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Always in the Fight
1LT Tommy Truex shows fearlessness in combat, in MMA and in his Hollywood stunt work
He once sat next to Charlize Theron at a movie premiere. He has deployed to Egypt and Iraq and earned a Combat Infantryman Badge. He’s a professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter who once lived for a week with one of the greatest Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) figures of all time. He’s a Hollywood stuntman—with his own IMDb page. He owns one of the coolest businesses in his hometown. And he’s been featured in Sports Illustrated.
No, this isn’t the script for the next beer commercial featuring The Most Interesting Man in the World. It’s the real life of a New Mexico National Guard Soldier.
If there were a poster boy for the Army Value of personal courage, it might be First Lieutenant Tommy Truex. His resume reads like a 13-year-old boy’s bucket list. (OK, the wish list could belong to any grown man, too.) None of the careers he’s had is for the faint of heart. But Truex is proof that experience in the military, and the stability that the Guard provides, can not only enable you to chase your dreams, it can help you catch them, too. But to hear him talk, he’s just been in the right place at the right time.
Truex, an infantry officer with the 1/200th Infantry Battalion, tells of a moment in 2007 that pointed his life in an unexpected direction. “I was in the gym,” he says. “I’m training, hanging out, and this guy comes up to me, and [says], ‘Hey, you got a good look.’ It was just really the most awkward way ever to start a conversation. So I say, ‘What are you talking about?’ He [responds], ‘I think you’d be great for this role in my movie.’ ” That chance encounter was the start of what would become a new passion for Truex, a side career that involves getting punched in the face for money.
Like many successful actors, Truex uses words like “craft” and “process” and talks about the business of acting not as if it’s something for the lucky, but something for the hardworking. He might have been fortunate to be in the gym that day in 2007, but he was also in the right shape. And he was ready when opportunity knocked because he, in his words, “put the work in.” The random awkward dude in the gym turned out to be a fight coordinator for a major motion picture shooting in Truex’s hometown of Albuquerque. He hired Truex as the stunt double for actor Stephen Dorff (Blade, World Trade Center) in a movie called Felon. It wasn’t the last call he would get.
He’s now been in the business for five years and has taken more (fake) punches than he can count. Truex has four feature films and four national television shows to his credit (including the A&E series “Longmire”), both for stunt work and as a military advisor. He’s jumped off buildings, taken a few thumpings on screen and rubbed elbows with plenty of celebrities. But he doesn’t have a big head about it. “Every time I get called for a stunt, I think, ‘I can’t believe you’re really going to use me for that—that you’re going to pay me to do that.’ I feel so fortunate. I’m so lucky to have that opportunity, and I’m very appreciative.”
Truex says the Guard helped him be ready for that day in the gym, as well as the stunt and acting jobs that followed. “There’s something about walking through a firefight that makes walking into an audition a lot less intimidating,” he says.
Whether it’s that military background or just something that’s a little different inside his brain (or a combination of the two), Truex seems impervious to fear. When he’s asked at one point about the scariest stunt he’s ever done, he responds: “There’s nothing I’ve come across yet that I wouldn’t do again!”
Nothing? “Sorry, man! I’m fearless!” he says. Coming from others, that statement might seem insincere. From Truex, you believe it.
FIGHTING WITH THE BEST
Jumping off buildings isn’t the only leap of faith Truex has taken in the last few years. In 2005, before he started acting, he was exposed to a then-young sport by a former teammate from his Central Washington University wrestling team. Like many former wrestlers, he took to MMA immediately. This wasn’t just a way to stay in shape—this was a chance to compete. It turns out nothing scratches the competitive itch for former wrestlers like a face-punching contest.
Truex was successful quickly, amassing an amateur record of six wins and two losses. In 2006, he made the decision to move from Washington state to Albuquerque to train with Greg Jackson, who has worked with a who’s who of MMA champions, including Jon Jones and Georges St-Pierre, two of the sport’s greatest ever, pound for pound. Jackson, who runs Jackson’s Submission Fighting training gym, says Truex has been around so much since then that he “practically helped build the gym.”
It was at Jackson’s in 2008 that Truex was asked to spar a few rounds with welterweight St-Pierre, aka GSP. “I just attacked him like a spider monkey,” Truex says. “When they brought me in, they said to go hard, to not hold back. I have one speed—full speed—or nothing. So I was throwing hard, and I stuffed some takedowns. I just kept punching—we had a pretty good scrap.” There’s a lesson there for Soldiers: When life hands you GSPs (seemingly immovable obstacles), just keep punching. Maybe your GSP is being away from home for longer than you want, or a huge task with your unit. When you find yourself confronted with those obstacles, just keep moving forward.
That day, Truex was recruited to be GSP’s primary sparring partner as he prepared for a welterweight title fight against fellow UFC fighter Matt Serra. Truex was flown to Montreal and lived with St-Pierre as they trained together. GSP went on to win his first UFC championship, and Truex left Montreal with the confidence that he could compete at MMA’s highest level.
