It was a busy night at the Santa Ana Star Event Center in downtown Rio Rancho. The Bellator 91 fight card delivered a lot of action, including plenty of finishes.
The most anticipated fight on the card, at least for the hometown crowd, was Holly Holm vs Katie Merrill. Holm, a decorated boxer from Duke City, was making her third MMA fight. The crowd erupted as she made her way to the cage
When the bell rang, Merrill ran across the cage, as Holm circled away to keep her at distance. Eventually Merrill closes that distance—it almost seemed like Holm let her. They took turns pressing each other against the cage, and break.
Holm didn’t throw a single punch until about midway through the first. When she finally flashed a combo, the blows came with such speed that it seemed like you could hear them slice the air. At this point the crowd began chanting HOLLY HOLLY. She threw another explosive combo. And another, and began following her punches with kicks to the body and head. At the end of the round she telegraphed a kick, which got caught. The round ended with Merrill on top.
In the second round, Holm threw more hands, grunting like Jackie Chan with every strike. The body punches continued to provide openings for her kicks, which began landing with power.
Holm’s strikes were like meteors, but great drama was nonetheless achieved by the fact that she wanted nothing to do with the ground game. A few times Holms landed with enough power to make you wonder if Merrill would stop, but she absorbed the strikes and kept coming. Free of fear of Holm taking her down, Merrill threw kicks at will.
Merrill tried again to clinch, and Holm went to work on her body like she was a heavy bag, and Merrill had to let go. After a few more nearly successful takedown attempts by Merrill, Holm landed a left hook to the sternum. She then took a step back, as if to get a better angle from which to watch Merrill fall. Merrill tried to absorb the blow and threw a kick back, which Holm caught and dumped her to the matt. Merrill looked done; Holm pounded on her for a few seconds until the ref agreed.
It ended on the ground, but will be remembered as a body shot KO. Twitter blew up with premature demands that Holm take on UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey. Alas, Holm’s lack of confidence in her ground game and tentativeness in punishing her opponent early with strikes gives us little reason to believe she would be able to stop Ronda from taking her down and arm-barring her. But if Holm ever wanted to apply herself to developing a ground game, she would be a scary assignment for anyone. Training as she does at Jackson’s MMA, she’s hardly without opportunity to do so.
After being announced as the winner, Holm bounced around the cage like a puppy, looking for her long time coach Mike Winkeljohn. When she found him, he locked his hands together as a step, and she back-flipped off the step. And the hungry, angry beast that is the Albuquerque fight fans was appeased.
In recent years, Bellator fighting championships has solidified its hold as the nation’s #2 Mixed Martial Arts promotion, behind only the UFC in terms of revenue and exciting fights. Well, revenue, anyway. After last Thursday’s Bellator 90, in which there were six fights and six finishes on the main card alone, Bellator has strengthened an already compelling argument that it can deliver the goods.
This coming Thursday, Feb 28—as in, the day after tomorrow—Bellator is coming to the Santa Ana Star Casino in Bernalillo. Several local fighters are on the card, including boxer Holly Holm, who will be taking her third MMA fight against Katie Merrill.
Holm comes in as a favorite, at least in terms of hometown sentiment and big fight experience. But in the world of MMA, both Holm and Merrill are newbies. Merrill has a ground game, if she can get the fight there. Holm, one would expect, wants to keep it standing. The decorated boxer has a mean kicking game as well as boxing, having ended her first MMA fight via kicks to her opponents’ legs. Holm’s world-class striking will be a lethal asset as long as she can stay on her feet. If she gets tested on her back, the hometown crowd will surely be gritting its teeth.
However evenly matched it is, Holm has the most to lose. Just ask Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, who came in as a heavy favorite and ended up on the wrong end of a highlight-reel knockout. “Mo” came out with his hands low, as if he believed merely having Jeff Mayweather in his corner would grant him powers of immunity. Emanuel Newton ended that fantasy with a perfectly placed spinning backfist that hit the “off switch” as perfectly as a single punch could.
Holm, we assume, won’t be bogged down with that kind of hubris, even though she has an even better striking coach in her corner, Mike Winkeljohn. And I can attest that she will come in shape. I saw her last night at Wink’s Gym, where she trains and teaches a weekly cardio heavy bag class. (She won’t be teaching this Thursday; the gym will be closed because everyone will be at the fight).
She wasn’t there to train last night, but to hold pads for a teammate. I briefly chatted with her, and she was relaxed. She may have a lot more to lose than her opponent, but if she couldn’t handle that kind of pressure, she wouldn’t be a fighter.
Tomorrow, look here for updates on some of the other local fighters on Thursday’s Bellator card at Santa Ana Star.
Last Thursday the local media was invited to open workouts at Jackson/Winkeljohn MMA academy, and to interview the teams fighters that are competing this weekend in Chicago’s United Center on UFC on Fox 6. Albuquerque-born Flyweight John Dodson will battle Demetrius Johnson for the title in the main event. Also on the card, Donald Cerrone fights Anthony Pettis at Lightweight, and Clay Guida makes his Featherweight debut against Japanese star Hatsu Hioki. Check the paper on Thursday for a full story. Meanwhile, please enjoy these video interviews.
