Full Contact Fight Federation (FCFF) middleweight champion Michael Collazo was once just another competitive teenager who loved to play sports. He didn’t like playing just one sport; he liked to play them all. In high school, he played football, baseball, track, and, of course, he wrestled. Collazo stayed active constantly and it was exactly what he needed to stay out of trouble. He couldn’t get into trouble if he didn’t have the time to. After high school, he joined up with a club wrestling team but the structure that kept him on a path to success in high school was slowly falling down around him. Before too long, the comfort that he found in the world of organized sports was gone and the young man from Milwaukie, Oregon was staring life in the face with no real idea of how to handle it. For a person who openly admits he was predisposed to addiction, the loss of structure and support made way for a decline that would eventually send him to prison.
Finding your way out of this type of freefall can be impossible for many and for Collazo, this was a run that spanned nearly a decade.
“I spent the better part of 7 years in and out of jail, in and out of prison,” Collazo said. “In treatment, bouncing between people’s couches, being homeless, family members houses, all sorts of dumb shit.”
In the beginning of his decline, family and friends tried to be there for him. Collazo was always trying to change, or at least that’s what he told them. However, just like the boy who cried wolf, his credibility was taking a hit, week by week.
“You know [family and friends]were cool for a while and then they got tired of me stealing from them, lying to them. It got to the point where I wasn’t even allowed at my parents house. If they saw me in the same neighborhood my stepdad would call the cops wondering why I was there.”
As life continued to spiral for Collazo, he was again arrested and he would be forced to make a return trip to prison. This time, however, things went a little bit differently. On June 4th, 2013, Michael Collazo showed up to court high just one last time. The next day would be the start of his sobriety and he would finally take notice of the things around him that mattered.
“During my last prison trip the thing that really got to me was sitting in there and my daughter would come to visit me; her mom would bring her in. One day her mom was carrying her in a car seat to see me, and then it seemed like the next time they came in she was holding her hand and walking her in to see me, and then the next time she was coming in and talking to me. I missed all those milestones.”
That was the determining factor for Collazo. Not being a part of his daughter’s life was enough to keep him focused on staying sober and changing his ways. When he was released from prison, and it was clear that he was trying to fly right, his friends and family finally reached out to him. This time though, he wasn’t aware of just how important one of these friendly hands would be to his life.
“My Brother Jimmy Haman reached out to me and told me he had been training with Team Quest and he had a fight coming up for Knucklehead Fights in Salem. I remember going down there to watch him fight and I got teary-eyed sitting up in the stands. It wasn’t because he won or if he lost, I don’t remember if he won or lost to be honest. It was because being around that competition, watching two guys go at it, listening to the crowd, the smell, the sweat. Everything that had drawn me to wrestling in school, mixed martial arts had all that and more.”
This moment stayed with Collazo, who had found a job, stayed the course and was keeping good on his promise to turn himself around. So when Jimmy called one day to suggest that Collazo try his hand at fighting, he didn’t have to think twice. As Collazo tells it, he went and fought a fight at light heavyweight with literally no training. The only thing he entered the cage with were his past wrestling skills, a pair of borrowed gloves, and a cup he found in his Grandma’s attic. After taking a fierce beating in his first fight, he decided to get some help. Collazo would eventually meet Nick Gilardi and the guys from Impact Jiu Jitsu who would become his team, finally giving him the structure and camaraderie he so greatly craved.
“The owner of Impact, Michael Chapman and his wife Tracy are such wonderful people. They basically let me pay for my membership by staying clean and sober, staying out of trouble, and helping out with anything around the gym that they needed help with. They took me in and they basically said they wanted me there. And honestly, they really saved my life. It gave me the direction I needed and a place to put my positive and negative energy.”
Today, Michael Collazo lays concrete and is a proud member of the Laborers Union, Local 737. He seems as proud of that as he is of winning his FCFF middleweight title last December. This Saturday night, Collazo is set to defend his middleweight title for the first time at Rumble at the Roseland 91. Defending this title means a lot to Collazo because the focus and effort that helped him win it are a part of why he never returned to a life of addiction and crime. Fighting saved Michael Collazo’s life and as he told me, he hopes his story can help others save theirs.
“I fight to show people that no matter your past, what hardships you’ve lived, or what mistakes you’ve made you can still be successful and live free.”