If the name “Ed Clay” sounds familiar to you, it’s because you’ve probably heard of him. Ed is an accomplished MMA fighter, Jujitsu trainer, and cancer fighter. He is a former professional Mixed Martial Arts fighter at one point who ranked as high as number 9 in the world. He ran one of the largest Mixed Martial Arts schools in the United States with multiple students fighting in events such as the Ultimate Fighting Championships. On today’s show, he joins Steve Sims to talk about how he got started in his career and how he’s fighting cancer and winning it.
Listen to the podcast here:
Ed Clay: MMA Fighter, Jujitsu Trainer And Cancer Fighter
We chat with Ed Clay. If any of you have ever heard that name before, it’s because he’s an accomplished and successful MMA fighter that is fighting an incredible opponent now, cancer, and he’s doing well with it. Would I say he’s winning? Maybe not yet, but he’s certainly fighting the fight and getting closer to that cure. Learn about the way he’s taken martial arts and use that understanding of fighting an opponent to fighting a new business. He could have stayed where he was and made millions out of doing it. He did, and now he’s doing something where he’s up against the ring more times than not, but it’s not getting him out of the fight. As an entrepreneur, you need to be reading this. It teaches us a lot about how to handle haters, build bridge and fighting an opponent that’s bigger and stronger than us, but not backing down. As my old dad used to say, “The fight’s not over when I go down, it’s when I stop getting up,” and thankfully this boy hasn’t stopped getting up. Read this beautiful episode from Ed Clay. Ed, welcome to the show.
Steve, thanks for having me.
You’re a quirky cat and I can say that from the safety of being in another state, that you’ve gotten from not only being a successful jujitsu trainer, an accomplished MMA fighter and then you decided to fight a completely different opponent. Let’s jump straight in and tell the readers what you decided to focus your violence on.
There are a lot of similarities from mixed martial arts to cancer treatments but my mom had a rare form of rheumatoid arthritis and there weren’t options available in the United States. I had been to Mexico in 2009 for something called ibogaine for an opiate addiction that I had gotten from training. I tore my ACL, PCL meniscus. The therapist in Nashville told me America is behind the times when it comes to opiate withdrawal. I’d googled the substance and it’s not available in the United States. It’s available in Mexico. It comes from Africa. I’m like, “I don’t believe it,” but I watched the documentaries and was like, “I’ll give it a try.” I took a plane in Mexico City, took a bus a couple of hours south, did ibogaine in somebody’s bedroom and was home 72 hours later. I never had a craving and a withdrawal. I asked myself, “This is available in Mexico but not in the United States. It can help people. What else is out there?”
My mom had a rare form of rheumatoid arthritis. She had failed all standard of care medications. She had broken her back from a shortfall from the prednisone, making her bones brittle. She had got tuberculosis, multiple staph infections from side effects of the medication and so we were out of options. I’d run a study on something called Coley’s toxins for rheumatoid arthritis. That was from 1923 and it was one hospital in Tijuana, Mexico that had it. Making a long story short, we purchased the hospital and my mom was their second patient. She came in a wheelchair, left three weeks later walking and I was in remission. It’s years later and she’s still doing well.
Who the hell decides to buy a hospital in Mexico? This is one of those like, “I had something, so I skipped over the border and I found this.” You’ve openly admitted that you went to someone’s bedroom to get a process. That sounds scary as hell. Would you say anything further behind you that gave you like, “This has got to be credible?” or were you completely high as a kite to make that decision to go down to Mexico and get jabbed?
I think that for my mom, I believe in the treatments. I was looking for anything. She was literally dying. It was attacking her organs. You’ll do anything to try to find a solution and we had the means to do it. It was tough, but I had two amazing business partners who were close friends. We moved down to Tijuana. We lived in the hospital for the first six months. We started treating rheumatoid arthritis again, but we did that part for my mom. It was primarily a cancer hospital. I’m doing alternative treatments and I’m not stuck in the ideology like what works? What doesn’t work? It’s much like mixed martial arts. Is it Brazilian Jiujitsu? Is it Muay Thai? Is it wrestling? What works? What doesn’t work?
I saw some people getting better, but a lot of people were still dying and these were stage four patients that had failed standard of care in the United States so they didn’t have any more options. I saw somebody better, most of them die and I’m like, “How do we make this better? How do we build a bridge per se with the conventional community and some conventional scientist?” That’s what we did with CHIPSA over the past years. Every single one of our treatments, you can read a number of research papers on. Our scientific advisory board is world-class. Our first trial was with a company called Batu Biologics.
