This week on Diamond's Corner Craig sits down with one of our founding partners, Alex Coriano. Not only has he been an integral member of the Diamond MMA team, but Alex is also the former Purdue Wrestling Team Captain, current coach at El Nino Training Center, and an amazing designer. Check out Craig and Alex's chat about Alex's background and some of the beginnings of Diamond MMA.
Check out the video of their interview or read the transcript of their conversation below! We will be releasing new Diamond's Corner videos every Wednesday and Friday at noon, so check back for more awesome conversations with interesting people.
read craig and alex's conversation below
Craig: Hi everybody. It's Craig Diamond. We have a new episode of Diamond's Corner and today we have a very, very special guest. His name is Alex Coriano, um, we'll get to know him, we'll get to know about his background, his wrestling days, his days of design. He's going to walk us through an amazing career in all aspects. So stay tuned, hope you enjoy and everyone say hi to Alex Coriano.
Alex: Hey, what's up everybody? How you doing?
Craig: Thanks for joining us. So, a little bit of background, Alex is a part of the team, if anybody out there is wearing any Diamond MMA products, Compression Briefs, Compression Jocks, you've got this man to thank because we both were kind of designing and building this company together for years now. And start us from the beginning Alex. Tell everybody who you are, where you grew up, and kind of walk us through the life of, uh, of you.
Alex: Yeah, sure. Quick background information, the story is that I grew up in Northwest Indiana, right outside Chicago. So I consider myself a Chicago guy, but I'm actually from the state of Indiana. I was big into sports growing up, played a lot of baseball, football, soccer and then wrestling. And wrestling really kind of caught my attention and I did really well. I took second in the state of Indiana and got recruited to go to Purdue University for, for wrestling.
Craig: Sorry, let me slow you down cause there's, I know there's some good nuggets in here. What, how old were you when you started wrestling?
Alex: I was 11 years old like 10, 11 I was in middle school.
Craig: How'd you get into it?
Alex: You know, I was going to soccer practice and I would wrestle around with the guys at soccer practice who were actually wrestling and they had older brothers that wrestled and they were, they would throw me around. And I didn't like it. They were throwing me around and I was like, how'd you do that? How did you take me down so easily? So I kept asking them, can you show me some moves? And I was just really interested in that as well as I was really into the WWF at the time. So before WWE it was WWF and I was like, big into that, give me Superfly, you know, Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant. And I would watch that and I would jump off my sofas and beat up my little brother. And, so there was something that was kind of calling me towards this like more physical aggressive kind of sport that, that wrestling is.
Craig: Cool. What, so walk us through your, a little bit about through your high school career and then how did you, how did you get to wrestle for Purdue? I mean, how did that all go down?
Alex: Yeah, so you know, I worked really hard at wrestling. I always felt like it's one of those sports that how hard you put in, the work you put into it is you, you get that in benefit right in return. You know, where other sports you could try really hard, could be the best on the team and go four for four for four home runs and still lose where wrestling was like that was you're in control. And I kind of liked that feeling of you know, I work hard, I want the benefits of that and when I lose there's no one else to blame except myself. So, that, that, that whole discipline of, of being just dedicated and wanting to learn, it really captivated me. That sport really drove me. And I did well in high school. You know, I've put in a lot of time. I, I did summer camps. Um I did freestyle season in the spring and you know I wrestled and I, I did everything right. I was cutting weight, I was working out, I was, I was, you know, staying after practice and, so I went from like, getting thrown around those first couple of years to, uh, winning a lot of tournaments in high school. And I ended up going to the state tournament twice and I got second my senior year. And that got me a little bit of attention from the, the schools, the local schools. Being in the state of Indiana, I was recruited by a bunch of the Division one, two and three schools in the area. And I went on a couple of recruit trips and I just loved the campus at Purdue and what they had to offer. And at the time they were a top 10 team. And so I knew that I had a good future there at Purdue.
Craig: Now, did you, so did you, did you walk on? Is that what I remember you saying once? Were you on a scholarship? How did you?
Alex: Yeah, well technically I did not get a scholarship. I was recruited, but because I didn't get any money to wrestle for the school, I was considered a walk on, which you know, to me was, I felt like I was always part of the team being recruited. And I showed up on day one, I had my, my workout gear and I was on the roster. The interesting thing though, I was still 17. I was really young when I was in high school, so going to college, I had to sign off that it could be on the wrestling team at Purdue because I wasn't an adult yet at 18.
