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Celebrating 20 Years of FIT NHB: Pro Female Fight Team - Southwest Fight News
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Photo: Sal Gomez

Celebrating 20 Years of FIT NHB: Pro Female Fight Team

On May 19th, FIT NHB (Fighters In Training, No Holds Barred) celebrates their twentieth year of existence as an entity within the combat sport’s world. Not just a unique acronym, the lauded gym has been quintessential to the development and evolution of mixed martial arts in the State of New Mexico and the Southwest region.

Pictured: Head Coach Arlene looking as intimidating as usual.

When FIT NHB announced via social media that they’d be celebrating their 20th year, it piqued the interest of us here at Southwest Fight News to become fans for a while and take a drive down memory lane to commemorate FIT NHB as experienced by the individual who stood at ground zero building the gym from the first brick – Head Coach and Co-Owner Tom Vaughn.

We hope you followed us these last two weeks to keep up with all of this great content and if you haven’t we have listed the links at the end of the page for all the previous entries of this celebration series.

A true focal point in the story of FIT NHB revolves around Arlene, co-owner of FIT NHB and fellow coach and counterpart of Tom. Her presence in the gym has played a pivotal role in the development of the woman athletes competing in combat sports in this region.

“I never needed anyone to convince me women could have a place in martial arts and/or the fight game. I’ve had strong women in my life from the beginning, starting with my mom. She was into women’s lib well before it was trendy. It was only natural to start FIT NHB with Arlene Sanchez when I saw her skill level. Arlene is the best at what she does.” – Tom Vaughn

Tom and Arlene have always maintained a privacy to their lives even as two of the most iconic individuals in New Mexico combat history. Outside of the close-knit members of FIT NHB, the duo’s story has rarely been told but the reputation of Arlene has long been one of the best stories told in the local fight game. Her legend surrounds her top-notch striking acumen and many individuals from that era tell fun stories about how good Arlene was in her fighting days.

It should come as little surprise that through Arlene’s desire to pursue her coaching career would lead to the development of a woman’s fight team.

“It took a while before we had any serious female competitors but I always knew it would happen.  I mean who better to have a female fight team than us? I think Arlene always demanded more from female athletes because she knows from experience what they are up against. Not just the rigors of the sport itself but the naysayers and condescending attitudes from men that don’t believe it’s possible for a woman to be as good (or as tough) as a man. Woman can definitely be as skilled as a man and they are plenty tough when they realize they can be. I would trust Arlene to catch my back any day.” – Tom Vaughn  

Pictured: Boxing Champ and MMA standout, Monica Lovato.

Arlene’s inclusion in the fight game, both as a competitor and most significantly a coach, played a major role in legitimizing woman combat sports. As Tom mentioned, there are in fact many naysayers when it comes to WMMA and lots of talented women found success when they trained inside the walls of FIT NHB under the tutelage of Arlene Vaughn.

“Our first pro MMA fighter was well-known New Mexico boxing champion Monica Lovato. In 2008 Monica was referred to us by one of our pro fighters Lafayette Barela. Monica came in and talked with Arlene and they began training in the early mornings before Monica had work or school. Arlene loves boxing so the two of them hit it off right away. Somewhere along the way Monica became interested in MMA so we started working on her wrestling and ground game. Mostly basic stuff because Monica’s forte was obviously as a boxer. What Monica lacked in the grappling she made up for with toughness and she adapted quickly. Monica really has a great fight mentality and by 2009 she was ready to her first pro fight which she won. By her fifth fight she faced Barb Honchak. Barb as MMA enthusiast probably know went on to become Invicta Champion, ranked #1 in the world, and part of the ultimate fighter season 26. Monica was very close to winning her fight with Honchak until she got caught in a choke at the end of round 2. Two fights later our good friend Mayumi Yamamoto booked Monica a fight in Japan’s legendary Pancrase organization vs accomplished striker Tomomi Sunaba which she lost by decision. Monica’s last fight was at Buffalo Thunder Casino vs Sarah Alpar for the KOTC Jr Flyweight World Title. Monica lost a hard-fought split decision and that turned out to be her last fight. In the end Monica Lovato’s pro mma record was 5-3-0 which is very good considering the competition she faced and how fast she came up in the sport. After retiring from fighting Monica finished school, got her degree, and life seems to be going great for her.” – Tom Vaughn

Pictured: Torri Lester-Sanchez and Arlene.

Lovato started her career 4-0, and though she was never the most talented grappler she did notch two submission victories to go with her three TKO stoppages. She was a major draw during her eight fight career and when she fought at the Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino, her following really blew the roof right off of the building with blaring support.

“Torri Lester-Sanchez came in by way of friendship of one of our pro fighter Matt Priest. Torri wrestled for Belen High School, trained with us for a brief stint, and fought one pro fight under our banner which she won. Torri left to pursue art school and is now happily married.” – Tom Vaughn

Torri ended her career with a 2-0 record in 2009, and though she may not be well-known, she still made enough of an impression on Tom and FIT NHB to be one of the remembered female competitors to call their gym a home during their career.

