Interview: Collin Cantrell

“I’m a huge fan of Houston MMA. I actually don’t follow the UFC as closely now as I follow Houston MMA.”

Collin Cantrell

Written By: Lance Edwards

Barry and I had a conversation recently about anyone I’d like to interview, and one of the name’s that came up was Collin Cantrell. Collin goes way back on the Houston MMA scene, and is currently best known for his ring announcing. Collin is what I refer to a godfather of Houston MMA, having recently been appointed as matchmaker to Legacy, we felt his insight into the evolution of the Houston scene and where it’s going would be very interesting. Collin, so what are you up to?

Collin: Oh just playing Call of Duty… Really? Do you play any other games?

Collin: Not really, sometimes Madden, but it’s Call of Duty that’s the one for me. I enjoy playing it with my kids, I have three kids, a daughter and two sons, I’ve actually been married fifteen years. Congratulations, as a family man, how did you get involved with MMA?

Collin: Well when I first watched UFC, way back in the day, I decided I wanted to try out to be on it. I started training at a Japanese Jiu-Jitsu place in College Station. They also trained Shootfighting there, this was way back when there was no BJJ anywhere. One day I was listening to the radio, and there was an announcement about extreme cage fights in Humble. I called the radio station asking how I could get on the show, I really had no business doing that at the time [laughs]. They gave me the promoters number, and I called him up, and he said he’d put me on the card. It was funny really, I went there, and took a friend along with me; before the show we went in a room to have the rules explained, it was no gloves, open hand strikes. There was a huge guy there who weighed about 215lbs, I was 155lbs, I turned to my friend and said “I’m glad I’m not fighting him”, my friend said “ I’ve seen him before and he got beaten by this little black guy”.

Collin vs Yves Edwards

I had been listed as an alternate, and I went up to the promoter and told him I wanted to fight. He told me there was one guy he was having trouble matching up, who was bigger, I said I wanted the fight. The guy came over and introduced himself who I was fighting, and I shook his hand. I turned to my friend who had this look on his face, “That’s the little black guy who beat him!”, it was Yves Edwards. Actually Yves and I chatted before the fight, he said to me as it was my first fight, we’d take it at my pace, this was back in 1998. He went easy on me and won by a kneebar submission. What a great story! You’ve also been involved in training guys, how did that come about?

Collin: I started following the UFC, and trained in Dallas with Machado Jiu Jitsu. I started my own school with Brandon McDowell. We got started taking fights at last minute, no-one was going to call us up and offer us fights so we figured if we put ourselves out there to take fights at the last minute that’s how we’d get fights. I think Lane Yarborough is the epitomy of that spirit. Chris Spicer took that fight and cut 20 lbs in one day for Bellator. That’s a huge one day cut!

Collin: Yes and he did it, I was with him and that was a crazy cut! That’s how we got fights though. So how did you get involved with Mick and Legacy?

Collin: Well I fought on his second card, and ever since we’ve been involved, I think we’ve had a guy on every card. Mick wanted to do a show in Huntsville, which is where I live, there was a ring girl contest and he needed someone to MC, I said I’d do it. It went well, and he said he wanted me to carry on as MC for him. He said for me to find a tux and he’d get it, so that’s how I got the tux. That tux has kind of become your signature.

Collin: It has, everyone knows the tux. [laughs] I wanted something flashy that was fun and would stand out, so I got the black pants, white jacket, and chose the Texas cummerbund and tie. People now know me for that.

Mick and I have always talked a lot to each other, he’s asked my advice and I’ve learnt a lot from him, we were always popular with promoters because we took fights at short notice. I love that kind of fighter, like Marc Garcia fighting Alex Morano. That’s the best spirit, if they can pull it off, that’s a huge upset. That spirit helped me gain trust. Mick’s helped me understand what’s going on, and we’ve become close friends. Fans are always saying they want to see this fight and that fight, as matchmaker and being a fan yourself, is it exciting to be able to make matchups that you want to see?

Collin: Absolutely, I’m a huge fan of Houston MMA, I actually don’t follow the UFC as closely now as I follow Houston MMA. I appreciate the local guys more, I know them and I know their stories. No-one on the local scene is making money, no-one at all, not the fighters, not the ring girls, not the promoters, they’re doing it because they love it. To be making decisions about who is fighting who is a dream come true. As a fan of Houston MMA, do you feel we’ve seen a real progression?