They had a product called ValloVax. They would have spent about $25 million for trial in the United States. We did it for about $700,000. They had a Nobel Prize winner on their board and they had a guy named Francesco Marincola who was the former Chief of Immunogenetics for the National Institute of Health and he wrote the main textbook that oncologists used for immunotherapy for cancer. I became friends with a lot of them building those bridges and then they’re bringing a science-based approach with cutting edge treatments to Tijuana. The Right to Try legislation passed, which we were supportive of in the United States and we’re launching United Cancer Centers in the US and are opening five US locations.
I want to get to collide the mindset. I come from a martial arts background. I do Wushu Guan and Muay Thai. I did it originally because I wanted to be able to punch someone in the head. I wanted to be able to walk into a bar, ride Bruce Lee and come out with perfect little scratch under my eye. That never happens. The more you learn how to fight, funny enough, the less you end up fighting. I was amazed at how in my business life, it opened my eyes to be able to try different things. You literally set it there and what we probably end up using as a soundbite that you use whatever works, whether it be Muay Thai, Jiujitsu, wrestling that serves the situation at that time. You’ve taken that mentality into the medical world. Would you say, “Am I overstretching it,” to say that your martial arts background has helped set your mentality to be more open to whatever works?
It’s definitely the martial arts mentality. When I was a kid, I was raised not from wealthy parents. My dad was a boxer. My uncle was a boxer. Every year the Yellow Pages would come out and I’d look through to see what the styles were, karate, taekwondo. I would call the schools and say, “Your taekwondo beat this karate.” I wanted to hear what the instructor said when I was a kid. When the UFC came out, I couldn’t believe it. It was like a dream come true like, “We’re getting ready to find out what the real deal is. Is it Brazilian Jiujitsu? Is it Kung Fu?” I was excited that I got in with grace. It came out there and won. In the later UFCs, wrestlers started defending the submissions and kickboxers learned how to defend the take-outs and the kickboxers were winning. It became more of a mixed thing. You couldn’t hide what worked and didn’t work in the cage. Scott Nelson is one of my business partners. He’s Brazilian Jujitsu black belt as well. We come from the old school and the maydays where we didn’t know at the time what were the styles that would work.
That is the same exact approach. We’re not stuck to being right with our treatments. We’re evolving them and it was the original Gerson Hospital, which has an alternative idea. The only thing that we use at CHIPSA, I would say isn’t extremely science-based. Meaning there are not a lot of papers on it, and we look at it as a good adjunct diet, not a cancer treatment by any means. It is using different modalities to power the mind. If I was coaching a fighter and I said, “The mind doesn’t matter. Visualization doesn’t matter. None of these things that we know are important matters. None of it matters. Go into the fight and see what happens,” we’d be the worst coach ever. We use that same approach for cancer patients as well. Getting their mindset right, getting their diet right. You can’t say diet doesn’t matter. We’re going to get the diet right. It’s a piece of the puzzle.
Tell us about how you’d made this decision and what the hospital originally was. We want to understand the mentality behind going to an area because for a lot of people, like for me, if you came to me and said, “Steve, you’ve got a problem. Go south of the border,” I don’t believe America’s got all the answers and we know that the medical industry is rife with scam and all this kind of stuff. To go south of the border to a hospital that no one’s ever heard of is a risky move. You decided it wasn’t. What are you doing to get people to come in?
We have a lot of good results. Ultimately, it’s amazing seeing people come in and we don’t have a cure for cancer by any means. We don’t say that. We have options for people that have failed the standard of care. I’d say 80% to 90% of our patients have failed standard of care in the United States and so when you’re able to turn those patients around, those aren’t even stage four. Those are stage four with one foot on a banana peel and one in the grave. We’re here to pull some of those out. That’s amazing. We had a patient and their dad is a big government official in Canada. He came in on a train, he was too sick to go home. We were like “We don’t like to treat people if we don’t think that we can help them or they might pass away in the hospital.” It’s a tough decision sometimes. He had no choice. This guy had massive lung cancer. He had infections in his lung as well, bacterial infections, pneumonia and no oxygen.