Craig: Oh that's funny.
Alex: Uh but I loved it man, the team really was great. They really embraced just having me on the team and you know, again, it's one of those things where I got my butt kicked every day, but I just kept, you know, sticking with the grind and keep working hard learn as much technique as I can, always make sure I was in shape and on weight. And I got my turn. You know, I registered at my freshman year. I needed to get a little bit stronger. So that's when I really started lifting weights and getting strong. So my senior year in high school, I was 125 and I wrestled a couple of bouts at 126 in college, but I was growing still, you know, I was 17, so I, I bulked up 134. They had the old weight classes back then, the old college weight classes. Um and I ended up, um, making the varsity team and went to nationals my, my freshman year. And so I got a varsity Letterman's jacket, I thought that was super cool. Still wear it today. I still have it in my closet. But yeah, I just, I love being part of that Purdue wrestling community, which I still keep in touch with a lot of guys. And and, and what I, it was super intense because you're wrestling, the Big 10, the Big 10 it's the premiere conference for wrestling in the NCAA. And so I lost a lot. Believe me, I lost a lot, but I won a lot too, you know, and it was, it was a battle. Every match was going to be a tough match, tough opponent. But I, I just loved the, the training and the grind, you know, that code behind that. It's a long season, and you get kind of burned out towards the end, but you know, you, if you make it through college wrestling and I think that's why that fraternity of wrestlers are so it's such a brotherhood because, you know you've been through that, that ringer through that grind and you start to really appreciate each other for who you are and what you can do and it really shows your character. And so I was able to maintain that and make the varsity for all four years at Purdue and went to nationals three times. Was the captain twice, set a record for school wins in a season. And so yeah, listen, I would say I didn't accomplish all my goals. You know, I wasn't a national champion, but I, I actually felt like I accomplished a lot looking back. And most importantly, it was those relationships, you know, those people I met and, and get me through school and, and it was a great experience for me on and off the mat at Purdue.
Craig: Did--That's amazing. I mean, so, tell me about, tell, tell the viewers about, I mean, you're wrestling and you say you didn't really accomplish all the things you wanted to accomplish. But I think for me personally, it's really cool that you took your wrestling now to the next level in the form of, of MMA. So tell us a little bit about after school was done and, and you know, collegiate wrestling days were over. Tell us about moving to the Bay Area and how you use your wrestling to help some of the baddest MMA fighters in the world. Talk about that transition. I think that's interesting.
Alex: Yeah. Well actually I wasn't done wrestling. I, I felt like I still had more to prove and I was still learning a lot. And I was still young. So after college I, I felt like there was more for me on the international stage and there was, so I really was trying to take it to the next level for myself and, and really see how far I can, I can go with the sport of wrestling. So I ended up wrestling for the team of Puerto Rico. I actually was on a vacation. I brought my wrestling shoes. I was still training, doing some tournaments, the US Open. And I, I knew of some guys in the Puerto Rican National Team and they said, hey, and I'd been talking with the coach, he said if you stay here because you're of Puerto Rican descent, you can stay here and live and train and represent Puerto Rico. And and we have a couple of tournaments coming up, one in Cuba. There was the Central American Games, a few other tournaments, International tournaments. And I was like, Oh, that sounds awesome. So I cancel my big vacation, my flight back, and I just stay and I train. I live with my grandma out there and I live with family and I was, I got a little job, I was training every day with the national team. Going to the Olympic training center there and I won the nationals for Puerto Rico and I ended up doing that for four years. So I wrestled freestyle International representing Puerto Rico, which is great. Again, it was great experience of the people I met, places I got to go travel, see different parts of the country that really appreciate wrestling and and that, that helped me become even better, you know? And so again, I kind of fell short of making the Olympics in 2000 and I was living in Chicago at the time and I was training a little bit at Northwestern, helping out there. And I had a job designing toys cause I was also, uh, doing a lot of design work. And then an opportunity came to move to California and I always felt like California was calling me. There's something about, you know, just the land here and the people and the technology. I felt like, oh, this would be a good spot for me to land and figure out my next steps in my life while living here. So, I packed up my car, drove to all the way across country to California. I was living with some friends on the couch and got a good design job at this company was based, right by Stanford. So again, it's just wrestling has always been such a part of my life. I started helping out at Stanford and coaching wrestling and help [inaudible] it was ever big from like some college students or high school students and some MMA fighters would come in there and jujitsu guys wanting to learn take downs. So I would teach them moves and so I would coach the team, the varsity team and stay after and then do the club team. And I met a couple guys that were training. They invited me to come over and learn some jujitsu and I felt like, hey, this is pretty cool. Jiu jitsu is an extension of wrestling. So now, I can take you down, put you on your back, but now I can take it even further and finish you, you know, make you tap out. So I felt like it was a natural transition into doing some jiu jitsu, did a couple of tournaments. But really I just, just captivated by the, the, the athletes that are in that sport and how hard they work, and how dedicated they are, and passionate they are. And you know, no one's having them do this. They're doing this because they want to do this. So, the intensity's there, the commitment's there. And so I love working out with the MMA fighters. They push me, you know, when they've got fights coming up it makes me want to work harder.
