“but most importantly waging a war against toxic masculinity!"
So Diego tell us about yourself where did you grow up and what kind of childhood did you have?
I was born in Leon Guanajuato Mexico, the same region as Diego Rivera. I was named after him, my whole life i thought i was going to be an artist. I lost my way in high school when I got heavy into drugs and crime. I was raised by a single mum in San Diego ca. We lived very strapped for cash and sometimes we lived in places with no furniture. I was embarrassed to bring ppl to my home. Once I got into drugs though, I got kicked out and totally lived hand to mouth, off only my criminal endeavour’s for a long time. I was smuggled into the US as a small child so it was hard to survive being undocumented and unable to legally work.
It’s been noted that you spent a lot of your youth in jail ( I edited the question, technically i've only been to jail at least by the US definition, jail is a term less than a year, or that might just be that state of california) how do you think this moulded you?
it was bad at first. being undocumented and unable to legally work made me look up to all the criminals I saw making a living, even though they were in and out of jail. I remember at a very early age making amends with the fact that I would probably be going to prison one day. As I got older though I noticed that some of the same ppl I looked up to never really got ahead. Eventually I was able to marry my high school sweetheart and gain citizenship. After a bunch of near death experiences and possible prison terms, I decided to settle down.
Do you think dedicating yourself to MMA saved you from a more unsavoury path?
1000% even though I had already decided to leave behind a life of crime, I was still very self destructive almost like low key suicidal. MMA helped me put that all in perspective. Even though MMA can also be a not so healthy lifestyle. It was the first time as an adult I had a real purpose in life, and it made all the difference in my life.
Describe what it’s like in the moments before stepping into the ring?
It's a little surreal but i'm blessed with good nerves. i've fallen asleep right before a fight and i rarely even warmed up before most of my pro fights, I just like to walk out there cold, once that bell rings, everything clicks, instincts just take over, but that might also explain why i'm a slow starter, haha, i'm usually always getting my ass kicked at first before I knock somebody out.
What’s your fighting style and record?
It's funny, originally I was a grappler. I wrestled a little before I got expelled from high school, for fighting, no less. I started as a jiujitsu fighter, then in my first pro fight I completely knocked my opponent unconscious, for like a long time. I remember his mom was in the ambulance crying and yelling at the promoter saying "you said he was just a jiujitsu guy!". Everybody was like damn, Diego has knock out power and I immediately fell in love with brawling. I've never been a technical fighter but i've always been a fan favourite. I can take a hit and never take a step backwards. I've beat up a fighter considered much better than myself because I would never take a step back during sparring, some ppl just crack when they see that and start falling apart. Of course the flip side of that is i've also taken some real serious beat downs at the gym where ppl didn't even know I was hurt, only to have serious concussion symptoms at home for weeks. My combined professional record in combat sports is 13-2.
You suffered a detached retina in one of your fights and was forced to step away under medical advice what made you go back to fighting?
It actually happened at the gym training for a fight. my doctor recommended I didn't return to combat but said technically I could still get cleared to fight. I didn't want to retire but I felt it was the right thing to do for my family. I sunk into a heavy depression after retiring. I was working as a process server, like pineapple express. It was fun at first but eventually wore down my soul. I became quite good and even served several high profile ppl. Every time i tried to quit they would just give me a raise, eventually I took a sabbatical, did a bunch of mushrooms and remembered that my purpose was always art. I finally quit my job with two months of living expenses, I set out on my comeback art career. I was over the moon happy, UNTIL I saw that they were going to legalise bareknuckle boxing in the united states. I was obsessed with the guy Ritchie in the movie SNATCH. I always wanted to participate in bareknuckle boxing and have much respect for the traveler families that settled family disputes in BKB matches. I have even gone as far as submitting my resume to underground fight promotions, years before BKFC was going to do their first legal show. by the time I found out about the first BKFC card it was already too late to try to get on it, that would have been a dream come true, unbeknownst to me an old teammate and UFC veteran Joe Beltran was fighting on the card, it was legit, right off the night and made the whole show in my opinion. afterwards I texted him to congratulate him and tell him he just made history. as a fight fan, I mean imagine, fighting in the first UFC, or PRIDE or BKFC! I contacted everybody I knew in the industry and staged a self promotion campaign on IG until I got there and got myself booked on the second BKFC card.
How long do you plan on staying in the sport?
I'm 41 and definitely on my way out, i'm only interested in a couple of possible match ups, and only if the money makes sense too. I'm hoping possibly with all this media attention I will be able to lock down those last couple fights. The only difference now, is that I have art back in my life, and I know I can do that until i'm very old and grey. so I can really enjoy these last fights knowing i'm just moving on to the next stage in my life fulfilled and happy with what I have achieved.
Then we lead into the mind blowing role reversal as a performing drag queen how and when did this come about?
I was taking a course on emotional intelligence a couple of years ago and during one of the exercises they asked us to set a creative goal outside of our comfort zone. I don't know why but I just picked a drag show out of the air and everybody's reaction was immediately through the roof. I knew it was going to be something special. Being raised by a single mum with no male role models, did always make accessing my female side much easier, but actual drag was completely out of my wheelhouse.
How have people embraced you into the community?
The support has been AMAZING! even before the media caught on, all my friends thought it was a gas, even my fighter friends from the gym thought it was great. I haven't really heard anything negative from anybody but maybe ppl are just scared to tell me something negative, after all I am still known for being one of the toughest fighters in san Diego. The drag community has also been great, after the media lots of known queens have reached out with nothing but love, my first show was a contest for amateurs but everybody there except me had performed before. I got second place but first place gave me part of their prize money and said I earned it, they said I won but they got picked because the judges knew them, the manager came up and told me I was welcome to come back and perform whenever I wanted.
Are there many straight people that indulge in the world of drag?
I wasn’t at all familiar with this world until recently but now that I am immersed, I have seen that plenty of straight ppl , both male and female, enjoy it and/or perform.
Which stage do you prefer?
I will always have an extreme passion for fighting. As a fighter I always saw my performance as a form of art, to a certain extent it was more important to please the crowd than win the fight, but obviously the older I get the harder it will be to fight and I will have to fill that need to perform with drag and my art.
Who would win in a fight Diego Garijo or Lola Pistola?
That's easy, Lola, she can do everything I can do but in heels, so that automatically makes her tougher. If you don't believe try walking around in some stilettos for an hour.
Who or what inspires you?
The BEST BEST part of all this experience is all the ppl that reach out to me daily saying they find inspiration in my ability to be comfortable in both, masculine and feminine energy. This continuous feedback inspires me to pursue fighting stereotypes with drag and my art.
What’s the future hold for Diego?
Art, painting, poetry, writing lyrics, writing scripts, tattooing ( i'm usually talking about my painting but i am also an avant-garde tattooist and i have actually done a lot of my tattoos myself). I am also working with a co-author on my autobiography and there is also a documentary crew that has been following me around the last couple of years, up until recently they were going to launch a crowdfunding campaign to finance the final production, but it looks now like we have interest from a major studio to finish it. There's also another project offer to play myself in a film based on my life. I'll continue to create content and post my art on my instagram, @diegogarijo. basically, making a living off my creativity, but most importantly waging a war against toxic masculinity!