A passerby who happened to be wandering through the Hotel Albuquerque ballroom yesterday would have noticed the weigh-ins for tonight’s Jackson’s MMA Series (JMMAS) fight card. To his or her untrained eye, it was a bunch of dudes taking turns weighing themselves in their Underoos. If the passerby happened to miss the occasional brief moment when the fighters tensed their muscles and raised their fists at each other, the mood in the room may have been more suggestive of a needlepoint contest. There was handshaking, hugging, back patting and giggling—yes giggling—as the fighters squared off and tried to look menacing in each other’s faces.
These gentlemen are looking forward to punching one another, and who are we to stop them? They are fighters. This is a fight town. And everyone is so gleeful because they know that as soon as this formality is over they can finally eat again, and rehydrate their shrunken bodies.
The card goes down tonight at JMMAS’ new home in Tingley Coliseum at Expo New Mexico at the fairgrounds. I wrote about it more yesterday, and everything I said remains true, except that Nick Urso’s opponent, who we won’t bother naming at this point, showed up two weight classes above the 135lb bantamweight limit, and that scrap was scrapped.
Taking its place in the coveted "co-main event" category is a fight between stocky and clean cut Manuel Cespedes and the skinny, hippy-dread-headed Mike Justus of Jackson’s MMA. They say that style-matches make fights. So do matches of body types. Will the tall guy use his massive reach advantage to pick apart Cespedes on the feet, or submit him in a tangle of limbs? Or will he fold like a lawn chair when he feels the Cuban's power?
One thing that’s for sure: for a moment the giggles will stop.
The Jackson’s MMA Series returns to Tingley Colliseum tomorrow (Saturday) night. If you’ve never seen a live MMA event, Tingley is a great place to start. It’s big enough to accommodate the cheers, the jeers, the thumping music and flashing lights of a big show, and that’s what it feels like at fight time. This venue is altogether a massive improvement over the event’s former home, the Hard Rock Café. And as a bonus, if you get too drunk to drive home, the walk is a heckuva lot shorter.
Only the card’s top two fights have been announced, both 135 lb contests: Matt Leyva vs Anthony Birchak and Nick Urso vs Dave Ruelez. Two additional pro fights and a full amateur undercard are on tap as well, according to a Nov 27 press release.
The event’s weigh-in takes place today at 2pm at the Hotel Albuquerque, free to the public. It can also be streamed online (the fight card can also be streamed from there as well, for five bucks).
One fighter on the amateur undercard is Eric Dodson, whose older brother John will challenge Demetrius Johnson for the UFC Flyweight title on January 26, 2013. Eric will enter the cage for his second career fight tomorrow, against Scott Ingram, which he discussed in an interview with Jorge Hernandez of Albuquerque’s Low Blow Podcast.
The Alibi was at the younger Dodson’s first fight in October, and we shot this video, which you should now enjoy. Dodson appeared to be having the time of his life, even when he got rocked, before entering temporary matrix mode and becoming temporarily unhittable, finishing Fernie Garcia with a single lighting –fast jab.
There are some other interesting fights on the undercard as well, including Jackson’s Ricky Esquibel against Aurora, Colorado’s Nick De Fiore. Seriously, anyone who shows up late and misses the undercard better have a damned good excuse.
For more on the undercard and main card matchups, visit our local nexus for sport combat: http://swfight.com/ Fights start at 7 pm at Tingley Coliseum at Expo New Mexico at the fairgrounds. Tickets are $20-$125.
Looking back on it now, we might have realized something was up when Aaron Cerda dropped into the ninja pose during the pre-fight presser/weigh-in ahead of the Jackson’s MMA Series IX fight card, which went down Saturday night at Tingley Coliseum. Cerda took the main event fight against Frank Gomez on short notice after Gomez’ original opponent, Mikey Lovato, had to pull out with a hurt knee. Not much was known about the 22 year-old Cerda, other than being a striker—rumor has it a 3rd degree black belt in Kajukembo.
Frank Gomez hugs coach Greg Jackson before going to battle
As the bout opened, Cerda’s striking was crisp and menacing, and Gomez took the fight to the mat, where he controlled the young Texan. But Cerda was able to land a surprising, ninja-style elbow from the bottom that caused a large welt above Gomez’s eye. A second such elbow proved it wasn’t a fluke, catch Gomez again, this time in the eye.
The referee called a stop to the action so the cage-side doctor could examine Gomez’s eye. After Gomez acknowledged that he couldn’t see out if it, the fight was stopped, with Cerda declared the winner by TKO via doctor stoppage at 4:26 of the first round. If it had just been one elbow, I’d call that a fluke. But a striker who can stop a fight from his back? That, ladies and gentlemen, is some truly next-level shit.
In the co-main event, Hunter Tucker finally put an end to Nate Patterson’s winning streak against Jackson squad, putting him to sleep via first round rear naked choke. In the process, Tucker moves to 4-0 as a pro.
