“They call me Gizmo, I'm trying to go fuck somebody up,” the man says with the manufactured intensity of someone who has been locked up 10 of his 27 years. He is 5 feet 6, 170 pounds, bald, buff and gangster-tense.
“The devil tickled my feet,” he says, considering his journey. “In a way I was looking to be guided. I was looking for signs or whatever. But I had no idea.
“When I got out of prison, my first three or four back-to-back weekends I was knocking fools out with one punch,” he explains. “That should say something. Shit. I'm down. I don't give a fuck, you know? Imma put it all out there. I like to hit people. When they hit back, that makes it more fun.”
Gizmo, whose given name is Gilberto Lagunas, is currently fighting out of a four-bedroom house shared with his mom, dad, little brother and some cousins on a sketchy block in East Los Angeles. The place is bare-bones but not threadbare. It's meticulously clean.
Deeper into the cholo's labyrinth, a dark, narrow hall with lush pile carpet and cottage-cheese ceiling opens into a small bedroom; a flat-screen TV and one twin bed covered with a blond faux-chinchilla throw make it seem almost normal, but it's not. It feels like a painted cell. Everything is steam-pressed and tightly tucked in its proper place. A photo of his young daughter on the chest of drawers, a squeaky clean pair of Nike Cortez kicks in the box on the side. A giant white T-shirt and enormous Levi's creased beyond perfection presumably hanging in the closet. It's no secret that he's actively affiliated. But all that could change if things go as planned tonight.
Gizmo heads out. Beyond the fringe and the pale, where the infrastructure loosens detectably, the distance between the streetlights increases and things get a little darker as you enter the Gizmo Matrix.
He has been thinking about getting into the fight business for a while. He watched a lot of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) on Spike when he was locked up. It was professional, but it looked like a street fight. He heard the calling but didn't know how to get in the game.
Then two unexpected things happened that seemed connected. An undeniable sign. An omen, even.
Gizmo noticed a new UFC gym had opened in El Monte. Next, he and his homeboy, a rapper named Gio Luciano, and another rapper named Hit Man went to a fashion show in Pico Rivera. Hit Man happened to mention that he was friends with the promoters of Felony Fights, a company that promotes underground amateur fights and recently stepped up to putting on officially sanctioned mixed-martial arts bouts. “I was, like, fuck yeah! I wanna fight. I just said, 'Fuck it. I'm down and shit. I don't give a fuck.' He [Hit Man] was, like … 'Well, fuck it.' ”
The next day, while at his job at a packing plant in East L.A., Gizmo got the text with the directions for the audition for Felony Fights. As soon as he got off work today at noon he did his penitentiary workout in the backyard: a series of bar exercises, sit-ups, push-ups, some roadwork and burpees. Then he got dressed and got in the car and headed west.
“I can't accept losing,” he says. “There's no room for failure.”
Gizmo climbs the stairs to the second floor of Hooters on Hollywood Boulevard, across the street from the hallowed ground of Mann's Chinese Theatre.
He positions himself strategically, with his back to the wall in a room full of shirtless, tattooed fighters, all waiting for their moment to shine when they go in front of the cameras for a sort of mock prefight interview. It's an audition to fight in Cage vs. Cons, an event pitting ex-cons against cage fighters at the Sports Arena in May. It's Gizmo's big opportunity. He could get paid to fight and get famous.
“I'm not coming out there to put up a show,” Gizmo says, pumping himself up. “I'm coming out there to kick some ass. What I've been doing for my whole life is fighting. Fuck the bullshit. Whoever thinks he's a pro, Imma bop his head.”
The energy in the room shifts as '80s supercon “Freeway” Ricky Ross shows up, flanked by postmodern gang star Danny Trejo in black patent-leather shoes and a velveteen suit. Cameras light up when World Wrestling Federation star Debo rants out over the crowd.
Then Gizmo pulls his shirt off and walks directly into the line of fire as they call his name, cameras rolling, as promoters grill him with questions.
“I'm from East L.A. I never trained professionally. I trained in the streets, that's it.”
He waits at the far side of the room for the verdict. The bad news comes quick. Gizmo doesn't make the cut … this time. It doesn't look like he'll be fighting in Cage vs. Cons in May, but Felony Fights founder Michael Lynch says he's willing to hook Gizmo up with a professional trainer. Get him into a gym. Lynch can't guarantee that Gizmo will fight, but there's a possibility that he can be involved in the documentary they're doing. Maybe.
Check out more from Sam Slovick here: