high school. I played football, track, and did some powerlifting by the time I had gone off to college in New Mexico. I did a year, and just decided it wasn’t for me,” Campos says. “By that time I had been watching MMA, and decided that I wanted to pursue it. So I made the transition from just being an athletic guy to train in mixed martial arts. I started with wrestling, and did jiu jitsu and slowly made my way into boxing and kickboxing.”
As for what made him decide to pursue mixed martial arts, he started as a fan who was athletic but wanted a challenge removed from team sports. “I really enjoyed watching the guys back in the day, from the early MMA game. Guys like Rich Franklin, Roger Huerta, B.J. Penn, Matt Hughes, all those guys. Back when Forrest Griffin was just starting his career. That was right about the same time frame, when he was on The Ultimate Fighter, that I really started trying to become a fighter. I just admired the level of competition, and the heart and the will that those guys showed. It’s something that I wasn’t getting trying to pursue football, which is a team sport. I liked the solo aspect of fighting. At the same time you have training partners, you have teammates who help you in the gym, but when it comes down to it when you get in the cage, it’s about imposing your will – all by yourself – to defeat your opponent. “ Campos stresses, however, that he began mixed martial arts as a serious career, not just looking to try the sport on for size, “I knew going into it when I started training for mixed martial arts, I knew I wanted to become pro; I knew I wanted to get to the top level. It was never a thing where ‘Oh, I’ll just try this and see where it goes and see how it works out.’ It was 100% commitment to it, to push myself to see if I could become a champion. I feel like I’m far from the end of my career, and I feel like I’m starting the climb in my career. It’s go time.”
Barring setbacks like the recent knee injury, Campos likes to stay active. Some fighters take time off and train at a much lower level, then rely on intense training camps to prepare for specific fights. Campos follows the other school of thought, that stresses remaining at closer to peak condition at all times, “At the most, I might take like a couple of days off after whatever previous fight I have. Whatever’s needed to just heal up and be 100% for training. By the time I hit training, every time I practice, I push myself to the limit. With strength and conditioning, with working techniques, everything. I’ll push it to the limit. I’ll push myself, but at the same time I don’t push it to where I’m going to get hurt, where it takes a toll on my body. It’s all about being productive without costing your body anything. “
Along with that comes less emphasis on heavy sparring. In the past few years, more fighters are sparring less than what used to be routine, in an effort to reduce injuries. A few have cut it out almost entirely. While Campos has not gone quite that far, he does feel that a reduction is the way to go, “Really, it’s a smart thing to do. I still spar, but I don’t spar as often as I was before. Mainly because your mind, your head, you can only take so many shots to the head before your brain, it just starts to take a toll on it.” Many today see the old Chute Boxe-style gym wars as counterproductive, and Campos seems to agree, saying, “I can get just as good of training without sparring as much as I had been before, simply because I’m a firm believer in my conditioning and strength training, and practicing each martial art on its own. The sparring has tapered down quite a bit, just like you said, to prevent injury. I see a lot of fighters doing it. I feel like it’s a smart thing to do. As fighters, we have a short window of opportunity, and time frame for a career, and I want to fight for several more years. If that means not sparring as hard and risking a concussion, then so be it.”
In preparing for an upcoming fight, like Friday’s fight against Djamil Chan, Campos neither obsesses over an intricate game plan nor forgoes fighter-specific training altogether to focus solely on his own technique. Instead, he prefers an approach somewhere in the middle, “It’s really a balance. I’ll watch my opponent’s videos. I’ll see where his weaknesses can be exploited. And at the same time, I’m always just making sure that I am keeping every aspect of my game top notch, so that way when I go into the fight there’s no holes in my game for him to exploit. Everybody goes in there with a game plan. Obviously I have a game plan, but at the end of the day, sometimes the game plan goes out the window and you have to adapt, you have to think, you have to move quickly, and readjust during the fight. And that’s what it all comes down to, and I think I’m good at that. And that’s what I’m going to do.”
