Luis Antonio Pena


There is a strong sense of momentum surrounding St Charles MMA exponent Luis Antonio Pena, a 6’3, 4-0 lightweight with a striking look and a superbly diverse skill set. It doesn’t hurt that Pena knows how to market himself. Follow him on Twitter (@YoungMetro501) and the first thing you’ll see is a .gif of a spectacular double flying knee KO from his kickboxing debut back January of this year, as well as an increasing number of interviews and articles from an incredibly articulate young fighter with a huge upside.

At 24 years old, Pena looks to have everything required from a future star; and yet, speaking to Luis it’s clear that the reason everything appears to be coming together so nicely is because of two simple attributes: sheer hard work, and an indomitable strength of will.

Pena’s first taste of success in combat sports came during his high school years. “I was a State Champion and All-American wrestler in my senior year at high school in 2012, as well as being All-State every year I wrestled. I did wrestle for a year in college, but just wasn’t feeling school anymore,” Pena told The MMA Vanguard in an exclusive interview. “Since then, I’ve gained a 7-1 amateur boxing record (including a St Louis Golden Gloves Middleweight title), and have gone 2-0 in amateur kickboxing. I’m also 1-0 as a pro kickboxer, and an 0-2 pro boxing record against opposition with a combined record of 15-0.”

Further to those credentials, Pena has also earned himself a 5-2 amateur MMA record, clear evidence of his desire to improve each aspect of his game organically. What better way to learn to fight than by fighting?

This present journey began “about four years ago,” when Luis opted out of his schooling in order to take a year off, get a job, and start coaching wrestling at his old high school. “I was just trying to figure out what I was gonna do with my life, and about that time one of my biggest rivals from my high school wrestling days hit me up and told me he’d been training at this MMA gym, and that his buddy had a fight lined up against a wrestler. He thought I’d be perfect to help him get ready for it so I went to go check it out, and that’s how it’s been ever since!”

“After some personal differences with my first gym I moved to another gym in Little Rock for a short time, before my old high school wrestling coach, Shawn Hickey, told me he saw potential in me. He said that if I was going to really fulfil that potential I had to go somewhere to find better opportunities, and he told me about his friend Mike Rogers the head coach at Saint Charles MMA. We went down there with the intent of staying for, like, two weeks to see if I liked it and how everyone else liked me being there, and we just hit it off so well I went back home, packed everything I owned into a car and moved into the gym at Saint Charles! I lived there for about a year and a half, scraping my way to going pro.”

Not an easy journey, then, for a fighter literally chasing his dreams – but now those nomadic days look like paying off for an athlete who cites the likes of Anderson Silva, Jon Jones and Nick Diaz as his personal favourites. Watching Pena compete in MMA, there’s definitely some semblance of similarity between those aforementioned fighters and Pena’s own aggressive, often times unorthodox style. While Pena admits he wasn’t sure at first if he was “cut out of for it”, his time spent at St Charles MMA has evidently made those ambitions concrete.

As with the most committed students of the game, Pena’s amateur career has really paved the way for his future. We asked Luis about his memories from his pre-professional tenure: “Man there’s so many,” he says. “I spent two years as an amateur fighter amassing close to thirty fights across three different styles [MMA, boxing and kickboxing]. I’d have to say my biggest memories are collective; the ones I have from my time spent living in the gym there at Saint Charles. Like Jose Aldo, I was literally living in the gym I trained at. I’d wake up at 5am to lift, then go back to bed, wake up for morning Jiu Jitsu, then get ready for all the afternoon and night classes. Then there were days where I would go and bust my ass and work a hard labor job all day, then get back home to the gym and get straight into five hours of hard training, or the days where I woke up and my goal for the day was to just find enough to eat to make it through training. Those are the memories that I’ll keep dear to me when I’m finally at the top.”

It’s not the highlight reel finishes, then, that mean the most to Luis Antonio Pena. As alluded to towards the beginning of this article, Pena’s successes have been born of sheer hard work and willpower. It takes a different kind of dedication to live where you work and train; it takes even more to live there when you’re not getting paid a professional wage to be there! But these were obstacles and events Pena has taken in his stride, and that he has allowed to shape who he is. When he eventually turned pro, it was a big, big deal.

“It was everything I’d been working for and then some!” Luis told The MMA Vanguard. “Towards the end of your amateur run it starts to get hard to see that light at the end of the tunnel, but man, if you stick with it, it all pays off!” Pena adds: “I can’t explain the feeling of separating a man from his consciousness in front of a thousand people and then going and collecting a check for troubles!”

For all the hard work and dedication, then, Pena’s story is also one of gratification. Speaking to Luis, watching him at weigh ins and face offs, and listening to his interviews, it’s clear that Pena revels in succeeding in the prize fighting game. In Missouri, even his staredowns have proven noteworthy. The kind of fighter that believes the job begins the second he signs a contract, Pena has been known to be on-point every step of the way. If there’s an opening for a mental advantage, this guy will take it, whether it’s fight night, or a week ahead of time. If there’s the opportunity to make a statement and look awesome doing it, in or out of the cage, well, he’ll take that too.

The finish to his professional debut, a first round knock out win over Chris Petty, was a moment Pena clearly savoured; and with good reason. Petty, for his part, had stunned Luis Antonio Pena a 24 second submission in the amateur ranks back in December 2015. After a pair of wins over James Cowen and Evan Elder, and that momentous decision to finally turn pro, Pena found himself re-matched with the now 1-1 pro fighter. Not only was this an opportunity to avenge that prior defeat, the fact that chance would come in Luis’ long-awaited pro debut made it imperative that he succeed.

He did. Beautifully.

A one-two combination, a straight left following up from a right jab, landed square on the button. Petty crumbled, while Pena completed his first outing with a walk away KO at 4:22. Arms out wide, Pena embraced the adulation of the Family Arena in St Charles, Missouri, laying down a strong marker that night, September 09, 2016.

Three months later, Pena would get a call from Shamrock FC, and Illinois native Brandon Schehl, a powerful former high school wrestler, would await him. Pena, his face a perfect picture of malign intent, strode forward, landed a good early combination, and showed off both his confidence and propensity for the unorthodox with an early flying knee. Schehl, to his credit, caught the knee, and immediately looked for a single leg takedown. With active takedown defence, Pena positioned himself so the pair landed in a keylock position, his body beyond the immediate control of Schehl and temporarily out of danger. An ensuing scramble saw both men flirt with the opportunity to gain dominant positions, but the set piece ultimately ended as something of a stalemate. Back to the feet, Schehl did want to give the much taller, rangier fighter space, diving on a single leg attempt the moment he lost a front facelock.

Pena, again fighting the takedown and landing good elbows against the cage, would find himself tripped, but again able to position himself away from immediate danger. Measured and controlled, Pena defended superbly, managed to get his back to the fence, and hurt Schehl with an elbow as he fished for a double leg. A couple more elbows later, and having dropped his level even further to avoid them, Schehl completed the takedown. Again, though, Pena was shifting his body position the entire time, and this time completed the transition he had been threatening throughout; he manoeuvred his body to the side, seamlessly folded Schehl up and took his back. Completing the move with an arm-in body triangle, Pena was able to threaten with a rear naked choke, before landing some good ground and pound. It was a bad position for Schehl, but in Pena’s haste to isolate an arm and move to yet another submission attempt, Schehl was about to scoot out and get back to his feet.

It was a great grappling exchange, and proved Pena had little to fear from his opponent on the mat. Mental advantage: Pena. On the feet, Pena was at his dynamic, unpredictable best. A spinning back fist narrowly missed against the cage, before Schehl looked to take things back to ground, only to wind up caught in a web of limbs and getting busted open more of those nasty elbows from Pena. Schehl, however, would not give up, achieved another largely fruitless takedown, before Pena showed again showed his excellent counter wrestling. With thirty seconds or so left on the clock in round one, Pena turned the tables, landed a knee coming out of a separation, and continued to apply pressure until the horn.

It was all action stuff, and as Schehl was visibly tired in his corner as a result, Pena was pacing back and forth and ready to go! Smelling blood and wanting to work from range early, Pena immediately advanced at the start of round two, got in Schehl’s face, threw long punches and a front kick to the chest, and even a cleverly disguised switch kick as he sought to make the most of the situation. Schehl, to his credit, was having none of it. Sticking to his tactics, Schehl attempted to gain the advantage via another takedown, though ultimately it would prove a mistake. Pena out-grappled Schehl, manufactured a full mount, landed good ground and pound, accepted an invitation to take the back, and eventually finished via rear naked choke.

It was a superb display of virtually all facets of the game, with Pena excelling in all of them. A further four months later, and the 2-0 Pena would be pitted against 3-0 Bosnian stand out Damir Ferhatbegovic. Nicknamed the ‘Bosnian Barn Cat’, Damir had amassed seven successive wins across both the amateur and pro ranks, and was a staple of the Valor Fights promotion in which he had never lost.

Step forward Luis Antonio Pena. Coming in with his usual aggressive style, Pena looked for everything from one-two combinations to flying knees early on, only for a slip to temporarily derail his momentum. A scramble allowed Damir the chance to threaten with a guillotine, but when it became clear Pena wasn’t going to tap, he let it go. With separation, Pena did what Pena does best; bamboozled Damir from ever-evolving angles and awkward timing, using his height and reach to great effect, and limiting the Bosnian to one off wild haymakers. Damir, however, would grow into the fight and begin to land some combinations of his own. Gaining success as he began to calculate the best ways to close the distance, Damir appeared to have Pena in trouble towards the end of round one, as some good punching combinations against the cage looked to snap Pena’s head back a couple of times. Still, if it hurt Pena, it didn’t show. Pena stayed right where he was: staring right down the barrel at his opponent.

