To catch up on our mini-series – read part one from yesterday here.
In part one of our three-part series, we detailed what this author believes to be a dire situation our local fight scene faces in terms of the lack of success in ticket sales, event success, and overall health and growth within combat sports. As a brief recap – After detailing the decline in buzz over the last few years, I proposed a trilogy fight between New Mexico MMA and combat sport pioneers Angelo Sanchez and Donald Sanchez.
In 2014 – I wrote about the “Five Possible Superfights” fights fans should be treated too and the fight atop that list was Sanchez/Sanchez III. Here is the excerpt from that article:
“Any MMA promotion’s dream; a fight that sells itself. There is zero need for promoting this fight as the legacy of both fighters and their storied rivalry sells itself. You can even use the “Trilogy” label as your event name and honestly, save so much in fight advertisement.
The two fighters have fought twice previously, Angelo (12-5) and Donald (29-13) crossed paths twice under the King of the Cage banner and each time they competed for the promotions 145-pound title. At King of the Cage “Retribution II” in May of 2009, Angelo would upset Sanchez by capturing his title with a split decision victory. A short 12-months later, the two would be paired again in Ruidoso, New Mexico at the event called “Honor”. Donald would regain his King of the Cage title with his own split decision victory.
After two title bouts, it could be argued that both fighters have won five of ten rounds over the other. Since split decisions mean that the scorecards were scored twice in favor of one fighter while the third scored the fight for the other fighter, three judges have felt Angelo beat Donald and the other three scored Donald besting Angelo. It doesn’t get more evenly competitive then that.
In the actual fights, the striking advantage went to Donald while Angelo took advantage of the fight as soon as it hit the mats. The outcome of each close round came down to which fighter was able to implement their gameplan more successfully. Fight fans loved the fights, they cheered and watched much of the fights on their feet in excitement.
There would be a lot of different factors heading into a rubber match that makes this fight even more intriguing. Donald was based out of FIT NHB and Angelo out of Santa Fe BJJ, currently Angelo works more of his game alongside Ray Yee at Albuquerque Kickboxing and MMA, while also working with boxing trainer Pat Holmes and training partner Josh Montoya while Donald has most recently made the move to the Jackson-Winkeljohn gym.
This fight has to be made.”
What else their to be said? In just a few paragraphs, the picture can be painted perfectly as to why this fight sells itself. A promoter would simply have to sign both fighters up for the bout, tell the backstory (or *gasp* use the media to do so) and let the fight fans who have known about and followed these two fighters for years to become engaged once again in one of our State’s most exciting rivalries. Call it organic promoting, a term and method sometimes ignored in the fight game.
As the excerpt reads, Donald and Angelo have fought for a combined ten-rounds amidst their two bouts. Each fight was for the King of the Cage Title, a World Title at that time was considered one of the most prestigious regional titles around. For comparison purposes and to add to the prestige the belt carried, around the time of these two fights – King of the Cage Champions included Abel Cullum, Quinn Mulhern, and Frank Baca, some of the best talent New Mexico has ever boasted.
For a little back story, let’s revisit an article done by the ABQ Journal telling the story of the second fight between Angelo and Donald in Ruidoso inside the beautiful Inn of the Mountain Gods Casino & Resort:
“In June 2008, Chicagoan Lazar Stojadinovic won the KOTC bantamweight title. He later was to have defended against Angelo Sanchez, but the bout fell through.
Later, Donald Sanchez defeated Stojadinovic.
“I fought, I won, and I thought I was the champion,” he said.
Not so fast, Donald. Angelo Sanchez says Stojadinovic had been stripped of the title, making him the champion. When Angelo defeated Donald last May 30, the Santa Fean says, “it was for the actual title.”
According to the KOTC Web site, Angelo Sanchez (8-2) enters Friday’s fight as the champion, Donald Sanchez as the interim champ.
“It just got all messed up,” Donald Sanchez said. “Now we get to unify (the title).”