He left after four weeks and looks like a new person still alive and quite frankly, I thought he was going to pass in the hospital. Those are the cases that people would definitely talk about. We also have a big presence online. A lot of our pieces go viral. I think that by having a scientific advisory board that we have in Tijuana, Mexico, the fact that we have a world-class scientific advisory board with people that were at MD Anderson, geneticists trained at MD Anderson, Francesco Marincola Chief of Immunogenetics at National City Health, guys like that level, people realize that we’re not just doing quacky things. We’re doing things that might be the future of medicine and that most of it are immunotherapy. Immunotherapy won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 2011 and 2018. There are different types of immunotherapy, but several years ago as Dr. Marincola says, what he was doing by many people wasn’t even considered real science.
Now it’s coming and wins the Nobel Prize. It’s bringing in cutting edge treatments and putting patients before profits and people see that. They feel it. They walk into the hospital, it’s an old building. You’re looking at this thing like, “What in the world?” It’s six stories but old and you walk in and it’s full of love, hugs. They’re spending 30 to 45 minutes a day with their doctor. It’s a human connection. The power of human connection makes a big difference so it’s all the things that might not matter. In the US as far as within the structure of the system but we know as human beings’ matter. We know that when you give somebody love, it’s going to help in some way. We know that when you treat people with kindness and give them that attention, have that human connection, it’s going to make a difference. I think that’s why we’ve been successful.
Ignorance breeds haters. How do you deal with those?
You’ve got to have ultimately thick skin and then I keep trying to build bridges. If somebody attacks me, it’s like if they can have a reasonable conversation, we can back our treatments up, many of them with lots of science. There are lots of papers on this stuff. Have you ever heard of Coley’s toxins? Take them to the history of Coley’s toxins. He’s considered the father of immunotherapy. He had a sarcoma patient in 1891. He amputated her arm thinking that was going to stop the spread of cancer. It didn’t and she passed away. He was at Memorial Hospital, which is now Sloan Kettering. He went through the files of Memorial Hospital and see if anybody had survived with sarcoma. Nobody had survived sarcoma except one patient. A few years later, he brought the patient back and it turned out that the patient had what’s called an erysipelas infection, a bacterial infection, almost died of the infection, but when they survive the infection, the cancer was gone.When your loved one is literally dying, you'll do anything to try to find a solution. Click To Tweet
Dr. Coley thought of an accidental infection caused by a spontaneous remission of cancer, so should an unintentional infection. He infected his next patient with cancer, with erysipelas. The patient almost died. They lived. The cancer went away and it infected other patients with it. Some of them died of the infection. Some of them have had their cancer go away. He changed it to dead bacteria and from 1891 to 1936, he had a higher success rate treating many patients that we need to do now. In 1952, his daughter published the monographs that her dad did and founded the Cancer Research Institute with the Rockefeller family. It’s now one of the largest immunological research institutes in the world. She mentored the vice president of Sloan Kettering. Now, polio is famous in Sloan Kettering.
On their website, they say, “Immunotherapy. Revolutionizing cancer treatment since 1891.” Why didn’t they use it back then? They couldn’t find the mechanisms of action, which were discovered until the ‘80s and ‘90s. You can’t patent Coley so they’re patent pieces of Coley and Pfizer has a patent to CPG, which is one of the dangerous Coley’s. I say all this because it’s keeping an open mind and bringing in treatments that might not be available in the United States but have a lot of science. You can look at all the papers. In the textbooks, it has Dr. Coley as the father of immunotherapy. Those are the types of treatments that we bring in and we can back it up.
There’s something that’s been passed in the US, Right to Try. What is it?
The legislation is called Right to Try. The Trump administration passed that. He talked about it in the State of the Union address in 2019. It basically says that any drug, there are three phases of FDA trial. Phase one is safety and that legislation says any drug that has been through phase one, a patient can ask the pharmaceutical company for that drug. The pharmaceutical company can give them that drug and give them access to that drug without fear of a lawsuit, which keeps a lot of people from the pharmaceutical companies from doing this. This is for end-stage patients that have failed standard of care. It takes a process that would take 10 to 15 years generally with the FDA and time collapses in 12, 18 months. We’re the first institution that’s implementing the legislation. United Cancer Centers is going to be implementing the Right to Try legislation in our institution to give patients access to these cutting edge drugs and base them off of their genetic makeup to the best of our ability.
Does that mean that they will be able to participate in this within the US? Will they still need to come over to you in Mexico?
They’ll be able to participate in this within the US. It’s exciting times for the United States. In many ways, it’s better than what we’re able to do in Mexico. There are still some things that I’d love to do here in the US, but I think the legislation gives us a lot more access to medications than even we have in Mexico.