Round two started in much the same way, a fresh-looking Pena right in the face of Damir, absorbing the power packed in the strikes of his opponent, and beginning to put together more and better combinations of his own. Changing levels, Pena completed a takedown, but with Damir defending well, the pair achieved separation. This time, Damir would look for a takedown, and while the two would hit the mat, Pena was, once again, proving too difficult to control. Reversing positions, Pena took the back of Damir and landed some good shots, before embroiling him even deeper in his impressive ground game. Good elbows from top position softened Damir up, and a beautiful transition from mount to a triangle finished the deal. Damir tapped at 4:47 of round two, and Pena had further illustrated what was becoming more and more clear with every fight; Luis Pena is an outstanding athlete with legitimate skills, and he finishes fights.

Kobe Wall, a 4-0 German with four successive submission victories to his credit, was equally unable to solve the Luis Pena riddle live on FloCombat. A Valor Fighting Lightweight Championship bout, Wall was able to take Pena into deeper waters than ever before in his pro career, lasting out until 1:40 of round three, before pulling off the win via kimura submission. It was, by all accounts, an outstanding performance from Pena, who looked dominant throughout and was able to display, once again, the true extent of his range of skills. What’s more, he achieved the finish despite suffering a concussion late in round two!

Again, talking to Luis Antonio Pena, though, it isn’t his skills that he earmarks as being his most important attribute. Just as he gave a nod to his sheer work ethic in getting to where he is today, he points to his poise when asked about his key to success: “Just my overall composure from fight to fight,” Luis told The MMA Vanguard. “You’ve seen the same stone cold killer enter the cage every time, he’s just added some new tools to his bag every time also.”

So what does Luis think of the momentum he’s gaining, and some of the praise that has gone his way? “It means a lot to be honest, I’ve been putting in nothing but hard work since I started, I’ve had the ability to test myself and prove to myself that I can hang with the best, and I deserve to be among the best. Now that I’m finally starting to get everybody else on board and talking it feels great, to be honest, it feels like a recognition of the sacrifices I’ve made to get where I’m at and where I want to go. I feel I can go as far as I want to in this sport, and I want the number one spot. I want to do things nobody’s ever thought about, and I will, it’s just a matter of time.”

What’s next for Luis Antonio Pena? Oh, you know, just “The world and everything in it.”

From what The MMA Vanguard has seen so far, that could very well be the outcome. If you haven’t heard of Pena before this article, we recommend checking him out right now; he has a big, big future, and should continue to put on outstanding performances!

Hakeem Dawodu


Hakeem Dawodu is one of the most fearsome strikers to be found in the featherweight division anywhere in the world, and at 26 years old, he has the record(s) to prove it. 42-5 as an amateur kickboxer, Hakeem made a seamless transition to the professional ranks, where he has racked up an outstanding 9-0 mark. In MMA, Dawodu holds an undefeated 7-0-1 record having fought exclusively for World Series of Fighting. Now, however, Hakeem stands at a crossroads.

“Right now I am a free agent,” Hakeem confirmed to The MMA Vanguard in an exclusive interview. “We have been talking to the UFC and most likely will go there, I thinks it’s were I belong, and they are only going to take my career to the next level,” he intimated, before adding, “But for now anything is possible. I just might go back to the Professional Fighters League [PFL, formerly WSOF].”

With such an outstanding prize fighting background, it’s hardly surprising Dawodu has attracted interest at the highest level; it’s also no surprise that Hakeem refuses to rule out a deal with his most recent employers. Fighters like Hakeem are worth their weight in gold if marketed correctly, and his blistering tear through WSOF’s 145 lb division speaks for itself.

“[Regarding] my run in World Series of Fighting, what it means to me is I have proven I’m definitely the best featherweight fighter out of Canada, and it proves I’ll fight anyone. I don’t baby-pick my fights and I can go in there with wrestlers, jiu jitsu guys, strikers it don’t matter.”

True to his word, Hakeem has fought a wide variety of opponents presenting vastly different threats. From his most recent opponent, 45-fight and former UFC veteran Steven Siler, to Makhachkala-based wrestler Marat Magomedov, to Nigerian knock out artist Chuka Willis, Dawodu has underlined what fight fans in Calgary, Alberta have known for some time; Hakeem Dawodu is legit, and he isn’t here to pad his record or make up numbers. He’s here to prove he’s one of the best in the world.

The fact is, however, Dawodu’s start in martial arts was largely unplanned. The result of having to meet certain conditions after making a deal with his probation officer following spells in a juvenile detention centre, Dawodu’s full-time training schedule, as it worked out, served as an alternative to attending anger management courses. Looking back, it was also infinitely more productive.

Growing up as Hakeem Dawodu, though, wasn’t easy: “I was born Calgary Alberta, raised by a single Mom who had me at 14, my dad got deported when I was 6 years old, and I grew up with not a lot of money,” Hakeem told The MMA Vanguard. “I was a hungry kid, and you can see it transfer over to my fights.”

No doubt. With the kind of drive that, if misused, could prove a destructive force in Hakeem’s life, it was fortunate that martial arts focused Dawodu on a more positive path. “MMA has changed my life,” Hakeem states. “It got me off the streets and doing something productive, and now what drives me is [striving] to be the pound for pound best featherweight of all time.”

A lofty goal, but one that, on the evidence so far, could become a distinct possibility.

In professional MMA terms, and with his outstanding track record in kickboxing enticing the World Series of Fighting to pick him up pre-debut, it all started in February 2014. At a WSOF event in Edmonton, Alberta, Dawodu debuted against then 5-3 Behrang Yousefi, a competitor who began his MMA career on a 4-0 tear, with all four fights finished inside the distance. Despite a pair of losses heading into the Dawodu fight, Yousefi hadn’t suffered a stoppage defeat in either bout, losing both times on the scorecards.

Against Dawodu, the officials would not come close to being troubled, however; responding to an early Yousefi leg kick with a much harder one of his own, Dawodu was out to prove his striking was on another level to the local fighter. Avoiding a head kick from Yousefi, Hakeem did just that with a left hook-right cross combo that put his opponent flat on his back, his leg bent awkwardly underneath him. An academic follow up punch was all the referee would tolerate. Debut statement made; ‘Mean’ Hakeem was here to make waves.

Four months later, WSOF were back in Edmonton, and so was Hakeem Dawodu. This time, 3-0 Jake MacDonald, a man with three straight TKO wins to his credit, stood across the cage, equally ready to make an impact. Unfortunately for Jake, he would not prove to be competing on the same level as Dawodu. After a dominant first round that left MacDonald bloodied and flailing for a way out of dodge, Dawodu finished the job with a terrifying succession of precision elbows, followed by a pair of huge right hands on the ground that sealed the deal via an emphatic KO.

Dawodu was for real, and the WSOF featherweight division was collectively on notice.

Mike Malott would fare no better at WSOF 14. Despite an impressive 4-0 mark, the man from Halifax, Nova Scotia found himself the victim of more active, higher volume approach from the surging Hakeem Dawodu. Responding to every individual shot with a combo of his own, Hakeem mixed his punches with leg kicks to ensure Malott was left guessing where the next attack would come from. Despite a successful takedown and a brief rear naked choke attempt, Malott found Dawodu impossible to keep grounded. A right-left combo followed by a big right hand stunned Malott, sending him to the cage where a swarm of punches elbows to the head and body left him unable to intelligently defend; still stood, Malott saw the fight mercifully waved off for the first time in his career.

Now 3-0, Hakeem was ready for a step up in competition, and got it in the form of 14-fight veteran, the experienced Nova Scotia native Tristan Johnson at WSOF 1 in February 2015. Hakeem would not be intimidated. Showing his now trademark lightning fast hands and stellar technique, Hakeem quickly made a statement catching a body kick of Johnson and dumping him on his backside with a beautiful Muay Thai sweep. Despite the quality of his opposition, it was Dawodu who was out to prove that his speed and technique were unmatched in the WSOF featherweight division. After getting the better of several exchanges and buckling the knee of an unprepared Tristan Johnson, Dawodu landed a superb counter left that wobbled Johnson, but failed to leave him defenceless. Johnson, in effect, woke up to the scale of the challenge facing him.

A left hook from Johnson with half of the first round remaining then gave Hakeem some food for thought, but it was Dawodu who continued to get the better of the striking. Despite a significant height and reach advantage for Johnson, Hakeem’s speed and timing were continually on point, and Johnson found himself rocked not for the last time with around 90 seconds to go. As Dawodu continued to land hard shots, Johnson had no choice but to change levels. With Dawodu focussing his efforts on the front foot, Tristan dropped for a double leg, completing the takedown. He would not, however, be able to maintain the position.

Showing excellent counter wrestling in addition to his undeniably high level striking, Dawodu was quickly back to the feet to see out the rest of round one. Round two would see Dawodu trade kicks with Johnson, utilize the Muay Thai clinch much more, ravaging the body of Tristan with hard knees. In what was becoming a one-sided affair, Dawodu continued the onslaught into the third and final round, where he a succession of hard elbows flattened Johnson, with Tristan toughing it out momentarily. A couple of level changes later, and Dawodu did what Dawodu does best; an endless, high pressure onslaught of right hands eventually took their toll, a third round KO declared with just under two minutes on the clock.

It was a beautiful performance in the biggest fight of Hakeem’s young MMA career, and would be followed up with an impressive second round TKO of fellow 4-0 prospect, Nigeria’s Chuka Willis at WSOF 21.

Having clearly done his homework, Willis scored a takedown in the opening exchange, and tried to work the back. With Dawodu once again showing excellent counter wrestling, however, even a second Chuka Willis takedown couldn’t ground the outstanding kickboxer. Landing shots and defending takedowns from that point on, Dawodu hurt Chuka with good clinch control and a seemingly endless, ever-evolving sequence of knees to the body to see out the first round.

