By Josh Elijah, Mishka NYC
Photos by Ivan Jimenez
Diego Lopez is a machine. A bantamweight fighter (135 lb), he has a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, maintains a vegan diet, and chooses to steer clear of drugs and alcohol. Here at Mishka, we appreciate Mixed Martial Arts. So much so that I got caught in a few arm bars during this photo shoot with Diego. You can’t fake a little elbow extension; take a look at the photos for yourself if you don’t believe me.
Ilyas: First, tell the world a little bit about yourself.
Diego Lopez: My name is Diego Lopez, I’m 25 years old, I live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn with my girlfriend and two dogs, and I train at Williamsburg MMA.
You were raised in Central Florida correct? For how long, and what was that experience like in comparison to moving to NYC? I lived in Miami and I hated it. Hopefully your story is better.
Diego: Well I was born in NJ, then we actually moved to South Florida when I was 3. I Lived all over Broward County, which is basically between Miami and Fort Lauderdale. At the time I didn’t like it but looking back on it I was really lucky to grow up there. I moved to Brooklyn early 2009 and have loved it ever since.
You were an athlete growing up? You played hockey, what other sports were you into? When and how did you take up fighting?
Diego: Growing up in Florida, the weather really allows you to be active year round. I got into roller hockey when I was 9 and played as much as I could with friends. It wasn’t until I was 14 that I started to play competitively. But since I had 5 years of experience already I kind of surprised some people my first year. I played 3-8 hours almost everyday. I didn’t have much of a social life. I was named captain of my high school’s varsity team during my sophomore year and lead the team to a national title my senior year. I didn’t get into martial arts until I moved to Brookyln.
At what point did you realize, “Hey, I like punching people in the face enough to do this in a cage.”?
Diego: It was something I really enjoyed in the beginning just to do it. I never thought I would step into the cage at any point. I just really enjoyed training and learning new things. I think about a year or so into it I asked Professor Mamedov for a fight whenever he thought I was ready.
How did you meet Professor Mamedov?
Diego: I met Professor Mamedov in March or April of 2009 when my best friend and roommate at the time; Kris Kneale, asked me if I wanted to check out this kick boxing class. I was hooked the first class and I’ve been with him ever since.
I understand that you train alongside Frankie Edgar under Ricardo Almeida and Renzo Gracie. What’s that atmosphere like, and did Edgar let you touch the belt?
Diego: Yeah, Prof Mamedov and I go out to Hamilton, New Jersey to Prof Ricardo Almeida’s gym to spar on Tuesday mornings. I get to train in the same room as Frankie but sparring a round with me would be a waste of his time. It’s a great environment, everyone just wants to get better and there isn’t any of that macho attitude around. Frankie is not the kind of guy to flaunt his accomplishment like that but he’s such a nice guy I’m sure if I asked he would let me haha.
Tell me about some of your training partners and training locations, and how you guys help each other out.
Diego: Well I mostly train at Williamsburg MMA in Brooklyn, then once a week at Prof Almeida’s in Jersey and once in a while I’ll go spar at Renzo Gracie’s gym in Manhattan. My team at WMMA is great, a lot of the guys there all started training around the same time, so we’ve become a real family and push each other constantly. I get to train with more professional fighters when I go to Jersey so that’s been a real help in my training. My instructor Prof Mamedov has been the most important factor in my development, I couldn’t ask for a better coach.
You have traditional tattoos and don’t wear boot cut glitter jeans. You’re a strange kind of fighter already. Where are your tribal tattoos? Explain your take on the NYC fight scene, better yet the Brooklyn fight scene.
Diego: I think I’m just part of the new wave of what a fighter is. We see the changes in the fight culture drastically in walk out shirts, from gold foil skulls to simple, clean designs from these new brands started by real MMA fans. I don’t really know much about whatever fight scene their may be in Brooklyn. I know there are a few places to train but as far as a scene I’m not sure it really exists yet here. MMA being illegal makes it a bit harder to develop the kind of social momentum to make a real scene.
