Frank Baca’s Bellator debut is a big one.
Baca, an Albuquerque mixed-martial arts fighter with an extensive and impressive résumé in King of the Cage competition, is scheduled to face New Yorker Anthony Leone on July 31 at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho.
The match is part of a 13-fight Bellator 97 card. And it’s a Bellator Summer Series Bantamweight (135-pound) Series Semifinal.
The night’s main event matches unbeaten (11-0) Michael Chandler of High Ridge, Mo., against David Rickels (14-1) of Derby, Kan., in a 155-pound (lightweight) match.
In a semimain event, two unbeaten 170-pounders – Ben Askren (11-0) of Phoenix and Russia’s Andrey Koreshkov (13-0) – will meet.
Baca (16-2), who trains at Albuquerque’s FIT-NHB gym, is one of nine New Mexico fighters scheduled to compete on the Bellator 97 undercard. He has had 13 of his 18 professional fights under the King of the Cage banner and has an 11-2 KOTC record. Now, he’s stepping up to the more prestigious Bellator circuit.
Leone, Baca’s opponent, is 2-2 in Bellator fights, has won his last two for Bellator and is riding a three-fight win streak overall.
Among the more interesting fights involving New Mexicans is a bantamweight clash between Rio Rancho’s Adrian Cruz (4-0) and Albuquerque’s Felipe Chavez (5-3).
Cruz was an impressive winner (second-round submission) over Albuquerque’s Nick Gonzalez on Bellator 91 at the Star Center in February. Chavez, a cousin of Albuquerque MMA icon Diego Sanchez, has not fought since September 2009.
Farmington lightweight Cris Leyva (9-5) is scheduled to face Will Brooks (9-1) of Schaumburg, Ill. Leyva has lost his last four fights. Brooks suffered his first pro defeat, by first-round TKO, to Saad Awad at the Star Center in February.
Featherweight Donald Sanchez (28-13), Baca’s FIT-NHB teammate and a KOTC veteran, is scheduled to face Cliff Wright (7-4) of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Sanchez is making his second appearance on a Bellator card, having lost by unanimous decision to Johnny Eduardo in Norman, Okla., in April 2009.