Angelo Sanchez says the title doesn’t need unifying — that it’s his. Still, he agrees that Friday’s fight will settle matters.
“It’s been a roller-coaster ride for about two years now that I’ve been dealing with,” he says of the title controversy. “This is not only going to settle things between me and Donald, but it’s gonna settle everything that I’ve been working for the past two years.”.”
Needless to say, this was a huge match-up when it was announced and the stakes couldn’t have been any higher as they were part of one of the best events in New Mexico combat history, King of the Cage “Honor”.
If I had the choice of taking back a fight fan in time to show he/she an event that truly embodies the essence of combat sports and hand-to-hand combat in this State, I would go back to May 14th, 2010. Ruidoso, New Mexico. Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino. The fight card included three title fights, several big names from New Mexico, notable fighters Mike Kyle and Tony Lopez, and our fight fans even got the network television treatment on HDNet with announcers Michael Schiavello and Frank Trigg.
Setting the scene for this back in 2010 – it was a big deal.
It would mark the location for the Sanchez/Sanchez rematch from their initial meeting a year prior, almost to the day in May of 2009. As an attendee the night of the event, I can attest to how alive the crowd was for the rematch.
To throw it all out there for you, let’s list an extended “tale of the tape” so-to-speak: the pair represented competing gyms, Santa Fe Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy’s top fighter Angelo Sanchez and arguably the top fighter from Albuquerque’s FIT NHB, Donald Sanchez dueling for the claim of best 145-pounder in New Mexico. The two represented two different approaches to mixed martial arts as Angelo was a proven ground fighter that was well-known for positional domination and dangerous submission game and Donald was the contrast, more of a stand-up specialist known for an aggressive striking style and gritty durability that would allow him to prevail in a fire-fight. Fighters would be wise to stray from the ground against Angelo and game plans were made to throw the offense of Donald off-balance. North vs. South, Santa Fe vs. Albuquerque. Renowned coaches in each corner, Thomas Pless in the corner of Angelo, Tom and Arlene Vaughn working the corner of Donald.
Donald was the younger of the two at 25, Angelo 26. At time of weigh-in the taller Donald (5’10”) was 146-pounds to Angelo’s (5’7″) 144-pounds. Donald held a one inch reach advantage. Angelo’s record was 8-2 while Donald more experienced in terms of wins and losses, 19-10.
And this was for the King of the Cage World Title.
An argument could be made that the pressure was on the shoulders of Donald as he lost the first fight in such razor-close fashion. Dropping his title to Angelo, his newfound in-state rival was a major story-line for these fighters and their fans and now Donald had an opportunity to gain back his “honor” (pun-intended) and gain some traction back by capturing the title once again. Donald was the more vocal of the two in the lead up to the fight declaring himself as the true champion of the King of the Cage 145-pound weight class.
However, on the flip-side, Angelo carried tremendous pressure as well. He had to prove the victory over Donald was not just a fluke. Many in attendance in the 2009 bout argued the fight should have went to Donald. Angelo also walked in with the opportunity to validate a small up-and-coming gym with a marquee victory over a fighter from a gym that had long been established as one of the two premier gyms in New Mexico. Donald was already a fan favorite where Angelo was beginning to carve out his own reputation in the fight community and even though he was the champ, Angelo had the opportunity to validate his placement as the best in New Mexico in his weight class.
Fight fans who attended King of the Cage shows may remember both Donald and Angelo sitting front-row at shows with their big and shiny King of the Cage titles draped over their shoulders. These guys loved to fight. They loved being champions.
If anyone had doubts as to whether the fight would be entertaining, those doubts were erased after round one. To the surprise of many, Angelo worked his leg kicks early (credit to Angelo who does have a Muay Thai background) which in turn led to Donald shooting for a takedown. The first five minutes were non-stop action. Angelo pulled guard during the round, Donald landed combinations throughout. The most significant strikes were landed by Donald including some uppercuts and well-timed flying knee but each time the fight hit the mat, Angelo locked down control of Donald who nearly caught Angelo by surprise and came close to sneaking into mount.
