Kickin’ it in Stanton with John De La O
A few weeks ago, I was wondering who I would like my next interview to be. Since I started watching King Of The Cage a few years, I had been a fan of the guys that had come out of John De La O’s dojo (Thomas Kenney, Frank Park, John himself), yet I had never spoken with John himself. Being in the position I am in with access to the fighters that I have, I figured this is the perfect opportunity to get into John’s dojo and get a few minutes of his time and get to know him a little bit. I was hoping to interview someone that would not be afraid to talk about anything, and John did not disappoint. Here’s what John had to say….
ML: So, how are things going?
JD: Going’ good, busy. Fights all over the place.
ML: How did your team do at the Avi?
JD: We won our fight. We got a unanimous decision against a tough guy named Chris Cully. He fought Andy Balmore. We were able to control both rounds and walk away with a disputed unanimous decision. But if you watch the fight, you’ll see he did what he needed to do to win.
ML: What do you have coming up as far as fights?
JD: We got Frank Park, one of my students, who is going to fight at the Soboba Casino for King Of The Cage on Oct. 7th against Rick Jones. We have a very generous and helpful relationship with KOTC, who have always provided us with good competition. Then we have some other fighters fighting in smaller shows around town pretty soon as well.
JD: I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate Terry Trebilcock and the guys at King Of The Cage on their new deal with ProElite. It’s an opportunity for you to take your business outline and take it to another level, so that all fighters won’t have to be slaves to Dana White in the future.
It’s important that everyone doesn’t just end up as Zuffa’s indentured servant, because that’s the way it’s going. They’re doing the same thing the WWE did with pro wrestling. You can’t get anywhere unless you’re with Titan Sports. It’s bad for there to be a monopoly on anything. Look at the NFL, those guys that have been blackballed out of the NFL can’t make a living playing football. Look at the sewer Major League Baseball is. You can go to Japan and make money, maybe if you’re lucky, if you’re the right kind of player.
You know, I don’t think that anyone needs to try to be number one or say we’re going to try to put the UFC out of business. I don’t think that’s a smart business concept. There should be other places that fighters can fight and apply their trade.
ML: What’s your background in MMA?
JD: Well, it was called Martial Arts when I got started. There was no concept of Mixed Martial Arts back then. Like everyone else I did boxing and Kung Fu when I was a kid. I was a wrestler all through junior high and high school. In 1990 my room mate introduced me to a prominent Brazilian family that had a school in Orange County, down near Corona Del Mar. I started taking classes there and I liked it because it was different than my Martial Arts class in that it was less formal, yet it was still a Martial Art and there were self defense aspects in it. The ground and the grappling were really cool because I had done all the wrestling, and when I left school, I was like that’s it for that. So it was nice to get that same kind of workout. Guys that have wrestled and then stopped can tell you when they get into a Jiu-Jitsu school or what’s called MMA now, Oh wow, you get that same kind of workout again that you couldn’t get in the gym or doing anything else.
I had never heard of this particular family. It was years before the first UFC and their in action videos came out. To me it was another expensive Martial Art that I had to work overtime to pay for. I was taking classes there and working in a print shop and at 20 years old, and you don’t want to be slave to the grind, so I wound up quitting my job. I couldn’t afford to pay the fees at my Jiu-Jitsu dojo, so I went to tell the teacher there and say I don’t think I’m going to be able to train, and he said “you will come work for me.” So I thought cool, and I’m all thinking Danielsan and Mr. Miagi’s gonna train me and teach me a bunch of stuff, and he’s thinking I’ve got someone to answer the phones, clean the bathrooms and do all the dirty work. But, in between I got to do some classes with his son and his son helped me to learn. But at one point, I realized that this was just a scam going on. I mean I was learning Jiu-Jitsu, but I had to pay an arm and a leg to get it. It just wasn’t an honest business venture for the gentleman putting it on.
