MMA is well-known in the state of New Mexico as the area plays host to an array and mixture of talent spanning from UFC-caliber fighters to the up-and-coming amateurs that fill our local fight cards. While the physical aspect of MMA is most often discussed, the emotional and mental states of the athletes who compete often go unmentioned. In a sport that is very demanding in all aspects and puts individuals onto a stage of scrutiny, it is interesting to dive into a fighter’s mind.

Located deep inside the busy city of Rio Rancho, the Westside Power Gym focuses on “hardcore” weightlifting and a place for one-on-one personal training. The gym is run by a very popular figure in the gym scene of New Mexico, professional MMA fighter and Boxer Rocky Ramirez. While the gym does focus on weightlifting, Ramirez coordinates a combat program that currently works with four athletes who complete regularly.

One of those athletes is the Enseneda (town near Tierra Amarilla) born Carlos Casados.

Casados is currently 2-1 in amateur MMA competition and 2-0 as an amateur kickboxer and in anticipation of his upcoming amateur MMA bout in March, SWFight caught up with the Rio Rancho trained fighter to discuss some of the more intimate details of his career thus far.

Casados on the moments before his first career MMA bout:

All I can remember was my mouth was bone dry. I was nervous as hell yet I was calm. I couldn’t remember seeing any fans or hearing anything, I just remember staring at my opponent thinking “This guy wants to break me, he wants to punish and humiliate me in front of this whole crowd, his home town, my family, and my friends, he wants to hurt me…but I’m gonna hurt him before he gets the chance.” I just remembered I needed to flip that switch, something I had never done before. It was really honestly my first “fight”, I was never an aggressive kid, I never fought and I didn’t like confrontation. I needed to flip that switch and impose my will.

To flip that switch it felt like it came natural, like I didn’t have to try to flip it, it just came on and took over. After the initial shock it was like I knew what I needed to do and I was able to do it.

The fight took place in Colorado Springs for the No Mercy Extreme Fighting promotion and Casados would win that bout back in May of 2012 against Jeff Dasalla by Unanimous Decision and would spark his combat career with the initial dose of success. In MMA however, there are always going to be ups and downs; whether that implies losses and victories, injuries or just a bad experience in training. A fighter should come to expect some obstacles along the way.

Casados on his most difficult time training:

When I initially moved here to start training here and going to school, I was in the gym and we were sparring, it was one of my first practices here. My hands were very slow and not really developed so I was getting beat by guys that were training on a daily basis. Same thing with rolling in Jiu Jitsu. I came to a place that had people training on a much higher level and more skilled guys and I was tapping out left and right. I felt like I was at the bottom of the food chain

I was in love with the sport so quitting was not going through my head at those moments. My confidence was very low however, I’d say I was down and thought about what I needed to do, if I wanted to do this seriously I would have to put in the time. That means practicing on weekends as well as weekdays, not being able to have as much “free time”. This meant that I wouldn’t always be able to go out with friends or sleep in, so I had to make that change and become 100% committed to getting better and putting in the time that was needed.

The talented Welterweight is coached by Rocky Ramirez, the head coach of Westside Power and in his coaching Ramirez brings with him loads of experience in combat sports ranging from MMA to boxing and from small regional shows to a bout for Bellator MMA. That type of experience definitely makes a difference as the mentoring of younger fighters is really based upon the sharing of knowledge from actual experience. Ramirez, one of the veterans of combat sports in New Mexico made a big difference to Casados during his time training in martial arts.

Casados on Coaches Rocky Ramirez and Quinn Mulhern (Gracie Barra):

I’ve gotten to know him (Rocky) as a friend, not just a coach. He’s somebody I can go to for advice with anything, not just about fighting. Outside the gym we get along great and outside the gym we mesh well. I’m able to understand his coaching and listen to what he’s telling me and apply it instantly. Him (Rocky) and Quinn Mulhern are my two coaches, Quinn is the one who got me started with Jiu Jitsu and I admired his fighting style. When he made the move here to Albuquerque, it was the same week I moved here.

The thing I benefit most from with my coaches is constructive criticism, I need to hear the stuff I need to work on or the things I’m doing wrong before being told what I’m doing right. I still have a long way to go and a lot to improve on, and when I’m aware of what that is, I’m able to work on it and improve.

While Casados has exceptional coaches and mentors in Ramirez and Mulhern, Casados has tasted defeat once in his young amateur career. Back at King of the Cage “Future Legends 18″, Casados came out on the losing end of a unanimous decision. Despite this site scoring the bout in favor of Casados, it would go down as his first loss as a mixed martial artists. Some of the best minds in MMA have said that a first loss truly defines a fighter and shapes his career going forward.

We do not know yet how that loss will affect Casados and if history is an indicator usually one of two things happen. When a young fighter loses for the first type, they can often trap themselves in the mental state of disappointment and send themselves spiraling down a negative trajectory. Other times, a young fighter can really grow with a loss, really mature and come into their own as an athlete.

