On Friday night the Texas-based Legacy FC promotion partnered up with Fresquez Productions for the second time to bring the Legacy brand to Albuquerque, New Mexico. The event was held at the Route 66 Casino & Hotel and was notable leading up to Friday night for being the first time Fresquez Productions would promote a show without newly signed UFC fighter, Holly Holm. It has been well-known for several years that Holm was the marquee star in our regional circuit and in terms of ticket sales was the top draw in the entire state dating back to her monumental run as a World Champion boxer.
Legacy FC 36 failed to capture the buzz from the local fight crowd as the Legends Theater was definitely not at capacity. Despite the fact that the show featured two title bouts and a very notable fighter in Damacio Page, the absence of Holm was definitely apparent in the event center. I don’t think official reports have surfaced discussing ticket sales but it appeared Friday night that it would be generous to say the arena was 50% filled to capacity.
It is not clear if Albuquerque remains in the plans for Legacy and since nobody truly knows the deal between Legacy and Fresquez, it is impossible at this point to know if fight fans should expect shows to keep coming to Route 66 and Albuquerque in general. Holm’s departure tells a story that New Mexico lacks a major draw and local star and going forward it will be interesting to see what the promotion does to get the buzz around their show in order to really move the needle on ticket sales.
- The loudest pop of the night belongs to Damacio Page which should be expected as he was the biggest star on the fight card. Many forget that Page made quite the run while in the WEC that included a victory over on-time Bantamweight perennial contender Scott Jorgensen and Will Campuzano. In fact, Page has always been regarded as being one of the hardest hitters at 135-pounds and now at 125-pounds he is arguably the hardest one-punch striker in the entire weight class.
- The overhand right that Page landed on opponent Brian Hall was one of the most devastating and violent knockouts that you will ever see and now that the KO video has gone viral it should only be a matter of time before the UFC calls him up. The UFC’s 125-pound division desperately needs some excitement from a striker and have really missed Page’s teammate John Dodson for that, but Page would immediately spark some buzz at Flyweight with his dangerous striking talents.
- Page’s move to 125-pounds is a perfect example of revitalization of a career through a weight change. I doubt that after four losses at 135-pounds that Page would ever have done enough to warrant a return to the UFC but with a clean slate at 125-pounds, Page was able to put together some highlight reel victories and if he does sign with the UFC, he will be billed as a whole new fighter.
- Cody East was the main event showcase but after the Page “Knockout of the Year” candidate I think some of the buzz left the crowd. Still, East did what exactly what was expected of him and that was batter his opponent and attempt to become the face of the Fresquez/Legacy shows in New Mexico. I don’t know if the performance was received as such but another stoppage victory will go a long ways to gaining steam in popularity.
- The Los Lunas fighter is quite the athlete at Heavyweight which he displayed with some excellent movement and boxing in close range during the finishing sequence in his first round victory. Now 9-1, it will be interesting to see how his career is handled going forward. Of course many will simply state that the UFC will scoop him up as their Heavyweight division is very shallow but it isn’t all about wins and losses. The UFC is becoming very strict in terms of the backgrounds of fighters they have on the roster and it isn’t as simple as winning and getting signed anymore.
- I won’t get into detail about a fighter’s background unless it is needed to be addressed but fighters all-around the world who aspire to make it to the UFC someday need to be aware very early on in their careers that they don’t get into legal problems because it will come to light one day and it very well could spell disaster for career ambitions when it does.
- I believe one of the biggest storylines post-event is that Jordan Espinosa ended the undefeated streak of Rafael “Barata” de Freitas. Espinosa is a very young and talented fighter but I don’t think many thought he would come in and upset a local favorite. Most informed fight fans know that most local promotions stack their card in favor of one stable of fighters (which is why some winning fighters get interviewed and others do not) and in this instance, the fighter who wasn’t favored on paper or behind the scenes was able to not only win but earn the type of marquee victory that can define his career going forward.
