Three years ago, Joe Pacheco weighed 260 pounds and was a self-described "couch potato." Now 40 pounds lighter, the Gastonia native is training to fight in the Bellator MMA tournament, held Thursday at The Bojangles' Coliseum. The largest tournament-based Mixed Martial Arts organization in the world, fights are televised in nearly 500 million homes and 110 countries. I caught up with Pacheco before the big fight to discuss the perks and dangers of the increasingly popular sport, and his grueling daily routine.
Creative Loafing: How'd you get involved in MMA?
I've been a fan since the '90s. I also wrestled through middle school and high school, so after college, I decided I'd try MMA. I started training, which brought back my competitive edge. I had my first fight two months after I started training. I lost 40 pounds in between.
How would you describe MMA?
It includes elements of martial arts, boxing, Muay Thai, wrestling, jiujitsu and judo. Basically every combative sport compiled into one.
It doesn't involve much protection, right?
No. We only wear four-ounce gloves, hand wraps and a groin protector.
So how often are you injured?
I'm actually injured more in training than in the cage. I train all day, after all, and fights are pretty short.
You do this for a living. What's a day at the office look like?
I wake up at 5:30 a.m. four days a week. I take vitamins, come to the gym and do Olympic lifts until about 7:30 a.m. or 8 a.m. I rest, then I go back to the gym from about noon to 2:30 p.m. to do some jiujitsu. Then I go on a four-mile run. I rest, then from about 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. I do a compilation of workouts, from boxing to wrestling. I jump rope and lift weights. I go to sleep at about 10 p.m. I eat as much as I can throughout the day but cut back before a fight. I normally weigh about 220 and two weeks before a fight I'll try to cut down to about 185.
The Valentine's Day event will be your first televised fight. Let's say you win. What's next?
I'm signed to Bellator for the next two years, so I'll fly to different cities to fight again, though I'm not sure exactly when or where.
Are you nervous?
Extremely nervous. This is a big platform to step up from, from the regional to televised circuits. There's a lot of pressure, and I'm very anxious. But I'm very excited. The first time I stepped into the ring was a great rush, absolutely breathtaking. I was captivated from that point on.
For more information on the fight, which will air on the Spike channel, visit Bellator.com.
* This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.