Very true. Musically, what artists were you into growing up, and who do you listen to today? Mixed Martial Artists are supposed to listen to Nu Metal you know so choose carefully.
Diego: I’m not really into music, I know that sounds strange. I like quiet, I like to think or lately I’ve gotten into podcasts. There’s some good ones out there about MMA or BJJ. My walk out song for when I fight is “When a Man Comes Around” by Johnny Cash and I have a Wu-Tang tattoo if that helps understand what I like musically. The only new stuff I’ll listen to is a band called “Go Deep” from Brooklyn, that’s about it. When I teach classes I’ll play reggae just because it sets a good relaxed vibe to train in.
Johnny Cash walkout and a Wu Tang tat. That’s gold. I’ve seen you wear Stussy before, we respect that. But now you’ve given your soul to the dark ones, Mishka. What’s your wardrobe looking like these days? Any brands catch your eye? I’m a little behind on NO MAS. I’m feeling their aesthetic though.
Diego: Yeah, my closet is mostly stuff given to me or BJJ academy/competition shirts. I don’t really spend money on clothes. I do have a few favorite brands that are doing a great job getting away from the silly glitter and dagger shirts. RVDDW out of Japan is the best. Also Scramble, a brand out of The UK, World Over Easy, and 100Athletics from MMA fighter Caol Uno.
I forget that Caol Uno has that brand under him. With MMA matches & overly large sugary drinks both banned in NYC, what advice do you give to young fighters coming up? Search for fights and large sodas in Jersey & Philly?
Diego: I’m not sure if I’m the best person to give advice to young fighters since I’m so early into my own career, but if it’s something you want to do, have fun, work hard and listen carefully. I think people have a hard time with training when they stop having fun. Anger can only fuel a person so far but love and determination can push you beyond what you thought possible. Hopefully MMA will be legalized here soon but until then, Jersey and Philly will be the best options.
If you could swap out some MMA & WWE guys, who would they be? CM Punk & Undertaker would’ve been great in the octagon. Thoughts?
Diego: I’m really out of the loop when it comes to that kind of wrestling, but I did like it when I was a kid so I’ll just use the guys I remember. I think Dude Love would have embraced jiu jitsu and maybe Ray Myseterio would give Cruz an interesting title fight.
I could easily see Dude Love pulling out some omaplata’s on guys. I always see you posting nutritional tips on your blog. Is nutrition something you were always into? Or did this come about through fighting? I’m not going to ask the tired old “Yo man you need protein, eat meat” b.s. I tell the naysayers come roll at Williamsburg MMA if they thing vegans/vegetarians are lacking “protein”.
Diego: Eating healthy has become something very important to me as a result of training. Putting my body through so much hard training I really need to take care of it by eating properly. Seeing all the problems in our society that are a direct result of our diet is pretty alarming. I want to live a long, healthy life and I know I have to make eating healthy a habit as early as possible in my life. As a vegan I get asked that protein question on a weekly basis, at this point I just say kale. I’m more worried about eating a wide array of fruits, veggies, nuts and legumes than how many grams of protein I’m taking in. I try not to preach to anyone but if someone has a question I’m more than happy to answer.
When can we expect your next bout? I understand that it isn’t easy to find opponents correct? Are they scared of your non tribal tattoos?
Diego: I’m trying to get a fight before the end of this year. Living in NYC makes it a bit harder to know when and where I can get on a card but I’ll manage.
Well Diego, it’s been an honor & a pleasure to conduct an interview with someone I see working as hard as you do in the gym. Would you like to shout anyone out? Perhaps your ultra talented tattoo artist girlfriend? A family member? Your 4th grade gym teacher?
Diego: First off I’d like to thank my instructor Roger Mamedov, my always supportive girlfriend Mina Aoki, my training partners at Williamsburg MMA, Ricardo Almeida BJJ and Renzo Gracie Manhattan, and thanks to all the people at Mishka for the support.