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Lion Fight comes to the Southwest

Scott Kent had been thinking for a while that the Albuquerque area, combat-sports hotbed that it is, was a market he should check out.

Tonight, thought becomes reality. Kent’s Lion Fight Promotions will stage a 15-fight Muay Thai card at Route 66 Casino Hotel.

What’s Muay Thai? It’s kick-boxing but not exactly, in that most forms of kick-boxing don’t allow blows with the elbows, and don’t permit clinching.

Unlike MMA, in Muay Thai there’s no ground game involved.

“It’s the national sport of Thailand,” Kent said after Friday’s weigh-in at Route 66. “It’s been around for centuries.”

Kent, a martial-arts devotee, founded Lion Fights in 2010 – leaving his career as a Las Vegas, Nev. casino executive.

“I think people thought I was crazy,” he said. “… We started really small, (but) I believed in the sport and I believed in the fighters.”

Kent exploited his Vegas connections, relationships and reputation in persuading investors to come on board.

“I don’t think they were real sure about the sport,” he said, “but I think you’ve seen now with the growth of the sport and the sponsorship potential with what we’re doing, that really the sky’s the limit.”

National television coverage, he said, has proved invaluable. Lion Fight cards were aired on AXS-TV from 2013-17, and tonight’s card will be televised on CBS Sports Network.

“That’s huge for us,” Kent said. “To be on the CBS Sports Network is amazing for our sport. It shows how far our sport has come.”

Trash talk, Kent said, generally is frowned upon. Conor McGregor, were he to take up Muay Thai, would have to change his ways.

“You’ll see incredible amounts of respect between the fighters,” Kent said. “You’re going to see the (Thai) tradition. The fighters will come into the ring, they’ll bless the ring to protect them, protect their opponent.”

After that modest start, Kent has taken an international sport international. Lion Fight has promoted in London; Samoens, France; and Dublin, Ireland. Lion Fight will go to Monza, Italy next month and to Cordoba, Argentina, in June.

On U.S. shows, Lion Fight has focused mostly on Las Vegas and the West and East coasts. But, he said, he was eager to gain a foothold in the Southwest. Tentative plans are to bring two more cards to the Albuquerque area this year.

“… To be able to carve out our niche here,” he said, I think is really important.”

THE CARD: Reflecting the international nature of Muay Thai, tonight’s main event matches Scotland’s Amy Pirnie (21-3-1) against Sweden’s Sandra Godvik (9-1) for the Lion Fight Women’s World Super Flyweight title. Pirnie weighed in at 111.2 pounds on Friday, Godvik at 112.2.

Albuquerque’s Whitney Tobin (32-13) is scheduled to face Candice Mitchell (12-1) for the Lion Fight Women’s North American Super Bantamweight title. Mitchell, a native of Trinidad & Tobago, now lives in Toronto.

Mitchell weighed in at 119.6 pounds, Tobin at 118.4.

Cody East, a Los Lunas High School state wrestling champion turned MMA fighter (13-4) and boxer (2-1), now is trying his hand (and elbows, knees and feet) at Muay Thai. He enters tonight’s heavyweight fight against Joe Stripling (4-0) with a listed 1-0 Muay Thai record.

East weighed in at 250.2 pounds. Stripling, of Wilmington, Del., weighed in at 260 pounds. He has an 8-10 MMA record.

No title is at stake.

The three above fights, and a Lion Fight North American Cruiserweight title fight between Brett Hlavacek (18-5) of New York and Ardany Mora (4-1) of Seattle, are scheduled for the main card, to be telecast by CBS Sports Network starting at 8 p.m.

The nine-fight amateur card is scheduled to start at 5:30. Several New Mexico fighters will perform.

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