Craig: Cool. Who are some of the guys you work out with?
Alex: So like one of the guys I met at the Stanford Wrestling Room was Josh Clopton, he was in the UFC for a few years and he's, one of the head coaches, a black belt, trainer at El Nino and he brought me into El Nino, which El Nino Training Center is, El Nino is the nickname for Gilbert Melendez. And so at the time Gilbert was climbing the ladder. He was Strikeforce champion, which I think even ranked number one in the world. He was a pretty intense guy to work out with and it was fun rolling around with him, and Josh, and Jake Shields would be there and, and other guys, you know, then the Diaz brothers would show up some times. And it was a small room that they had over in kind of the bad part of town and but then they got a new gym and started, you know, really mixing up the disciplines. You know, they had some muay thai there before, but a bigger space, like a full sized ring, and the bags, and they have all kinds of classes there. So I help coach the wrestling class there with Travis Lee, do a take down wrestling class. And then I also do a lot of one on one sessions with the fighters and we'll do a lot of drilling these days. I do a lot of drilling, like hard live drilling, put them through different scenarios and, and show them kind of what, how I would attack a certain position as a wrestler. Cause a lot of times these fighters are fighting other people with wrestling backgrounds. So I'm a good body for that. I can give them different looks and have them react to, you know, how I would potentially attack, uh, a shot or defend a shot.
Craig: Yep. That's nice. I mean, that's going to keep you in shape. And, how far is the gym from your house and where are you, where are you living now? Tell everybody.
Alex: Yeah, I live in Brisbane, which is just on the border of San Francisco, so, and the gym is in the Dogpatch and like I said, there's, I'm not sure how many members, but it's a pretty big size gym for MMA. I believe it's like, uh, one of the premier gyms in the whole Bay Area. And a lot of good fighters come through there that, that the fight team's called the Skrap Pack and those guys get out there and there's a lot of guys competing in MMA, but also in jiu jitsu grappling tournaments muay thai fights. So it's a very active gym. It's, it's, it's, uh, you can come there and train if you just want to learn about the sport, but you can also come there and train and actually get some competitive rounds in that is going to get you prepared for a real fight.
Craig: Yeah, and you know, so those guys. You know, Gil, and Clopton and a lot of those earlier guys. You know, when, when we first hooked up and started working together and designing products together were huge for us to try out our prototypes on. So that was, that was, you know, tell us a little bit about, kind of human centered design and how we applied some of the design skills you learned, in, in college to, solving this problem in MMA. And I think that might be interesting.
Alex: Yeah. So when I was at Purdue, I studied industrial design and what I always like say like industrial design was like engineering and art art and you blend those two, right? So has to look aesthetically pleasing and have a functionality to work and to be able to be produced, manufactured. So I learned a lot of skills at school. I did a toy invention when I was living in Chicago and then I moved out here and got a job with a company called IDEO and they do a lot of human centered design and I was working first in the toy industry. Then I was working with medical devices and home electronics and food and beverage and packaging. So a wide gamut of projects and products and I always had a passion for sports. So when I met you, it was only natural that I was drawn towards the opportunity to be able to design products for MMA fighters or grapplers or wrestlers or for anybody in combat sports. Because I was already practicing those things, those kinds of sports, but also have the skill set of design where I can bring an idea to life. So if you have an idea, I can build two prototypes and test these with some of the fighters so then exactly what happened was yeah, we met and you said we want to, let's design something that not only we don't have to pay our fighters to wear our product, but something they were going to want to pay us to wear. And I thought that was kind of a good mission. Like what is, what product do they need? And we started off trying to design shorts and gloves and other products. But through talking with all these fighters and being in the gym with them, we realized, hey, the biggest complaint was the inadequate groin protection that was going on, right? People were wearing these-- it was mandatory to wear a mouthpiece and a cup. So athletic cups were basically made for baseball or they were wearing these jockstraps where things would move around and or they had to wear like three pairs of shorts, underwear, it was fairly tight, add a jock strap over, underneath their actual fight shorts. So there were like too many layers causing some discomfort. So, you know, I think you had the original idea like this all in one fight short. And then from there we started.