The second round saw Willis’ will to win begin to wilt. Hurting Chuka early, Dawodu momentarily had the back of his opponent, but that wouldn’t prove the way to win. Denying Willis any kind of physical control, Dawodu continued to rough up his opponent before Willis succumbed to a series of knees and elbows against the cage.

It was another devastating performance, and one that would bag him a ticket to Las Vegas, Nevada, site of WSOF 26. With the Canadian MMA scene holding little left to offer, WSOF looked to Russia and undefeated Marat Magomedov (7-0).

“My toughest opponent was probably when I fought Marat Magomedov,” Hakeem told us. “He was a really good wrestler, and I could tell he worked with Khabib Nurmagomedov,” he says. That toughness bore itself out in a career-first draw for both men.

Controlled throughout most of the first and second rounds by well-timed takedowns from the Russian featherweight, Dawodu could have been forgiven for losing heart while unable to utilize his outstanding skill set and inevitably trailing on the scorecards. He did not, however, give up. Shutting down almost all of Magomedov’s takedown attempts, it was Dawodu’s conditioning and superior striking that turned the tables quite drastically in his favour. Landing punches at will on the feet, stuffing takedowns with comparative ease, Hakeem defied the previous ten minutes of the fight with an outstanding final stanza that turned a sure defeat into an extremely creditable draw. While not quite able to finish the Dagestani native, Hakeem did enough to convince two of the three judges to score the round a 10-8.

Not happy to accept that outcome, both fighters would meet again at WSOF 32 some 8 months later. This time, while the first round went largely in Magomedov’s favour, Hakeem was able to achieve verticality late in the first round, and continued the theme of roughing up the Russian in the stand up. Needing just 40 seconds to bloody Magomedov, Dawodu took his momentum into the second stanza hurting his opponent with a wide variety of strikes. Combos, knees, stuffed takedowns, and uppercuts left Magomedov an increasingly bloody mess, before Hakeem finished the job once and for all with 2:03 on the clock.

It was a gruelling two-fight series that saw Dawodu overcome the toughest challenge of his career – but things would not get any easier as Steven Siler (29-15) stepped in at WSOF 35.

An early spinning back kick saw Dawodu drop Siler, and though Siler would score points courtesy of takedowns and ground control, it was Dawodu who scored virtually all strikes of note, including right hands that rocked Siler late in round one. Round two and three saw Siler fade as the damage dealt by Dawodu accumulated, though for the first time in his MMA career, a dominant performance was not rewarded with a finish. Siler, exhausted, battered, but unbroken, saw out the final frame. It was clear, however, that Hakeem had put in the superior performance.

Following the elementary decision victory, Hakeem now stands at an exceptional 7-0-1 mark, and he is far from done. “The future holds a lot more knockouts, more belts, and a still unbeaten record,” Hakeem told The MMA Vanguard. On how he can continue to achieve his goals, Hakeem told us that: “I’m always pushing the action and going for the knockout, and honestly you never want to miss any of my fights. I am the best fighter at featherweight, and I’ll prove that.”

“My next fight will be announced soon, make sure to follow my Instagram @MeanHakeem, my Facebook fan page @MeanHakeem, and my Twitter @MeanHakeemKO!”

Here at The MMA Vanguard, we only have this left to say: do it!

Katharina Lehner


Introducing Katharina Lehner, one of the bantamweight division’s top prospects with a perfect 5-0 record. Having beaten the best the German MMA scene has to offer since her pro MMA debut in September 2014, Lehner now looks set to embark upon a global adventure courtesy of an as yet unannounced deal with a major international promotion.

“I’ve signed a contract with a well-known organization,” Katharina told The MMA Vanguard in an exclusive interview. “That’s all I can say right now,” but she was able to clarify that the organization was based in the United States. The chances of Katharina being offered bouts in pastures new, then, are extremely high.

Amid the guessing game revolving around Lehner’s potential suitors, The MMA Vanguard took a closer look at Katharina’s history as a martial artist. It all started as a young woman in the nation’s capital. “I started boxing while I was studying in Munich,” Katharina told us. “So when I moved to Cologne I was looking for a new gym and found a place where I tried MMA.”

The gym Lehner found was Combat Club Cologne, and it was here that Lehner quickly learned she had all the skills to become a dominant force in mixed martial arts. Already in possession of excellent striking thanks to her pugilistic background, Katharina has adapted well to a whole new concept of fighting. While finishes have been lacking in her perfect run in MMA, her record remains highly impressive, and we cannot wait to see what’s next.

“I started with boxing after years of weight lifting,” Lehner says, her resulting power just one of many attributes that have made her so hard for opponents to overcome. “Since then I have won two titles from well-known German MMA organizations, and I am still undefeated.”

It all started against 4-fight veteran Anne Merkt, though Merkt proved to be a stern test for the 24 year old debutant. Happy to stand toe-to-toe with Lehner in the opening exchanges, Merkt waded forward as both women traded punches, before scoring a somewhat rudimentary headlock takedown. Keeping Lehner down, however, proved initially too difficult. Lehner muscled her way back to her feet, defended well as Merkt through up her legs to pull guard, and was able to achieve separation early on.

So far, so good for the talented boxer. Merkt, though, would not be cowed, and kept up her aggressive start. While Lehner’s right hand found a mark with impressive regularity, Merkt’s varied strikes kept the fight competitive, and she was able to deal some good straight rights of her own that were readily absorbed by the tough Lehner. It could have been part of Lehner’s strategy to eat a shot to deliver one.

Getting the worst of the early exchanges, it was no surprise when Merkt attempted a leg sweep takedown, though the stocky Lehner was able to defend well, reverse her opponent’s momentum, and wind up on top in full guard. Keeping her legs high on the back of Lehner, Merkt initially did a good job of stifling Lehner’s offence from the top with good body and wrist control. A failed armbar attempt, however, gave Lehner the opening she was looking for – her heavy ground and pound looked an instant threat, though Merkt was able to recover well and resume her impressive ground defence.

Much of the rest of the round was spent with Merkt tying up Lehner, until with just over a minute left, the referee stepped in for a stand up. Here, Lehner and Merkt would trade in aggressive exchanges, with both fighters able to land shots.

Round two started in similar fashion. With neither woman prepared to stand down, the battle continued, again with women landing decent punches, though nothing overly telling. When Lehner, perhaps surprisingly, scored a takedown with a minute and a half to go, she surely secured herself a gruelling first win as a professional mixed martial artist against a very durable, very game opponent. While one official dissented, Lehner nonetheless had her hand raised in MMA for the very first time, the verdict a split decision victory.

To this day, Lehner counts her bout with Merkt as one of her main highlights as a mixed martial artist: “I loved the feeling before my first fight,” she told The MMA Vanguard. “I started out as a professional directly, and competed in my first MMA fight in front of almost 2000 people!”

In February 2015, five months later, Lehner would build on that win by scoring a more decisive victory over Czech debutant Barbora Polakova. A victory over unbeaten Danish exponent Camilla Hinze followed, and established Lehner as one of the top female prospects in all of Europe.

One individual who would contest that standing in November 2015 was experienced 8-4 compatriot Alexandra Buch. Undefeated in Japanese promotion RINGS, and with experience competing for both K-1 and Respect FC, Buch was looking to rebound from consecutive losses, and with a penchant for submission finishes, she presented a real risk to the 3-0 Lehner.

In what she counts as her favourite performance to date, Lehner showed greater caution in her approach, patiently seeking to establish range in the opening exchanges. While Buch was able to make use of her reach advantage, touching Lehner twice within the first thirty seconds, the shots were far from telling. Lehner strode forward, landed a good overhand, and timed several punches very well. Buch’s jab, meanwhile, began to tell, the damage accumulating in the shape of reddening about the face and a cut on the bridge of Lehner’s nose.

Then, a mistake; a leg kick attempt from Buch was caught, and Lehner forced her foe to the mat. Buch showed good defence early, but the sheer power of Lehner was overwhelming as she manufactured a way to side control, before forcing her way to a full mount attempt. Excellent ground and pound forced Buch to give up her back, where the fight seemed all but over; to Buch’s immense credit, though, she re-established her defences, and survived the rest of the round while escaping a rear naked choke attempt.

Round two really saw Lehner open up, looking to land big punches in the early exchanges, and inviting Buch on. With her opponent roughed up and her timing becoming increasingly on point, Lehner was able to bully Buch and land many of the best punches.

The theme was continued in the final frame, Lehner’s impressive athleticism and aggressive stylistics securing her a fourth straight win, and undoubtedly the biggest victory of her young MMA career.

“Nobody expected me to win this fight but I knew I was ready for the German number one,” Lehner told us about the Buch fight. “I wasn’t afraid because I believed I had a proper chance.” She wasn’t wrong…

Since then, things haven’t gone quite as planned for Lehner, however; with willing opponents few and far between on the European scene, Lehner’s schedule has also been blighted by injuries and event cancellations. While twice scheduled to face 6-1 Czech star Lucie Pudilova, as well as a recent would-be bout with 1-0 Australian Gemma ‘The Bull’ Pike, Lehner has had to settle for just one of four proposed fights, a tussle with Judith Ruis in December of last year.

Victory put Lehner on her current 5-0 mark, and hopes are that her new deal will present her with even greater opportunities.

Speaking of the aforementioned cancellations, Lehner confided that “It’s always disappointing and frustrating when you can’t fight and you prepare yourself all the time. You train and invest so much time and then don’t have the chance to show your skills. Otherwise I think every preparation makes you a better fighter, so nothing is ever in vain.”

With a great attitude and a real hunger to test her skills at the highest level, then, The MMA Vanguard cannot wait to see what’s next for the talented 27 year old! Wherever she winds up, we wholeheartedly encourage you to check her fights out!

