Over the time period spanning between February of 2008 to February of 2013, the New Mexico MMA scene had mostly been compiled of local promotions and the occasional one-off fight event. During that five-year period, the area was lacking a major MMA promotion in the region and since the WEC 32 show in 2008, failed to have the stars of MMA headlining an in-state event. That all changed on February 28th when Bellator MMA busted into New Mexico and blew the doors off of Rio Rancho’s Santa Ana Star Center. The fight card would be labeled Bellator 91 and the successful show would bring a main card full of the regular promotion mainstays and an undercard full of New Mexico’s local fighters.
The undercard was the main intrigue of the event for the area; when the line-up was announced it became apparent that the arrival of Bellator MMA into the area would mean big opportunities for our locals. This would be the closest our locals would have to fighting at home in a premier MMA promotion in five-years and the competitors pegged for the first show were an interesting bunch. Before the injury bug bit the card, Felipe Chavez, Kevin Croom (Ran Weathers was also reported to be a replacement) and Angelo Sanchez were all scheduled to fight on the card but even after replacements were brought in and match-ups were scrapped the fight card would have some tremendous buzz.
The highlight of the undercard undoubtedly was the announcement of Judgement MMA’s Adrian Cruz vs. Jackson-Winkeljohn product Nick Gonzales. The two fighters were undefeated headed into the bout and it was the start of a common theme that Bellator MMA had going on in the undercards. The match-making wasn’t bringing in foreign talent to fight our locals, they were matching up our locals together to create buzz within the MMA community. When local star Holly Holm was announced to be on the fight card, the buzz grew immensely as it would be Holm’s first fight on a major promotion’s event. Between those two fights alone, the fight card’s undercard made the event a “must-see”.
The undercard would also include Santa Fe’s Josh Montoya taking on Ed West, Lenny Lovato’s return from a lengthy lay-off and the inclusion of Josh Lanier, Russell Wilson and Andres Quintana. Heading into the evening’s festivities on February 28th, the MMA community fans, fighters and coaches alike were buzzing with intrigue as this event would be the biggest event of the past several years and Bellator 91 did not fail to deliver.
What makes up a great event? Is it stunning knockouts and slick submissions? Is it fast paced fights and razor close duels? Is it classic performances and underdog victories? Well every one of those criteria were met that night inside the Santa Ana Star Center.
This year’s “Submission of the Year” may have been the moment of night as Adrian Cruz locked in a slick Scarf Hold Armlock on Nick Gonzales that really had the arena buzzing. Holly Holm followed a few fights later delivering a brutal beat-down to an overmatched Katie Merrill. Holm threw kicks with ill-intent; she consistently beat up the legs and body of Merrill before following up some kicks with powerful punches that sent Merrill down to the mat where Holm would finish the fight and in doing so making a statement for what was to come in 2013.
Not all of our locals faired well unfortunately as three of our locals lost their match-ups. Josh Lanier saw a back-and-forth first round hit the second stanza where his much larger opponent Josh Apelt would catch him flush and earn a knockout victory. Lenny Lovato would have the same fate come his way as Blas Avena would also score a knockout blow to the local fighter. Maybe the hardest loss was Josh Montoya’s as he drew the evening’s toughest foe in the title contending Ed West. After a first round that saw Montoya score with jabs and West attack with an array of kicks (including his version of Anthony Pettis’ showtime kick), the second round would see West set-up a perfectly timed head-kick that knockout Montoya unconscious. Montoya would be okay after the fight but the knockouts of the three locals definitely sent some wallows into the crowd of local supporters.
The highlight of the night however came in the form of the local match-up between Andres Quintana and Russell Wilson. The fight was an all-out war between two talented fighters and there were moments in each of the three rounds that brought roars from the crowd. The fight was so evenly matched that a judge’s decision could have yielded a draw but Quintana was able to secure the third round stoppage preventing that difficult decision to be made. It was truly a classic fight and will go down in the history of New Mexico MMA as one of the best fights to ever happen on local soil.
The fight card was a success on television as well, the Spike TV broadcast did close to one million viewers and the new market of New Mexico was very welcoming to the promotion. The evening featured fights that would be awarded year-end accolades as well, hosting our year’s “Fight of the Year” and “Submission of the Year”. The Bellator 91 event will go down as one of the top events to ever be held within New Mexico’s state lines.
Bellator 91 Fight Card:
Light-Heavyweight Title: Atilla Vegh vs. Christian M’Pumbu
Tournament Semi-Finals: Saad Awad vs. Will Brooks
Tournament Semi-Finals: David Rickels vs. Jason Fischer
Holly Holm vs. Katie Merrill
Blas Avena vs. Lenny Lovato
Andres Quintana vs. Russell Wilson
Ed West vs. Josh Montoya
Adrian Cruz vs. Nick Gonzales
Josh Appelt vs. Josh Lanier
Brennan Ward vs. Yair Moguel