Eager New Mexico fight fans may see Wednesday night as one of the biggest mixed martial arts events ever to take place in the state.
Two New Mexico fighters taking part in the nationally televised Bellator 97 MMA card see it as an opportunity.
Donald Sanchez and Frank Baca – teammates at Albuquerque’s FIT-NHB gym – were both invited to participate on Wednesday’s preliminary card at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho. While their bouts won’t be aired live on Spike TV, both are well aware of the exposure they’re about to get.
The right people who can do plenty to extend their careers will be watching.
“I definitely need to go out there and have a good showing (to impress the Bellator people),” said Sanchez, the 28-year-old Albuquerque native who also has a lengthy boxing career. “That’s my goal. I have to do it. It’s a little pressure, but I feed off that.”
Sanchez (28-13) fights Cliff Wright (7-4) of Iowa. Sanchez lost a decision in his only previous Bellator fight in 2009, a fight he took on short notice.
In Baca’s case, he already knows if he wins Wednesday, he’ll be fighting again in October for Bellator as he is part of the four-fighter bantamweight tournament. Wednesday is a semifinal and October’s tournament winner gets a title shot against Bellator bantamweight champion Eduardo Dantas of Brazil.
But first for the 27-year-old Baca (16-2) is Wednesday night against Anthony Leone (12-5) of New York.
“He’s more of a wrestling based, grappler, but he’s been working a lot lately on his stand up,” Baca said of Leone. “It was kind of a short notice deal. They were able to (announce the fight) July 9, I believe, but I’m always in the gym, though. I was more than happy and more than ready to take it.”
Baca, winner of 11 of his last 12 fights, most of which were in King of the Cage events, said he doesn’t know a great deal about his opponent, but that’s OK. He is more focused this week on himself.
“I started off with a wrestling base, but I’m a mixed martial artist,” Baca said of his style in the octagon. “I believe I can win a fight anywhere. I’ve proven that.”
As for Sanchez, he said he respects Wright’s stand up game, but is also well aware that all seven of his opponent’s wins have come via submission.
“All seven of them are by some type of choke, so he has a really good ground game,” Sanchez said. “But I’ve got a good ground game, as well. If I don’t knock him out on the feet, I’m going to submit him on the ground.
“I’m a push-the-action, exciting fighter. You’re going to see fireworks, guaranteed. If you haven’t seen me fight, come out and see me because it’s going to be fun.”
Both fighters expect large contingents of local fans, friends and family in the stands.
And they won’t be the only New Mexicans on Wednesday night’s fight card.
While no New Mexican fighter is on the primary televised card, there are nine fighters on the 14-fight card with New Mexico Ties. In addition to Sanchez and Baca, they are:
• Cris Leyva, lightweight (Farmington)
• Mike Barreras, lightweight (Albuquerque)
• Adrian Cruz, bantamweight (Rio Rancho)
• Felipe Chavez, bantamweight (Albuquerque)
• Steve Garcia, bantamweight (Rio Rancho)
• Javier Palacios, lightweight (Rio Rancho)
• Richard Jacques, lightweight (Las Cruces)
(Cruz and Chavez fight each other as do Palacios and Jacques)
“The New Mexican fight fans, they’re the best fight fans in the world,” Baca said. “We’ve got probably the biggest talent pool in the world. Some of the toughest fighters in thee world come out of New Mexico. I don’t know what it is, that’s just how it is.”