Fighting out of Systems Training Center based in Hawthorne, California, Erick ‘The Ghost Pepper’ Gonzalez is a 4-time Combate Americas stand out and a dangerous, well-rounded fighter with a professional record of 7 wins against 2 losses. To date, Gonzalez has stopped five of his opponents inside the allotted time frame, three of them within a single round.
Originally from Redondo Beach, Gonzalez is a proud Latino-American, and believes he has found a great home in Combate Americas: “They are amazing,” Gonzalez told The MMA Vanguard, “Honestly [they are] one of the biggest up-and-coming [companies]. Combate Americas is the future, and no better way to make it happen than by starting with the Latino/Hispanic [audience].”
On a stage tailored specifically for the preferences of a massive potential audience not only in the United States, but in Central America as well, one gets the feeling Combate Americas is a promotion with a very high ceiling. In the July 2015 census, 56.6 million Americans declared themselves Hispanic-Americans – 17.6% of the total population of the United States. The demographic is there – and Combate Americas are dedicated to finding fighters that not only appeal to this audience, but who represent it. Erick Gonzalez is an excellent example of this kind of targeted marketing.
Gonzalez’ evocative nickname, suggested to him by a business consultant to one of his own Mexican vegan restaurants, is also a marketer’s dream. Proving too hot to handle in his pro MMA debut, Gonzalez blitzed Reseda, California native Derion Chapman in just 26 seconds by virtue of a flurry of brutal ground and pound elbows. Christian Bizarretty, of Los Angeles, lasted just over two-and-a-half minutes, meanwhile, thanks largely to his persistent clinch game and solid submission defence. In a fight where Gonzalez was able to show off an active Jiu Jitsu game by threatening from a variety of situations alongside an impressive grappling acumen, Gonzalez was able to get the finish thanks to a TKO from back mount.
As yet, Gonzalez hadn’t really been able to demonstrate his outstanding striking, but that was no problem – Gonzalez has many strings to his bow, including wrestling. It was thanks to his experiences wrestling in high school that Erick became interested in MMA – that, as well as getting into his first fist fight in the streets. With MMA a much more lucrative and worthwhile avenue to pursue by comparison, and with Erick’s stated role models like Nate Diaz thriving in the UFC and leading by example, the sport must have seemed a perfect fit.
But while Gonzalez is unabashed about admitting that street fights were a part of his lead-in to MMA, ‘The Ghost Pepper’ has been keen to embrace all aspects of the sport. With a penchant for stand up battles combined with his background in wrestling, it was only prudent for Gonzalez to start training in Jiu Jitsu. While Erick grapples in an MMA-oriented, NoGi environment, he says he has raised a few eyebrows in the gym: “I roll at a high rate,” he told us, “I’ve rolled with [Brazilian Jiu Jitsu] brown belts who have told me I’m very talented and technical. In MMA, I’ve been doing that since [I was] 15, but started training [full time] when I was 20. I’m 25 now.”
This submission game was particularly evident in the amateur ranks. With 4 submission wins from 6 amateur MMA bouts, Gonzalez admits his primary concern was getting in, getting his hand raised, and getting out – a strategy he has had to amend as he has climbed the ladder in the professional ranks: “When I was an amateur [fighter] I wanted to end it as quick as possible. Now, as a pro, I strive to be a striker, and a good one at that. I really want to put on shows, and [make] people to say, “Damn, that dude scraps, he is legit”.” Erick then added: “I’m always working [on my] ground [game], but my stand up is where I want all my fights to be.”
While there may not be a bad way to win, Gonzalez is quick to recognize the value of putting on a performance. After all, people pay to be entertained – and perhaps entertainment is exactly what was on Erick’s mind when he took on debutant Eduardo Silva back in October 2015.
A pair of highlight reel high kicks, including a spinning back kick, wowed the crowd but missed their mark, as Gonzalez was about to learn an important career lesson. Silva timed a double leg beautifully, spun and rolled, cranked on an arm bar, and though Gonzalez would attempt an escape by way of a slam, Silva kept the pressure on. ‘The Ghost Pepper’ would have no choice but to tap to the Brazilian, who trains under Renato ‘Babalu’ Sobral, the total fight lasting 35 seconds. We have not seen an incident like that repeated since.
Just over a month later, Gonzalez was back in the win column. 40-plus fight veteran Daniel McWilliams would tap to a choke in just over a minute and a half, and 4 months after that, highly-rated prospect Shohei Yamamoto (2-0) would step up to challenge Erick’s 3-1 pro record. A fast-paced, aggressive fight that saw Yamamoto look to utilize leg and body kicks as well as counter punches, this was a bout that would truly test Gonzalez.
Despite eating some good shots in the first round, the fight was turned on it’s head when Gonzalez landed a big body kick followed by a beautiful right uppercut in the closing stages, effectively earning the round. The second round would be dominated by Gonzalez takedowns and grappling, though Yamamoto would somehow survive, only to find a final stanza too much to endure. With Shohei collapsing to his back midway through a thwarted takedown attempt, Gonzalez would finish the fight from full mount by way of a ground and pound TKO. It was enough, unsurprisingly, to get the attentions of Campbell McLaren at Combate Americas.
While Gonzalez’ Combate Americas debut against Victor Martinez would see ‘The Ghost Pepper’ go the distance for the first time in his professional MMA career, the aggressive and exciting California native would find his hand raised in a split decision win. Too close to call, perhaps, but an eye-opener nonetheless. Speaking of what it means to him to compete for Combate Americas, Gonzalez states: “It means [using] every ounce of spirit and fight that I have in me. I’m in Combate Americas to shine and excel. None of these other guys will get in my way; [competing for] Combate Americas makes me go harder. [For that,] they show me love in every way, and I [strive to] make shows happen.”
Against Yoandy Carrillo, a skilled boxer and Judoka from Cuba, Erick Gonzalez did indeed put on a show. Having almost finished the bout in the first round via ground and pound, Gonzalez utilized superior wrestling to work a way to back mount. From here, precision elbows and unanswered punches would eventually stop the fight. It was an impressive statement, but not one that would be repeated against Danny Ramirez at Combate Americas 11 from February of this year.
Dropping that fight by Unanimous Decision, 6-2 Gonzalez found himself in need of a big win – but that task was not made easier when it was announced he would face Mexican Marco Antonio Elpidio at Combate 12 from Tijuana, Mexico. It would be the promotion’s second trip South of the border, and one Gonzalez would relish greatly.
A well-matched bout would tilt back-and-forth before Gonzalez was declared the winner by split decision. Of the opportunity to fight in Mexico, Erick told The MMA Vanguard: “That was such an amazing experience and I loved the energy. I wanna go back to Mexico for sure, and have more family come out. I have a lot [of family] out there.”
He added: “MMA has a huge opportunity in Mexico. It’s already growing there now, and [that] will continue. I hope to maybe go down for year and build a gym. I wanna make something for kids of the future to look up to in Mexico.”
A worthy dream, no doubt, and one that would not be possible without a combination of hard-earned (as well as natural) talent on Gonzalez’ behalf, and the endeavours of Combate Americas in the Latino and Hispanic demographic. A great match? The MMA Vanguard certainly thinks so.