- I am not surprised that Espinosa picked up the victory. I thought when the bout was announced that Espinosa had the exact set of talents to exploit the weaknesses of Barata. I saw Barata narrowly pick up a split decision in 2011 over Josh Montoya and it was apparent at that point what the blueprint was to defeat the very talented grappler. Barata had been very selective in opponent choice on the regional circuit here and Espinosa brought three key elements that Barata has struggled against: he was much larger than Barata, his wrestling presented problems for Barata as the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu ace tends to look for a takedown when he gets hit, and he was faster on the feet which is an advantage Barata tends to enjoy.
- My colleague Jorge Hernandez reported that press row believed Barata won the fight, but I thought it was clear that Espinosa won round one and two. AXS TV and UFC legend Pat Miletich scored the fight for Espinosa and believed that through effective striking Espinosa was able to secure two of three rounds. The flying double knee and the check left hook were the strikes most landed for Espinosa and some well-time knees from the collar tie really accented the striking dominance of the 24-year old Flyweight.
- Barata is now 0-2-1 in his last three outings if you include his loss while competing in The Ultimate Fighter reality show and after suffering the first loss of his career, fight fans will definitely get to see the heart of the World Champion Black Belt. Barata could make a career for himself in Jiu Jitsu but chooses to compete in MMA, with the aura now gone from being undefeated, it will be very interesting to see where Barata goes from here. Regardless, he is one of New Mexico’s true gems as he remains one of the best grapplers and athletes in New Mexico’s fight game.
- Donald Sanchez notched his first win while fighting under the Jackson-Wink banner and he put his striking talents on full display in a must-win type fight. Charles Cheeks did not have much to offer for Sanchez and Sanchez thoroughly dominated the fight for three rounds. One of states most experienced fighters, Sanchez has the opportunity to make a real run at the UFC should he put together similar performances in the next several outings. It would be true vindication for the “old guard” and for the group of fighters that included Sanchez to make it to the top level. Guys like Donald Sanchez, Angelo Sanchez, and even Abel Cullum carried the local scene for so many years and a call-up would be very fulfilling to the efforts of all of those fighters.
- I wasn’t sold on Norma Center being able to stifle the Jiu Jitsu talents of Michelle Nicolini and I was forced to eat crow very quickly in that fight. Nicolini had horrible set-ups to her takedowns and Center made her pay for them by stuffing them with ease and landing strikes at will. I believe that Center was very respectful of Nicolini’s talents and fought a very slow-paced fight but could have turned up the pressure and picked up a stoppage. Center was definitely a bright spot on the main card and I hope to see more of the talented 115-pound fighter.
- Clint Roberts has a “feel-good” story about him and it may be due because he seems to be such a class-act and carries himself with so much humility. At one point Roberts was 2-2 with two losses by stoppage and it didn’t appear as if his status in MMA was too bright but he has really turned it on in the last 2 and 1/2 years. Despite being the recipient of some of the best luck I have even known a fighter to have due to fights being dropped, opponent’s missing weight, and other complications, Roberts comes to the cage every time to fight and has slowly put together a nice streak.
- It was apparent early on that Roberts intended to use the head kick to keep Lenny Lovato at bay and one shot came through so powerful that even though it was partially blocked by Lovato, the kick dropped him to the canvas where Roberts was able to pick up the TKO victory. Roberts is a main sparring partner for former UFC Champion Carlos Condit and with performances like this, it isn’t a surprise that he is considered a valuable asset to training camps for “The Natural Born Killer”. Roberts is poised now to put his name on the radar and 2015 could be a huge year for “El Presidente”.
- Each time I watch an event from the crowd instead of press row, one of the best aspects of the difference in scenery is hearing the crowd (usually a little tipsy) scream out odd things. Friday night the gem would come from the row directly behind my seat and a man screaming “give her a strawberry shortcake” during the battle between Center and Nicolini. To make his belligerent exclamations all the much better he was rooting for Center but screaming our expletives against a Texas fighter, he definitely had his wires crossed for that one.
Overall, the event was fantastic in terms of excitement value as outside of a few slow moments in the Center/Nicolini fight, each fight delivered a different type of excitement. I haven’t had a chance to watch the event on video to find out if that excitement translated to the TV audience but I would like to believe Legacy FC 36 entertained those who tuned in.