For Lando Vannata, an MMA show without roaring fans in the stands is akin to watching TV with the sound off, or opening a book to find all the pages blank.
Vannata fights to win, but also to entertain. He’ll get a chance to do both on Saturday, when he faces Englishman Mike Grundy (12-2) on UFC 262 at Houston’s Toyota Center.
This is the UFC’s second event to be staged in front of a full crowd since the COVID-19 pandemic first shut down, then limited, the sport last year.
Vannata (11-5-2), who lives in Albuquerque and trains at Jackson’s Acoma, is beyond eager to fight for the fans again. His most recent fight, against Bobby Green on Aug. 1, was contested without a crowd at UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“Fighting in an empty arena is not that fun,” Vannata said by phone from Houston. “But fighting in a stadium that’s packed to the gills with the energy of fans that just can’t wait to see some live sporting events, that’s just (expletive) amazing. I love it and I cannot wait.”
The Green fight was unpleasant in another sense, Vannata having lost by unanimous decision. The defeat was his second in three fights, losses to Green and Marc Diakiese sandwiched around a victory over Yancy Medeiros at the Rio Rancho Events Center in February 2020.
Green and Diakiese are two powerful, muscular, hard-striking lightweights. Perhaps taking the hint, Vannata has dropped to the featherweight limit of 145 pounds for Saturday’s fight.
Having had more than eight months to adjust, he said, the transition has been easy.
“I’m actually closer (to 145 during fight week) than I’ve been to ’55 in a handful of previous fights,” he said. “It’s just consistency. Consistency and that’s all, just building habits. Diet and training.”
A new weight class, Vannata said, isn’t the only thing new for the Grundy fight.
He has a new wrestling coach, Eric Montoya, who’ll join Nick Urso and Harry St. Leger in his corner on Saturday. Montoya, a four-time state champion at Volcano Vista, was a two-time All-American at Nebraska.
Vannata’s gym work at Jackson’s Acoma with former UFC fighter Ray Borg and talented amateur Jesse Moorhouse, he said, has helped him retool his game.
“Skill-wise,” he said, “I’ve completely overhauled my style and filled in so many holes that I’ve had in my game. I really feel just levels beyond what I used to be.”
Grundy, Vannata said, could take him to still another level.
“Great wrestler, good submissions,” he said. “Tough as nails, gritty. That’s what he brings.”
Vannata-Grundy is on the prelim portion of Saturday’s card, scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., televised on ESPN and streamed on espn+.
GREENE RELEASED: Heavyweight Maurice Greene, who trains in Albuquerque at Jackson-Wink, has been released by the UFC.
Greene (9-6) lost by lopsided, unanimous decision last Saturday to Brazil’s Marcos Rogerio de Lima, prompting his exit. He was 4-4 in UFC competition but had lost four of his last five.
BIG NIGHT FOR DINAMI: Albuquerquean Ricky Kottenstette’s Dinami Management represents three fighters scheduled to fight on UFC 262: Vannata, Texas lightweight Kevin Aguilar and California middleweight Jordan Wright.
Aguilar (17-4) is matched against Tucker Lutz (11-1). Wright (11-1) is scheduled to face Jamie Pickett (11-5).
PRO DEBUT: Strawweight Shania Arredondo, who trains in Albuquerque at FIT-NHB, is scheduled to fight as a professional for the first time Friday on an LFA card in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She’s matched against Alandria Brown, who’s also making her pro debut.
According to tapology.com, Arredondo has a 3-1 amateur record.
BOXING: Super bantamweight Angelo Leo, a former world champion and an Albuquerque native, is scheduled to return to the ring on June 19 in Houston against fellow contender Aaron Alameda (25-1, 13 KOs.)
Leo (20-1, nine KOs) made the announcement Wednesday on Facebook. Leo won the WBO 122-pound title on Aug. 1, 2020 with a victory by unanimous decision over Tramaine Williams. He lost the title by the same outcome to Stephen Fulton in his first defense on Jan. 23.