“Brenda Gonzales-Means had a solid athletic background when she started training with us in 2009. Early on Brenda competed as an amateur boxer, found success there, then had her first pro boxing match in 2010. From there Brenda worked her way into MMA and won her first pro mma fight in 2011. In 2012 she fought for the KOTC Jr. Flyweight Title vs current Champion Sarah Alpar and won by unanimous decision. In 2013 we accepted an offer for Brenda to fight undefeated Rin Nakai in Japan. Before the Japan fight the UFC had a casting call for TUF at 135 lbs and Brenda went to the tryouts just to see how she would do and she made it all the way through the process. While waiting to get the final call for TUF the Japan date drew closer and we had to make a decision. For a combination of reasons it was decided we would stay with the Japan date and withdrew Brenda’s name from TUF. During Brenda’s fight with Rin Nakai she suffered a severe dislocated elbow that took her out of the fight game for over a year. Brenda didn’t give up. Her next fight was a televised bout on the RFA show in Albuquerque and Brenda won by first round submission. After a couple more fights Brenda fought for the SCS Bantamweight Title and won. Brenda toggles between professional MMA and boxing, and is good at both. A two time champion in MMA with a record of 8-3 and a pro boxing record of 4-2, the next step is for Brenda is to take things to the next level. After healing up some nagging injuries Brenda is back on the hunt. With fists like hammers, strength like Ellie Mae Clampett, and the heart of a lioness, Brenda has a good shot at the big leagues. Besides her fight career Bren is married to UFC fighter Tim Means and is a great mom.” – Tom Vaughn

Pictured: Brenda Gonzales notching her trianglechoke victory at RFA

Brenda started her career quick, similar to teammate Monica Lovato, with a 4-0 record and three of those TKO finishes. Though she suffered that gruesome elbow injury to eventual UFC competitor Rin Nakai, her highlights include a smooth triangle choke finish at RFA 18, a gritty decision win over Lacey Schuckman. As a boxer, “Boom Boom” has found similar success, winning some tough battles in the squared circle like her tough fight in Canada against Lucia Osegueda.

Brenda is one of the most storied members of FIT NHB, at least in regards to recent history. Her success in both sports, along with her relationship with Tim Means, has allowed her to be one of the most recognizable athletes in the area.

Though imposing in her spectacular physique, you would be hard-pressed to find someone nicer in the fight business than Brenda.

“Amber Brown‘s rise to prominence was somewhat meteoric . She started training with us in 2009 originally to get in shape after having a baby but competition began to appeal to her. In 2010 she had her amateur boxing debut. Undefeated as an amateur Amber did her pro debut in boxing in early 2012 but lost. She began working on her MMA game and by November 2012 had her pro MMA debut which she won. After only one more fight we landed an opportunity in Japan’s Pancrase organization vs. veteran fighter Emi Fujino at 115 lbs. We knew we’d be giving up a bunch of experience to Fujino but believed Amber could pull an upset. Though Amber didn’t win, Pancrase liked Amber enough to invite her back to fight one of the top girls (Kikuyo Ishikawa) at 105 lbs which was truly Amber’s weight class. This time Amber brought her A-game . She battered Ishikawa with knees from the clinch and submitted her with an armbar from her guard late in round 3. Just like that, Amber Brown shot to the #4 ranked Atomweight Worldwide. Amber had her heart set on women’s fight league “Invicta Fighting Championships” so contact was made and we signed Amber to Invicta. She put together three wins in a row and we found ourselves fighting for the Invicta Atomweight World Title Ayaka Hamasaki. Once again Amber was giving up a ton of experience but came very close to finishing the fight early on. Hamasaki’s experience prevailed and she finished Amber by armbar at the end of round 3. Amber felt she no longer wanted to cut to 105 lbs. We accepted a fight in Invicta strawweight division vs. Ashley Yoder who is in my opinion one of the larger 115 lbers. Amber again made a strong showing but eventually got caught by the lankiness of Yoder. We took a short notice fight vs Ashley Cummins and lost a decision. After three consecutive losses Amber most recently got back on track with a first round finish of Tessa Simpson. As experience finally begins to weigh in Amber’s favor I still believe the sky is the limit for her. She is a hard worker and has a great support system. Amber, her husband Joe Blake, and her brother Austin Lewis have their own gym Elevation Boxing and Fitness in Moriarty, NM and things are going well for them.” – Tom Vaughn

Pictured: Amber Brown

Similar to Brenda, Amber Brown is another physical specimen. You rarely see someone in better shape than Amber and it shows in her performances in the cage. As Tom mentioned, Brown’s upset over Ishikawa was well-documented as it was considered my many major media outlets as the “Upset of the Year” and also garnered attention to Amber to be considered a breakout fighter through that performance.

A staple of the Invicta FC promotion, Amber is one of WMMA’s most-popular fighters and is always a perennial contender for title contention anytime she steps into the cage.

