The regional MMA circuit is a grind. No one knows that better than Hoosier Fight Club’s middleweight contender Daniel Vizcaya. Known as “The Bulldog,” Vizcaya is a TUF season 19 and Bellator MMA alum with a 9-3 professional record. He is best known for his smothering wrestling base, and willingness to win fights the hard way.

But, when you’ve gone through what Vizcaya has gone through, fighting inside the cage seems like a walk in the park. Leading up to his interim middleweight title bout vs. Kevin Nowaczyk, Vizcaya spoke with about the hardships he has faced over the past few years, and how he has persevered to come out a better man through it all.

Vizcaya’s misfortunes began on The Ultimate Fighter Season 19 show where he lost his first fight vs. Matt Van Buren. Grateful just to be there, Vizcaya’s dream was cut short against Van Buren when he was caught by some brutal elbows to the back of his head. The blows ended up prompting referee Herb Dean to stop the fight, but instead of properly calling for a no contest due to the illegal shots, Van Buren was awarded a win, and Vizcaya was left wondering what happened. Overall Vizcaya says the experience being on the show was a good one, but he says issues with his job and health kept him from performing at full potential.

“It was fun being in front of the cameras. That loss stuck with me for a while though. It all started out with me not even planning on going out there. It was sort of a last minute thing. When I got out to Las Vegas, we did all of the interviews and run-throughs, and when they asked me what weight I wanted to fight at I said 185. A couple days later they came to me and said ‘We want you to fight, but at 205.’ and I said ‘ok’ like right away. I don’t even think I let them finish their sentence. I’ll fight at heavyweight, I don’t care. This is a chance of a lifetime. Being in the house with the guys, training twice a day was what I needed.

The tough thing with that was, back home I was working 12-hour days as a truck driver. I’d leave my house at 6am and get home at 9pm. The only conditioning I had was the elliptical I used at home. On top of that I had a pinched sciatic nerve on my right side. At times I couldn’t move, my leg was numb, and it was just really painful. Obviously I knew this could be my only chance, so I wasn’t going to tell Dana White that I’m injured. Even the doctor was wondering about my leg and I said ‘Nope, I’m fine, everything is perfect.’ I had to do that because if not, I wasn’t going to be on the show. There were times where I couldn’t sleep in my own bed and I would have to lay flat on the floor, put my feet up on the couch, and sleep like that.

Deep down I was hoping that because I was competing a weight class above that if I lose, which I did, I would be able to get a second fight at 185 when I was healthy to sort of prove myself. I figured the UFC would approach me and say ‘Look I know you got elbowed in the back of the head. That’s sort of a cheap move and we’re going to give you a chance,’ but I didn’t get that opportunity. Even Matt Van Buren’s corner came up to me after the fight was over, and he was like ‘Hey man, I can’t believe what happened. I thought they were stopping it because of illegal blows,’ and I said ‘Yeah me too!’”

Unfortunately because Vizcaya was not invited to return for a fight at the TUF finale, he found himself back amongst the regional rankings. Following his exit from the show, the next bout he took was with Hoosier Fight Club. Vizcaya was set to face Nick Krause at HFC 21, and right before the bout, an unthinkable tragedy struck.

“Back during the first time I was fighting for HFC my dad committed suicide. That was about 2 and a half weeks before the fight. Paul Vale, he’s a great guy; he reached out to me and hooked me up with someone he knows that runs a cremation service and they did it for free. That was great because my parents have always struggled with money. My dad was from the Vietnam era, he was drafted out of school as a teenager and my Mom has her diploma, but no other education. They basically worked paycheck to paycheck for my entire life. Then when my dad past, we didn’t have the money set aside for a proper service. I worked as much as I could, I was giving my Mom money when she needed it, but I just thank god every day that I had someone like Paul to support me during that time. No other promoter would do that. So, when he asked me if I still wanted to fight I said yeah. People bought tickets to see us fight. I just had to get through it. I wasn’t mentally there. I was worried about my family and what not, but the show goes on.”

Daniel Vizcaya and HFC Matchmaker Paul Vale speaking to the crowd at HFC 21

Daniel Vizcaya and HFC Matchmaker Paul Vale speaking to the crowd at HFC 21

Daniel went on to lose his bout at HFC 21 via decision, but the fact that he went out there and put it all on the line just days after his father’s death is beyond incredible. Many fighters (especially in regional MMA) pull out of fights for a myriad of reasons. Some guys don’t deal well with nagging injuries, some don’t make weight, and other just flat out decide they don’t want to fight. All of that makes Vizcaya’s decision to fight on at HFC 21 all the more honorable. Guys like Niel Seery have pulled out of UFC bouts recently due to deceased family members and no one batted an eye. Family comes first, and not one sensible person would criticize someone who took that route. But Vizcaya chose to put the fans and the event above himself that night with a heavy heart, and all of the MMA community should admire him for that.

Since HFC 21, Vizcaya has gone 2-0. While things in his MMA career are back on the rise, Vizcaya experienced more unfortunate heartache in 2016. Daniel was scheduled to face Joe Gigliotta at RFA 39, and the bout was ultimately cancelled after Vizcaya didn’t make weight. He was scrutinized like many of the athletes that fail to meet their weight obligation, but what many folks didn’t know was that Vizcaya was dealing with the sickness of the other two men that raised him.

