The flames on Damacio Page’s feet advertise his conviction about the good life.
“Walking through hell,” he says of the tattoos’ symbolism. “No matter what you want in life, you got to walk through hell to get it.”
That is experience, not theory, talking for the deeply religious 28-year-old, who faces Demetrious Johnson (11-1) on Thursday at WEC 52 in Las Vegas. Without question, Page has faithfully marched through many fires, from conquering a poverty-stricken childhood to relinquishing his gang membership while a teenager living in a west Albuquerque ghetto, to getting booted off his college wrestling team (and simultaneously losing his scholarship) for fighting.
The past year has been especially taxing for the Greg Jackson-trained fighter. He’s been on the shelf for nearly 13 months, the longest hiatus of his 5-year career. Twice Page had been inked to fight – against Takeya Mizugaki at WEC 45 and then against Antonio Banuelos at WEC 48; both times he withdrew due to injury. You must rewind to WEC 43, on Oct. 10, 2009, for Page’s most recent performance inside of the cage. There is a poignant and compelling behind-the-scenes story that surrounded that scrap with cold-blooded striker Will Campuzano, a story Page had not publicly divulged until now. What most of Page’s fans don’t know is that he boarded the plane to San Antonio constantly drilling four words into his mind, heart and spirit: ‘I’m here to fight ... I’m here to fight … … I’m here to fight.’
This wasn’t part of the heavy-handed bantamweight’s typical pre-fight ritual. This particular training camp leading up to the Campuzano clash had been anything but typical. After every training session, Page visited his mother at her home.
“Why’d you come here to see me?” she often asked her son. “You need to train and you need to focus.”
This is part of my training, Damacio assured her.
After an hour or two with mom, Page would return to the Jackson gym for another practice session, then re-visit his mother’s house. He was a captive audience to the long battle his mom was having against her own body.
“She just slowly withered away …” he said.
Deborah Ann Casaus, a former pro kickboxer who worked two jobs while raising two children, lost her lengthy fight with cancer on Oct. 3, 2009.
“I trained every day even though my mom was real sick,” he said. “I worked out so hard. I knew the day was going to come, I just didn’t know when it was going to happen.”
His heart aching, Page was free to opt out of his fight with Campuzano. Instead, he kept training and boarded that flight to San Antonio, where WEC 43 was held.
“It was something I had to do,” Page said. “As soon as I jumped on the plane, all that (grief) went away. I just kept telling myself, ‘I’m here to fight. I’m here to fight.’
Page submitted Campuzano in just 62 seconds with a rear naked choke, dealing the ultra-intense Texan his first pro defeat. Looking back on his composure, at his ability to focus on the fight and block out his mother’s death, Page remarked, “I don’t know how, but I was able to separate the two. I didn’t think one bit about what happened (days before the fight). But as soon as I won the fight it hit me all at once. It just hit me.”
Already heavily tattooed, with images of The Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ across his chest, Page has added a portrait of his mother to the same area. Winner of seven of his past eight bouts, Page will also return to the Octagon with a surgically repaired left shoulder that required fixes on his rotator cuff and labrum. He had originally been slated to face former WEC bantamweight champion Eddie Wineland, who has since been sidelined by injury.
“I was a little upset because that’s a big fight and I trained hard for his style of fighting,” Page said of the Wineland matchup. “I was ready, and now I have to adjust my style of fighting for my new opponent. I’m real excited to fight Eddie. Hopefully he heals up quick and I come out with a victory and we can do this in January or something.”
Having said that, Page said he is not taking “Mighty Mouse” lightly and sees a silver lining in the situation.
“I have been out for a long time so it might be better,” he said of the switch in opponents. “Who knows if I would have had major ring rust against Wineland, you know? Everything happens for a reason. It might just be a blessing in disguise. I don’t think it hinders me from getting a title shot later on. I think I’ll still be on the same time frame that it would be if I fought Wineland. (Demetrious) is very tough, very fast and athletic. He has good striking so he could pose a problem. I just have to get in there, impose my will and break him.”
They Don’t Make ‘Em Tougher than Page
"(Demetrious) is very tough, very fast and athletic. He has good striking so he could pose a problem. I just have to get in there, impose my will and break him.”