Are you splitting your time now between Mexico and Nashville? You’re originally a Nashville boy.
I was born and raised in Nashville. Mexico, Nashville and Puerto Rico, we’re in those three spots. I’d say most of my time is in Puerto Rico and Mexico. I probably spend a couple of months a year in Nashville.
Cancer is a phenomenal challenge. My wife had breast cancer, so I’ve had the experience of how cancer never affects just the person that’s got it. It affects everyone that surrounds that person as well. I remember before my wife got breast cancer, you hear this cancer and you go, “Other people get that,” but until you get it, you don’t realize how many people suffer from cancer. Why is it not focused on to look for a cure so much? Everyone gets it but no one seems to be working on a cure. We’re working on cures for other things, but not cancer when it seems to be the biggest disease there is out there. Am I wrong?
It’s definitely the number two cause of death in the United States next to heart disease. I think that the problem is they’re looking for a cure, but it’s not going to be a cure because cancer is not a disease. It’s a complex disease. You can give to patients with the same type of cancer the same treatment. One can respond, one won’t respond. Why is that? There are lots of variables but the genetic makeup of cancer, the person’s social determinants of health. There are a lot of things that are added but that early detection is key. Getting something like what’s called a liquid biopsy, which is not approved yet and still needs some work but being able to do a blood test that can tell if someone has cancer in the early stages. If you can cut out cancer, you’re way ahead of the game.
Stage four cancer, unless it’s testicular cancer, lymphoma or leukemia, there are not great answers for solid tumors. They were stuck on using chemo for a long time. I think the first chemo was mustard gas in 1948 and they were thinking that the chemo was going to kill cancer, but chemo does not cure stage four cancer, other than testicular cancer or leukemia, or some lymphomas. It has a good five-year survival for some lymphomas at the stage four level. For the most part, it doesn’t work well for a solid tumor. Now, they finally shifted from chemotherapy to immunotherapy and to different types of inhibitors. They’re making some great gains. The thing with immunotherapy, you get real cures with it for some of these. Some of these patients are getting, with the checkpoint inhibitors, OPDIVO, Keytruda, Yervoy, the ones that won the Nobel Prize, those checkpoint inhibitors are getting cures.
If you can get the immune system through the final killing of cancer get an adaptive immune system response whereas a memory, then you can keep the cancer away. That’s the holy grail. How do you do that over and over again? They are making gains. It’s complicated. I don’t think it’s due to a lack of effort. People ask me, “Why isn’t there a cure for cancer?” and my true belief is ego. I think egos get so big, they get stuck on this, “It’s got to be my idea.” The idea of chemo in many ways was wrong. If you look at the chemo that they’re using nowadays, a lot of 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s, there were approved. They’re old drugs and they tried different combinations. Chemo wasn’t the answer to solid tumors. They got approved because it was for lymphoma, which is a blood cancer. It was the first thing they could see a response in the blood, but then they thought that would work the same way for solid tumors and it simply doesn’t. They were on the wrong track for a long time, but they’re on the right track now. I think that we have a lot of hope.
With your service being allowed or with your methodology being able to be used in the US, is this something that they’re going to be able to use under the Trump legislation? Can they use their insurance for it? Is it a private purchase only?
Some of their insurance will be covered for some of the treatments, but not the actual Right to Try treatments. We’re going to be still be doing conventional therapy. We’ll still be mixing different conventional therapies. All of those things that are approved through insurance will be approved. The specific Right to Try drug will not be approved but the legislation says that the pharmaceutical company can’t make a profit off the drug. If their cost is $500, the patient pays $500. They’re not going to get the exorbitant markup of the medication.
Is there any red tape in someone waking up one day in California and going “Screw this, I’m going to go down to Mexico?” Is there any red tape to stop them coming down there?
Not at all.
Is it expensive? How long is a piece of string? It could be stage one, it could be stage four. There are a lot of different parameters in there. Is it an expensive process to come down and see you?
Compared to the United States, I would say not. We don’t take insurance, so it depends. Sometimes patients can get reimbursement with their insurance. Comparatively, it’s not expensive but I’d still want to be able to take insurance for what we’re doing in Mexico because we have over 200 employees, six-story hospital, full ICU, full surgery. If we could accept people’s insurance, we could make a lot bigger of an impact. There are some things that we could do that are approved in the United States like cryoablation, freezing a tumor. It’s approved for certain tumors that are smaller than 2 centimeters but if we could get insurance to cover those types of things in Mexico, I think we could make a big impact and some other treatments. For the most part, patients can’t get reimbursement so they’re paying for this day.When you treat people with kindness and give them that attention, it's going to make a difference. Click To Tweet
I want to float back to your kiddie days. Were you a smart kid at school?
