Photograph Credit: Lance Emery Photography and Xplode Fight Series
Our one-on-one with Team Hurricane Awesome fighter Angel Cruz as he prepares for XFS “Tidal Wave,” August 23, 2014.
Some may consider it rare to couple religion with combat sports, but for one local San Diego fighter, the combination of the two create an important foundation for a career that is only beginning to take off.
Angel Cruz (3-0), who currently fights out of San Diego Combat Academy, alongside legendary trainer and Team Hurricane Awesome leader Manolo Hernandez, is preparing for his fifth fight on XFS “Tidal Wave” this Saturday, August 23 from the highlands of northern San Diego.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Cruz for a one-on-one interview as he prepares for his fight. The Puerto Rican native and United State Navy veteran told us all about his life, faith, family and what drives him to enter the cage.
Like most young fighters who were brought up studying karate at a young age, Cruz started in MMA with a solid base of striking techniques and mental understanding of what it takes to be successful as a professional fighter. As is with most mixed martial artists, the growth and development of a fighter’s game are keys to success inside the cage.
“My first introduction to jiu-jitsu was when I came to San Diego,” Cruz explains. “It was taking off here at the time and everyone seemed to have a solid ground game. I knew I had to expand my game and start learning jiu-jitsu now,” Cruz adds.
The Team Hurricane Awesome fighter and family man is aware that earning belts in jiu-jitsu is important for some, but for him personally, simply expanding his knowledge and experience remains the most important task at hand.
“I am just trying to learn as much as I can when it comes to jiu-jitsu. I am not focused on belts or anything right now…I am just trying to learn what I can so I can apply it in the cage,” says Cruz.
With his jiu-jitsu developing and improving daily, Cruz is starting to recognize the versatility his game includes and feels that his solid striking will make him a force to be reckoned with.
“Truly I am still learning everything. Every part of my game is growing and developing,” Cruz tells us during our interview. “There are so many different things going on inside the cage. I feel that now I am really learning how to put everything together,” Cruz adds.
“Striking is different for everyone. Boxing is different than Muay Thai. Muay Thai is different than Karate. So for me it is all about learning everything I can and then putting it altogether,” explains Cruz.
Cruz is currently 3-1 in his young professional career, but if you have seen him fight in person it is easy to draw some comparisons to fighters like UFC contender, Lyoto Machida, who uses a unique fighting style that Cruz mirrors fairly well. With a long history of karate and boxing in his background, Cruz understands that the comparison to Machida may exist, however, he prefers to draw from several fighters when molding his own style.
“I think my style is my own. Lyoto Machida is definitely a guy I look up too. We do fight similar, but at the same time I don’t want to mold myself after one guy,” says Cruz.
When asked what kind of fighter he wants to be, Cruz confidently told us. “I want my style to be my own. It is good to learn from those guys, but be your own as well.”
After we discussed the intricacies of Cruz’s past, the present state of his training and his future in the MMA landscape, we moved to the other side of the coin that embodies his life: Family and Faith.
Simply put, Angel Cruz is happy to be where he is in his life, while simultaneously excited about his future. Cruz truly believes in something bigger than himself and it is that belief that motivates him. Cruz, who believes that his life has been shaped by Christ, is part of an organization that combines martial arts with religion.
“Submitted to Christ is a great organization and something I am proud to be part of. It helps me in my life and training,” says Cruz.
Cruz became familiar with Submitted to Christ recently and has been proud to call the organization another valuable team member in his corner. Submitted to Christ is a Christian organization that has helped MMA fighters who have professed their faith with clothing, support and sponsorship. For Cruz, it has been a match made in heaven.
Cruz strongly believes in his faith and talks about his faith being the driver behind everything he has been blessed with in his life. He also submits that his faith will remain a key factor in what his future may hold.
“You have to have faith. My faith is so important to me. Christ has given me everything,” Cruz tells us.
When asked to describe exactly what his faith has given him, Cruz smiles and graciously tells us exactly what he is grateful for. “Christ has given me my life, family, children and continues to help me stay mentally strong. And Christ gave me a chance to express myself through martial arts,” explains Cruz.
If Cruz’s faith has allowed him to embrace martial arts, ultimately landing him in one of the biggest fight cities in the country and with a team that includes elite MMA talent, then it would be difficult to argue that his faith also led him to the one person who has become his biggest supporter.
“My wife is such a big part of my life and my MMA career,” Cruz explains. “She helps me with my nutrition. She also helps me stay motivated. She helps me get out of bed if I am feeling tired and she pushes me to stay with it when things get rough,” Cruz adds.