Thiago Moisés


22 year old Brazilian Jiu Jitsu ace Thiago Moisés is set to face Robert Watley this weekend, and believes he will be fighting for more than just the vacant Legacy Fighting Alliance Lightweight title. If Moisés is correct, a strong performance against his 7-1 opponent could mean a highly-sought after call from the number one promotion on the planet.

“My next fight is July 21st,” Thiago told The MMA Vanguard in an exclusive interview. “I am really confident, and I am hoping this victory will take me to the next level, the UFC.”

The former Resurrection Fighting Alliance Lightweight champion (a company that was integrated into the LFA late last year), Moisés has long been on the radar of prospect hunters the world over. Now 9-1, the talented Brazilian from Indaiatuba, who now fights out of American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida, could be just one spellbinding performance away from taking the next step on the road to achieving his ultimate dream: to become the UFC Lightweight champion.

Standing in his way is Robert Watley, however, a Maryland-based fighter of Puerto Rican origin riding a 7-fight win streak. Able to boast four finishes inside the distance, Watley is a Shogun Fights Lightweight champion, an XCC Lightweight champion, and represents Conquest BJJ and MMA. On top of his impressive 7-1 pro record, the 27 year old also lays claim to a 7-2 amateur record, and holds impressive recent wins over Dan Root, Cole Presley and then-undefeated stand out Josh Visel. Those performances have put Watley on the national stage, ready to stand toe-to-toe with Moisés, a man he acknowledges is his toughest opponent to date thanks to Thiago’s well rounded skill set. Watley, however, does not appear to be shrinking away from the challenge poised by Moisés; instead, he has talked openly about looking forward to testing his skills against one of the best prospects in the world, on the biggest stage of his young professional career.

Still, despite the undeniable talents Thiago has displayed in every aspect of MMA, he remains most strongly associated with his primary love; grappling. In fact, Thiago explained to The MMA Vanguard that he has been training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu since he was just 4 years old, under the tutelage of his father.

“I started training with my father when I was a kid and I loved it,” Thiago intimated. “I kept training every day, and I liked it more and more.” It came as no surprise, then, when Thiago told us that his father was also his biggest inspiration.

In 2012, at the age of just 17, Thiago Moisés turned pro in mixed martial arts. His first victory came, duly, by way of submission; an armbar to be precise, with Wellington Dias playing the role of ‘fall guy’. 5-fight veteran Denis Figueira was next, and this time Moisés showed that he was, already, more than just a submission grappling phenom. A TKO victory advanced Thiago’s career to 2-0, before he completed the set, so to speak, in June 2013 with a Unanimous Decision win over Liga Jiu Jitsu’s José Conceicao.

A month later, Thiago would test himself against debutant Leonardo ‘Dilon’ Guarizzo, in his penultimate fight in his home nation of Brazil. Displaying excellent Muay Thai fundamentals early, Moisés peppered Dilon with leg and body kicks, one so hard on the thigh that Dilon immediately buckled, scrapping around for better fortune on the mat.

Moisés easily took top control, but his interest in a quick finish saw him lose position at about the two minute mark as he fished for a heel hook submission. Dilon defended, pressed forward in a mini-scramble, and wound up in Moisés’ guard. Dilon allowed himself time to catch his breath; too much time, perhaps. Even as the referee asked for action, Moisés striking defence was so watertight the two were soon back on the feet at the official’s behest.

More leg kicks and a threatening and effective Muay Thai stance left Dilon little choice but to try changing levels again, though with thirty seconds left and against an opponent intent on tying him up with smothering BJJ defensive stylistics, he was unable to make the most of his position for a second time.

The second round started with Moisés continuing to chew up the lead leg of Dilon. A hard leg kick buckled Dilon’s knee, and another quickly followed as he recovered. Further followed, before Moisés switched to utilizing his hands, only for Dilon to press forward, a motion that effected a mistake from Moisés. Too eager to commit to a sprawl, Moisés lost control of proceedings, and found his back to the cage in a loose standing front facelock. Dilon fished for a double leg, didn’t get it, and instead Thiago threw his legs up for a spectacular standing triangle attempt that was more flashy than effective. Still, Moisés was able to get back to his feet, where he continued to display utter dominance. A hard spinning back kick found the mark in textbook fashion, clearly hurting Dilon badly, and a couple of follow up punches served to gift Dilon the opportunity to cover up on the mat.

It could have been over; Moisés swarmed, dropped several punches on Dilon, but what it became clear his opponent was defending himself intelligently, Moisés calmly stood, and waved for his opponent to do the same. Leg kicks and body punches continued to light up Dilon, as the crowd chanted in support of ‘Thiago’.

The third round saw Dilon fighting like a man needing a finish; but for all his increased aggression, Thiago was clearly a step ahead. His punches were faster, sharper, crisper. They found their mark with impressive regularity. His striking guard was tight, and Dilon reverted back to type with just over a minute gone, achieving a double leg takedown close to the fence. Dilon tried dropping bombs; it didn’t work, however. With half of round three to go, the referee again stood them up due to inactivity. Dilon achieved another takedown swiftly afterwards, but with it clear Dilon was struggling to make the most of the position and mount offence, Thiago started creating distance from his guard, and swiftly locked on a triangle with around 40 seconds to go! When it become clear Dilon was intent on toughing the round out, Thiago moved to triangle mount, and even fished for an armbar late on. Dilon wouldn’t tap, however, and the fight came to it’s conclusion.

Thiago Moisés was declared the winner by Unanimous Decision for a second fight running, and advanced his record to a perfect 4-0.

In early 2014, a fight with Alex Franco fell through, and Thiago had to wait until May to find his next challenge. It came in the form of fellow 4-0 prospect, Francivaldo ‘Massarinha’ Trinaldo.

In his last fight in Brazil to date, 19 year old Thiago Moisés outlined his outstanding potential against an aggressive opponent with legitimate stand up and grappling credentials. Massarinha seemed to get the better of round one, landing a body kick and a body combination early, before Thiago tied him up and took the fight to the ground. An overzealous kimura attempt allowed Trinaldo the chance to take top position, which he held for more than half the first round. A transition to the back looked briefly threatening, but Thiago would be able to reverse positions with around 80 seconds to go, completing a takedown againsy the fence and using expert positional control to ride out much of the remainder of the round, before sparking into life with ten seconds to go, almost achieving a finish with a swarm of strikes with his downed opponent against the fence!

Round two saw Thiago again utilizing excellent leg kicks, exchanging body kicks with his opponent, and even a few punches and knees to the body as Massarinha replied. Trinaldo tied Moisés up, but soon found his back to the fence, before Thiago completed an excellent double leg. Massarinha tried to threaten with a kimura from the bottom, but when that failed, found himself beneath Moisés’ full mount. Massarinha defended relatively well, but Moisés would find himself close to a finish again with a series of hard punches against his turtled up opponent with 2:20 to go. Massarinha rode it out, but continued to find himself out-manoeuvred and out-grappled, and eating punches from a variety of bad positions. When he eventually found his feet with 15 seconds to go, a slip from an attempted knee again gave Moisés full rein to land strikes as Massarinha hung tough.

He would not, however, be able to endure a third and final round, and Thiago’s decision streak was snapped at two. With superior grappling, Thiago worked his way from an arm triangle to a triangle from bottom, loaded up with elbows to the top of the head, and took the submission by triangle armbar with three minutes left on the clock.

It was a superb outing, and another dominant display.

Travelling to America to resume the rest of his career, then, Thiago made his debut on US soil as a featherweight 12 months later. An unblemished 5-0 record and some great performances on tape convinced Atlas Fights to pit him against renowned prospect Jason Knight (12-1), a fighter currently enjoying a four-fight win streak in the UFC, and this proved a step too far for the 20 year old.

A Unanimous Decision loss put him back a step, and it would be six months before he would compete again. This time, RFA had swooped to land his signature, and pitted the young talent against 6-3 Javon Wright, a featherweight stand out from Missouri.

Opening up, Wright hammered the lead leg of Moisés with leg kicks, and put combinations together nicely with both speed and accuracy. A spinning back kick added to Moisés’ early problems calculating timing and distance in the striking stakes, so instead the Brazilian changed tact. Closing down Wright and initiating a clinch, Moisés struggled for and eventually achieved a takedown. Here, Wright showed good ability to prevent Moisés passing, but Thiago was relentless in his search for superior positions and, when the fight went back to the feet momentarily, he quickly grounded his opponent a second time. Looking for submissions ranging from a rear naked choke to a heel hook, Moisés was a constant threat, forcing Wright to spend much of his energy defending rather than attacking.

The second round saw Wright landing a couple of the better strikes, before diving full length for a single leg. It proved a fatal mistake. Thiago Moisés defended, briefly threatened with a guillotine, took Wright’s back, and worked patiently for what would almost inevitably be his: a rear naked choke submission at 2:10 of round two. While it can be argued Wright made a mistake trying to change levels, Moisés made the most of his superior grappling, posting the sixth win of his career.

Next would come a highlight reel submission of experienced 19-7 Dave Castillo, a Salt Lake City-based veteran with no fewer than 9 submissions and 6 TKOs to his own credit. An extremely experienced and well-rounded fighter, it would take something special to force only the third tap of Castillo’s professional career, especially with the RFA Lightweight title up for grabs. That ‘something’, however, occurred at 3:19 of round two, directly following a rocky first round for Moisés. Intent, apparently, on trading blows with Castillo, Thiago almost paid the price when a winging haymaker saw forearm bone connect with the side of his head, wobbling him, and putting him in danger as Castillo smelled blood! Moisés defending well, however, recovered his composure, regained his breath with a failed takedown attempt, and rode out the rest of the round on the feet.

The strong striking combinations from Castillo continued, Thiago eating his share of shots and looking to counter, while remaining just evasive enough to avoid the worst of his opponent’s arsenal. With sporadic takedown attempts easily deflected, Thiago looked to be getting the worst of the second round, only to explode into life and clearly hurting Castillo with a counter punch! Swarming Castillo, Thiago searched for the finish, only for Castillo to complete a strong double leg and wind up on top! It would be a HUGE mistake!

