Jordan Espinosa has been active in combat sports for approximately half his 28 years. He’s won a bunch, lost a few.
Never during that span, he says, has he lost because his opponent was quicker than he.
That quickness, he believes, is his ticket for a ride to the top of his chosen sport.
Espinosa, a former West Mesa wrestler, a UNM graduate and a professional MMA fighter since 2013, earned a UFC contract on July 10 with a victory by third-round TKO over Hawaii’s Riley Dutro on UFC President Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series (DWTCS).
He’s a 28-year-old neophyte in the sport’s most competitive promotional circuit, and in a weight class (flyweight, 125 pounds) teeming with talented and experienced fighters.
But in a recent interview at his Albuquerque strength and conditioning gym, Athlete Ready, Espinosa (13-5) said he’s confident he can reach the top.
“If you look at the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, (UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson), he’s lightning fast,” Espinosa said. “Lots of movement, very mobile, very quick hands. I think I’m very similar to him.
“I even said this in my Contender Series pre-fight interview. I have not sparred anyone in my life, or fought anyone, that I felt was faster than me.”
Speed, of course, is not everything. Experience counts as well, and that principally was what Espinosa lacked early in his career.
After going 4-4 in his first eight pro fights, he’s 9-1 (with one no contest) since then.
There was the matter of finding the right weight class, as well.
“All of my losses were at 135 (pounds),” he said. “I’m undefeated at 125. (But) I don’t necessarily attribute those losses to the weight class.
“I think a lot of it was just a lack of experience and growth … learning to be comfortable in the cage, growing, being comfortable with my striking.”
Espinosa is a product of legendary coach Lenny Lovato Sr.’s West Mesa wrestling program, which has sent at least six athletes into the MMA ranks: Espinosa, Damacio Page, Mike Barreras, Matt Leyva, Lenny Lovato Jr. and his cousin Mikey Lovato.
It’s possible he’s the only Mustang left. Of the other five, only Page has fought more recently than 2014 – and Page, the only other WMHS wrestler previously to have reached the UFC, is 35 and works as a licensed contractor.
“Damacio was like an older brother to me,” Espinosa said. “Lenny Lovato Sr. was like a dad to me and Lenny Jr. was like an older brother. If it weren’t for those guys, I definitely wouldn’t be fighting today.”
His wrestling background, he said, has led to his mastery of the D’Arce choke – the maneuver he used to submit fellow Albuquerquean Nick Urso last August in his first appearance on the Contender Series.
“It actually developed from high school wrestling,” he said. “I used to get into a position called the three-quarter, and it’s very easy to transition from a three-quarter lock into a D’Arce choke.”
Espinosa’s victory’s over Urso did not earn him a UFC contract, but he was confident his second DWTCS appearance would turn the trick – provided he won.
“There hasn’t been any fighter that’s come back for the second time and won both times and hasn’t gotten a contract,” he said. “So I was pretty confident.”
He sealed the deal by stopping Dutro with strikes with only two seconds left in the third and final round. It was only his second victory by TKO, compared to seven by submission and four by decision.
The progressively more well-rounded quality of Espinosa’s game, coach Chris Luttrell believes, will quickly make him a factor in the UFC flyweight division.
“I’m confident Jordan can become a contender in the UFC at flyweight because of his athletic ability, God-given quickness and the rate at which he’s growing as a fighter,” Luttrell, one-half of Espinosa’s principal coaching team with Ray Yee, told the Journal via social media.
Luttrell, Yee, strength-and-conditioning coach Jared Saavedra and his Luttrell-Yee teammates, Espinosa said, have helped him get this far.
“And this,” he said, “is just the beginning.”