Casados on his first career loss:

I wasn’t satisfied with how I fought. I thought I had won the fight but I should have done things that I didn’t. When it was announced that I lost, I felt an anger at myself. It wasn’t anybody’s fault but mine and that hunger grew deeper. I knew right then I never wanted to have that losing feeling again.

After the fight I was pissed off, I knew I could fight way better than what I did and I was mad at myself that I didn’t. I talked to Rocky and Quinn right after the fight, they believed that I won the fight and they told me what I could have done to ensure the win for the next time. But they pointed out the positives too. I was really down on my sled and they kind of helped me clear my mind and not get hung up on it and just move on and improve.

In one word, disappointment… in myself.

Losses are tough on the psyche and fight fans and analysts alike have seen instances where an early loss really derails a fighter’s career. When fighters are able to overcome that adversity it is usually because a true passion pushes them forward. While most MMA competitors have passion for the sport, there is a deeper passion inside most athletes that really speaks to the type of individual they are within the confines of sporting psychology.

For some fighters, that passion is built around the desire to compete and prove their worth showcasing their hard-work and for others it is a chip on their shoulder that they carry around trying to prove that they are tough mentally and physically.

Casados on his passion for fighting:

MMA and martial arts gives me a sense of peace. Like peace at mind and just gives me an escape. It’s a huge part of my life.  It allows me to clear my mind just focus on martial arts. It feels like nothing’s wrong in the world. Like everything makes sense and everything fits into place; it gives me a type of knowledge that you can’t get in a classroom or from a book.  Once your mind is clear, everything makes sense.

Anytime I walk into the gym for training, practice or for rolling, I’m able to clear my mind and focus on what I need to do in the cage. When I’m out of the gym and at home, I just sit down alone and get that focus. I visualize what I need to do and how I’m gonna do it and I prepare mentally. MMA is something that’s gonna be there for me no matter what day it is or what’s going on in my life, it’s gonna be there to let me escape and it won’t turn it’s back on me

It is comfortable to say that passion is what drives 99% of us in the daily endeavors that we take on and without that drive, fighters like Casados would find it very difficult to continue to train in a sport so physically, mentally and emotionally demanding. Mixed martial arts is a glorified term that depicts a sport that is focused upon fighting; the art of striking an opponent with intent to take away consciousness or injure a limb to the point that warrants submission.

While the sport itself has been subjected to criticism due to the violent nature of the actions that take place within the cage that fights take place in, there is definitely more to MMA then fighting. Between all the adrenaline and testosterone of fighters squaring off in the ultimate competition of toughness, Casados tells more about the mental and emotional aspect of the physical-based sport.

Casados on hitting an opponent and the feeling of being in a fight:

It (punching someone for the first time) was kind of exciting, I just didn’t really know what to expect. Sparring with teammates, you know how they’re going to react and how they attack. With a stranger, it’s a lot different, you really don’t know what to expect and you got to be on your game, because if you make a mistake they can capitalize on it and it can be bad for you. It was a feeling that I had to be prepared for hard hits and strength from across the cage.

My deepest fear was that I wouldn’t leave it all in the cage and I just didn’t know what to expect being that I hadn’t fought in the cage before. I had to tell myself that no matter what, I use everything I know how to and I leave my heart in there with no regrets coming out.

I had to clear my mind of that (having fear) way before the fight. Of course I acknowledged it (being injured) could happen but I couldn’t be afraid of it. I believe that when you walk into the cage you can’t have fear in you. It will hold you down and be in the back of your head. You have to go in with positive energy and envision yourself in good situations. The fear, doubts, anything negative like that needs to come out before the fight.

Casados comes across as very mature for a young fighter and with the proper mentality heading into a possible professional career, it seems as if he at the very least has a strong head on his shoulder to carry him past possible obstacles that will come his way. Through competition, Casados has even experienced the spiritual connection that comes with competing and the camaraderie that comes when two individuals put their talents up against the other.

Casados on the connection built with an opponent:

I’ve felt that (spiritual) connection, with all of my opponents there is a great deal of respect. It takes a lot of guts to get in that cage and when two of you put your hearts into it and your acquired skills and test each other, there’s sort of a connection that forms.

I mean, it’s not like we sit down and bond but it’s just a connection of respect and honor of a competing martial artist. It’s not that they know something about me that nobody else does, but more that there is a different kind of respect.

With all that being discussed, Casados is a down-to-earth, humble individual who combined with his in-cage talents may be on his way to becoming part of the next wave of young fighters ready to emerge as successful professionals in the New Mexico MMA scene. First, he will compete in his last amateur bout in late-March and if his articulate mental state is a precursor as to what is to come for Casados, we can expect a well-trained and prepared fighter who appreciates the hard-work aspect of martial arts competition.

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