“I’ll be honest, I didn’t make weight for that fight and it got cancelled. I didn’t do what I had to do, and they ended up bad mouthing me over the Internet. At that time, both of my uncles were diagnosed with liver cancer. One of them lived closed to my house, so I was his primary caretaker. Every day I was going over to his house taking care of him, his family, and on top of that I had my own family to worry about, as well as training. Then my Uncle Ruben in Florida got a liver transplant and he thought he was fine. He stopped taking the medicine and the cancer came back, so then I was going down to see him twice a month and making sure he was ok. Ever Since my dad past, there was only the three men left in the Vizcaya family, and the other two besides me were sick. I felt responsible to be there for them. So I was working two jobs, taking care of two uncles, two families, and when it came time to fight for RFA, I just wasn’t on weight.

I know that this is the fight game, and I figured they’d be taking twenty-percent of my purse or whatever. I get that, but what I was going through was just really hard to deal with. It really bothered me though that RFA would go out and bad mouth me knowing that I’ve never pulled out of a fight in my life, and that the situation I was in was awful. Five days after that event, my uncle Ruben in Florida past away, and then three days later, my Uncle David past away. I saw the deterioration of him, with his eyes getting yellow and his body just shut down. So they both past and they’re in a better place now, but these past four years have been some trying times.”

Vizcaya’s hardships have molded him into a better person as time has gone on, but there is no doubt that the losses he’s faced have hurt his fight career. Nevertheless, he still keeps his nose to the grind as he prepares for his title bout this weekend at the Blue Chip Casino. Vizcaya is approaching his matchup with Nowaczyk with the same strategy he has used in all of his fights. Make opponents play his game.

“We both have almost the exact same style. My whole thing is people always tell me ‘You have to show more of your striking’ and I’m like ‘No not really.’ If they can stop my takedown I’m going to show my striking. If not I’m going to wear you down on the ground, and the next time, whether it’s a minute from now, or the next round, striking with you will be easier. I like to sort of emulate GSP in the cage in a sense where I’m not going to willingly slug it out with the best of the best in strikers in the world when I can take you down. Then when they get tired, that’s when I can capitalize on the mistakes.

Kevin is lankier than me and I’m sure his chokes and distance may be what he’s looking to use, but with my movement for a guy my size, it throws a lot of people off. I’m just ready for wherever the fight goes. I’ve been working with one of my training partners, his name is Kyle Sims, and he’s like 390-pounds pushing up against me. I’ve worked from getting out form under him a lot.”

Working your wrestling with someone thats nearly 400-pounds sounds like sort of like putting a donut weight on a baseball bat. It may seem heavy, but when it’s time to go up against the real thing, it’ll feel light as a feather. Surely Vizcaya will be able to move the 185-pound Nowaczyk if he’s pushing around that kind of weight in the gym. Fans can expect their bout to be a war.

When Vizcaya isn’t fighting, he works full-time and says his only free time is spent with his loved ones. One has to imagine that moments with family are even more priceless than usual for Vizcaya.

“I have a full-time job working for an alarm protection company. I install fire alarms, burglar systems, security cameras, and door access equipment. That’s my main source of income. Usually when I’m not fighting, I’m just hanging out with the family. When it comes time to get paid for fighting I like to take my family somewhere fun like an indoor waterpark and use the money for that. The times that I’m away from my kids are tough. When it gets closer to fight night I really don’t see them as much. That’s why once the fight is over I like to sort of treat them to some time where I’m with them every waking moment, and we get to have fun together.

I’ve been married for about 8 years now to my wife Sarah Vizcaya, and we have two kids. My daughter is six and my son is four. I’m always looking to them for support, because they’re going to love me whether I win of lose. It feels good when I put in all of this work, go without seeing them as much, and when it’s all over I can take what I’ve earned and just take my family out somewhere. I get to be with them, and see them smile. I live in the present and I’m always focused on what I need to do, but I really do look forward to what comes after the fight the most.

Vizcaya’s post-fight vacations sound like the perfect way to unwind after a grueling period of physical and mental strain. Considering that fight purses in regional MMA are far from allowing fighters to live comfortably, it’s important for Vizcaya to be aware of that. Instead of assuming the sport would pave his way financially, Daniel has a true source of income, and he uses fight purses as sort of extra spending money. His approach is both realistic and thoughtful.

Prior to wrapping things up with Daniel we gave him a chance to make any shoutouts to his supporters, and asked him what advice he would give to aspiring fighters. Here’s what he had to say:

“Shout out to my gym Prime Muay Thai, my coaches, all of my training partners, my wife, my kids, my sponsors Get Hydrate, all of the fans that support me, Paul and Danielle from HFC, and of course Alliance MMA for helping guys like me get into the limelight.

I always tell younger athletes to have goals. Even if it may seem farfetched, if you believe in yourself and put the work in, you can be one of the baddest cats on the block. Some fighters say if you join this sport your only goal is to be a champion, but what it’s really about is proving to yourself that you can do this. It’s a lonely road to the top, I’ve learned that, but if you can get knocked down and keep getting up, then you can succeed.”

Alliance MMA would like to thank Daniel for opening up to us and sharing his story with honesty and compassion.

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