Conner Cordova is becoming a recognizable name in the MMA world through journalism, training and fighting. He is associated with some of the biggest stars in MMA and he took Arianny Celeste to prom, which is not common for an average 19-year old guy, but Cordova’s peculiar uniqueness is seldom witnessed in any walk of life.
Cordova’s parents, Carol and Chuck, have been involved with martial arts all of their lives and they have operated a branch of Peoples Kenpo Karate Association in Denver, Colo., for close to 20 years, which made Conner’s involvement in martial arts his birthright.
“I am a third degree black belt in Hawaiian Kenpo Karate,” Cordova told MMADieHards.com. “Martial arts became a part of my life when I came out of the womb, I had a crib in the storage room when I was one and I started training when I was three years old. I never went to daycare a day in my life; I just went to the karate school.”
PKKA is named after the legendary martial artist, Cecil Peoples, and the schools are located across the United States and even as far away as Puerto Rico. Peoples himself has been essential in Cordova’s life, and the Denver native feels he literally owes his existence to the man he refers to as Sensei.
“I wouldn’t have been born if it weren’t for him,” Cordova explained. “My mom was into bad boys and Sensei was like, ‘You know what? You’re only allowed to go out with people I choose.’ One of them was my dad and one was this other guy, and she went on a date with my dad. So if it wasn’t for karate and Cecil Peoples, I would never exist.”
Along with Cordova’s vast experience in martial arts through his parent’s school, he also has spent a great deal of time in California at a gym made famous by John Hackleman and Chuck Liddell, named The Pit. Due to Cordova’s parents’ long-time friendship with Hackleman, the 19-year old was practically birthed into The Pit family.
“I went to get my Pit certification with Court McGee and Ramsey Nijem. I want to get my Pit black belt as well, so we’re working for it together,” Cordova said. “My mom has known John since she was 14, that’s how I know him. John’s been a big part of my life and he’s been there for me.”
Hackleman’s association with Cordova has lasted a lifetime and they have developed a relationship that is basically like family. Hackleman has been a proud witness to some of Cordova’s biggest achievements, but he is not surprised by what the ambitious young man has accomplished.
“I knew Conner’s parents before they were together, so I’ve known Conner since before he was even born,” Hackleman explained. “I was there for his black belt ceremony, he’s been to The Pit throughout his life and he’s certified there. We’re always joking and laughing and playing, but when it’s training time we all work hard and Conner is the same way. He’s a charismatic, determined, dedicated, sharp kid and he knows how to get what he wants. No matter if it’s a girl or a black belt or a competition. He knows what it takes to win.”
Cordova realized that he wanted more in his arsenal than just karate, therefore he enlisted the help of Duane “Bang” Ludwig to learn Muay Thai, which lead to the karate competitor becoming a team member at Grudge Training Center.
“I was 16-years old and Duane was training me and eventually he said that I should drive down to Grudge,” Cordova said. “At that point it wasn’t even Grudge, it was their old gym, but I went down there and everybody was super-receptive and there were no egos. Trevor Wittman is the head coach there and he’s one of the best people I know. I can’t thank him enough.”
Ludwig was happy to assist Cordova in learning Muay Thai, and the UFC welterweight is delighted that he made the decision to teach the enthusiastic kid.
“Conner is easy to teach,” Ludwig stated. “He picks up very fast and is a very gifted athlete (and) his speed and power is crazy for his weight. We have fun before and after our training sessions, but when the bell sounds, he works. Conner is very professional with all he does.”
Grudge houses some of the top names in MMA, such as Brendan Schaub and Shane Carwin, but the 145-pound Cordova cannot tussle with men of that magnitude. However, the gym has a plethora of skilled fighters at various weights, meaning Cordova is not lacking training partners.
“I’m a little light to be training with Brendan Schaub,” Cordova said jokingly. “I train with Alvin Robinson and Christian Allen and all the other lightweights there that are really top-notch. I also go down to Jackson’s gym and train with their team a little bit.”
Cordova’s passion for martial arts influenced his love of MMA, and when the Hawaiian Kenpo Karate black-belt got his first taste of the UFC he was not content with just talking to fighters. He wanted to speak to the man at the top.
“It’s a funny story,” Cordova explained. “What I really wanted to do is meet Dana White and tell his what a great job he has done as far as helping the sport grow. I got Dana’s email address from somebody and I wrote him for a like a year straight with no response. Then one day around UFC 90 in Chicago I wrote him and said, ‘Hey Mr. White, I don’t have enough money to get in, but I really want to go to this event and meet my favorite fighters and if I see you I’ll introduce myself.’ He wrote back and said, ‘You have tickets if you want them,’ and I was just stunned. That’s how I met Dana for the first time and everyone at the UFC treated me so good.”
That trip to UFC 90 sparked Cordova to discover a means to always be an element in that scene. He found the environment intriguing and Cordova knew that with his passion for the sport he could find the talent to offer the MMA industry something significant.
“It’s not unusual for the UFC to do that for fans, which I think is really cool,” Cordova admitted. “For me though, it wasn’t good enough to just have it one time, I became addicted, it was kind of like crack. I knew I had to find a way to get back into this, and that’s why I decided to become a journalist”
Now an aspiring journalist as well as an aspiring fighter, Cordova had put a lot on his plate. The question was, could he succeed both in and out of the ring?
Check back on Monday, as Jason Kelly explores the answer to that question in part two of his feature on Conner Cordova.