So after a few years, he and I had a falling out because we didn’t see eye to eye on ripping people off, you know, I thought it was bad. So I left there when I was 23 or 24 and I also just had a kid, so a lot of things were changing for me and I figured I had to get a job, which I didn’t like. So I was filling out all of these job applications and I realized, I was the one that opened the dojo everyday, I was the one that answered the phones, I was teaching the classes, I made sure the payments came in on time, I did everything. So I thought I do this on my own. When I got home that night after beating the street for work, a bunch of the students from the school had gotten my number and called me and I just started teaching private classes until I had enough students to share a warehouse and get some mats. It was a real slow climb and I had some real lean times teaching on my own. I was the first guy that I knew of that said I’m an American and I’m teaching Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I’m not affiliated anyone, from any family, not affiliated with any Brazilians. Yeah I learned from these people, but this is my own thing, this is what we’re doing, and this is how we’re going to do it. I caught a lot of hell for it at first… he’s not Brazilian, he’s not a black belt, the guy he trained with is an idiot which was true, but he was a good trainer. And my response was… come find out. If you think I’m not a black belt, you come try and take this black belt off of me.
So now we’ve slowly built up, we have a good reputation, and people know we’re legit. Thirteen years now on my own and in the last few years, we’ve finally gotten the respect we worked so hard for. Other schools have come and gone, you know all the nay sayers, but we’re still here.
ML: How many students do you have?
JD: About 120. We have classes 7 days a week, twice a day everyday except Wednesday. We have a kid’s class, beginner’s class, intermediate class, private students, it’s a busy place.
ML: What do you enjoy more, training the students or actually fighting?
JD: I’ll tell you what I miss, I miss winning, lol. The losses I don’t much care for. It’s hard, when I started, there was no UFC. You just trained for the love of training. There weren’t enough Brazilians here in the states to have a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament. There was no real goal back then other than getting your black belt. I do miss standing in the ring with all my family and friends screaming. Being in another country with people you don’t know screaming your name, that’s a great rush. But then, I have one guy Andy Balmore that came in. Just this fat kid that smoked and drank, and he’s too young to be doing any of that stuff and now he’s turned his whole life around. Now he’s a professional fighter who has focus and direction, and seeing that is very rewarding as well. I think I’ll go with the training. With the exception of the high points, I enjoy being the Don of the mats, so to speak. Especially now that I’ve gotten sick and the guys have all stepped up to help take care of me, that’s a big deal to me.
ML: What’s your most memorable moment in the cage?
JD: Beating Joe Camacho. He had just broken my nose and we were going and we were having a good roll. Cecil Peoples took a point away from me for head-butting and the fight was real even (I didn’t head butt by the way Cecil). It was real close and I put him on his back and I was gonna work and next thing you know, boom! He either kicked me or swept me you my back, and he faked left and went right and I heard my nose break. So I’m thinking they’re going to stop the fight and this is going to be bad, so I roll over on my hands and knees and put my nose back in place, and he left an arm behind and I was able to get it. That was easily it because I trained so hard and had trouble making weight. I made weight and I had never been hurt in the cage like that, where I felt the pain and a sense of panic. I mean I had hurt my knee before, but that was a good fight. Beating Jeremy Jackson was good, but definitely beating Joe. Joe was a game guy and he was at the top of his game and he almost knocked me out, but I was able to pull it out, so it was good.
ML: What goals do you have left to accomplish?
JD: A couple of things. First is to beat this cancer thing. I’d like to get Tom Kenney a good, solid title shot, or at least a big show type of fight like on ProElite on Showtime. I’d like to get him on a nationwide or worldwide fight. He’s worked so hard and we’ve seen guys that he’s beaten go onto the big show and gaining notoriety. It’s mainly like Hollywood and it’s who you know. I really have respect for the IFL and I like to see fighters getting their due that way.
But on a personal note, it’s frustrating to see guys that are not the same level as Tom go there. Because Tom is such a stand up guy and said, we’re going to stay the course here and build the dojo. I’m not just going to chase my best options to be famous. He’s grown roots and planted a base and now he’s 30, and now he has a foundation to work from. When he’s not fighting, he’s making money teaching his classes and training, whereas if he just took the quick payday, he’d be no better off than when he was 19. So he was wise beyond his years in that he wanted to built something and not just feed the need to be famous or whatever it was. I’d like to find something that would put him in that national spotlight where you’ll see him in Grappling Magazine, you’ll see him in ads and stuff, because he deserves it. As a person, as a fighter, I’d like to get him somewhere, but you know I’m not a manager or agent type of person.
If I feel someone is giving us a line of bullshit, I’ll tell them. I think that’s what may have held us back a little bit, is being a little too honest with people. I’m still here. A lot of those people that did a lot of brown nosing in the mid and late 90’s are gone and a lot of these people will be gone soon too. As well as some of the people I look up to will be gone as well.
ML: What fight will you like to see Tom get?