For Djamil Chan, Campos feels he can win wherever the fight goes. Chan is mostly a striker, with most of his victories coming by way of knockout. Campos has several knockout wins of his own, and says, “I believe I can outstrike him. There’s just so much I plan to do. But at the end of it, if I feel like I need to, I’ll take him down, and I’ll control him there. “ Campos likes to fight with an aggressive but controlled style, but is ready in case Chan comes out fast, explaining, “I like to go in there, and I’m not going to say feel my opponent out, but I like to go in there and implement my game plan. I will push the fight. I will push the pace. If he comes out explosive like Guillard, then so be it. I know how to adjust to it, I know how to respond to it, and go from there.”
All of this ties in with his preferred style of fighting. “Really, what it comes down to is I go in there and I look to finish fights. I look to finish fights no matter how I have to: If it’s a knockout, if it’s a TKO, if it’s a submission. My goal is to finish and break my opponent’s will.” Campos feels that fans liking this type of fight is a bonus. “I guess the plus side of that is that it always leads to an exciting fight, and the fans love that. That’s what people want to see. They want to see someone throw down. That’s just the way it works out for me. I consider myself an exciting fighter. I don’t like to BS around in the cage. I don’t like to feel out my opponent. I go in there and I go to work. I go and impose my will, and everything else just falls into place.”
Friday’s Bellator event takes place in Cedar Park, Texas, which is near the state capital of Austin. For Derek Campos, who hails from Lubbock, this means that he will likely have the home state crowd on his side. He says, “I definitely feed off the crowd. I love fighting in Texas, and putting on a show for the people of Texas. I go in there, and I pretty much just try to represent. “
If he gets the win against Chan, that should move him up the Bellator lightweight ladder a bit more. The knee injury cost him his chance at a rematch with Patricky Pitbull, who has since fought for the vacant lightweight title against Michael Chandler and lost. For that reason, Campos feels like another fight with Pitbull makes less sense now. “After Patricky’s last loss, it’s hard to say that I want to fight him again. He’s always going to be a tough fight, but the smart fight for me to get closer to the title is to fight top guys like Josh Thomson, Brent Primus, Adam Piccolotti. Those are the guys I want to go after, the top ones. I’m not looking past Chan yet, but I plan on going in there and getting the W, and after him, I want to fight some of the top guys like that. That way I can earn my title shot.”
Getting the belt is his long-term goal, and Campos has been in Bellator long enough to see how things have changed in that quest. In the Bjorn Rebney era, tournaments decided who would ultimately fight the champ for his title. Under that format, Campos reached the tournament semifinal in 2014 before losing to Patricky Pitbull. Now under Scott Coker, the tournament structure is gone, and a good win – especially a spectacular finish – can propel a fighter toward a title shot more quickly. For Derek Campos, this is a welcome change. He explains, “I like the new format. I like that it’s obvious who is on top, who could be your next opponent. Really, the reason I like it is because you have to stay on top of your game. You can’t just expect to fight just one guy and then know who the next guy is. It could be any moment. Say I win this fight, and they say they want me to fight for the title. Then okay. You’ve got to stay on your A game. You’ve got to stay on your toes. This new format definitely keeps every guy on edge, to be on the top of their game.” We will find out in a few days how Campos fairs against Djamil Chan, and probably not long after that what lies in store for him next.
(( I should note that in the article I give the record for Campos’ opponent Djamil Chan as 11-2. Sherdog gives it as 12-2, Tapology has 13-2, and the Bellator web site says 11-2. Since Bellator will probably use 11-2 in the ring introduction, I opted to use their figure.
Bellator also gives Chan’s height on their web site as 6 foot 2. Other sources have him shorter, and from the few old fights I watched, he looks well under 6 feet tall. I asked Campos if he knew (since it would have a big effect on reach), and he says he thinks Chan is actually 5-9 or 5-10. I thought about including that conversation here, but didn’t since it looks most likely to be a mistake on Bellator’s part that might be corrected by fight time. ))