“Amanda Lovato-Borg moved to our gym when she started dating Ray Borg. I didn’t put much weight on it until she proved she was going to stick around. Months went by and Amanda was training faithfully so we eventually added her to our fight team. Amanda was easy to work with, a hard worker, and moves well but never quite put it all together. We enjoyed having her on our team while she was there. Amanda recently married UFC Fighter Ray Borg and they have a newborn child.” – Tom Vaughn

Pictured: Amanda Lovato

Amanda’s top attribute has always been her toughness and that character trait fits in well at the FIT NHB gym. Toughness is a component of which is expected in that program and under the tutelage of Tom and Arlene, Amanda competed in MMA and boxing.

“We first met Nicco Montano when she fought on our KOTC shows in Colorado. She lived and trained at DMA in Durango and she fought on several of our Ute Mountain Casino events. We also had her on the RFA show we co-promoted in Albuquerque in 2014. In 2015, Nicco and her longtime boyfriend Steve Hanna moved to our gym and got right to work. By November 2015 we had her pro debut booked which she won convincingly. Nicco fought at 135 lbs in those days and in her second pro fight she faced a very strong Pam Sorenson losing by split decision. After a couple of canceled fights and some heavy encouragement from Arlene, Nicco cut to 125 lbs and fought Shana Dobson in her third fight. Dobson was a tough opponent but Nicco dominated the fight and won by unanimous decision. By October of 2016 Nicco was fighting for the KOTC Jr Flyweight World Title in Iowa.She was still nursing a previous injury but we got her through camp and she won in impressive fashion. After her KOTC title fight an organization in Oklahoma contacted Nicco about fighting Julia Avila for their 135 lb title. Nicco seemed like she wanted to do it so I negotiated the deal and we signed. Nicco lost another split decision and decided to take a break to handle some personal stuff. In 2017, UFC announced that they were going to do a season with all 125 lb women for the inaugural UFC Flyweight World Title. Arlene encouraged Nicco to go tryout and she did. Nicco made it all the way through the process and came home to wait for the final call. When I asked Nicco how she thought she did in her interview, she told me they made some remark about how nice she is and if she could even bring herself to hurt somebody. Nicco said she responded by telling them something like as a kid they raised animals and then killed them for food. She said it cooler than that, but anyway I thought it was an excellent answer and knew right away Nicco would be selected which she was. Out of 16 girls Nicco was ranked #14. I thought wow are they going to be surprised, which they were  Nicco won three times, made it to the finals, and became the first Flyweight Champion in UFC history. After healing from a broken foot, Nicco had back-to-back illnesses. Recently she had her tonsils removed to help avoid her susceptibility to strep throat. When Nicco recovers she’ll be back in training and we’ll prepare for the next challenge.” – Tom Vaughn

Pictured: Nicco Montano

Nicco is one of FIT NHB’s newest WMMA members but also impressively arguably the most successful. She is the first UFC Champion to hang her title belt in the confines of FIT NHB and her development from her days as an amateur to her current status as best in the world has solidified the gym’s status as one of the best gyms in the world for female talent.

“Jayme Hinshaw is one of the newest champions at FIT NHB. She started training with us in 2013 and her first fight experience like some of the others was amateur boxing. I believe Jayme only had a couple of boxing matches but won them both. She also did a grappling tournament or two and did well there also. Jayme’s focus became MMA and she won her first three amateur MMA fights. Her only loss as an amateur was a short notice fight in RFA at 115 lbs. Jayme’s pro debut was a decision loss but she came back with an impressive finish vs. undefeated fighter Melissa Karagianis in Minnesota. KOTC was impressed and offered Jayme a spot on their Atomweight roster which tops out at eight signed fighters. Atomweight and strawweight are the two most featured divisions in King of the Cage and we felt it was perfect for Jayme. She’d get to fight often and always be a featured fight on the show. In February of 2017 we accepted a short notice fight in Idaho vs. Bi Nguyen. Jayme lost a split decision to Nguyen but three fights later Jayme was rematching current Atomweight champion Melissa Karagianis for the KOTC Atomweight World Title. Jayme suffered a broken arm in the first round but managed to stay in the fight. By the 4th round Jayme found her way onto Karagianis’ back and sunk the choke in for a finish. Jayme became the ew KOTC champion but upon returning home Jayme had to have her broken arm cast which sidelined her for months. Now healed, Jayme is back in training to defend her belt on an upcoming show. On a personal note Jayme and her husband Matt are raising her niece Serenity who also trains and competes.” – Tom Vaughn

Pictured: King of the Cage Champion Jayme Hinshaw

Jayme is a fightet that Southwest Fight News just detailed in great lengths and her meteoric rise as described by Tom has definitely made her one of the rising stars of the New Mexico fight scene. Small in stature, it would be easy to look past Hinshaw if you solely take that into consideration but would find yourself impressed and surprised once the cage door closes and you the fury is unleashed.

We expect Jayme to continue making a name for herself as she continues to climb up the ranks.

“These are the professional female fighters from FIT NHB so far but there are more prospects on the way. I am particularly proud of these athletes because despite all of them being attractive women they don’t rely on that. The focus is on skill and the rest seems to come natural.” – Tom Vaughn


FIT NHB Celebration Series (Click Here for the entire Series)

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