JD: The easy one is to say I want to see him beat up Thomas Denny, but I’d like to see Tommy fight for that title again. Whether it’s against Slam (Aaron Wetherspoon) and you know that was a real hard night for us, Slam was on! Honestly, aside from him just being a good fighter, we got out-coached. Oyama had a better game plan than us and he got his guy to work it to perfection. While Tom took the beating, everyday I shake my head and realize we got out-coached. When you have two guys that are even skilled, have tons of heart, and tons of ability, corners do make a difference. As much as I love Colin Oyama, he out-foxed us.
I just about died myself. I said Tom, they want to stop this fight and he said don’t stop this fight for nothing, and I said, don’t let me watch you bleed to death. They had him work with his back to the cage so Tom would have trouble getting the takedowns and Aaron was able to stop them and a lot of those attempts. And oh, Cecil Peoples. We were just talking about him weren’t we and his inability to recognize a submission when it’s there. So, there was that as well, just a little bit of controversy. But the reality of it was, that was a hard pill for me to swallow. So, I’d like to see him get another title shot and win that belt at King Of The Cage.
ML: What are the chances of him dropping to 155 or going up to 185?
JD: It’s really hard for him. He’s fought at 155 before, he fought Shaun Bias there and it was a lot of work and like I said, he’s 30 now, so it’s harder to cut the weight. The 185 lb, Keith Berry is a classy guy, and I have tons of respect for him. I don’t know that Tommy can go up to 185, but that’s another option. He’s taking some time off right now because I got sick and he just training and working, running the dojo when I go do my chemotherapy treatments and I’m down for a few days. He makes sure to keep the fires burning and I think that’s his focus right now. He wants to build something for himself. And you know we all do that, we all get older and we want something more than just glory.
You want to talk about the sport? What’s right with it and what’s wrong with it?
JD: There’s a couple of things. I have this conversation a lot and they say it’s the fastest growing sport ever. Every time you turn around, whoever’s announcing or talking about MMA is thumping his chest talking about how it’s the fastest growing sport ever. It’s going to hit a glass ceiling when you have the champions testing positive for steroids. When you have the biggest name in the sport who is not a fighter is constantly say mother-f this and mother-f that. We can’t have that. You can’t have guys winning fights and flipping off the cameras to and from the ring. So what’s going to happen is that people are going to get tired of it, especially with the steroids thing.
If you’re using steroids and they test for it, you’re going to get caught, and that’s going to grind the sport to a halt. Look at what they’re doing, they’re crucifying all of those guys in Major League Baseball, right? And while it may not have hurt the popularity right away, it’s definitely slowed it down for the next generation of fans. My son is 7 years old and I hear him say, I don’t like that player because he took steroids. There’s going to be a lot more of that and that generation of kids is not going to want to see their adult generation of baseball when they get to be my age. When I was a kid, it was all the cocaine going crazy. I remember when they had those trials, it kind of turned me off. And then the strikes, I’m not taking my kids because I don’t want them to see… Major League Baseball just looks like a sewer to me.
It’s not just the steroids, they’re testing positive for meth, weed, and I know they’re fighters, they’re not saints. But it’s going to hurt the integrity of the sport when their champions are testing positive for this stuff. It would be like the whole Indianapolis Colts got busted for steroids. And you don’t see David Stern or Bud Selig saying mother-f’er to a camera, but you have Dana White and every third word out of his mouth is this and that. When he’s going to be the face of the UFC, after the fighters come and go, and they will. Tito Ortiz will be gone, Randy Couture will eventually someday get old and move on. Even Don King, you don’t see Don King saying F this and F’n fighter that. It may be neat to the 16-34 year olds, but you’re not going to get past that demographic. And if you really want to be considered a legitimate sport like you’ve been thumping your chest about, well you’ve got to have some legitimacy in your product.
I’ve known Terry for years and we have conversations and the F-bomb comes out now and then, but you’ll never see him go off like that in front of a camera. And that’s what we were talking about earlier, we need to see another product, maybe a cleaner product on the surface, do well, so that the guys will have somewhere else to go. It will be good to see another intelligent fight promoter out there and hopefully we’ll get to see Terry on camera more and representing the sport the way it should be.
ML: I’d like to take this time to thank John for taking time out of his busy schedule to spend a few minutes with me. If you are interested in checking his dojo out, and you are in the Stanton area, stop by and say hi.
Until next time!