“I am truly blessed to have her and my children. They make it all worth it. I prayed for someone like her and Christ helped make that happen,” Cruz adds.
And it doesn’t end there. There are many girlfriends or wives who have stood in their spouses’ corner through thick and thin. For Cruz, it goes deeper than that, as it was Cruz’s wife, Michelle, who actually led the Puerto Rican native to Team Hurricane Awesome and Coach Hernandez at S.D. Combat Academy.
“My wife is actually the person who helped connect me with SD Combat Academy,” Cruz explains.
“She found the gym when researching places to train in San Diego and told me I need to check it out. The first day I sparred here I realized that I needed a lot of work and it was my wife who helped me realize that…for that I am grateful,” Cruz adds.
As it is with every fighter we talk to from S.D. Combat Academy, nothing but praise and appreciation occupy the dialogue when discussing Team Hurricane Awesome and specifically, Manolo Hernandez, the heart and soul of the gym. Cruz is no different, and despite Coach Manolo ‘throwing him to the wolves’ his first time at the gym, Cruz understands and appreciates exactly why he did it.
“I think the first time I met Manny he said, ‘get in there,’ and I was pretty much thrown to the wolves,” Cruz laughingly says. “I had to spar some tough guys and I was taking a beating, but I was also learning about where my game was and where it needed to be,” Cruz adds.
Cruz understands that his coach only wants the best for him and in order to be successful in this grueling sport, your corner needs to know you are 100% committed.
“He wants to see if you are committed. He wants you to put in the work. And that is important in this sport,” Cruz explains.
After speaking with Coach Hernandez myself, it was apparent that the face of S.D. Combat Academy is proud to have Angel Cruz represent his fight team.
“He (Angel) has become the most well-rounded member of our young gun squad so far,” Coach Hernandez tells me. “I’m expecting big things,” he adds.
For me personally, after meeting Coach Hernandez and spending two hours chatting about the current state of MMA, his fighters and some of his more memorable stories from his career as a trainer, I learned that he has a special ability to maintain a perfect balance of fun and seriousness when it comes to the sport and his fighters. Cruz, agreed with me wholeheartedly and echoed my feelings about the team’s fearless leader.
“Coach Manny is great. He truly cares about his fighters. He makes it fun as well, but he challenges you when you need to be challenged,” Cruz explains.
“Manny knows how to get the most out of his fighters. And he is someone I really needed for my career,” Cruz thankfully tells me.
Cruz remembers his first fight and also recognizes how far he has come. “This may sound confusing, but my first fight happened fast and slow at the same time,” Cruz tells me. “The guy took me down and it was fast. I had to scramble and things were going so quick, but then I had a chance to work a submission and when I did things slowed down…that tells me a lot about my development as a fighter,” Cruz adds.
Angel Cruz gets back into the cage August 23 at XFS “Tidal Wave” in his fifth fight and is excited about his training to date. It also helps that Cruz has the advantage of training alongside some of the area’s most versatile mixed martial artists.
“Training is going great right now. I’m doing jiu-jitsu with Richie (Boogeyman Martinez) and boxing with Tiger (Smalls),” Cruz explains. “I am ready plain and simple,” Cruz adds.
When asked about what he expects on August 23, Cruz responded with a good understanding of where is game currently is and what he should be prepared for.
“My style is to adapt. I can always go into a fight with a game plan, but you really have to know how to adapt,” Cruz tells me. “That goes back to my karate days. Because in karate tournaments you don’t know who you are going to fight until the fight happens. So you have to rely on your skills,” Cruz adds.
Angel Cruz is ready to fight. His corner is stacked with an elite trainer who runs one of the most experienced gyms in the area, an understanding wife and family that believes in his career as a fighter and most importantly for Cruz, a higher power that has given him a life he can enjoy.
That is a team that any fighter could get used too.
Angel Cruz would like to thank his wife, Michelle Cruz, children, Ryno Power, Full Force Fitness, Submitted to Christ, Illusive Combat, and Combatives Gear. Thanks to the S.D. Combat Team, Walel Watson, Richie Martinez, Tiger Smalls. Also thanks to Francisco Perez, Robert Martinez and Puerto Rico Combat Club. Follow Angel Cruz on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/angel.cruz.942?fref=ts.
Special thanks to Angel Cruz, Manolo Hernandez and Team Hurricane Awesome, San Diego Combat Academy, Xplode Fight Series and Gregg Sharp.
You can get your tickets for XFS “Tidal Wave” by contacting Angel Cruz, or going online at http://www.xplodefightseries.com.