Collin: There is so much talent in Houston, look at the 170 class for example. You have Mike Bronzoulis, he’s not giving that belt up for anything. Even if you just look at the gym he’s from you have guys like Brian Melancon and Carlo Prater, all capable fighters at 170, and that’s just one gym; 170 is a really tough group.

One fight I really wanted to see, and we have it on the April card is Bubba Bush versus Artenas young. I think that will really cement the position for who is number one at that weight class in Houston. Not to take anything away from the other guys like Andrew Craig, but I think that will really show us who is on top.

I read the forums, I’m up in Huntsville, and I can tell you I’m on The Cage Door every day. I use it to get a feel of what people are thinking. If I wanted insight and rankings, I don’t go to Fight Matrix, I use The Cage Door’s rankings. I’m still new at this and I look to everyone else for their opinions as well.

You know, we’ve started to get a lot of attention from elsewhere in the state, guys from Dallas who have fought on bigger cards are wanting to come and fight at Legacy. Right now it financially doesn’t make sense, Houston’s so good now we can put on a spectacular show every two months.

Collin at Lonestar Beatdown That last show for example was amazing.

Collin: The reason why Houston’s MMA is so good is because Legacy is doing so well, and that’s 100% down to Mick and Andrea. They weren’t out to make money, and they treat people right. You can ask any fighter, and they’ll tell you they get treated right. Everything they do they set out to treat people well. When people start a promotion and throw money around, and come in to make money they tend to flop. Mick trains, he loves the sport, he’s a purple belt going on brown and his Muay Thai is sick. Every show is putting back into the community and the fighters.

Look at our venues, the Arena is awesome, and it made the show feel so much better. Now we have House of Blues, and Legacy is set to expand through that chain beyond Houston. Do you think you’ll fight again?

Collin: I might, but I’m not a cage fighter, but I never say never. I love it, but to think I could compete is all wrong, I’d be killed. I’m 37 now, I’m on the other side, I couldn’t compete at this level. I’m so happy with where I am right now, I wouldn’t want to spoil it. The three fights I did were to say I did it, it was fun to visit but I didn’t want to live there. These guys, I just don’t have what they have.

I get all I want from the guys I train with, if I get a feeling that I’d like to compete, I have a sparring session, and that takes care of it. Tell us a bit more about your gym?

Collin: We started at a karate school, they let us use the space which was great. We then opened Huntsville MMA. How we actually got our name Death Row MMA is a little tongue in cheek, as you know Huntsville is the capital of executions in the US, so it was really a play on that. Our motto is bringing back cruel and unusual punishment. We have a guy in town who bought us a hearse, and we drive around in it to the fights.

Our fight team may not have the most wins, but we put on a fight. We aren’t trying to be something we’re not, we have fun, but we’re here to fight. Scrappy is a good example, he took that fight on short notice and was a lot lighter than Angel, but was doing well up until he took that head kick. It’s about putting it all out there. So when you aren’t announcing what else do you do?

Collin vs Yves Edwards

Collin: I do a lot of stuff, I have the school I run, but I’m also a teacher. I teach at Gulf Coast Trade center, which is where kids who are going through the judicial system get placed. I teach there in the day, teach at my school at night, and also do some work for a funeral home. If they have someone whose died who is a little heavier, and need some muscle they call me, I’m like a hit man after the fact [laughs].

I’m doing my teaching cert next year. I really like working with the kids, I feel really dialed in with them, they are the kids that society has thrown away; they’re just like all kids though, they laugh, cry, love, they may not have had much love back in return though. They respond to me, they see my picture doing the announcing and they respond, they like seeing me out there. Anything you’d like to add?

Collin: Well I’m a fan too, like all you guys. I promise you this year will blow you away. I feel we are going to become the Strikeforce of the South; it will blow up, so buckle up. One person I would like to give props to is Saul Soliz.  Really it was because of him and the foundations he laid that MMA has grown to what it is now.  He’s involved in other things, and is involved a lot with the UFC, and his interests are elsewhere, but his Renegades show allowed Legacy to be where it is now, I feel he laid the ground work and we built it to the next level. Thanks Collin.