I was an average student.
What was engaging you at school? Was it medicine? Was it science?
It was fighting, it was mixed martial arts. I got a scholarship to wrestle in college and dropped out the first year and just wanted to fight.
You launched a successful clothing empire.
It was called Gameness.
You sold that, correct?
I sold that in 2011. It was the largest supplier of Brazilian Jiujitsu martial arts uniforms in the world.
I’m trying to find that link between stumbling into what you are passionate and good at, such as the fighting. You run the largest schools in the Nashville area within Jiujitsu. Is that correct?
Yeah, it was at one point one of the largest mixed martial arts gyms in the United States.
You learned a lot from that in an arena that you understood. I can understand the dovetail from the largest schools to a clothing line for those schools because they were similar, but at one point you went, “I’m getting into science and I’m listening to an intelligent man now giving me information that I’m quoting 2 centimeters and saying words that I couldn’t even say, let alone spell.” I’m trying to find where that conduit and bridge were that suddenly made you go, “This is where my passion is.” Do you remember what that was?
It was my mom and realizing there were opportunities outside of the United States to help people. Once we opened CHIPSA, you see people dying. It’s like, “We’ve got to find solutions,” and so that’s building bridges with these smart people. I’ve got amazing mentors. Some of my friends are giant scientists and I can call them anytime and I’m around them all the time. I try to absorb the information. When you’re around these brilliant scientists all the time for a few years, you’re getting a lot of education. There are certain things that I don’t know and there are certain things that I know well. Especially in therapy for cancer, I don’t know that as well as they do, but I know pretty well. The concepts, I try to simplify them to where it’s not many acronyms and, “This is working this way, this is working that way,” to where we can explain it in ways that people can understand it. It’s being around.
If you’re around the professors all day, every day, for a few years you’re going to absorb a lot of that information. I feel like I’m around the best professors. It’s amazing to think that guys at this level that are literally some of the top immunotherapy scientists in the world can be passionate about making a difference in healthcare and believing in what we’re doing in Mexico. Believing in the vision of the United Cancer Centers and when you bring that all together, it’s synergy. We have a lot in common. We’re all trying to cure cancer. That’s what the ultimate goal is. How do you eventually cure cancer? How do you ease that suffering? We’ve all been through it. You went through it with your wife. I’ve been through it with my aunt. It’s something that we all had some type of experience with and I want to do my part and we want to do our part to end that suffering.
I’m a great believer that we can get an education by recruiting someone who’s smarter than us. One of the things that we can’t get is drive. Please believe me, this to me is a compliment. You have a greater drive than you do education and you’ve decided, “This has to be fixed. How do I fix it?” You’ve gone on to associate yourself with people that are in a position to be able to fix it. Do you feel that your drive is your greatest strength and talent?
I’d say yes and being open to possibility, not shutting someone off because they have an opposing opinion and trying to take it. If they are attacking, building a bridge, it’s a mixture of that and being open and open to possibility. The drive is definitely way up there as well. This passion, ultimately, I’m passionate about what I do and my two business partners and our staff too. If you ever come to Mexico, you’re welcome at any time. Watch the passion of our staff, how they treat people. It’s a contagious thing when you’re in an environment where you can make a giant difference.
Anyone reading this is going to be able to come out and you feel and taste it. The passion is coming across. This is massive. Where can people find out more about this? What are the websites and links? Throw it out there. Let us know.
I’m thrilled. I love the mentality. In martial arts, you used whatever worked to solve the situation and the opponent. Now you’re using that exact same mentality in the counseling. I’m thrilled you’re out there having that fight power. It’s an absolute pleasure and I’m honored to be speaking to someone with that passion and the drive, so congratulations on that. Anything we should tell our people before we go?Be open to possibility. Don’t shut people off just because they have an opposing opinion. Click To Tweet
I appreciate you having me on the show and anything that I can do for you as well, let me know.
Keep doing the fight. Thank you for being on the show.
That’s it for another episode. I hope you enjoyed it. You know the usual drill. Share it, tell people about it. Jump on Apple and put a review. Don’t be selfish. Spread the wealth. I look forward to chatting with you again. Until next time. Be safe.