It is well-known that New Mexico is one of the hot spots for combat sports. While the culture in-state was originally centered on boxing, many now consider Albuquerque and surrounding areas to be the “Mecca” of mixed martial arts. With the Jackson-Winklejohn gym emerging as one of the premier and most recognizable gyms in the sport, Albuquerque received a lot of attention and fame. Gyms like FIT NHB only further solidified the state’s successful pedigree of combat sports and eventually New Mexico blossomed to an area that not only hosted the best fighters but now had several top-notch gyms and several well-know fight promotions.
While MMA has been around since the early 1990’s, the boom that caused the popularity in North America occurred in the early 2000’s and not too long after New Mexico was starting the movement to become the “Mecca” it is today. From promotions like Fight World to fighters like Diego Sanchez and Joey Villasenor, New Mexico has so many historical gems and information tidbits about our area’s combat culture that many people are not aware of.
We here at SWFight.com would like to change that today with our first edition of “New Mexico MMA Throwback” where we bring you interesting factoids, minimally known information and overall fun throwback moments from New Mexico’s fighters, promotions and gyms.
- FIT NHB’s Frank Baca fought Japan’s Mamaru Yamaguchi in Baca’s first year as a professional. Despite Baca being fresh into his career, Baca took the fight against Yamaguchi who was long considered the top ranked fighter in the world overseas and in the Flyweight division. Yamaguchi was 22-5 heading into the fight while the still raw Baca was 5-0.
- Baca’s teammate Donald Sanchez traveled to the Tokyo Dome City Hall for Shooto Tradition 2011 to face who many considered to be #2 Featherweight Hatsu Hioki. While Sanchez was a relative unknown to most fans outside of New Mexico and the U.S., Sanchez would make his name known and would travel to Singapore five fights later to fight Top-10 Featherweight Tatsuya Kawajiri.
- Santa Fe’s Josh Montoya has fought all around the country including in Atlantic City, New Jersey inside the Tropicana Resort & Casino. Under the Ring of Combat promotional banner, Montoya fought on a card in 2009 as a 19-year old that featured a slew of notable fighters who would go on to gain MMA fame. Amongst those names, current UFC Middleweight Champion Chris Weidman picked up his second career win. Joining in on the all-star cast of fighters was TUF Runner-Up Al Laquinta, UFC Title Contenders Charles Oliveira and Louis Gaudinot and UFC vets Rafael Natal, Ricardo Romero, Sean Salmon and Gian Villante.
- Socorro’s Richard Montano has fought just about every notable regional champion or contender in his MMA career. His record reads as a “whose who” of New Mexico martial artists. Montano went the distance against Donald Sanchez, King of the Cage Champion Abel Cullum and UFC top contender Cub Swanson. He also stepped into the cage with Angelo Sanchez and former WEC fighters Manny Tapia and Damacio Page.
- King of the Cage stands as New Mexico’s longest lasting premier event spanning well over 20-events. The first ever event held in the state was back in June of 2002 in Rio Rancho for King of the Cage 14: 5150. Serving as the featured main event fighter, the UFC Hall of Fame fighter Dan Severn notched a TKO victory. Keith Jardine, Joey Villasenor, Alberto Crane and Heavyweight journeyman Paul Buentello picked up wins on the undercard.
- Speaking of King of the Cage, once upon a time back in 2004/2005 the promotion visited the remote area of Socorro on two occasions. King of the Cage 38: Desert Extreme and King of the Cage 50: First Blood featured current Mean 1 MMA and Bellator fighter Felipe Chavez. WEC standout Damacio Page, and locals Richard Montano, Chris Avila and Eric Kucevic who also participated on the undercards.
- The Aztec Challenge event held in Juarez, Mexico was very notable. Held in Sept, 2002 the event featured Jorge Lopez in main and Dan Severn in co-main. But the intriguing aspect was that the event was host to Diego Sanchez in his second pro fight and the pro debut for Carlos Condit. If fight fans don’t remember a fight from back in September of 2002 hosted in Juarez, Mexico we won’t blame you. However, the fight was notable in that Diego Sanchez notched his second career victory and Carlos Condit made his professional debut with a first round rear-naked choke submission victory.
- As the documentary titled “The Proving Grounds” informed fight fans, the world-famous Jackson-Winkeljohn gym has roots that ties back to Greg Jackson, Chris Luttrell, Mike Winklejohn and Tom Vaughn. Lutrell now runs the well-known Lutrell’s MMA gym while Tom Vaughn is the head coach for Downtown Albuquerque’s FIT NHB. Jackson and Winkeljohn are now considered one of the sports premier 1-2 punches in the combat sports coaching world. Coach Winkeljohn also runs Wink’s Gym.
- The Jackson-Winkeljohn gym has hands in several of New Mexico’s gyms, owners and coaches. The Santa Fe Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy founder Alberto Crane spent time in the Jackson-Winklejohn camp as did Alchemy BJJ founder Josh Montoya. Ultimate Fighter contestant and Undisputed Fitness/10th Planet Jiu Jitsu founder Tait Fletcher also trained for the famed gym.
- The “Fight World” MMA promotion was around for more than fifteen events and was prominent in the mid-2000’s. While the promotion held several events featuring notable fighters like Tim Means, Carlos Condit and “OX” Wheeler. The show may win the award for most unique event name as Fight World put on two shows in two days called “Cinco de Whoop Ass”.
- The most prominent Jiu Jitsu tournament in New Mexico has long been considered to be the “Grapplefest” tournaments run by David Freidlander. The tournament tallies up points for each tournament, standouts Lionel Lanham, Henry Martinez and Josh Lanier have all racked up 5000 points to be considered in the elite level of New Mexico grappling. Santa Fe Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’s Jess Martinez may be one of the youngest members of that elite club.
- Two out-of-state fighters have made big-time statements fighting against our local fighters. The late Freddie Lux came into New Mexico twice and defeated very respected New Mexico fighters; first in late-2011, Lux earned the split decision nod over Nick Urso and returned in mid-2012 with a submission finish of “OX” Wheeler. Texas prospect Jason Sampson can be attributed to the resurgence of Erik “El Goyito” Perez; Sampson was the last man to defeat Perez before his 8-fight tear that included three in a row inside the UFC’s octagon. Sampson went on a year later to defeat Josh Montoya inside “The Pit” by arm-bar.
- Calling Jesse Long “tough” would be wildly considered an understatement. The Lovato Total Fitness fighter has a very impressive amateur resume. Long’s three wins come against Rio Rancho top-talent Adrian Cruz and his teammate John Rozema, and undefeated Paul Ray who was one of the more recognizable figures in the MMA scene prior to 2010.
Stay tuned to SWFight.com for the next edition of New Mexico MMA Throwback to find out some more interesting and little known facts about the state’s MMA culture!