It was a pleasant evening of punching, kicking and strangling at the Hard Rock Café, a warm and fuzzy reminder of just how enamored our town is with the whole ultimate fighting thing. UFC star Diego Sanchez was in attendance, yelling himself hoarse in support of his Jackson-Winkeljohn teammates. Former UFC heavyweight champ Andrei Arlovski was there as well, and he managed to make it through about a hundred fan photo-ops without once cracking a smile.
The amateur undercard was a clean sweep for the home team. John Sparks submitted Adam McGurk of El Paso in the first round by rear naked choke in a lightweight bout. Then at middleweight, Adam Gonzales needed only 17 seconds to knock out Fabian Salas, also of El Paso. Gonzales caught Salas with a straight right as the Texan charged. At the top of the amateur card, Ricky Esquibel won an impressive decision over Juan Carlos Mora of Santa Fe, for the Edge Fighter Challenge Championship. Esquibel was persistent with knees from the clinch. Near the end of the third round, Esquibel escaped a bad situation on the ground with the time-tested method of standing up with your opponent on top of you, slamming him, and choking him out. The referee missed Mora’s tap, with seconds left in the third round, but the tap did not escape the Alibi’s camera.
In the first fight on the pro card, Nate Patterson of Las Cruces used vicious leg kicks to visibly hurt Rich Chavez of Jackson-Winkeljohn, draining the spring from his step and taking away his takedown ability. Patterson didn't do much more than land those leg kicks, but it was enough to earn him the judges decision and bring him to a perfect 3-0 against the hometown squad.
Then, Tucson’s Freddie Lux handed Jackson’s flyweight Nick Urso his first loss in a split decision. In a strange post-fight speech, the crowd clearly hated Lux, but when the Tyson-voiced 125 lber asked if the crowd wanted him back next time the room filled with cheers. Go figure.
In the only fight where neither fighter had the home field advantage, Freddie Crosby of Albuquerque Kickboxing took on Hunter Tucker of Jackson-Winkeljohn at featherweight. The bout was competitive until Tucker caught Crosby with a guillotine choke midway through the second round, forcing him to tap and silencing half of the room.
The co-main event featured recent UNM graduate, and former marine, Matt Leyva, who won a close unanimous decision against Federico Lopez of Temecula, Cali. While two of the judges gave all three rounds to Leyva, the fight was closer than that. Each round was close, and Lopez made a strong case for winning each. Perhaps Leyva’s vocal and well-appointed cheering section made the judges nervous.
In the evening’s main event, “Smokin’” Joey Villasenor made his welterweight debut, and smoked Chuck Parmellee of Sioux City, IA, by first round TKO. Parmellee, a game opponent, was the aggressor early on, while Villasenor stayed elusive and patient until he found an opening for a left hook that landed on his charging opponent, knocking him to the mat. Villasenor swarmed Parmellee with punches before he even hit the ground, and the fight was waived off seconds later by referee Craig Zellner.
In his post-fight remarks, the former middleweight Villasenor said he felt reborn at 170. “It feels like my career is brand new. Last might I was pinching myself that I actually made 170. I was outsized my last few fights. But ‘70 feels good. I feel good.”