South Lake Tahoe fighter competes for 4th championship belt |

South Lake Tahoe fighter competes for 4th championship belt

South Lake Tahoe's Cameron Church kicks an opponent in a previous fight. Church will fight tonight on ESPN-Plus.

Cameron Church is an amateur kickboxing world champion.

But he wants more. He wants to make money for dishing out punishment while maybe taking a little. He wants to be a professional mixed martial artist.

After a massive amount of time spent sweating bullets in the gym, he’s well on his way.

“I can’t do this for free forever,” Church said.

The South Lake Tahoe resident will fight for his fourth amateur world championship Friday, Sept. 29, at Triumphant 1, a new promotion based out of Rohnert Park.

Church will fight Victor Frost at Graton Resort and Casino as he tries to grab his fourth title belt and more importantly gain experience as he transitions into mixed martial arts.

“Nobody works harder than Cameron,” said Cory Escobar, Church’s coach and owner of Escobar Training Grounds in South Lake where they train. “Cameron has become a great fighter, but he’s also grown so much as a young man. His dedication and commitment have put him in a much better place. It might sound funny because he’s an undefeated kickboxer, but he’s more humble now than before he ever fought.”

Church was born in Tracy and moved to South Lake about four years ago, escaping a life of partying and fighting.

“I wasn’t going anywhere, I didn’t have a focus and was getting into trouble,” Church said.

His best friend introduced him to fighting — without it being assault. He first came into the Training Grounds shortly after he moved and told Escobar he wanted to compete. But that’s something the gym owner hears “all the time.”

“I would say that only 1 out of every 20 people can find it in their heart to dedicate themselves and put in that much effort to make it to a fight,” said Escobar, who celebrated his gym’s 10th anniversary this summer. “I told him to show me.”

The 26-year-old, who turns 27 two days before his fight, put in the effort. He showed up six days a week and trained for three hours on most of those days. He also gets up at 4 a.m. and runs 5 miles before going to work at 6 a.m. where he’s a freight broker and manages a team.

After a year of hard work, Church asked Escobar if he thought he was ready.

“I absolutely believed he could do it,” Escobar said.

Church fought in Reno with a couple of others from the gym and he won.

Two fights later he won his first title belt.

Four years and nine victories later, with zero losses, Church is honing his craft. He’s trying to be a professional in all aspects of MMA before turning pro.

“Cam is the top amateur in the world, but when he transitions to MMA, his opponents are going to want to grapple with him 100 percent because they know his pedigree, that is not his strength right now,” said Escobar, who started to compete at age 6 in his father’s gym. “He could turn pro right now but the problem there is you can’t be a pro kickboxer and amateur MMA, so we’re catching him up and he’s gonna become proficient in both before turning pro.”

Church holds a World Fighting championship and International Kickboxing Federation titles at 172 pounds and 159 pounds. His fight on Sept. 29 is for the 165-pound middleweight belt.

“He is ranked No. 1 in the world because of those three titles,” Escobar said.

Church gives Escobar a lot of credit to his success and getting him to where he is today and where he wants to go.

“He’s been extremely supportive,” Church said of Escobar. “He pushes me when I need it and he makes a lot of sacrifices. I’m an active fighter and he’s always there for me.”

The gym is not just for fighters seeking titles

Church is the fourth champion from Escobar Training Grounds, a fact that instills a sense of pride for the gym owner. But Escobar says that the Cameron Churches of the world are a rare breed.

“Most students that come in here are not the Cameron Church’s of the world,” Escobar said. “Most are moms, dads and kids that want to learn how to defend themselves. We want the average student to be 20 percent better than they would be if they didn’t have martial arts. We wanna build doctors and lawyers. Cam is the fourth champion this gym has made and that’s really neat because we’re not a big city. Most people move here to ski or snowboard.”

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