A championship family man from Washougal

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Chris de la Rocha of Washougal poses with his Full-Contact Fighting Federation Heavyweight title belt.

Stepping into a caged octagon is the newest sensation for the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Chris de la Rocha of Washougal, but family always comes first.

The 32-year-old mixed martial artist works as a correctional officer and a defensive tactics instructor for Larch Corrections Center, and is a member of the regional Special Emergency Response Team. De la Rocha is happily married to Sheila, his wife of 10 years. He is also a father of two daughters, Kiersten and Carissa, and a newborn son named Quinn.

On May 21, the family man became Heavyweight Champion of the Full-Contact Fighting Federation. One minute, 13 seconds into the second round, de la Rocha defeated Damion Martindale by technical knockout at Rumble at the Roseland 57, inside “The Slammer” at the Roseland Theater, in Portland, Ore.

“Both of my daughters ran around the house with my belt on when I brought it home,” de la Rocha said. “A lot of friends and family came to watch the fight, including my grandpa. He saw my first fight on the Internet, and wanted to come see this one in person. It was a big family affair.”

De la Rocha has been studying Brazilian jujitsu for about 10 years. He trains at Progressive Jujitsu with long-time friend Trevor Burnell. He also works out at the Absolute Fitness Strength and Conditioning Center in Camas, which is owned by his brother-in-law Brandon Evenson.

“This has been a long time coming,” de la Rocha said. “I came back to fight from back surgery. There is no way I would have been able to achieve this without the support of my family and the help of so many people.

“This belt is staying at the gym,” he added. “It’s for everybody there.”

It only took three fights for de la Rocha to become a champion. He made his debut through Arsenal Combat Sports last July, at the Dodge City Bar & Grill in Vancouver. In his first FCFF fight on March 5, de la Rocha beat Rico Martinez by a TKO in 30 seconds. He found out he was going to get a shot at Martindale’s Heavyweight title about two weeks before the fight.

“The strategy for both fights was about the same. I wanted to establish my jab and stay off the ground and the fence,” de la Rocha said. “When you have a 265-pound guy on top of you, gravity is in his favor. I just wanted to keep him in a place that is not as comfortable, and that’s in the center of the ring.”

After an exchange of fists to open the second round, de la Rocha caught Martindale off guard with a couple of leg kicks. Following a quick combination of punches, the champion was ripe for the pickings.

“I did a one-two, which knocked him to the ground,” de la Rocha said. “I got on top of him, and finished him off.”

The Washougal hometown faithful was going crazy, as de la Rocha went in for the kill.

“It was like a huge wall of sound just hit me,” he said. “I want to say I got in about six or seven hits. He wasn’t defending, so the ref stepped in and stopped it right there.”

In the blink of an eye, all of the years of training, hard work and determination came to fruition for de la Rocha as his hand was raised and the belt was strapped around his waist.

“It was definitely a moment of elation. I did it,” he said. “One of my favorite sayings is, ‘you don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to your level of training.’ It’s one of the those things I learned through the SERT program that stuck with me. I wrote it on the wall where I work out. It’s just one of those things you look at every day that makes you push.”

De la Rocha knew just how to celebrate, with his friends and family by his side when he renewed his wedding vows to Sheila in Maui.

“The fight was on Saturday. On Monday, we were on a plane to Hawaii,” he said. “The whole family was there. It was a great two weeks. I didn’t want to come home.”

Before preparing for the next big fight, de la Rocha is enjoying some extra time at home with his wife and kids. Family still comes first.

“I want to keep going as far as this takes me. I’ll keep going until they say ‘no’ or my body says ‘no,’ he said. “At the beginning, it was only going to be one fight but I fell in love with it.

“Getting in the cage is not hard,” de la Rocha said. “The hard part is getting yourself up every day to go train and work 40 hours a week.”