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MMA: Park dukes out Willis in 1st round

Albuquerque’s Harvey Park, right, battles Jaleel Willis during their UFC fight at Route 66 Casino.

LAGUNA PUEBLO – Harvey Park left the dressing room for the arena proper Friday night wearing a vintage Albuquerque Dukes jersey.

Then, he staged a vintage performance.

Park, a Curry County sheriff’s deputy, defeated Jaleel Willis by first-round TKO in the lightweight main event of a nationally televised Legacy Fighting Alliance MMA card at Route 66 Casino Hotel.

Park, who trains at Force of One in Clovis, is 11-2. Willis, of Memphis, Tenn., is 9-2.

Neither fighter had achieved much in the first three minutes before Park caught and dropped Willis with a left hand. Park quickly finished the fight with strikes on the ground before referee Joe Coca stopped the fight at the 3:17 mark.

“I hit him with the left hand, and I didn’t think it was that hard,” Park said afterward. “But it really hurt him.”

Park then threw a knee when Willis was grounded, a potential foul. But Park said he didn’t think the knee landed.

Replays of the AXS TV telecast showed that Park’s knee did graze the left side of Willis’ head. Willis said in the cage after the fight that it was Park’s left hook, not the knee, that did the damage.

Willis, a career welterweight (170 pounds), was fighting at the 155-pound lightweight limit for the first time. He also was fighting at high altitude for the first time.

Park felt both of those factors worked in his favor, even though the fight lasted barely 3 minutes.

“He was the strongest guy I’ve ever fought for the first 30 seconds,” Park said. “But the more you keep fighting (under those circumstances), the weaker you get.”

In a Facebook post early Saturday morning, Willis made no mention of the controversial knee.

“(Friday) wasn’t my night and I’m man enough to put that out there,” Willis wrote. “… Hats off to Harvey and his team.”

• In the co-main event, Albuquerque flyweight Joby Sanchez controlled St. Louis’ Demetrius Wilson throughout in taking a victory by unanimous decision.

Sanchez (12-4), who has had two stints in the UFC, had the better of the stand-up exchanges and scored the only takedown of the fight at the end of the second round.

• The first stoppage of the night came in stunning fashion when Hawaii lightweight Flavian Pilgrim stopped Albuquerque’s Sherwin Price in 50 seconds of the first round. Pilgrim (4-0) sent Price (5-1) crashing to the ground with a right hand, then landed another right on the ground before the referee jumped in to stop the fight. Pilgrim trains at Donald Cerrone’s BMF Ranch in Edgewood. Price trains at FIT-NHB.

Even more dramatic was Brazilian featherweight Luis Antonio Lobo Gavinho’s perfectly placed left knee, which connected flush with the face of Fairbanks, Alaska’s Vince Fricilone (8-2). Gavinho (9-4) got the victory in just 40 seconds of the first.

• The night’s loudest pre-fight cheers were for Albuquerque veteran lightweight Donald Sanchez, fighting at home for the first time since 2015. But Sanchez’s opponent, Mexico’s Fernando Padilla, gave the crowd little to cheer about once the fight started as he defeated the Albuquerquean by second-round TKO.

The faster-handed (and -footed) Padilla (11-3) clearly won the first round and was dominating the second when he swept Sanchez (31-19) off his feet with a leg kick and finished him on the ground.

Sanchez trains at Jackson’s on Acoma Road SE.

• In an old-fashioned slugfest, Brazil’s Maicon Mendonca (7-4) defeated Albuquerque’s Josh Moreno (3-1) by unanimous decision in a welterweight fight.

Moreno trains at Jackson’s MMA on Acoma.

• In a back-and-forth flyweight fight, Roswell’s Javier Cepeda defeated Albuquerque’s Ricky Esquibel by close but unanimous decision.

Esquibel, who won his first three pro fights, is now 3-3. Cepeda is 1-0 as a pro but 2-0 against Esquibel, having beaten him in the amateur ranks.

