This time last year, Albuquerque-trained Jordan Espinosa (7-4) had just suffered a unanimous decision loss to a 145-pound fighter despite his natural fighting weight being two weight classes lower at 125-pounds. The Flyweight competing against a Featherweight left Kentucky with a record of 4-4, an even .500, and looking for some sort of consistency in his young MMA career. Fast-forward just less than a year later and Jordan Espinosa is no longer at a crossroads fighting in desperate conditions trying to stay afloat with a winning record.
In fact, Jordan Espinosa may be one of New Mexico’s most valuable and talented prospects.
Before we get into Jordan’s last twelve months as a professional mixed martial artists let me explain the usage of the term “valuable” in this story’s context. Jordan is a young competitor, 25-years old, several years away from the time period many consider to be the “prime” years of an athlete’s life. Jordan trains with one of the marquee gyms in the State and has already traveled around the country competing and has mixed it up with some extremely talented opponents during those travels. Contrary to other fighters with comparable or even exceeding exposure, Espinosa has strayed from the padding record approach and instead has opted to take on some formidable opposition.
A young, experienced veteran of the sport with impressive talents ranging from quick takedowns to suffocating chokes (three Brabo Choke victories and one north-south choke victory) and from speedy strikes to explosive high-flying attacks like flying knees and kicks, Espinosa is hard to hit and a blur when he starts to get into a rhythm inside the cage. If the Southwest area is looking for a top talent, up-and-coming and ready to emerge as the next standout fighter from talent rich region, you would need to only look over in the direction of Luttrell MMA’s Jordan Espinosa.
“Last year when I lost, at the time I was pissed. I had fought just 7 days earlier in a victory over Robert Browning and it was my 3rd fight in a 21 day stretch. So I was pissed I went 1-2 in 21 days. I actually won that fight against Chris Dunn. Dropped him in the 1st and he was deducted a point in the 3rd and yet he won a 30-28 unanimous decision which makes no sense. He was the hometown kid so whatever. I appealed twice and they ignored me both times. Anyway, going into my next fight, I knew losing wasn’t an option. Good chance that if I had a fell under .500, I would have stopped pursuing MMA. That next fight against Jeremy Pender proved to be my best fight in my career in terms of comfortability and a mental calmness within the cage. Fortunately, that’s carried over to following two fights leading to my now 3-fight win streak.”
The loss to Chris Dunn would be the last time Espinosa has tasted defeat and since has been on a tear. After taking the unanimous decision against Jeremy Pender, Espinosa was scheduled to take on undefeated top prospect Rafael “Barata” de Freitas who would enter the cage as a touted grappling World Champion, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt, a participant in the qualifying round of the Ultimate Fighter and one of the area’s most notable fighters. Espinosa would enter the cage a relative unknown, a marginal underdog and a long-shot to leave the Legacy FC event with the biggest win of his career.
To the show of many, at the conclusion of their October 2014 bout, Espinosa’s hand was raised and the undefeated aura of Barata was gone.
Chalk up this author as one of the few willing to bet on Espinosa despite most fight fans writing this off as a Barata victory. Espinosa had the right tools to beat Barata and Barata had a blueprint available to any opponent as to how to beat him; Josh Montoya started it in 2011 and TUF contestant Cody Bollinger showed some more of it in 2013. However, it was Espinosa in 2014 that went the distance with Barata and fought the talented Brazilian on the feet and on the ground in a grueling bout that saw both fighters end round three exhausted.
Espinosa was too fast, connected with strikes continually and fought off all the talented grappler’s submission attempts. It would mark the biggest win of Espinosa’s career as Barata was considered one of the best unsigned talents in the area and was thought to be knocking on the UFC’s Flyweight Division’s door.
“I knew if I kept him from taking me down and beat him standing up for at least two rounds, I’d get the win. I was confident I could defend his takedowns and that I also had the speed and technical striking advantage. After the first round, I felt fine. I wasn’t tired and I was ready to duplicate what I did in the previous round. After the 2nd round, I was slightly worried the judges might’ve scored it in favor of Barata due to him having my back the last 40 seconds. After the third, I was shitting my pants hoping that I did enough to get the nod. I wasn’t by any means 100% confident I won the fight. I thought I won most of the fight and I was beyond excited that all 3 judges agreed with me.”
