Danny Garavito, two-division ammy MMA champ debuting this Friday: “[My greatest strength is] toughness”

Halfway through his three-hour nightly training regimen, Danny Garavito allows himself a five-minute break. It’s 7:30 on Thursday, Aug. 18. Only six people remain at Evolution MMA, a mixed martial arts gym in Kendall, and half are there to help him finish his penultimate week of training before his professional debut this Friday.

Garavito stands arms akimbo inside a small fight cage, breathing in through his nose and out his mouth to catch his breath. Ten minutes earlier, the 26-year-old welterweight was rolling on the mat with his jiu-jitsu coach, tapping out at least as often as he solicited submissions of his own. Before that was wrestling drills.

It’ll be another hour-and-a-half until he’s done for the night. Like the three preceding evenings, he’ll put in another three hours on Friday. Saturday and Sunday, the undefeated amateur champion hones his craft at other gyms like Zen Jiu Jitsu, also in Kendall.

“A lot of MMA is being in great shape,” he says during a phone call two days later. “And I like to think that I’m pretty well-rounded. At my gym, Evolution MMA, that’s really a focus. I kind of got into everything at the same time, and I’d like to think that I’m not bad at any of the primary [disciplines].”

The Garavito brothers’ amateur accolades are mounted alongside one another above Evolution MMA’s gym space. | Photo: Jesse Scheckner

Garavito began his amateur career in 2014 at age 22. He followed in the footsteps of his teammate and older brother, Anthony Garavito, after receiving a general discharge under honorable conditions from the Air Force a year prior.

He was always athletic. After graduating from Miami Killian High School in 2009, he spent a year in Philadelphia at Chestnut Hill College on a lacrosse scholarship, ostensibly to pursue a degree in tech. But as was the case with his venture into military service a few years later, he hadn’t yet excised from his system the youthful restlessness that derails many young adults.

“I just wasn’t that mature yet,” he says. “I was kind of there more to party, I think, than play lacrosse. And I guess I still wasn’t that mature in the Air Force either.”

In the almost three-and-a-half years since his amateur debut, Garavito has only fought five times. His most busy year, 2015, saw him compete on three occasions, and he capped it off by winning the first of his two amateur titles at Combat Night 51.

His opponent that night, Charles Decca, disputed the judges’ decision that Garavito won the fight, and the two were scheduled to rematch at Combat Night 61 in June 2016. But Decca dropped out at the last minute. Not wanting to have trained for nothing, Garavito accepted a late replacement in Kendly St. Louis, who was then undefeated with back-to-back first-round submission wins.

But there was a problem: St. Louis couldn’t make the 170-pound weight limit in time. So Garavito agreed to meet him at middleweight instead. To make things more interesting, the promotion’s organizers announced that the winner would be awarded the vacant Combat Night 185-pound title.

Garavito won by decision. And just like that, he was a two-division champion.

“I don’t want to take anything away from [St. Louis],” he said. “He was a tough guy. He was the bigger guy. He came out strong in the first [round]. But as far as what I think I’m the best at, I think I’m the best at toughness. You can be the best jiu-jitsu guy. You can be the best wrestler in the world. But if someone puts the pressure on you and you’re more than five minutes into a fight, it’s totally different.”

Garavito, who earned two finishes by submission in his five-fight amateur career, puts ample time into mat work. | Photo: Jesse Scheckner

He had no intention of defending either title, however. To become a professional fighter, the Florida State Boxing Commission stipulates that boxers, kickboxers and mixed martial artists must provide proof of at least five amateur fights. The St. Louis win was fight number five.

“I’ve been doing this thing for a long time,” he says. “I know I only have five amateur fights, but I’ve been in it since—I think I was 16 when I took my first MMA class. I’ve always been in there. I was training with guys like my brother and [Dawg Fight star and former CFA and Fight Time Promotions fighter] Mike Trujillo and some of these other guys who have gone pro.”

This Friday, Garavito, ranked 13 among all amateur welterweights in Florida by Tapology.com, faces 9th-ranked Collin Lubberts. A 21-year-old heavy hitter who began his amateur career around the same time as Garavito, Lubberts, who trains at MMA Masters, has also secured two Combat Night titles while accruing a 7-2 amateur record. The two are currently scheduled to meet in the second bout of Fight Time 37, although their placement on the card is subject to change.

Karla Guadamuz-Davis, Fight Time Promotions co-founder and Alliance MMA general manager, says Garavito has been on her radar for years, partially because of the promotion’s longstanding relationship with Evolution MMA.

With no break in between, Garavito moved from rolling on the mats to doing pad work inside the cage. | Photo: Jesse Scheckner

“We’ve always heard about Dan, and he was going to be ready when he was going to be ready,” she says. “Finally, [Evolution MMA owner and head coach Dan Monteleone] calls me and says, ‘Hey, Garavito’s ready to rock and roll.’ And I said, ‘OK, he’s going to get a contract.’ Our goal is always to bring up the top young talent in South Florida MMA, and that’s what we’re doing. This is no different than what we’ve been doing for 7 years. The best fight the best at all levels.”

The early trajectory of each fighter’s career will depend on how well he fares. One will remain undefeated, moving up both in ranking and in prominence on future fight cards. The other will forever have the loss on his record and possibly sink to curtain-jerker status in his next outing.

Garavito, who in three years sees himself fighting in Bellator or the UFC, says he avoids watching too much tape on his opponents. But the little he did see of Lubberts impressed him.

“I think he’s a good fighter, and I look forward to beating him and adding that to my resume,” he says. “That’s another reason I’m going pro so quickly; I get nothing out of beating guys and re-watching the fight and all I can think of is that I should have beat them harder. I’m looking forward to beating a better guy, and that’s only going to make me better. It’s about me growing and getting to that next level as fast as I can.”

Danny Garavito faces Collin Lubberts at Fight Time 37 on Friday, Sept. 1, at Fort Lauderdale’s Xtreme Action Park, 5300 Powerline Rd. Click HERE for more information.

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Jesse Scheckner

A freelance MMA, entertainment and business journo born, raised and residing in Miami, FL, Jesse Scheckner is a former semi-serious musician, cinephile and recovering ne’er-do-well who still believes Mickey Rourke’s finest performance in film has yet to come. He is TuffGnarl.com's editor-in-chief, a feature staff writer for MMASucka.com and the 2014 MMA Media Correspondent winner at the Florida MMA Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner to talk about the stuff he writes about with him.

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