Interview with Sergio Machado… Pan-American, World, and North American Champion

5 min read
Hey Sergio Machado began his journey in Jiu-Jitsu and how it transformed his life and the lives of others

Interview with Sergio Machado… Pan-American, World, and North American Champion

Hey Sergio Machado began his journey in Jiu-Jitsu and how it transformed his life and the lives of others

Location: Richmond Hill, GA

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Recently, I had the privilege of sitting down with Sergio Machado for an interview. Not only is he a second-degree black belt, but he is also an Army veteran and a police officer in Los Angeles County.

What makes a great black belt? I’m not one, but I think what makes a great one is not just knowing and being able to execute technique, but being able to share your knowledge and skill with others. A humble spirit only makes it better, and Sergio certainly has one.

With many titles to his name: North American Champion, Pan-American Champion, World Champion…the list goes on, but he wasn’t interested in sharing those wins with me. His response? “I don’t hold those titles anymore. Someone else does.”

Sergio was born in raised in Southern California, and he grew up in what he described as a “religious” household. His mother disapproved of violence, which meant no guns and no martial arts. Bullied and beaten up as a kid, he was always interested in martial arts and enjoyed watching great martial artists like Chuck Norris, Steven Segal, and the fighters from the UFC in the early 90s.

So how did someone growing up in a non-violent environment end up joining the military and becoming a world champion in BJJ?

He left home at 18 to join the Army. He served from January 1997-January 2008 with a yearlong break in service. He started his career as a mortarman the first three years and ended his career as a light infantryman. He moved about the country and served a tour in Korea…and of course, like many soldiers in the early 2000s, he found himself deployed.

During his time of service, he completed three tours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, with only two months break in between the first two tours! It was during his military career that he began basic combatives. He said he wasn’t very good at it, but in 2003, before his first deployment, he had an experience with a much smaller opponent that opened his eyes to BJJ.

Unfortunately, in 2005, Sergio began suffering from debilitating sciatica and had two herniated disks. In true Army fashion, they tried to treat him with pain killers and “profile,” meaning that he was limited on physical activity. As a self-proclaimed “PT stud” (and I imagine he could kill his Army Physical Fitness Test-APFT), this was a hard hit. The decision was finally made to have back surgery in 2006.

Sergio feared that he would be medically retired at this point as very few people make a full recovery from back surgery, and he was told that he should most likely never play sports or be an athlete ever again. But he proved the doctors wrong, stayed in the military, and found himself deployed again in 2006.

During this deployment, he linked up with a DOD liaison who was a brown belt under Pedro Sauer. Of course, deployments don’t keep you busy the whole time. There can actually be a ton of downtime…His introduction to BJJ began, and it was nothing like what he had initially thought.

BJJ became an outlet for entertainment. He found himself organizing “fight nights” once a month. Popularity increased, and by the end of deployment, they had tons of participation. It was a great morale booster for the troops and gave them all something to look forward to taking out the monotony of the deployment.

In 2007 he began training BJJ what most would consider full-time. Sergio trained three times a day, Monday through Friday. He would wake up at 0400, drive 62 miles to train, begin with MMA or Judo class, head to the gym for weight lifting or running, take a beginner BJJ class, and then stay through the advanced BJJ class. His dedication to training allowed him to earn his black belt in five years (five years, three months to be exact). He earned his black belt and holds his second degree under Ricardo “Pantcho” Feliciano.

Sergio didn’t stop there; he wanted to open a school. What he describes as a “selfish dream” (becoming an MMA fighter and BJJ champion) became something so much more as he went through the process of opening his school.

In 2010, Sergio opened his gym, Team 3 Checkmat. Team 3 is a salute to the brave men he served with who tragically died in a helicopter crash when he was with the Recon Scout Platoon of 25ID. (He had been the platoon sergeant.)

Through savings and money he was making through personal training, he started his school in Southern California. It was in a high traffic area in front of a bus stop, so the area saw lots of people (250,000-300,000 per day), which helped with advertising. The school was booming. The kids’ program was a serious focus. The kids learned how to protect themselves, and while they were learning, parents would join the gym and would have friendly competitions while the kids would take classes. He said it became “less and less about me and more about the people coming through the door.”

His gym allowed families to come together, helped kids to no longer be victims of bullying, saw kids get their lives back on track, and even sponsored some families since it was far from an affluent area.

After becoming a police officer, it just became too much, so he closed the school in 2018. Even though he no longer owns a gym, he travels for BJJ seminars and competitions. Our school is blessed to see him for seminars and training every few months. He always brings and shares his best.

When asked what advice he has for those practicing BJJ, he said that everyone starts BJJ for a different reason, but be patient with the process, especially with injuries. “Don’t rush. Any progress is progress. Consistency is key. There will be tough days, and sometimes showing up is enough. And giving 100% isn’t just physical—it’s mental.” He also shared that, in the event, you are ever injured, continue showing up. Come to class, and watch…and take notes. You should also have a healthy balance of other things in life…not just BJJ.

And, for now, his two favorite things about BJJ?

  1. Teaching it!: He loves to see others progress and see how it empowers them.
  2. Testing himself: competing, fighting against others…the application of BJJ as nothing else matters at that moment, trying to survive and be his very best at that very moment.

I am honored to have Sergio as a teacher, mentor, and friend.



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