Employing the butterfly guard immediately, Thiago manipulated the posture of Castillo, leg-pressed him into midair, and caught him on the way down with a seamless transition straight into an armbar! It was a beautiful, slick piece of BJJ history has been variously referred to as a helicopter armbar and an elevator armbar. It was the sort of move that comes off only very rarely, and can only be accomplished by the most skilled practitioners of the grappling arts. Watch the move here.

“Yes, I train this armbar often,” Thiago told The MMA Vanguard exclusively. “I have done this movement a couple of times,” he says without a shred of boasting. Follow up title defences over against Jamall Emmers (9-2), the victim of a fifth round TKO, and Zach Freeman (8-1), via Unanimous Decision, have now elevated Thiago from mere ‘potential’ to legitimacy.

With good striking, excellent Muay Thai and BJJ, as well as honed grappling, it’s easy to see why this weekend’s opponent Robert Watley rates Moisés so highly; and why Thiago is entirely justified in dreaming big!

“I will be the UFC champion, this is how far I’ll go,” Thiago told us. “I’ll make history in MMA.” Adding that one of the reasons for his success is his mentality: “I face all my opponents as if they are the toughest. I never underestimate them, so I am prepared for anything.”

The same will no doubt be true of Robert Watley this Friday night. If Moisés can wrest the LFA Lightweight title, he may well be right in his prediction that the UFC will come calling. As we said at the beginning, there is a whole lot more than just a gold belt to play for!

Bellator 184: Dantas vs Caldwell Announced; Straus vs Sanchez as Co-Main


LOS ANGELES – Bellator returns to WinStar World Casino and Resort in Thackerville, Okla. for the third time in 2017 on Friday, October 6 for Bellator 184: Dantas vs. Caldwell.

The main event of Bellator 184 will feature Bellator’s two-time bantamweight champion Eduardo Dantas (20-4) defending his belt against Darrion “The Wolf” Caldwell (10-1). In addition, the co-feature pits former featherweight titleholder Daniel Straus (24-7, 1 NC) competing against Emmanuel “El Matador” Sanchez (15-3). The event will be broadcast live and free on SPIKE at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT, while preliminary action will stream on and the Bellator Mobile App. Tickets for Bellator 184: Dantas vs. Caldwell are on sale now and can be purchased at the WinStar World Casino and Resort box office, as well as Ticketmaster and Additional main and preliminary card bouts will be announced in the coming weeks.

Originally, Dantas and Caldwell were scheduled to compete for the title at Bellator 177; however, when Caldwell was forced to withdraw due to injury, “Dudu” went on to defeat Leandro Higo, besting his opponent on short notice. Hailing from Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, the flashy 27-year-old is widely known as one of the most dynamic competitors in the division, recording victories in 13 of his last 15 bouts. Currently in the midst of his second stint as Bellator’s bantamweight world champion, Dantas will look to stop Caldwell’s meteoric rise to the top of the 135-pound division.

Coming off a victory over Joe Taimanglo at Bellator 167, the 29-year-old Caldwell will be competing for promotional gold for the first time in his career on October 6. “The Wolf” was able to avenge his earlier loss to Taimanglo, earning his 10th career victory. Caldwell has collected five wins by way of first-round knockout or submission, making him one of the most dangerous competitors at 135-pounds. Hailing from Rahway, N.J. and training alongside Bellator stars Phil Davis and Justin Lawrence at Alliance MMA in San Diego, Calif., Caldwell has quickly put together an impressive professional resume inside the cage, highlighted by a remarkable first-round finish over former multi-division champion Joe Warren.

One half of some of the greatest fights to ever take place inside the Bellator cage, Daniel Straus returns to action following his featherweight title bout against Patricio “Pitbull” at Bellator 178 this past April. A longtime member of American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Fla., the 32-year-old will be competing for the second time in 2017. The two-time champion returns to action with redemption on his mind, as he looks to climb back up the 145-pound ranks and earn a shot for the title that he still considers to be his.

Since debuting with Bellator MMA in 2014, the 26-year-old Sanchez has gone about his business by taking on the top competitors that Bellator’s featherweight division has to offer, fighting Pat Curran, Georgi Karakhanyan, Justin Lawrence and Marcos Galvao en route to his meeting with Straus at Bellator 184. Proclaiming that he hopes to eventually become the “Oscar De La Hoya of MMA,” Sanchez is well on his way, earning six victories since 2015. Training at Roufusport in Milwaukee, Wis., “El Matador” trains alongside some of the world’s elite fighters, making his matchup with Straus that much more intriguing.

Updated Bellator 184: Dantas vs. Caldwell Fight Card:
Bantamweight World Title Main Event: Eduardo Dantas (20-4) vs. Darrion Caldwell (10-1)
Featherweight Co-Main Event: Daniel Straus (24-7, 1 NC) vs. Emmanuel Sanchez (15-3)

Bellator 181 Live Weigh-Ins

Main Card:

Lightweight Fight:
Brandon Girtz vs. Derek Campos

Kendall Grove vs. John Salter

Joe Warren vs. Steve Garcia

Women’s Flyweight
Jessica Middleton vs. Emily Ducote

Preliminary Card (

A.J. Matthews vs. André Fialho

Justin Lawrence vs. Treston Thomison

Jordan Howard vs. Johnny Marigo

Rafael Lovato Jr. vs. Mike Rhodes

Guilherme Bomba vs. E.J. Brooks

Women’s Flyweight
Bruna Vargas vs. Kate Collins

Women’s Featherweight
Amanda Bell vs. Brittney Elkin

Romero Cotton vs. Arron Rodriguez

Valentin Moldavsky vs. Carl Seumanutafa

Logan Storley vs. Kemmyelle Haley

William Florentino vs. Jonathan Gary

Guillermo Gonzalez vs. Fernando Trevino

Brave 7: Untamed Line Up Announced


Brave Combat Federation has announced the full line-up for its first event in Mexico. Brave 7: Untamed will take place in Tijuana, on July 29th. The main event features a rematch between local heroes Alejandro Martínez and Fabian Quintanar, in a Featherweight matchup.

“Pato” and “El Aniquilador” first met during the third season of reality show The Ultimate Fighter Latin America. Martínez prevailed after a hard-fought battle, winning a split decision, and their encounter received Fight Of The Season honors. Now, they will run it back in front of their home fans as both fighters hail from Tijuana.

On the co-main event, Lightweight Ivan Castillo looks to rebound from a tough loss against Brazil’s Fighter of the Year Luan “Miau” Santiago as he battles American Chris “Taco” Padilla.

Elsewhere on the main card, Mexican MMA icon Antonio Duarte makes his Brave debut as “El Tigre” faces Hector Valenzuela. Former The Ultimate Fighter cast member Pablo Sabori also fights for the first time under the promotion as he battles Andrew Lagdaan.

Although Mohammad Fakhreddine is focused on his upcoming title shot at Welterweight, the Lebanese phenom will take a close look at Brave 7 as his little brother Hassan Fakhreddine makes his MMA debut against Rodrigo Reyes to round off the main card.

Main card:
Lightweight: Alejandro Martínez x Fabian Quintanar
Lightweight: Chris Padilla x Ivan Castillo
Featherweight: Andrew Lagdaan x Pablo Sabori
Bantamweight: Antonio Duarte x Hector Valenzuela
Welterweight: Hassan Fakhreddine x Rodrigo Reyes

Preliminary card:
Bantamweight: Ernesto Galán x Marco Beristain
Welterweight: Jimmy Harbison x Sam Ramiro Martínez
Featherweight: Irving Hernández x Kevin Amador
Featherweight: Benny Pineda x Victor Tirado
Featherweight: Saul Cabrera x Jaime Florez

ONE: Quest For Greatness Line Up Announced


10 July 2017 – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: The largest sports media property in Asian history, ONE Championship™ (ONE), has just announced another blockbuster evening of authentic martial arts action. ONE: QUEST FOR GREATNESS is set to return to the iconic Stadium Negara on 18 August for another spectacular showcase of Asia’s top martial arts talent. In the main event, undefeated ONE Featherweight World Champion Marat “Cobra” Gafurov of Russia puts his world title on the line against top contender Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen of Australia.

Ticket information for ONE: QUEST FOR GREATNESS is available at

Chatri Sityodtong, Chairman and CEO of ONE Championship, stated: “It is always an exciting time in Kuala Lumpur whenever our world-class athletes climb atop Asia’s biggest and grandest martial arts stage. Our warriors are eager to put on a show for fans in Kuala Lumpur, and it is our honor to have them perform in this marvelous city. Marat Gafurov and Martin Nguyen are two of the promotion’s finest featherweights. They have met before, with Gafurov taking victory via submission in their first encounter. This time, however, a better-prepared and refocused Nguyen vows to finally bring the title back to Sydney.”

Marat “Cobra” Gafurov of Dagestan, Russia, is the reigning ONE Featherweight World Champion. An undefeated martial artist with 15 wins and no losses, Gafurov is a high-level grappler with 11 of his wins coming by impressive submission over top-caliber opponents. Rarely challenged and always dominant, Gafurov captured the featherweight title in 2015 with a gutsy victory over former champion Narantungalag Jadambaa in an epic battle. In his last bout, Gafurov defeated Jadambaa once again in a rematch a year later to cement his claim as the undisputed ONE Featherweight World Champion. He will defend his title next against Australia’s Martin Nguyen.

