With Bellator 91 getting closer as each day goes by the anticipation is mounting in New Mexico. Tomorrow, New Mexico fight fans will be treated to Bellator MMA’s big time show being held at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho. The night’s festivities will be highlighted by Bellator’s Light Heavyweight title fight between champion Christian M’Pumbu taking on Atilla Vegh. Prior the night’s main event, the card will offer loads of local New Mexico talent.
With all the excitement and buzz around the event, SWFight.com went out and asked several prominent figures around the MMA community some questions to gather there opinions on Bellator 91. With that, we begin Bellator 91’s roundtable.
SWFight.com: Bellator 91 is a very big time show coming to New Mexico; we haven’t had a big event like this go down in quite some time. Being part of martial arts in this area for so long, do you recall a memory in our state’s MMA history that was as relevant as this event?
Shannon Curlee – Judgement MMA – Teammate of Adrian Cruz
“Yes, Bellator 91 will serve as the largest MMA event in New Mexico’s history displaying some of the state’s local heroes and rising stars. The last show that carried this kind of weight was when the WEC came to town with Carlos Condit headlining in front of his hometown crowd. It proved that New Mexico was a true fighting state with top notch fighters and the fans to back them up.”
SWFight.com: A common theme in the announcement of local fighters was how many fighters Bellator picked up that were coming off a long layoff from fighting. We are talking mostly about Josh Lanier, Lenny Lovato and before the injury, Felipe Chavez. Anywhere from a year to three years off were the shocking lengths of time the fighters were coming off. As a coach, what are some things you watch for when a fighter makes their return?
Chris Avila – MMA Coach
“They usually have a problem with their timing. They are throwing punches and they are not in range, they look a little bit off. With their wrestling and grappling it may be harder to the untrained eye but if they aren’t setting up their takedowns. You will see a guy throwing punches and make connection on the punches but will rush in for a takedown. Jiu Jitsu wise, when a guy has a little ring rust and is put on his back, he won’t have good movement. He won’t have the movement and he won’t be setting anything up or working towards the second or third movement to set something up.”
SWFight.com: Josh Lanier and Lenny Lovato Jr. are all coming off long layoffs from competition. As a fighter, how does “ring rust” play a role in effecting a fighter both in the fight and during preparations? What are some things to watch for when watching a fighter return from such lengthy periods of time away from fighting?
Rich Chavez – Grappling Coach at Judgement MMA – Teammate to Adrian Cruz and Josh Montoya
“I think it has everything to do with the fighter’s team and how hard they are pushed in training. If they really push themselves hard in training then they will be fully prepared for the fight, but if their team doesn’t do that then they will not in position to fight to their ability. Everything starts inside the gym, where a fighter begins to develop habits. Those habits show inside the fight. If a fighter trains and he holds back because his teammate doesn’t want to spar hard, he will develop that habit of not throwing hard or fully committed. If you train to where you are over thinking or being too cautious then you will start to hesitate and if you are in a fight and hesitate instead of just flowing then whatever it is your doing will be too late, telegraphed or non-effective. I think it comes down to the team as to whether ring rust plays a role for a fighter, if they train hard and are pushed hard by their team then it won’t play a factor.”
SWFight.com: Bellator 91 main card fighter Josh Montoya is a fighter that has trained in your gym and that you have worked with in terms of his training camp, he has a stiff test in former top Bellator title contender Ed West who is coming off a year long layoff. As a trainer who excels in the field of preparing an athletes body, do you feel the “ring rust” may play a role in this fight considering Josh has remained very active recently fighting in a pro boxing bout several weeks ago?
David Padilla – Fitness BootCamp Santa Fe – Personal Trainer and Josh Montoya’s Strength and Conditioning Coach
“With as many fights as Ed West has under his belt I don’t think “ring rust” will play that big of a factor. I’m sure he’ll be adequately prepared. However I do see a great benefit with Josh fighting as frequently as he’s been. You train with a little bit more intensity if you have a fight on the horizon. And that’s been quite often for Josh.”
SWFight.com: Adrian Cruz and Nick Gonzalez are squaring off at Bellator 91, each fighter have exceptional striking influences as Cruz trains under Scott Marlowe and Gonzalez has gym coaches Brandon Gibson and Mike Winklejohn as striking based influences. What are your thoughts on the high quality coaches that our state boasts, especially out of the prominent New Mexico gyms?
Quinn Mulhern – UFC Fighter – Jackson’s-Winklejohn’s fighter
“I don’t think there is a simple answer to this, but a big part of the coaching level here has to do with Albuquerque’s history with martial arts and combat sports. People are often surprised at how big MMA is here, especially considering that we are not a huge population center compared to other cities. But coaches like Mike Winklejohn and many others grew up in an environment where, I think, fighting was a big part of the culture and people had professional interest in it. I’m not sure why combat sports have this prime spot in the culture, but if I had to hazard a guess I’d say that in New Mexico there is a bit less emphasis on traditional sports (like Texas’ football, or Indiana’s basketball), or at least less access to those sports. And let’s face it, Albuquerque can be kind of a hard town, I can totally see someone living here and feeling the desire to fight, and to get really good at it.”