The bout saw Espinosa consistently outland Barata in the striking while defending the accomplished grappler’s attempts to wrap him up in the clinch. The scariest moment of the fight for Espinosa came in the third when Barata snatched up an arm-triangle of which Espinosa fought off for an extended period of time. While Espinosa survived a desperation submission attempt from a World Champion submission artist, he nearly lost a battle concerning his own health weeks before he stepped into the cage that night.
“Fight camp was actually pretty damn stressful. About 8 weeks before the fight I screwed up my knee and couldn’t grapple for weeks and I also got some impetigo-like rash on my leg that didn’t go away until about 4 weeks before the fight. I honestly was pretty close to pulling out, but I knew how big this fight was for me and I didn’t’ want to miss out on such a big opportunity.”
Espinosa was correct; the opportunity was one of great significance for his career trajectory. He had momentum on his side and had spent the fight camp knowing that this one fight could change his fight life going forward and open up new doors that may have been previously unavailable to him.
“I was coming off of my best performance in my previous fight, so I was feeling confident and ready to duplicate my performance in terms of the mental aspect and being comfortable in the cage. It was a huge moment (to beat Barata). My family was watching from around the country and I was even able to get a, “Hi Mom. Hi, Dad” on the camera which they both got to witness. That was something special.”
That moment when Espinosa was able to communicate to his parents on the biggest stage he had ever stepped upon was a true indictment to the dedication he puts forth into his training. Espinosa trains at Luttrell’s MMA in Albuquerque, an area where he is void of any family members as most of Espinosa’s family resides in other areas in the country. Espinosa is here in New Mexico for one reason and that reason is to train for combat sports and improve his talents while climbing the ranks.
“I honestly don’t think about too much in association with my training. It’s a bit difficult being away from them period. But it also has helped to not take them for granted and allows me to better appreciate the times when I do get to see them. I know they support me and want me to succeed so even though they’re far away, that’s motivation enough for me to do well and strive for success.”
Espinosa’s next opportunity to make his family proud has just been announced and while the announcement means Espinosa will be back in action, it wasn’t the opponent the young talent had already set his sights on. Despite some banter on social media and in interviews, Espinosa didn’t get his wish and will now have to wait for the match-up to happen.
Back in February, Jackson-Wink fighter Nick Urso won a hotly contested bout against Josh Montoya, a fighter Espinosa trained with extensively. Urso has been a fringe top prospect for a few years and saw his opportunity to make it to the UFC curtailed last year when he was outclassed by FIT NHB’s Ray Borg, the young Phenom who is now considered one of the Top 15 Flyweights in the world. Urso’s win over Montoya was supposed to be a statement victory that would help Urso rebound back into the prospect category. While the bout was held with high anticipation, the action and conclusion was seen by many as a let-down as Urso seemed content to win the fight on points despite cutting Montoya and wearing his cardio out over the course of the three round affair.
After the bout concluded, Espinosa used social media while still inside the venue to state his intentions. “I want Nick Urso” was the term used by Espinosa who shared a seat to the right of this writer the night of the event. It was exciting. A fighter from this area showed some showmanship and actually made an exciting moment outside of the cage. However, the callouts would not end that night.
“Of course that’s a fight I still want. He should be happy I’m pushing for the fight. The guy fights like once a year so he should be thanking me that I’m making his job easier. However, I’m definitely not going to sit back and wait until he finally wants to fight. I’m obviously going to continue to get as many fights as possible. The benefit in fighting Nick is that many see him a UFC prospect. That is to say, they believe he either should be in now or in after one more fight. Don’t count me among those people. There’s no denying that he has talent, but is he a better all-around MMA fighter than I am? I definitely don’t believe so. The last time I called him out was because of his own arrogance in calling for a UFC shot. Obviously, he’s started to believe his own “hype” when I don’t even think he has any. He’s won 1 fight in the past year and half and the quality of opponents he’s beating are mediocre. So this “hype” he’s believing and any reason he thinks he should getting a call from the UFC is completely arbitrary”
Some may view this statement as abrasive but it is exactly what the area’s fight scene needs. Whether this fight happens or not, it is a breath of fresh air for a local athlete to take to social media and the media in general to generate buzz in the area. Buzz is disappearing in the local fight scene and a huge reason for that is the lack of excitement to come from our local athletes.
A potential clash between Urso and Espinosa would be of great significance to the area. Similar to the bout between Urso and Borg, the winner of the bout would be propelled at an increased rate up the metaphorical ladder towards the big stage of MMA.