28-yea old Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen of Sydney, Australia, is a former featherweight title challenger with a 8-1 professional record. His only loss came at the hands of reigning ONE Featherweight World Champion Marat Gafurov, when he stepped up to accept their first showdown on just a few days’ notice. None of Nguyen’s victories have gone to a decision, giving him five solid knockout wins as well as three victories by submission. In his last bout, Nguyen defeated Japanese veteran warrior Kazunori Yokota via first-round knockout. Nguyen’s all-around skill set allows him to compete at the highest level as a professional. In a highly-anticipated rematch, Nguyen once again receives a shot at the ONE Featherweight World Championship when he takes on Marat Gafurov for the second time.

Ev “E.T.” Ting is a professional martial artist with deep roots in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Living and training out of Auckland, New Zealand, Ting owns a stellar 13-4 professional record, including four wins by submission and four exciting knockouts. A winner of four of his last five bouts over top-caliber opponents, Ting is one of the most talented competitors to come out of Malaysia. In his most recent bout, Ting challenged ONE Lightweight World Champion Eduard Folayang, falling by unanimous decision in a gruelling five-round matchup. Ting now returns to Kuala Lumpur to face another challenge in Nobutatsu Suzuki.

A 39-year old Japanese veteran from Tokyo, Nobutatsu Suzuki is the former ONE Welterweight World Champion. With a professional record of 11-2-2, Suzuki is adept in both striking and grappling, also possessing well-rounded wrestling ability. He first captured the inaugural title with a victory over veteran competitor Brock Larson, only to succumb to now-reigning champion Ben Askren in the bout following. After a break from competition, Suzuki now returns as a lightweight to face Ev Ting.

Agilan “Alligator” Thani of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, will be making his return to the ONE Championship cage following his first shot at a world title opposite reigning ONE Welterweight World Champion Ben Askren. Although Thani fell short of victory against the American, he gained a great amount of experience as a result and has emerged as a more seasoned combatant. The 21-year old is 7-1 as a professional, with five of his seven victories ending in the first round. All of Thani’s victories have come by exciting finish. The young Malaysian has shown steady improvement in each outing. He is now set to take on Sherif Mohamed.

Sherif “The Shark” Mohamed is a professional martial artist from Cairo, Egypt, with a 8-3 record. The Evolution Light Heavyweight Champion, Sherif is a well-versed kickboxer and wrestler with all eight of his wins coming by finish. Of his total victories, Sherif owns four submissions and four knockouts, proving his versatility and well-rounded game. In his last bout, the Egyptian Top Team standout made his ONE Championship debut opposite Igor Subora. This time, Sherif takes on top welterweight Agilan Thani.

Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon of the famed Team Lakay in Baguio City, Philippines, is one of the country’s most talented martial artists. With a professional record of 15-5, Belingon is known as a fierce competitor with the ability to finish opponents in a variety of methods. The 29-year old wushu stalwart owns six big knockouts on his resume, and is one of the most feared strikers in the bantamweight division. In his last bout, Belingon stopped Finnish grappling sensation Toni “Dynamite” Tauru with a volley of devastating strikes. He now takes on another tough task ahead in Reece McLaren.

25-year old Reece “Lightning” McLaren is a Filipino-Australian professional martial artist from Toowoomba, Australia. He made his ONE Championship debut in 2015 with a spectacular submission victory over top bantamweight contender Mark Striegl, and then followed up that win with a unanimous decision over highly-regarded prospect Muin Gafurov. In his last bout, McLaren challenged Bibiano Fernandes for the ONE Bantamweight World Championship, falling just short of victory by way of split decision. Next up, he takes on Filipino striker Kevin Belingon.

Malaysia’s Gianni Subba is a 24-year old flyweight prospect from Kuala Lumpur. He spends time carefully honing his craft with talented teammates, including brother Keanu, at Bali MMA in Indonesia. A winner of five of his last six bouts, Subba is a seasoned athlete with a stellar 8-2 clip in his young career. Five of his seven wins have come either by submission or by crowd-pleasing technical knockout. In his next assignment, the crafty Riku Shibuya poses a stern challenge.

Japanese martial arts sensation Riku “The Outsider” Shibuya won the hearts of fans with his exciting, unorthodox style and powerful combinations. With a professional martial arts record of 13-3-2, Shibuya has figured in a series of exciting battles throughout his career. A former ONE Flyweight World Championship title contender, Shibuya is a veteran and easily one of the most enjoyable competitors to watch. In his last bout, the 32-year old took on Roy Doliguez in January 2016 to win a unanimous decision. After a recuperative break, Shibuya returns to take on Gianni Subba in what should be an intense matchup.

31-year old Ann “Athena” Osman of Kota Kinabalu is Malaysia’s premier women’s combat sports star. Training out of the coastal locale of Sabah, the female warrior hones her craft at Borneo Tribal Squad, advancing her skills in various disciplines such as wrestling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and Muay Thai. A well-rounded martial artist, Osman likes to use her strength to overpower opponents and is extremely aggressive, always looking for the finish. Osman will take on Singapore’s May Ooi in her return to the ONE Championship cage.

Singaporean female strawweight prospect May Ooi is a professional martial artist and a ONE Championship newcomer. With a 2-2 professional record, Ooi is a hard-working competitor possessing well-rounded striking and grappling skills. A former swimmer, Ooi represented Singapore in the 1992 Summer Olympics held in Barcelona. Today, she is one of the country’s most talented martial artists. Ooi is set to make her ONE Championship debut opposite Malaysia’s Ann Osman.

26-year old Robin Catalan of Iloilo City, Philippines, is a member of the Catalan fighting family and a professional martial artist competing in the ONE Championship strawweight division. He currently owns a record of six wins and two losses, which includes two wins by submission and two by knockout. In his last bout, Catalan went head-to-head with fellow Filipino warrior Jeremy Miado to nab the win via split decision. Now, Catalan is set to face former ONE Strawweight World Champion Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke of Thailand.

Former ONE Strawweight World Champion Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke is a three-time Lumpinee Stadium Muay Thai world champion who has a 7-2 record as a professional martial artist. He is known as a technical striker with quick hands and lightning feet, employing some of the most unique and creative combinations. As a martial artist with over 25 years of competitive experience, Dejdamrong is a seasoned veteran. In his last bout, Dejdamrong took on Indonesia’s Adrian Matheis to bag a first-round knockout victory. Next, the Thai warrior goes up against Robin Catalan.

22-year old Keanu Subba of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, is one of the most promising young talents in ONE Championship’s featherweight ranks. He is 5-2 as a professional after making a name for himself as a MIMMA featherweight champion. In his most recent bout, Subba trumped fellow top prospect Ahmed Mujtaba of Pakistan, winning impressively by first-round submission. Subba’s experience inside the ONE Championship cage as a young fighter has taught him great lessons that he says has helped him improve his overall game. He is set to face Christian Lee in a highly-anticipated clash of young stars.

19-year old Christian “The Warrior” Lee, younger brother of reigning ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion “Unstoppable” Angela Lee, began his professional martial arts career on an absolute tear, railing off five straight victories by thrilling finish. He has impressed fans with his ability to seek out stoppage wins over top-caliber opponents. In his last bout, Lee toppled Chinese prospect Wan Jianping via first-round technical knockout to improve his record to 6-1. Known as an unpredictable striker with unorthodox grappling technique, Lee is now set to face rival Keanu Subba of Malaysia.

Edward “The Ferocious” Kelly is a 33-year old Filipino martial arts talent and one of the brightest featherweight prospects to emerge from the Philippines. A professional martial artist with a complete striking and grappling skill set, Kelly brings Team Lakay’s world-renowned wushu to centerstage as he looks to showcase his expertise inside the ONE Championship cage. Kelly has won his last three outings by spectacular finish. In his last bout, Kelly scored a third-round technical knockout of veteran competitor Sunoto of Indonesia. Kelly seeks to continue his amazing run, this time against Emilio Urrutia.

Emilio “The Honey Badger” Urrutia is an American martial artist from Miami, Florida. The 30-year old made his professional debut in 2013, and has since produced a solid 9-4 record. A skilled grappler, four of Urrutia’s nine total victories have come by submission. Training out of the renowned Tiger Muay Thai gym in Thailand and Juggernaut Fight Club in Singapore, Urrutia is set to make his ONE Championship debut as a featherweight. He will take on Filipino sensation Edward Kelly.

38-year old Rene “The Challenger” Catalan of Manila, Philippines, is a 2006 Asian Games gold medalist in wushu. He made his ONE Championship debut in 2013 against Brazil’s Alex Silva, and has since amassed a 2-2, 1 No Contest professional record. In September of 2016, Catalan notched his first victory in the promotion with a unanimous decision over Zhang You Liang. In his most recent bout, Catalan submitted Adrian Matheis by armbar in the second round. Now Catalan is looking for his third straight victory, this time against Bu Huo You Ga.

24-year old martial artist Bu Huo You Ga of China is a ONE Championship prospect with a professional record of four wins and two losses. He made his promotional debut in January of 2016 in the ONE Changsha Bantamweight Tournament, winning against Cai Chang Bo in his first bout, but losing to Ma Haobin shortly after. Months later, Bu Huo You Ga returned to competition as a flyweight to win the 2016 ONE Hefei Flyweight Tournament. Early in his professional career, Bu Huo You Ga has shown an incredible fighting spirit with solid striking and grappling offensive skills. Now ready to take his career to the next level, Bu Huo You Ga takes on Filipino wushu specialist Rene Catalan.

John Demmel


One of the most intimidating and imposing physical specimens to come out of the British MMA scene, London’s own John ‘Demolition’ Demmel has been amassing quite the record since his pro MMA debut in December 2012. A fearsome striker with an extremely aggressive style (and the heavy hands to go with it), Demmel has seen just two of his fights extend beyond the one minute mark. What’s more, Demmel posted an eleven second TKO win in only his second pro MMA fight, and has, astonishingly, beaten that time twice since.

Needless to say, Demmel can hurt people, quick. After all, it’s in his blood.