Since then, Truex has mapped out his fighting success like he would map out an infantry mission. With an 8–4 record and five wins out of his last seven fights, he’s not far from a move to one of the higher-profile MMA promotions (the fighting world’s version of a more major league). “I think Tommy’s career will continue to go up and up,” Jackson says. “He’s got all the tools that he needs to make it to the big show. How far he makes it is really up to him. He’s got the natural athleticism, and he puts in the work to make the most of it. I think these [military] guys that are getting into MMA bring a lot from their military backgrounds. There’s something about going through [the demands of the military] that really prepares guys for mixed martial arts. And Tommy’s no exception. He’s the kind of guy who is going to do whatever it takes to get the job done. And he’s going to have a great attitude doing it.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Show me who a man’s friends are, and I will tell you who he is.” If that’s true, then Truex is a beast. He hangs with current and former UFC champions at Jackson’s, but he also never forgets that the Guard and his comrades come first.
A fellow Soldier says that once, when major wildfires broke out in New Mexico, Truex was in the middle of an intense training camp for an upcoming fight. He was activated with the rest of his unit and missed the fight. Other people might have been upset, but Truex was focused on helping the community and being there for his team. His attitude, his friend says, was “I love what I do, I love my Soldiers.”
That sense of loyalty doesn’t go unnoticed in military or civilian life. In the world of MMA, the connections you have through your fight team often determine the opportunities you get. You’re more likely to get invited to fight for a higher-profile promotion if those connections are already courting another fighter from your camp, for example. Truex’s fighting career is in good shape partly because he’s surrounded himself with the right people.
Fighters like Truex and Colton Smith (an Active Duty Soldier and the most recent winner of “The Ultimate Fighter”) are proving that Army combatives experience can translate to a successful fighting career. The benefits Truex has gotten from the Guard go further than just combatives training, though. “The Guard has absolutely allowed me to chase my dreams,” he says. “Being a part of the National Guard has helped me stay focused. It’s helped me meet some of the best people I’ve ever met in my life. Without a doubt, the Guard has helped me get to where I am. And without [it], I wouldn’t have met my business partner.”
In 2012, Truex was deployed to Egypt. Not satisfied with being “just” a stuntman, infantry officer and MMA fighter, he decided he wanted to take on a new challenge—he wanted to own his own business. Sergeant Nick Cangialosi was a platoon sergeant on Truex’s Egypt deployment and was the person who introduced him to CrossFit. Truex saw the sport as a way to combine his love of fitness with his passion for helping people. Over time, Truex and Cangialosi hatched a plan. Truex would run the gym with Cangialosi as the head trainer. This past July, Desert Forge CrossFit opened its doors in Albuquerque.
CrossFit is right for Truex because it mirrors his own personality. It emphasizes real-world actions and movements, features workouts that are carefully planned and executed, leads to measurable results, and rewards maximum effort. More than merely an approach to fitness, though, CrossFit is also a community. “CrossFit’s not just a workout,” Cangialosi says. “It actually becomes part of your identity.” Since those days spent daydreaming in Egypt, Truex and Cangialosi have built their business by doing what they learned as young Soldiers: Make a plan and execute it with full force. The first day the gym was open, among the 200 visitors was former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir.
With all of the moving parts of Truex’s life, there’s been one constant: family. You don’t have to talk to him long before you realize that he connects with people in a different way than most. He describes Jackson like he’s his wiser older brother. The folks who come into his gym to train could be nieces and nephews that he is willing to invest in. And his fellow fighters and Soldiers are more siblings. His immediate family might be his center, but his extended family is huge. After talking to him a few times, it’s easy to feel as if he’d give you the shirt off his back.
Ultimately, the Guard gave Truex more than just a business partner—it helped make him who he is. “The military really prepared me for life,” he says. “The National Guard instilled a lot of great values in me. I had great NCOs as an enlisted Soldier who really pushed hard work and dedication. Now as a leader myself, I can’t imagine being any other way. If I’m going to lead elite Soldiers into battle and ask them to do things that aren’t always safe, I just can’t imagine living my life any other way than positive.”
He adds that the raw realities he’s faced because of the Guard enable him to meet any challenge. “If you want me to jump off a building onto some small pad, I’ll do it,” he says. “I’ve learned so much about personal courage and strength in the Guard, and it’s been an incredible asset to have in the fighting, in the stunt work, in the adventures of owning your own business. There are some truths about being a Soldier that I’ve learned that have just been invaluable experiences to help me grow as a person, and to help me accomplish the things I have accomplished.”
Truex sticks mostly with a Paleo-type diet: meats, vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar. He includes a few nonconventional elements including Bulletproof coffee: coconut oil plus grass-fed, organic butter with small-batch, low-mold organic coffee beans. He also eats his starchy carbs at night.
Truex goes through two to three workouts a day. He trains daily at Jackson’s Submission Fighting gym, grappling, wrestling, kickboxing and more. Every other day, Truex does a hard CrossFit workout: high-intensity, constantly varied functional movement. On his non-CrossFit days, he’ll have one-on-one mitt sessions with Mike Winkeljohn, Brandon Gibson or Mike Valle—some of the best striking coaches in the MMA universe—or a one-on-one grappling/tactics session with Greg Jackson, the “Genghis Khan” of MMA. On weekends, Truex usually gets some trail runs in or some extra-distance cardio like rowing or biking. Sunday is usually a light day—there are no “off days.”