When Marcos Andrew Navarro attended a mixed martial arts fight at a Yuma casino in 2007, some friends in the stands who recognized him all but encouraged the former high school wrestling standout to jump in the ring.
“They were like, ‘That guy’s a wrestler, he’s good at wrestling. You should do this stuff,’” Navarro recalls.
It wasn’t a serious consideration for Navarro, who’d already moved on from his wrestling career. Navarro was five years removed from finishing second in the San Diego Section wrestling finals and was working as a firefighter in Imperial County. He planned to go back to school and study to be a psychologist. And besides, the sport offered little appeal to him.
“That stuff looks like, barbaric, it looks crazy,” Navarro recalls of his initial impression of the sport. Navarro’s first impression of the sport wasn’t a lasting one. And about six months later, the idea of fighting in the octagon didn’t seem so barbaric. Navarro met Dave Nielsen, who runs American Boxing Muay Thai & Fitness in Pacific Beach. Shortly afterwards, he signed a training contract with the mixed martial arts training guru who Navarro credits with launching his career.
Navarro, who now lives in Rancho Santa Fe, is hoping to catch on with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). He’s making a strong case for his admission to the UFC. Earlier this month, Navarro won the North American Grappling Association (NAGA) World Jiu-Jitsu Championships for the second time in his career. His won his first NAGA title in 2011.
This year’s world title highlighted a whirlwind year in which Navarro has traveled across the country, competing in New York Hawaii, Florida, Texas, Atlanta and Las Vegas. He also earned his professional boxing license earlier this year.
“It’s still a goal of mine,” Navarro said of his UFC aspirations. “I think that the UFC has some of the world’s best all-around fighters, so I’ve been prepping myself for seven years.”
Navarro has been a competitive athlete most of his life. He was playing basketball in eighth grade when a high school wrestling coach who noticed his hard-nosed playing style encouraged him to go out for the sport. Navarro made the wrestling team at Central Union High as a freshman. His teammates included a state placer. He took a year off wrestling in his junior year at Central Union to play on the basketball team. He was also a four-year varsity football running back.
“I’ve always been a competitive athlete,” Navarro said. “It’s kind of like a burning desire to fight worldwide on television on the national scene.”
But wanting to succeed, and actually doing so, aren’t always the same thing. Navarro acknowledges he had a lot to learn when he first began training under Nielsen.
“You come to practice in clean attire, you bow in, and you respect everybody,” Navarro said.
He credits Nielsen’s training with helping him became more mature and disciplined. Within a few months Navarro said he’s learned to channel his aggression in the ring, and not on the freeways. In a violent sport, he found an equilibrium.
“I was realizing that people shouldn’t be fighting in the streets,” Navarro said. “I understood why it was important for a man to know martial arts or a woman to know how to defend herself from someone who was trying to bully them.
“I didn’t think it was like that so as I learned the tradition of the arts, I was realizing that it was more of a humbling thing that taught you self-discipline.”