“My grandfather was a fair ground boxer taking on the best men in whatever town he was in,” Demmel told The MMA Vanguard in an exclusive interview. “He would fight anyone and some times have multiple fights in one night. That’s a real fighter!”

Studying tape of Demmel suggests he’s cut from the same cloth. At times appearing dissatisfied with the blistering speed of some of his wins, Demmel has been known to lay down the gauntlet to other athletes post-fight, and almost came to blows with Pacer Allen immediately following his aforementioned eleven second decimation of veteran Welsh slugger Nikki Kent.

Asked by the announcer his thoughts on the fight, a seemingly disappointed Demmel said the fight had been “too easy, really,” and, in calling out Allen, stated that he wanted “proper fights”. Pacer stepped into the ring, immediately went eyeball-to-eyeball with Demmel, and tempers could have flared in the aftermath of a strong shove. Fortunately, Allen and Demmel kept their cool, but had the rules allowed, it looked like Demmel would have signed up to the fight there and then!

Alas, professional fighting in the modern world is a far cry from the day’s of Demmel’s grandfather. Grit, determination, toughness, and a readiness to compete at a moment’s notice, however, are still traits of great competitors. Demmel has all of these qualities, and it was willingness to step up when called upon that gave him his entry to the sport.

A boxer and Muay Thai practitioner for many years, John grew up fighting, and admits he didn’t know any different but to train hard and compete. “It was my routine and I enjoyed it,” Demmel told us. He still does. “I like to keep myself in good shape, so when I was not competing for while in Thai boxing I started doing a bit of MMA [in the gym]. One day a guy pulled out of a heavyweight fight and I happily took his place as a bit of fun.” After that, Demmel recalls, “I fell in love with MMA.”

Gary Brooker was the man Demmel stepped up to face in that particular instance, and was promptly stopped by way of TKO. Nikki Kent was next, withstanding only a right hand, a left hand, a pair of knees and some fast and furious ground and pound, and that was that. On to the man Demmel called out that night, April 13, 2013, and the two would duly lock horns in July of that year.

A man every bit as imposing, if not quite as defined as Demmel, Pacer Allen’s boxing and ability to withstand damage had earned ‘Demoltion’s’ respect. That would not, however, mean Demmel be switching up strategies. John made his M.O. clear to The MMA Vanguard: “I have a lot of explosive power and I love to come forward and press the action,” he said. “I really wouldn’t like my fights to go to points, for me personally that’s not a good win, and it’s our job [as fighters] to entertain the crowd! Kill or be killed!”

For a while in the Pacer Allen fight, it looked like Demmel would rack up his third straight win in typical blistering fashion. Opening up with a leg kick, Demmel reached out for a Muay Thai clinch, but switched it up with an uppercut as Allen pulled away. A hard knee to the head dropped Allen, and Demmel quickly moved to establish mount. So far, so good, and a very tough and respectable opponent looked like heading the same way as Gary Brooker and Nikki Kent. Pacer Allen, however, had a few tools in his arsenal than those gentleman, and was able to use good ground defence to survive the initial onslaught. When he rolled to give up his back, however, Demmel couldn’t quite capitalize.

Overzealousness caught up with the ever-aggressive heavyweight, and as he attempted to establish a body lock to secure the back mid-roll, Allen’s momentum saw him wind up on top. Even so, at first, it was Demmel landing the punches from the bottom. Allen was forced to posture up to avoid further blows, although this gave Demmel the chance to push Allen back with his feet and regain verticality. It was breathless stuff to this point, and neither fighter had any intention of relenting.

As Demmel looked to loose his fists, Allen sought a takedown that was easily denied. Two vicious knees from Demmel against the fence would have finished a lesser man, but Allen hung tough. He ate several fists and further knees as Demmel continued to push the fight at his trademark pace, but fortunately for Pacer, he was able to ride out the storm and eventually secured a single leg takedown.

Less than a minute had passed.

While Allen took time to regain his composure, Demmel landed a punch or two from the bottom, and as the action slowed, established full guard. Here, Allen continued to bide his time. Free from the ferocity of Demmel’s relentless stand up assault, Allen even received an order to increase his output from the referee, before he finally stepped over to half guard. While Demmel’s defensive know how stifled much of the actual offence Pacer may have wished to mount, Allen had managed to not only catch his breath, but make his opponent carry much of his weight during his time in top control. Still, when Demmel saw the opportunity, he exploded back to his feet, only for Allen to re-establish control with another single leg.

By that point, it was clear he wanted nothing to do with the striking skills of his opponent. Who could blame him?

Allen moved to mount, but Demmel again showed outstanding explosiveness as he muscled his way out of danger, reversing the situation with a straight-forward powerhouse sweep. Now it was Allen’s turn to explode out of a bad spot, and within the blink of an eye, the pair were back on their feet.

The level changes, combined with the sheer pace of the fight, was beginning to take it’s toll. As Demmel pushed Allen to the fence and delivered a swarm of fists and knees, Allen showed his heart by firing back with a wearying body shot and a right-left combination. Utilizing a body lock to work his way behind Demmel, Allen landed some good shots from the blindside, and for the first time Demmel began to slow down. Blocking both a double leg and a single leg combination, John gained a degree of separation, and looked to make the most of it – only to be dropped by a clubbing overhand left that landed behind the ear.

Allen dropped down for side control, distracted Demmel with the threat of hammerfists, and as Demmel used wrist control to stop the blows, moved directly to mount. Posturing up, Allen rained down heavy hammerfists from the top, before switching it out for an arm triangle attempt. When that failed, Allen went back to basics, dropped more heavy leather, and forced the ref to step in.

It was a gruelling, action-packed, non-stop war, and Demmel walked away with his first (and, to date, only) defeat.

While Demmel had certainly had the better of the majority of the fight, Allen’s ability to withstand punishment and dictate level changes had proved decisive. The same could not be said of Demmel’s next opponent, another Welsh veteran in Ben Schneider at UCMMA 41 in John’s return fight some 16 months later.

Lasting only ten seconds, Schneider ate a heavy leg kick, a powerful overhand, and a blizzard of rights and lefts against the fence that proved indefensible. An uppercut dropped Schneider, and a couple more rights against the fence punctuated what was already a formality; Demmel had made a devastating return to the cage!

While a bewildered Schneider reflected on what he couldn’t quite recollect happening, Demmel was already planning his next move: “If they have me back”, he said in his post-fight interview, “I’m up for fighting anyone!”

That ‘anyone’ was supposed to be Essex-based Romanian Marian Rusu just three months later; when that fight did not materialize under the UCMMA banner, a bout with Dan Ruddy in Ultimate Fighting Warriors did. Again, it didn’t last. This time, Demmel rushed Ruddy with a double leg takedown, established mount, and forced a tap to strikes at just 15 seconds. It may not have been the step up in competition Demmel had in mind, but with a record of 5-1, that step up was about to manifest itself in the form of 11-5 former K-1 and BAMMA veteran, Catalin Zmarandescu.

No stranger to first round TKO wins himself, Bucharest-based heavy-hitter Catalin had disposed of a string of heavyweights both in the UK and his native Romania. So did the fight stand out in John’s mind? Not exactly…

“The Catalin [Zmarandescu] fight was a big deal for everyone apart from me it seemed!” John laughed. “The British media went crazy and MMA fans were excited about it! To me, [though], Catalin was just another guy who was in the way of my dream of being the UCMMA Heavyweight Champion. Catalin was never a big deal to me, I wanted that belt and on that night nothing was going to stop me! Most people who watch MMA knew how ferocious Caitlin’s wrestling and ground and pound was, and they thought I would be just another victim! Never!”

So, with the UCMMA Heavyweight title on the line, Demmel looked to continue his upward momentum against a man who represented not only his most experienced opponent to date, but an intriguing stylistic challenge. The nature of that challenge became apparent right away, as a Demmel started out with a hard leg kick that Zmarandescu was able to catch and turn into a takedown attempt just seconds into the bout. Demmel would have to prove once and for all that he was not simply a whirlwind of aggression on the feet, but a complete mixed martial artist.

Defending that takedown well, Demmel sprawled beautifully as Catalin modified his approach. Demmel managed a body shot or two, but Catalin was not about to give up on his attempted level change and clung on to Demmel’s leg. When Demmel stood, Catalin switched to a double leg, and though he was unable to lock his hands around the wide stance of Demmel, he was able to use his sheer strength to muscle Demmel’s legs out from under him, and pull him away from the fence and to the ground.

Demmel instantly attempted to power his way to his feet, but with Catalin now with a hold of both legs, he was reduced to short punches to the head and body as he looked for an alternative exit method. He waited for Catalin to shift his weight, and used his back to the cage effectively to stand up properly. Catalin continued to cling to Demmel like a limpet, and this time locking both hands on another double leg attempt, but Demmel showed superb poise and balance and denied Zmarandescu the control he required. Standing straight back up, Demmel landed more short punches, the accumulation of which were beginning to hurt the Romanian.

Catalin covered up, John used a beautiful underhook to turn the tables and put Zmarandescu’s back to the fence, took him down, and quickly established side mount. It was a slick bit of movement from the Londoner, and it allowed Demmel the chance to return to his roots; his devastatingly heavy hands. Catalin turtled up, turned his back, and Demmel continued the onslaught until the referee intervened and awarded ‘Demolition’ the UCMMA Heavyweight title!

A delighted Demmel would defend that title just once, against debutant Ben Earls in a ten second wash out, before receiving an offer from Bulgarian-based promotion Spartacus Fighting Championship (SFC).

“The move to SFC was natural progression,” John told The MMA Vanguard. “I wanted a bigger challenge and a bigger stage! SFC was like a dream come true! A massive production with all the lights and action of a Hollywood film. In England I was a massive up and coming MMA star, and the SFC setup made me feel like all the hard work had paid off! It’s every fighters dream to showcase their talent on a big show like SFC, and the show itself has gone from strength to strength. It’s getting bigger and better every time!”