Cepeda trains in Albuquerque at Luttrell-Yee. Esquibel trains at Jackson-Wink.

Jalin Fuller, a welterweight who trains in Albuquerque at Luttrell-Yee, dominated most of three rounds in scoring a unanimous decision over Andrew Lipp (0-4) of Littleton, Colo. It was Fuller’s pro debut.

Natan Levy (3-0), a left-hander from Tel Aviv, Israel, defeated Albuquerque’s Henry Barahona by unanimous decision.

Levy was the more active striker. Barahona, who trains at Jackson-Wink, kept Levy’s back to the fence for a good portion of the three rounds and had kept the Israeli fighter on the ground for most of the first round after scoring a takedown. But it was Levy who scored a key takedown in the second, then controlled most of the third in stand-up.

ELSEWHERE: While most of the focus has been on Friday’s LFA card, today is a busy combat-sports day as well.

At Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino in Pojoaque, promoter Pat Holmes has a six-bout pro boxing card headlined by Albuquerque’s Fidel Maldonado Jr.

Mexico’s Luis Gerardo Avila (8-14-3, five knockouts) is the opponent for Maldonado (24-4-1, 19 KOs) in an eight-round lightweight bout. The co-main event is a six-round junior welterweight bout between Espanola’s Antonio “Tone” Martinez (9-5-4, six KOs) and Mexico’s Pablo Batres (9-16-1, two KOs).

Las Cruces’ Amy Salinas, one of the state’s better amateurs of recent years, will make her pro debut in a four-rounder against Espanola’s Leanna Martinez (4-0, two KOs).

In Amarillo, Albuquerque featherweight Aaron Angel Perez (5-0, four KOs) is scheduled to face Los Angeles’ Raymond Chacon (7-35-1) in a four-rounder.

In Sloane, Iowa, MMA flyweight Meaghan Penning, who trains in Albuquerque at FIT-NHB, will face Nebraskan Lindsay Wilson on a King of the Cage card. It’s the pro debut for both fighters. Penning is 2-0 as an amateur.

At Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., Albuquerque middleweight boxer Daniel Garcia-Flores (0-2) will face Maryland’s Mark Duncan (2-0) in a four-rounder on the undercard of a show headlined by a WBA junior middleweight title fight between champion Keith Thurman and challenger Josesito Lopez.

MMA

LFA 58, Friday, Route 66 Casino Hotel

Harvey Park (11-2), Clovis, 155.8 pounds, d. Jaleel Willis (9-2) Memphis, Tenn. 1st-round TKO (3:17)

Joby Sanchez (2-4), Albuquerque, 125.6, d. Demetrius Wilson (5-3, St. Louis, unan. Dec.. (30-27 x 3)

Fernando Padilla. (11-3) , Juarez, Mexico, 154.2, d. Donald Sanchez (32-18), Albuquerque, 156, 2nd-round TKO (1:27)

Luis Antonio Lobo Gavinho (9-4), Belem, Brazil, 145.8, d. Vince Fricilone (8-2) Fairbanks, Alaska, 145.2, 1st-round KO (:40)

Flavian Pilgrim, Kailua-Kona (4-0), Hawaii, 154.6, d. Sherwin Price (5-1), Albuquerque, 155, 1st-round TKO (:50)

Maicon Mendonca (7-4), 169.4, Rio De Janeiro, d. Josh Moreno (3-1), Albuquerque, 169.8, unan. Dec. 30-27, 30-27, 29-28

Natan Levy (3-0), Tel Aviv, Israel, 145.6, d. Henry Barahona (2-2), Albuquerque, 147.8, unan. Dec, (29-28 x 3)

Javier Cepeda (1-0), Roswell, 126, d. Ricky Esquibel (3-3), Albuquerque, 125.4, unan. Dec. (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)

Jalin Fuller, (1-0) Albuquerque, 180, d. Andrew Lipp, (0-4) Littleton, Colo., unan. Dec. (30-27 x 3).

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