Craig: So real quick, I just want to explain what human centered design is. Just to back off a second, how would you define that?
Alex: Yeah. Human centered design, you want to look at the end user. So whatever product you're designing or service or space, you want to make sure that you're connecting with the end user. And in most cases, the end user is a human, right? Sometimes it could be a pet or a, an animal or something or a robot even. But the end user it usually is a human and you want to design for them; what they're, their unmet needs are. So if they're having a problem, keeping that cup in place, athletic cup in place, let's talk to them and figure out, you know, what are those needs and how do you address those problems? And once you can identify those problems, then you can develop solutions for them.
Craig: So that's, that's kind of what you taught me about and I kind of, I was fortunate enough to come out actually to that very shed that you're sitting in right now is where we really had our first meeting. And we sat down and we had concept sketches, which actually we're going to show up. We're going to kind of insert here really cool concept sketches of shorts. I remember shorts that looked like Batman would wear and rodeo inspired shorts. And so all these cool concepts, kind of boiled down to the need for the fighter. Like you said, we thought that the shorts would be something they really need. But, when talking to them, they said, you know, we really need a good cup and there were tons of low blow groin shot timeouts in the UFC, certainly back in the early days. And the action would just stop because these guys weren't protected properly. So Alex and I, you know, we hooked up, we went on this mission, we were prototyping, we were designing and, you know, prototype after prototype in talking to the fighters and getting them to test our stuff was how we really perfected it. And that was just such a cool part of the process for me, not only to meet these fighters who I looked up to, and liked to watch on TV, but to learn how to, to, to solve a problem and especially a problem in a sport that we loved to not only participate in but watching. So, um, yeah. That's cool. We're going to, we're probably going to do a second show and go really in depth again of how we came to the product. What were some of the early prototypes? What were some of the early cup prototypes? How did we come up with the, a four strap, four strap jock or the Performance Short. And, and dive into that. And I know you've got bins and buckets up over your shoulder there with just many, many, just fabric samples and prototypes and yoga mats, and duct taped product. I mean, the one thing I learned from Alex was if you, there it is, if you need, if you want a product, if you want to design something and you have an idea, just get some Popsicle sticks and tape and, and just start packing it together. And, and I, and some of our first prototypes were such a crude, rough idea that just slowly got better and the next day we'd make it a little bit better. And then we sketched another design and, and so it was just an amazing process to, to work with Alex and, you know, solve a big problem for these athletes. And yeah. So what would you say Alex, in this whole mission, I mean, you've designed toys, you've designed products for every, every, industry what was something that you learned most from working together on this and working on Diamond MMA and building this company with me that you didn't expect?
Alex: I felt like I, what I've learned a lot just working with you in particular is the whole sales and marketing. Like you're, you really put yourself out there, you try different, different kind of just like we experiment and, and make rapid prototypes with physical objects, to test and learn. You did that with ideas too. And some of them I was not so sure about, but then they turn out to be really fun, you know, like, the whole Cup Check Challenge, you know, that's, um or some of the promotional items that you gave away. Like the little squishy sperm balls. I was like, what is this guy thinking? But you know, you're getting people's attention and you're really good at that. And so it kinda opened my eyes to like how I need to be a better salesman. You know, like, you know, in design, I'm trying to sell ideas and I've actually learned some of the strategies that you use in, uh, your skillset. And I'm a better presenter in a way, you know.