Would Urso take the fight considering his last step-up in competition led him to a set-back and would Espinosa have the ability to once again rise to the occasion and capitalize on a career defining opportunity?
If the fight doesn’t end up coming to fruition, Espinosa doesn’t have any other specific targets on the radar.
“It honestly doesn’t matter to me. The other best 125ers in the area are either in the UFC or I train with them and won’t fight them on the regional circuit. Besides, I honestly prefer to away from New Mexico as much as possible. I like getting booed when fighting someone from their hometown. And I like finishing someone when their mom is sitting in the front row.”
With bad intentions of spoiling hometown performances, Espinosa takes on a villainous role, one that might label him as one of the most noted fighters in the area. New Mexico has plenty of fighters but few of which has the ability to offer an interesting interview to the media and to put out content that fight fans aren’t growing bored with hearing.
Espinosa knows the fight scene in New Mexico is in a very unhealthy state at this time and that interview answers of generic nature won’t benefit his exposure going forward in his career. He isn’t offering the same answers dozens of fighters offer, “I train very hard”, “My opponent is game and tough”, “It is going to be a tough fight”.
Espinosa doesn’t have an exact answer as to why the fight scene is in bad shape in such a noted combat State but he has some ideas.
“It difficult to pinpoint exactly but I think an issue stems from the athletic commission. People have gotten bored with the idea of MMA here locally. They chalk it up to everyone in Albuquerque is a fighter. I think that’s an issue directly related to how our commission pretty much let’s anyone become a professional fighter whereas in other states there are requirements that must be met first. Thus, many times, shows are just filled with talentless fighters and brawlers. With that, the respect for the sport, discipline, dedication, and everything that comes with it goes out the window. But I believe this begins with the athletic commission.”
The over saturation that Espinosa speaks of is also a reason for poor fighter pay in this area. Fighter pay is a topic of passionate opinion for Espinosa and he pulls no punches when addressing the issue.
“Probably not a popular thing for me to say but who cares, most MMA promoters in New Mexico are freakin’ cheap. Not saying I’m worth big money yet, but I do have a decent record with 11 pro fights. Offers of $300/$300 per fight and $400/$400 per fight are a joke. For the $400/$400 offer, how pay typically works is I will get $400 to show up and make weight. The other $400 comes as a win bonus. Fortunately, I’ve been able to fight and win for some great organizations on the East Coast and Midwest. Hopefully, those relationships can continue to grow even though I am back living in New Mexico.”
A point of agreement between Espinosa and I concerning the topic of the poor state of MMA in the area is that promoters somewhere along the way forgot what their job is in relation to the shows they promote. I go back to the simple ideology of “promoters promote, fighters fight, consumers consume (the product)”.
“I understand all of the overhead costs (of a fight event) and that’s fine BUT the part I disagree with is when promoters think it is the fighter’s job to fill the seats. A promoter’s job is to promote the fight (I.e. fill the seats). A fighter’s job is to fight. If the promoter can’t do their job effectively, the fighter shouldn’t suffer financially for it. The only promotion that I fought for that actively promoted me by getting me interviews was XFC and I was on their undercard! Granted, the pay wasn’t much, but it was only my 4th fight and they still made sure to get me 4-5 interviews before the fight. I like that and wish more promotions would do that. I fought on Legacy FC’s main card and I didn’t do one interview, but they did pay me well. Now I’m not sure if that’s a managerial duty or the promoter but if it promotes the athlete, it in turn promotes their show therefore I feel the promoter should assume that role.”
Hopefully for Espinosa’s sake, these things change for the better because Espinosa’s next match-up has been scheduled for July 18th in Las Cruces. He will take on Adam McGurk of El Paso in a Flyweight showdown.
“He’s 3-2, he’s fought some average guys. He comes from the Red Spider camp out of El Paso and is seemingly a striker. This will be his first time at 125. He’ll be taller than me but I have all the confidence in the world that that won’t be a problem come fight time. I plan to finish him quick, remain undefeated at Flyweight, and prepare for my other scheduled bout in September.”
A win in July and another in September could make 2015 the year of Jordan Espinosa and with his career trajectory leading him up the proverbial ladder, it may not be long until Espinosa is the next New Mexico trained athlete to make a name for himself in the big leagues of MMA.