Those who arrived for the main card missed some seriously entertaining undercard action, highlighted by Eric Dodson’s display of Steven Segal-esqu patty-cake-slappy-chop-fu , as he recovered from being seriously rocked by a right hook from Fernie Garcia. While swatting away Garcia’s pesky attempts to finish him, Dodson flashed a jab so fast it was only visible by slow motion replay, and Garcia crumpled. You can see my pre-fight interview with Dodson here. Also on the all-amateur undercard, Ricky Esquibel moved to 2-0 as an amateur, finishing off Chris Brewer by sinking in a guillotine choke from the clinch and then rolling him beautifully to the mat for the finish. Watch a cool clip from Esquibel’s first fight here
It’s worth saying that the Tingley Coliseum, which the Jackson’s MMA Series will call home for at least the next four years, is a great place to watch MMA. The lights, the way the music echoes, it’s all a lot more like the big leagues than it was at the Hard Rock Café. And the views are much, much better. Look for another card to shape up for December.
Frank Gomez vs Aaron Cerda, courtesy of swfight.com
The Jackson’s MMA Series touches down for the ninth time on Saturday, September 8th in its new home: Tingley Coliseum. As usual, the card is comprised of members of the world-famous Jackson/Winkeljohn MMA squad taking on challengers who come from all over the Southwest, including El Paso, Las Cruces, Phoenix, Socorro, Colorado, as well as from other gyms in Albuquerque. In fact, the card’s main event was scheduled to be a cross-town showdown between Jackson’s product Frank Gomez and Mikey Lovato of Lovato Total Fitness in Albuquerque.
At Friday’s packed press conference at the Hotel Albuquerque, promoter Ricky Kottenstette announced that Lovato had sustained a knee injury the day before, and was being replaced in the main event by Aaron Cerda, from Tye, Tx.
It’s worth noting that Kottenstette was able to orchestrate this last minute switch because he had taken the precaution of arranging Cerda as a possible last-minute substitute, should one of his main event fighters get injured. Cerda had already been medically cleared and knew there was a possibility he’d be asked to compete.
I bring this up because the Jackson’s academy, as well as Jackson’s fighter Jon Jones, were recently blamed by UFC President Dana White for the collapse of UFC 151, a fight card that was scheduled to take place September 1st in Las Vegas, NV. You can read about the sordid details here, but suffice it to say White said some fairly not nice things about Jackson’s trainer Greg Jackson and UFC Light Heavyweight Champ Jon Jones.
So it jumps out at me that unlike UFC president Dana White, Jackson’s MMA Series GM Kottenstette had a plan B. There was no drama, no blame-gaming, and the show will go on.
Lovato Total Fitness will still be represented in the friendly cross-town rivalry, as Lynae Lovato takes on Emily Kagan of Jackson’s, who will be making her pro debut.
The co-main event features rising Jackson’s star Hunter Tucker taking on Nate Patterson of 3 Crosses BJJ in Las Cruces. Patterson may have something to prove after getting one-punch knocked out at a pool party in April of this year, in a story that made national news. Tucker, we assume, will be out to re-test Patterson’s chin, as well as end a three-fight losing streak that Jackson’s fighters have against Patterson.
Also on the card, Eric Dodson, the younger, larger brother of UFC star John Dodson will be making his amateur debut, as a bantamweight. Another fight to watch, also on the amateur card, is Ricky Esquibel of Jackson’s taking on Chris Brewer of Longfellow MMA in Monte Vista, CO. I saw Esquibel’s debut amateur fight last October, and was impressed.
The fun starts at 7 pm on Saturday, September 8, at Tingley Coliseum. Tickets start at $20, and are available at holdmyticket
At a Korean superstore in Las Vegas, I watched an employee whose sole job, it seemed, was organizing a vast array of kimchee. Her domain consisted of thousands of plastic tubs of fermented fish and vegetables in various combinations, usually spicy. She darted about the immense display cases and scrutinized the tubs' arrangement, rearranging their contents like beads on a giant abacus.
My feeling observing her that day roughly sums up how I feel about the process of fermentation generally: a mixture of awe and fear. The process is like some potent voodoo that could give you special powers or torture you to death.
The Albuquerque Northeast Farmers' & Artisans' Market is nearing the halfway mark on its third season, selling a balance of raw produce, meat and prepared food options, as well as gourmet dog food, pottery, skin care products, baby clothes, and other folksy crafts. Read all about the Heights bounty in this week’s Food Section.
We've all heard the gloomy scenarios of global warming: extreme weather, drought, famine, breakdown of society, destruction of civilization. Here in New Mexico it feels like we’ve made the switch from esoteric to actual, from computer model to daily life. My perch in Placitas feels like a front-row seat to the apocalypse. Smoke is in the air. Neighbors are fighting over water. Some of my outdoor flower pots have melted in the heat. Wild animals are getting thirsty, hungry and bold. It turns out, this might just be the new normal for the American Southwest.