John also counts signing for SFC as one of the highlights of his career to date. As he told us, “Big highlights for me didn’t always happen in the cage or on a show, signing for the SFC and meeting my new team of trainers, nutritionist and becoming part of combat promotion family was massive for me! The opportunities I’ve had by being part of this family have been amazing,” he beams.

At 34, moving up to such a stage after an incredibly entertaining 6-1 start to life as a professional mixed martial artist, it’s clear Demmel delights in entertaining a whole new audience. A rematch with Ben Earls awaited him in his SFC debut with the promotional heavyweight title on the line, and with the fight ending this time via guillotine choke at just 41 seconds, it was even more clear than ever why Demmel required that step up.

His first challenge would be from Brazilian grappler Lucas Xavier, a fighter who had posted two of three wins by submission, and who represented a fresh stylistic challenge. But while the stage was bigger and the opposition international, Xavier would prove no better equipped to deal with Demmel than those back home! A hard leg kick from Demmel was followed by an early takedown attempt, with Xavier looking to tie up ‘Demolition’, only to be powered to the mat with a huge slam. Hurt, perhaps, Xavier succumbed to Demmel’s might as he moved to mount, before giving his back. It would be a fatal error, as Demmel took advantage, landed a flurry of hard right hands, and picked up the win.

Xavier had lasted just 45 seconds, and John Demmel had moved to 10-1 with yet another first round stoppage victory. So what awaits the Spartacus Fighting Championships heavyweight title holder now?

“Obviously SFC 6 will see my next big fight, and I might sneak a little fight in in London in between, we will see! But wherever I am fighting next, expect fireworks! I have a point to prove!”

For those familiar with John ‘Demolition’ Demmel’s work to date, one thing that does not require further proof is his outstanding striking and relentless aggression; a born entertainer, Demmel loves his craft, and The MMA Vanguard has no doubt he will take it to the next level.

The challenge for SFC now is, finding bigger, tougher, stronger challenges. We cannot wait!

Richard LeRoy


Last month saw 5-0 Sityodtong Los Angeles stand out Richard LeRoy treat Californian MMA fans to one of the most intense see-saw fights in recent memory (view here). A quarterfinal bout in the California Xtreme Fighting (CXF) CaliKings lightweight tournament, LeRoy faced first round KO specialist Jalin ‘The Tarantula’ Turner (4-2) in what CXF officials are already calling the ‘fight of the year’ – and with good reason.

“My last fight was insane,” LeRoy told The MMA Vanguard in an exclusive interview. “I fought Jalin Turner who is an absolute beast. He rocked me right away and put me in deep waters in the beginning of the first round. I don’t really remember much except for just trying to recover and hold on in the first two or three mins. From the video it looks like the fight was almost stopped about 3 times just in the first round!”

Richard isn’t exaggerating. Turner, who has needed less than five minutes to dispose of his first four professional opponents combined, looked on course to add LeRoy’s scalp to his already impressive résumé. Showing excellent counter striking and Muay Thai stylistics, the 6’3 Turner overwhelmed LeRoy early, landing punches and knees to score an early knockdown. LeRoy recovered, only to eat a pinpoint left-right-left-head kick combination, before being forced to cover up again after a right hook forced him into the foetal position against the fence. After recovering again, a brief flurry of offence backed Turner up, only for Jalin to drop LeRoy once more with a right hand, and follow it up with a perfectly timed head kick as Richard attempted to regain verticality.

Needless to say, many fighters would have been finished at this point and left with no case to argue. Remarkably, however, LeRoy hung tough. As he explains, the tide turned:

“After a failed flying triangle attempt by him I was able to mount him and gain some momentum with ground and pound,” LeRoy told us. On the back foot for the first time, then, Turner began to tire, and much of the style, speed and panache seemed to abandon him. Where previously his movement was outstanding, and his angles brilliantly inventive and unpredictable, Turner began to fall victim to LeRoy’s strikes on the feet. But with LeRoy having withstood so much damage, and having been fighting on sheer instinct and willpower for so long (as he’s only too happy to admit), you might have expected him to be in even worse shape. First round wars like that inevitably come at a huge cost to both fighters, but if Turner had emptied the tank somewhat, LeRoy had absorbed a tremendous amount of punishment.

It’s a testament to LeRoy’s outstanding heart and desire, then, that he took over, pressing Turner with increasing ferocity across the second and third rounds, rocking and wobbling him with rights and lefts, hurting him with knees to the body, and even scoring a highlight reel slam. Turner’s significant reach advantage, however, meant that straight punches were still a major threat, particularly after such a torrid first round for LeRoy. While he landed some good, accurate punches, LeRoy was establishing control of the fight, landing the greater volume and superior combinations, and even looked set to finish the fight with a tight armbar late on in the fight.

But now it was Turner’s time to gut it out. Refusing to tap, Turner would escape, but this time the pendulum would not swing back in his favour. Instead LeRoy established mount, hammering away with rights and lefts until referee Mike Beltran intervened with 42 seconds of the fight left to go.

It was breathless stuff, and a scintillating advert for talent in the state of California. Moreover, it was a statement of intent from the 27 year old Camarillo native, and an invite sent loud and clear to major MMA promotions the world over.

“I really had to dig deep in that fight, it was a test,” LeRoy told The MMA Vanguard. “I easily could have broken in that first round, but there was no way in hell I was going to go out like that. I work way too hard and sacrifice too much to just give up.”

Elaborating on those sacrifices, Richard told us about some of the trials he had faced outside the cage: “Leading up to the fight my Father was in the hospital for almost two weeks, so getting the win felt really good, and I know it lifted his spirits as well, so I felt a rush of emotions after the fight,” Richard laughs, probably referring to his cage-cling celebration! “It was a good feeling, but I was not feeling good about my performance. I felt like I could have done much better and avoided a lot of the damage I took. After the fight I received a lot of praise for the fight, and a lot of people told me it was the best fight they had ever seen. I still feel I could have done better, but the fight was a great learning experience and a true test of will”

While any top athlete will always have reservations regarding certain performances, what will perhaps come as no surprise is the fact that LeRoy has finished all five of his pro MMA bouts to date. Debuting in August 2014, LeRoy has established himself as one of the West Coast’s top prospects, and with the semifinals of the CXF CaliKings lightweight tournament looming large, Richard is one-third of the way to becoming one of the hottest properties on the independent scene.

His next opponent, who will be charged with the unenviable task of trying to top Turner’s performance, will be Darren “Hollywood” Smith. “I am fighting Darren Smith Jr August 19th in the next round of this tournament,” LeRoy told us. “I feel I have already beat the most dangerous person [Jalin Turner] in the mix. Darren is very tough and I respect him as a fighter. I feel I will beat him, and whoever else moves on to the final round, and I will beat them too. It was my dream to turn pro, and now I am 5-0 with 5 finishes, and I’m dreaming of having a nice shiny belt around my waist. So I will make that happen!”

So far, The MMA Vanguard sees little reason to doubt LeRoy. If he can make the adjustments he alluded to in his critical self-analysis, there’s no question he has the athletic gifts and offensive skill set to achieve that goal. But how, exactly, did LeRoy arrive at this point?

“I didn’t start training until I was 19,” LeRoy admits. “I had wrestled and played football in high school, but that’s it. I had gotten in fights as a kid and we always used to box to see who was the toughest kid around and I used to just knock them all out,” he laughs. “I was always a fan of boxing and MMA, so as time went on watching the sport, my desire to train grew stronger and stronger. I tried a BJJ class and fell in love with it and just never stopped after that. I started training my stand up as well, and it just went from there.”

Eight years later, LeRoy has a lot of respect for some of the coaches and trainers who helped get him where he is today. “The most influential people in My career are my two head coaches, Fernando Castillo and head coach Kru Walter Michalowski,” Richard told The MMA Vanguard. “Kru Walt is a former Muay Thai champion and bad ass, so he’s definitely a role model to me and someone I look up to and respect. My BJJ coach Fernando is a legit black belt and he’s like an older brother. He keeps my tools sharp and keeps me motivated in times that I feel the world is collapsing around me. We set the tone for what ‘Hard work and dedication’ really means.”

Hard work and dedication may as well be bywords for not only the Jalin Turner fight, but LeRoy’s career to date. Starting out with victories over debutants Adrian Bartree and Derion Chapman, LeRoy moved on to score a third round TKO over then 4-1 stand out Brandon Hastings. Nicknamed ‘The White Tiger’ Hastings displayed crisp stand up and useful movement, pushing then 2-0 Richard LeRoy further than ever before in his young career. LeRoy ate some solid combinations, delivering several of his own in response, before eventually meting out a TKO stoppage courtesy of a vicious overhand right with a minute to go. A couple of obligatory ground and pound punches added the exclamation point, and convinced CXF to try him out against 8 fight veteran Marlen Magee in April of this year.

3:11 of the very first round was the total time that had expired when LeRoy achieved the second submission victory of his career after the 2014 fight with Chapman. LeRoy duly received an invitation to the CXF CaliKings lightweight tournament, and the rest is history.

So what is next, outside of said tournament, for 5-0 lightweight Richard LeRoy?

“The most important moment to me as a fighter is the next fight I have. I beat Jalin, but that has nothing to do with the task I have in front of me now. And before I fought him my thoughts were… I beat Marlon, but that has nothing to do with the task I have in front of me. I just look at my mistakes, fix them the best I can, and move on to the next opponent. Keep growing, keep learning, and keep getting better,” he says, adding: “I can’t say what the future holds, but I can say that I’m dreaming big. I will win the CXF lightweight title, then I will see what the options are after that. I would love to fight for Bellator or UFC. My ultimate goal is to be UFC champion.”

So far, so good, then, for a talent that The MMA Vanguard will be keeping close tabs on going forward!