by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
This past Friday, February 16th, some of Colorado’s finest talents were on display at Ring of Fire 28, and for good reason. The promotion just signed a deal with HDNet to replace the departed WEC, and so now the abundance of local talent will have their opportunity to showcase on a nationwide stage.
Among those talented youngsters looking to make their impact is Vern Baca.
Vern, a product of Gumm MMA & BJJ run by UFC veteran Brad Gumm, had a rough patch of luck over the past couple years that’s seen him have some tough losses and potentially devastating injuries, before returning in dominating fashion on Friday with a win over Carlos Condit-teammate Gerald Lovato.
Baca caught up with MMAWeekly after his triumphant weekend to discuss the fight, his long road back from injury, and his future in a new weight class.
MMAWeekly: First off Vern, tell us about your fight this past Friday in Ring of Fire against Gerald Lovato.
Vern Baca: I felt really good. This was my first time fighting at 145. It was a little bit of a cut to get down there, but I made it, and felt healthy and strong. I went in there knowing that he’s had a few fights, he’s a Muay Thai fighter, so I was planning on him wanting to stand-up, and try to prove to me he could stop my takedowns.
Obviously he couldn’t. In the first round I took him down, worked some ground ‘n pound, passed his guard, got him into the crucifix and pounded him for about a minute. I don’t know how they didn’t stop the fight then, but anyway, I came out in the second round, did the same thing, got him in the crucifix again and just pounded the hell out of him until they stopped it. It was a real exciting fight.
MMAWeekly: This was your first fight after missing most of last year due to a serious shoulder injury. Tell us about that time and how it impacted you.
Vern Baca: It was actually my second time getting operated on that same side, and it was a little discouraging at first. I was just wondering if even I could make it back. So I just had to make sure I got all the physical therapy and return strong. It gave me a lot of time to mentally prepare myself. Coming from such a low and building myself back up even stronger, physically and mentally.
I was able to take some time off, come back in slow and if anything, it helped my striking game. I wasn’t able to punch a heavy bag or blast the mitts; I had to punch slowly, so it made me work on my actual technique. So, if anything, I think it benefited me positively.
MMAWeekly: Now you’re from Colorado, the birthplace of American MMA and one of the most competitive places for the sport in the US, how would you say that has affected you?
Vern Baca: It’s funny you ask that, because every time it seems I get in the ring it’s against someone who’s so incredibly tough. It’s like, “Man, can I ever catch a break?” [Laughs] Not only can I never catch a break, but every time I get in there it gets tougher and tougher, but that makes you a tougher fighter.
There’s Alvin Robinson, current [Ring of Fire] Champion Christian Allen, who’s incredibly tough, so all the way down it’s getting better and better. I think that level of competition makes us much better because we’re training hard every day so we can beat each other. I really think in the next year or two, you’re going to see Colorado fighters making their names in bigger shows.
Just coming back from this injury, obviously I want to make sure I’m doing everything right and not rushing into things too soon, but each time I’m going out there with the thought of getting better [myself] and fighting better opponents. In the next year or two I definitely see myself taking on the best there is.
MMAWeekly: Something that’s interesting about you, that not a lot of fans might know, is that you are a graduate of the Colorado School of Mines, one of the most prestigious engineering schools in the world. Having said that, what’s an educated guy like you doing in our sport?
Vern Baca: That’s the same question my mom asks me every day. [Laughs] Right now I’m trying to find a balance using my mind in my day job and fighting, my second job. If anything it helps me in ring, by being able to take apart my opponent and study every aspect of the fight and not make the same mistakes each fight.
I work in the consulting world right now, where I help a lot of the top communication companies, and sometimes I really feel like Clark Kent/Superman. It’s like I’m an office worker by day, but when something comes up I take off the glasses, put the gear on and go to work. So it’s pretty cool, but a lot of the people I work with are kind of freaked out about it. [Laughs]
MMAWeekly: Now that you’re back healthy and have your first fight and win of the year, what are your immediate goals and plans over the coming months?
Vern Baca: I hope to fight at least a few more times before the summer is out. I really don’t have anything lined up as of yet. I know there’s some things in the works, some talks, but nothing’s been signed. I just want to fight the best out there for me right now.
I’ll fight whoever they put in front of me, whoever they want me to fight, whoever the fans want to see [me fight], I’m just there to entertain. They put people in front of me and I’ve never said, “No.” I just want to fight whoever has a name.
Every time I get out there, I give 100%, and win or lose, it’s always very exciting. People come up to me and tell me I’m usually the fight of the night, because I bring the heat and don’t leave it to a decision. I’ve never fought to a decision in my life and I don’t plan on it any time soon.
MMAWeekly: Okay, before we go, you are very familiar with our Editor-In-Chief, and my boss, Ken Pishna. Do you have any dirt on him you can share with us?
Vern Baca: [Laughs] I really wish I could, I’ve known Ken a long time and he’s been really good to me. If I had anything on Ken, it would have to be that I can say he married out of his league. [Laughs] I don’t know how he did that, how he managed to pull that off, but you’ve got to give props to him on that one. April [Pishna, Ken's wife and frequent MMAWeekly contributing photographer] is a great girl.
MMAWeekly: Funny stuff Vern. Thanks for taking time for the interview. Is there anything you’d like to say in conclusion?
Vern Baca: I want to thank my trainer Brad Gumm and his wife, Alicia, for providing some of the best training in Colorado, if not the entire nation. It’s not only training, but mentorship in helping me be the best fighter I can possibly be. I want to thank my strength coach, Mike Sanders; he’s gotten my shoulder back to the level to where it’s the healthiest it’s been since my first operation.
To the fans, thank you for your support, and it’s going to be a great year. If you have a chance to come out and watch me fight, do it, because I always bring the heat. I’ll fight anyone, anytime, and I’ll just get better from here because I’m at 145 now and completely healthy for the first time in a while. For all my opponents, watch out, because I’m going to bring it in 2007.