David Perez- Ranger Up Ultra-Athlete
By Mr. Twisted
Last week I had the opportunity to interview Ranger Up fighter, endurance athlete, and Air Force Tech Sgt. David Perez about competition in the physical world and what kind of attitude it takes to push oneself to the limit in extreme sports. David is a Tech Sgt. in U.S. Cyber Command and, by all accounts, has more energy and stamina than a 2-year old hopped up on chocolate. It doesn’t take long to understand that we can all learn something from the drive and determination David has, which lead him to place in the top 10% at the Duathalon World Championship in Switzerland.
David, can you tell us a little about your background and how it is you came to be in the Air Force, doing what you’re doing?
I am your typical Mexican American born and raised in East Los Angeles, CA. I grew up pretty poor and always struggling. From those experiences and not always being in the best environment, neighborhoods, or conditions I grew up to have the type of fighting mentality that I have today.
Joining the military saved my life. I am surprised I am alive today and lived through some of the things I did as a young man who just graduated high school. I didn’t care about anything and feared no one. The Air Force tailored who I was as a person and developed my character into something I am proud of. My first assignment was in a combat engineer unit called RED HORSE. I was stationed in Las Vegas, NV. I deployed multiple times in support of both Operation Iraqi and Operation Enduring Freedom.
From there I was selected for a very prestigious assignment to the last frontier, Alaska. I was stationed out there in a VERY remote site in the middle of nowhere. Let me tell you, Mexicans have no business in a place where the sun doesn’t rise at least 3 months out of the year. We are tropical people who need light.
Cyber Command seems like a world apart from fighting in a ring or a cage. How do you see the lessons from MMA and the training you do for it relating to your job?
The lessons I gain from MMA and the intense training I do to prepare for my events positively impact my job as a proud Air Force NCO. The lessons I gain from MMA are those of dedication, intensity, tenacity, and most important…courage. The lights are dimmed and you’re told to walk forward because you’re next. You’re given short instructions, “…when the music plays walk out to cage side and meeting the referee for your check.” Then your song plays. The song you thought long and hard on for months leading up to this exact moment. The song that you put so much thought into but don’t even hear because you’re so focused on what lies ahead. The walk seems like just seconds and you’re in the cage with your name being announced before you know and all lights are on you, tens of thousands of eyes on you. Nothing in the world prepares you for that. There are less than 1% of people in the world who do what I do as a professional Mixed Martial Artist. Gearing up for a deployment and preparing for a warzone environment is no different. Whether it was Iraq or Afghanistan, I deployed to dangerous areas in southwest Asia in defense of our nation. Having the opportunity first hand to experience those types of blood rushing, adrenaline dump type of experiences in MMA helped me to mentally focus for a far more dangerous task which many brave young American heroes never come back from.
The lessons I have gained from MMA are more related to me and what I am capable of for my military commitment and passion. Thus far, there has not been anything I have not been able to do or overcome. The MMA training has helped me prepare for the military way of life. One of the biggest lessons of success for the military is learning to adapt and make my personal life one with my professional life.
I actually claim FIT NHB under Tom and Arlene Vaughn as my main gym and coaches. They taught me everything I know and that’s where most of my boys/teammates are. However, because I am in the military and I PCS’d to Maryland, I still train with FIT NHB by going there for fight camps or having them come to me, I have also started my own team with a great group of young up and coming fighters. We call ourselves Team Warfighter under my very own banner called IRON MMA. It’s my own style of hybrid MMA. I am the lead coach and trainer for our team, which consists only of current or prior service members of all branches of the military. We are a very unique tight bunch.
Care to elaborate on this “hybrid MMA” you speak of?
LOL, no… that’s just for us. Sorry, we want to keep it under wraps for now.
Fair enough! Moving on – do you have your sights set on the UFC, or is that just a play-it-by-ear kind of thing?
Wow, yeah…I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a dream. I would love the opportunity. First short term personal goal is finish my degree in education this November (last class), graduate next spring as an Honor Graduate, Deans List and then line up my next fight. Hoping to have next one lined up early next year.
MMA training is, in my opinion, some of the toughest training I’ve ever done. Doing while working full time and going to school is a true test of will, to be sure. That being said, I’ve never done a marathon or an ultra-marathon. How do events like those compare to stepping into a ring or a cage to fight someone?
Events like ultra-marathons, duathlons, or triathlons do not compare to MMA because they are a different type of pain tolerance and courage. It requires a different level of focus. Not harder, just different. It’s like comparing boxing to MMA. They are completely different but both equally as difficult on its own. Preparing for an endurance sports requires this type of dedication. It was my first ultra-marathon, the Boulder 100 (100 miles) in 24 hours or less. I had never decided to train for an event like this but did. I knew I had to train at all hours of the night so on a Friday I got home from work all day, ate dinner and decided to give my wife and kids a kiss good night at 6pm. I went to the west side of Albuquerque, NM and decided to run the high altitude areas of the volcanoes. I ran for 12 straight hours. I ran the same 7 mile loop dozens of times. It was during the fall time of the year so it was cold. I gravitated towards the volcanoes for warmth. They have been inactive for thousands of years but they still retained heat because of the rock and I felt it on those dark cold nights. I trained like this for months.
Another experience I had of endurance sports came from my experience in March of 2009 when I fought as the main event in a local MMA event in Albuquerque, NM and immediately after my fight I drove 4.5 hours south to Alamogordo, NM to run the Bataan Death March, 26.2 miles in the high altitude mountains, in full combat gear, and a 54 pound ruck sack. It was another exhilarating experience that gave me a new threshold and pain tolerance. Endurance sports give me something different no other sport has, fortified attitude to never quite no matter how long and painful your journey to the finish line is.
Training at the level you are discussing is something that very few can relate to. To what do you most attribute the ability to compete at that level? Natural, physical ability, or is it something more?
I attribute my ability to compete at the many different levels that I do to simply having heart and courage, the heart to never give up. I tell anyone close to me or anyone I am training to never train with a broken heart. Meaning, always have the heart to never give up and always give me your best. The biggest enemy of good is better. Give me better! As far as courage, it is the courage to do what I do. The courage to face the fear that most people would have, jumping into a combat zone, jumping into the ring/cage (I have fought in both), or running/biking/swimming to the line to start your never ending journey. All these examples take an extreme amount of courage beyond belief and beyond most people’s comprehension. It’s a select few who have decided to face that fear head on and continue to face it with unwavering courage. So, to answer the question, nothing special, just belief in myself.
So, where does David Perez see himself in five years?
One of my biggest strengths is having a legitimate excitement of the unknown. The unknown of the future and what the future holds. I enjoy not knowing what is coming next and hoping it is something big. I thrive for the difficult and the path of most resistant. Those are the challenges I want in life, the ones no one else wants to do. The goals most think impossible. So again, to answer your question…only time will tell what the future holds. I do know that I will always compete.
Any final thoughts for the Ranger Up community?
No, other than the fact that Ranger Up is a bad ass apparel brand and has been a great supporter of my MMA and endurance athlete career.
Well, I know Ranger Up and the Rhino Den will be cheering you on. Thanks David!