SWFight.com: The evenings festivities for Bellator 91 will be rich in local talent. From Jackson’s-Winklejohn’s fighters to Lovato Total Fitness fighters to Judgement MMA fighters, the card is full of local athletes. Still one of the hottest topics to discuss is Holly Holm and her return to MMA. As a fellow MMA fighter, one that recently announced her own Bellator fight, how do you feel about the current state of Woman’ MMA?
Heather Clark – XFC and Bellator Fighter
“The current state of Women’s MMA is growing leaps and bounds everyday. Just look at the Women’s UFC fight this past weekend. That was something I wasn’t sure I would see happen. I thought maybe 10 years. The organization I fight for, XFC, is gone from doing one women’s fight on the every card, to doing 2 women’s fights on every card. I think more and more women are starting to train and with in the next 5 years I think there will be many women only promotions. I am so excited to see Holly Holm return to the cage. I get the honor of seeing her train and grow everyday. She constantly surprises me how fast she picks up things. She is one of the best athletes I have ever met. I have never seen someone work with the work ethic she puts into every training session. She is a great training partner and an all around amazing person. Def keep on eye on her. I have no doubt she will be at the top of the UFC’s 135 women’s division in the next year or so. What an exciting time for women’s MMA! Yeeee Haaaa! My next fight will be on March 28th on Bellator 94 in Tampa, FL. I will be fighting Felice Herrig. I am very excited to be fighting for an excellent organization and confident I will put on a show everyone will remember.”
SWFight.com: Holly Holm returning to MMA under a big promotion for a pretty attention grabbing card is big news. How do you feel about cross over athletes such as Holm and even locals like Angelo Sanchez (now scratched from the card) and Josh Montoya who have ventured out of MMA to professional boxing.
Joby Sanchez – XFC Fighter – Chavez Dojo
“I find it awesome that boxers are fighting MMA and that MMA fighters are boxing especially for how difficult boxing can be. MMA and boxing share similarities, but they’re two completely different sports in my opinion. So I find it awesome that fighters such as Holly compete and exceed in both.”
SWFight.com: How do you feel about the match-ups putting local fighters against one another under this big promotions banner? The Sanchez/Croom (now off the card), Quintana/Wilson and Cruz/Gonzales match ups feature prominent fighters from very prominent gyms, which is something we rarely get to see on the regional levels.
Leon Salazar – Long time MMA fan and follower of NM regional MMA
“I love the idea of local fighters fighting each other. When you’re a fan of MMA you take huge interest in the local scene. It’s not very often you get to see the fighters from top gyms from the same state compete against each other. I don’t believe it’s really ruining their chances to get big considering that our state is already really well known for MMA. Besides California I would say this is really the place to be and compete in MMA. I do believe that it was huge loss when local legend Angelo Sanchez went down due to injury but it was great on Bellator’s part to fill that spot with a Jackson’s guy. I think it’s good that they got a couple of guys from Jackson’s on the card because everyone around here knows as soon as a Jackson guy steps in the cage you expect greatness. I believe this gives other gyms that haven’t quite put in a guy into to the UFC levels the chance to show there are other gyms here in New Mexico that are on the rise. It’s true that in the MMA world UFC runs the show, but I think Bellator coming to a New Mexico, a place where combat sports is just as big as any other sport, is a huge deal and will turn a lot of fans onto Bellator quick! The local fighters they signed on this Bellator deal already have a huge fan bases so I think it is quite fitting to put them to fight each other.”
SWFight.com: Of the locals, diversity is a common theme for example the three Lovato Total Fitness fighters have strength in grappling and wrestling and the Mean 1 MMA fighters have strong striking skills. Is there a discipline you feel is best suited of all the different arts out there?
Benjahmin Sandoval – Head Coach Alchemy BJJ – Grappling Coach for Joshua Montoya
“I believe there are 3 aspects to a successful MMA fighter, Technique, Athleticism and Attitude. Technique must be developed within all three ranges of fighting: Striking , Striking/wrestling from the clinch and fighting on the ground . If one aspect of fighting is neglected the fighter will develop a hole in their game. A fighter must be athletic enough to push their technique in a chaotic and violent situation. If the degree of technical ability is outmatched by an opponent’s athleticism then the fighter loses position and possibly the fight. To counter an opponent’s athleticism a mixture of technique and athleticism is paramount.
A fighter must be tireless in their efforts preparing for a fight. Their attitude must push them as far as any elite caliber athlete. They must also be smart about how they train. This tireless attitude is demonstrated to me everyday by the wrestlers on our mats. I choose wrestling as the best foundation for an MMA background. It excels in every area I have outlined. It is a very technical art; it creates tremendous athleticism and the hardest workers in the business with the most unrelenting attitudes. Like I tell my son Zion, once you’ve done wrestling everything else is easier.”