Craig: Thanks. Yeah, no, and, and I've noticed too, I mean, we've worked trade shows together. We were at UFC 100. We had a small little booth. We didn't, we barely had product. We had some working prototypes. And you've come a long way too, just getting out in front of the table and pitching people and learning how to get rejected and have, have someone laugh at your face and say get away. I mean, that's being a pitch man. And, and, and getting your product out there, especially when it's something new and it's something different and it's something more expensive, but, you know, how do you make someone understand, oh, this is worth it. Then you've got, you know, you've got to try this. And it's been fun working with you and working with some of our other teammates and learning different skills from everybody. And that's kind of what makes a team is everybody has a skill set and hopefully you can learn from all that. So, yeah. You know, I'm glad we got this chance to talk. It's good to get a little bit of background for you and your history, certainly your wrestling background and, um, you know, just to wrap it up, tell, tell us like, so you're living--tell us about your house, tell us about your kids. Tell us about what else is, what, I know we're in this COVID lockdown still. I mean, what, how have you been dealing with that and what have you guys been up to?
Alex: Well, you know, you mentioned earlier that we were working in the shed, so as, as we talked about, this is my prototyping lab where I do a lot of my design work. So if I ever need to get away from anybody, I need to like, think I come back here and I can build stuff, have a lot of materials and stuff and a sewing machine and fabrics and things that can kind of tinker around with. And have my music going. And so yeah, I have a, I have a nice little house here close to San Francisco, which is nice living in the Bay Area. But I have some separation within my property here with this, uh, back shed and yeah, man, I love living out in California. Still love being a designer and an athlete and now I'm trying to pass that on to my kids. I've got two boys that are 12 years old and 9 years old and they're playing sports. So it's fun being on the field with them, coaching their soccer team, their baseball and their basketball team. Funny, I've never played basketball before, but now here I am learning more about that sport and it's a really great sport and it's a really great time for me to bond with my, my kid and learn more about his friends and, and and bring some of that competitiveness and training that I know from other sports into a sport like basketball. So, I'm keeping busy with the kids. You know, we try to get outside. We, we try to make sure we do some creative time every day. We've tried to do some academic time every day. Yeah, we've been eating and sleeping well. They're in lockdown. But you know, we're, we're, we're missing our friends and can't wait to get back out there.
Craig: Cool. Well, thanks for coming on. This was awesome. We're going to do a part two soon, so stay tuned for that and then we're going to, and we're going to do a deep dive into the real origins of the design of all of our products and I think that'd be interesting for people that are, are passionate about our stuff and wear our stuff to, to learn about. In closing, um it was great talking to you. Um, I know, again, we've got this quarantine going on and everybody's trying to stay busy and stay fit at home. Alex, you are a huge, um, you know, help and obviously design lead on our Compression Brief shown here and our Performance Brief shown here. And those two products. Tell me about some of the exercises that you've been doing. You're wearing those products and what people could use them for at home.
Alex: Yeah. First of all, you know, we came up with a really great product with that Four Strap Jock and that's really keeps the athletic cup in place, which is so important. And we've been able to evolve that into new products as the Competition Short and different variations with the Super Brief and the and then different working with different materials and fabrics. And you know, it's been really fun being part of, uh, this whole exploration and being able to test this and make my, my my teammates over at El Nino, so I go there and I'd take prototypes and stuff to try on stuff, get feedback and I keep evolving it, you know, using that human centered design philosophy, but also rapid prototyping and learning from things that we've tried. Learning, you know, like if something doesn't work, we just build it again and and we've been able to refine these and, and make some really high quality products that I'm super proud of. And it's been fun being part of the Diamond team and being able to push this product in a sport that I really love in combat sports or athletics in general. And I use my Compression Brief when I go out for a run or lifting weights, I wear my, my jock strap when I'm doing muay thai, like you wear the Compression Brief or the Compensation Short when I do jujitsu grappling. So, they all might seem like similar products to, uh, to someone who doesn't train. But when you're training and you're different in sports and different positions and you want to have certain amount of flexibility or protection, those sports that these products are doing that you know, on, on this level of different training.
Craig: Cool. Well thanks. We're going to we're going to, we're going to get some discount codes and, and share some other information with our viewers so they can pick up these products. It was really cool learning about you. We're going to do another show soon. And yeah, keep keep fighting this stuff and staying healthy and hopefully life will get back to normal real soon. We'll talk to you again.
Alex: Cool. Thanks for having me. Peace from the West coast. Talk to you later.