Welcome to New Mexico: Female Fight Capital of the World
Albuquerque, New Mexico is considered by many to be a "Mecca" in the world of combat sports; not only MMA, but also boxing and grappling. Not surprisingly, this also means some of the best and brightest female athletes live and train here, and several of them are professionals in more than one sport.
Two gyms in town, in particular, seem to have a knack for turning out the multi-talented women: FIT NHB (Fighters-In-Training, No-Holds-Barred) and Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA.
FIT-NHB is a large, well-equipped gym, owned by Tom and Arlene Vaughn, which builds cagefighters, boxers and grapplers. For those who have followed women's combat sports for a while, the name Arlene Sanchez Vaughn may be familiar.
A retired Army paramedic, who trained with the legendary Bill Packer, she won the first US title in kickboxing as a featherweight in the WKA, as well as the ISKA World Cup, under promoter Scott Coker (founder and CEO of Strikeforce, an MMA promotion owned by Zuffa).
Vaughn's skill as a fighter translated well into training, as is evidenced by those she has taught, one of them being UFC Interim Welterweight World Champion, Carlos Condit, who trained with the Vaughns for several years before moving over to Jacksons; another being KOTC 3-belt champion and now UFC fighter, Tim "Dirty Bird" Means.
She and her husband, Tom (who is also the head coach of Power MMA in Gilbert, AZ, home of UFC fighters, Aaron Simpson, CB Dolloway, and Ryan Bader) have been turning out solid fighters for years. Her female dual-sport protégés include Monica Lovato (12-1 as a professional boxer, 5-3 as a cagefighter), and Brenda Gonzales (2-0 as both professional boxer and cagefighter).
Monica Lovato recently faced the very tough Sarah Alpar for the inaugural King of the Cage 125-lb belt. Although Lovato lost the split decision, Alpar was quick to admit that "she hits very, very hard."
Lovato relates, "I'm making my way here in MMA; boxing I already know," a fact demonstrated by her record. "Even so, I'd have to say boxing is harder. It's only one skill, one tool: your hands; and you have to perfect that, like a chess game. When I first started MMA, it was a tough transition; I was letting people attack my legs, it took a while to train my body to do take-down defense. Both are intense, and boxing is my forte, I definitely want to do it again. I don't plan to fight too much longer, just want to get it out of my system." On top of her other professional skills, Lovato also hopes to participate soon in a fitness model competition.
Brenda Gonzales, who has only been a professional for less than two years, is currently undefeated in both sports, even as an amateur. She suffered a heart-breaking injury just a month before her next boxing match, which was to have been on the Golden-Boy/Golden-Girl Solo Boxeo card in April. She has been getting regular offers to fight, however, and plans to do so, just as soon as she is cleared.
Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA is one of the most well-known MMA gyms in the world, and is currently the home to two of the UFC's title holders (Jon Jones and Carlos Condit). Coach Winkeljohn, another ISKA champion, and like Arlene Sanchez-Vaughn, a student of Master Bill Packer, fought for 17 years, in both kickboxing and a bit of boxing. He began teaching his art over 25 years ago, with Winkeljohn AKKA, and in 2007, where his students included Holly Holm, Jodie Esquibel, and Nohime Dennisson.
In 2007, he merged with Greg Jackson to establish the current world-famous facility. Like himself, some of his students are also multiple-sport competitors: Holly Holm (30-2-3 as a boxer, 2-0 in MMA), Jodie Esquibel (6-6-1 as a boxer, 2-0 in MMA), Nohime Dennisson (4-2-1 in boxing, 1-1 as a cagefighter), and Heather Clark (4-2 in MMA, 1-0 in boxing, she has also played professional hockey.)
Holly Holm, one of the most well-known female boxers in the world, also made her MMA debut in March of last year, and won that fight, against Christina Domke (4-2), as well as her match in September against Jan Finney (8-10). Holm recently suffered her first boxing loss in 7 years, when she faced Ann Sophie Mathis last December, who won by KO in the 7th round. She will have her greatly desired rematch this June 15, at Route 66 Casino Albuquerque, and fight for the IBA and WBF Female Welterweight titles. For more information on that event, visit www.fresquezproductions.com.
Jodie Esquibel, who has also been a paramedic/EMT for the last five years, won her last fight, an MMA bout, against Amy Riehle, on January 21, at the Jacksons MMA Series VII. She was recently offered the long-awaited opportunity to rematch one of her losses, Carino Moreno, "I am a completely different boxer now. She was toward the beginning of my career. I feel like she was at her peak then; but I'm at my peak now."
Tragically, she had to decline that particular fight, as she is working on another dream of hers: opening her own yoga facility, Hot Yoga Infusion, which is located at Montgomery and Tramway in Albuquerque. Build-out is progressing on schedule, and she hopes to begin holding classes in June. Once everything is in place with her business, Esquibel is anxious to try and get that rematch rescheduled, or take the next good boxing or MMA fight, as per her coach's guidance. You can find out more about Hot Yoga Infusion on Facebook.
Heather Clark, one of Jackson-Winkeljohn's more recent additions, began training there about three years ago, supplementing her training regimen with time spent with boxing legend Danny Romero, where she continues to cross-train to this day, She began her professional fighting career in MMA, about two years ago, and has gone on to earn a 4-2 record. She just made her boxing debut in April, as a late replacement for the injured Brenda Gonzales, against Chavira Jack.
Cornered by her father (who comes to all her fights), and Coach Winkeljohn, she won that match by split decision. She had been looking to make that boxing debut for months, with the help of Romero, and was happy to have the opportunity to add that sport to her professional dossier. While training for the fight, she forsook the other disciplines, focusing only on boxing.
In Clark's mind, boxing is "just a part of MMA. Like participating in grappling tournaments like Grapplefest, it's shutting off parts of my training. Boxing is like sprinting, where MMA is more pacing. I just want to change it up and keep training hard; this can only help my MMA, not hurt it." As often as she can, Clark also helps out at Mean1 MMA & Fitness, where she does some of her training. Clark is scheduling to fight against Sofia Bagherdai at XFC 18, scheduled for June 22, 2012, and broadcast live on HD Net. For more information on that fight, visit www.officialxfc.com.
Photo courtesy Heather Clark