In round two the tides turned with a smothering effort from Angelo when he was able to gain top control early in the round. With Angelo working from top control the fight turned into a chess battle on the mat. Angelo found an arm to lock a kimura on but was countered by Donald and lost position. Donald fought from top position until Angelo worked his way to top control once again with a scramble. Heading into the third frame, each Sanchez claimed a round.
Round three belonged to Donald despite the impressive defense from Angelo. Donald kept top control for the majority of the round and mixed in pass attempts to dominant position with strikes as Angelo worked his legs like two additional arms defending anything Donald offered. After 15-minutes each fighter had thrown nearly the same amount of punches with Donald landed more often and Angelo countered those stats with his two submission attempts.
Headed into the championship rounds, Angelo must have sensed he was behind on the cards because he immediately made himself the aggressor. Big punches and clinch work was the recipe in this round as Angelo pushed his weight onto Donald for a large chunk of the round in what ended up being the slowest paced stanza of the five-round tilt. Angelo would double the work rate of Donald despite the slower pace but Donald would land a timely takedown with a minute remaining in round four. A hybrid kimura/reverse triangle attempt from Angelo and round four concluded.
An easy argument could have been made that entering into round five that this fight was tied on the scorecards. In fact, the crowd was so loud for both fighters that it was seemingly clear the the fighter who won round five would take the fight. (*Note: Announcer Frank Trigg had it 3-1 Donald)
And then….. round five happened.
The first two minutes were slow but methodical and technical. Angelo pressured the clinch along the cage battering Donald with elbows and knees. Angelo’s Muay Thai really took over as his best offense throughout this fight as he battled through a boxing-heavy arsenal of combinations thrown by Donald. Donald would answer with a superman punch and moments later a barrage of punches capped off with a flying knee.
The live crowd was going crazy.
A fresh cut would open up on Angelo as the effects of a five-round war began showing up on the fighter’s face. A beat-up Angelo would land a slicing elbow as Donald earned a takedown and the wind of momentum had clearly shifted favorably to the FIT NHB corner.
Angelo wasn’t ready to concede. He heaved a huge overhand right that prompted Donald to lift a leg in anticipation of a huge punch. Angelo snagged Donald’s leg and drove in for the takedown. Angelo’s fan section erupted. Donald’s crowd remained just as loud.
A position wizard in Angelo was now right in his comfort zone. Those winds of momentum? They changed course. 90-seconds remained and this fight was far too close for any three people in the world to judge. Angelo and Donald fought as if they wanted to make sure the fight stayed away from a judge’s decision. For Donald, last time around didn’t favor his fortune.
As the epic bout continued, Donald would explode out from bottom position into a knee/punch combo that snapped the head of Angelo. As the 60-second mark hit the fighters were standing in the pocket, caution out the window, exchanging leather. This was a fight.
Donald would land a flying knee that very-well could have swayed the cards in his favor and pushed Angelo back to his clinch work along the fence. The crowd was anxious. The buzz in the building was amazing. This was coming down to the last 10-seconds.
This was right out of a blockbuster movie. The crowd was ready to blow the doors from the ballroom down.
Mainstream MMA fans know Frye/Takayama. An old school hockey throwdown. Angelo and Donald bit down on their mouthpieces and threw the heaviest punches possible at one another. They left it all in the cage. For 10-seconds they stood in the middle of a cage, amidst a mass of fight fans screaming.
Why are you still reading this. Seriously. Stop reading this right now. Hey, I even did the hard work and embedded the YouTube video below for your viewing pleasure. You are welcome by the way for your daily dose of exceptional mixed martial arts.
Donald would win a split decision, the judge’s scorecards read 48-47. once for Angelo and once for Donald, and the final score of 49-46 for the newly minted undispited King of the Cage Champion.
It was historic.
It was one of the most iconic moments in the history of New Mexico’s combat sports history.
We need it to happen again.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s conclusion to this three-part series.