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Why MMA fans should pay attention to Combate Americas, which has a card in Sacramento

Mixed martial artist Anthony "The Shark" Avila loves to fight

Anthony "The Shark" Avila originally from Lemoore has been training the past ten years in Sacramento to become a professional MMA fighter who does it because he loves it not out anger or to prove something.
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Anthony "The Shark" Avila originally from Lemoore has been training the past ten years in Sacramento to become a professional MMA fighter who does it because he loves it not out anger or to prove something.

Campbell McLaren is quick to say his new sporting venture, Combate Americas, is not in competition with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, his other brainchild.

It seems a bit odd to make that statement since both feature mixed martial arts, but McLaren sees Combate Americas as totally different, a brand that already has Univision viewers locked into a rear-naked choke.

“Our fans are not watching the UFC and they’re certainly not spending money on pay per-views,” said McLaren, who helped start the UFC in 1993 with Art Davie and Rorion Gracie. “The average UFC viewer is 47. Ours is 27. We have the No. 1 ratings for MMA in all of Mexico and Spain. There is no competition.”

McLaren brings his new brand to Sacramento’s McClellan Conference Center on Friday night for “Mexico vs. USA.” The eight-bout card, which begins at 6:30 p.m. and televised live on Univision Deportes at 8 p.m., will be headlined by a 110-pound catchweight contest between Lisbeth “Coneja” Lopez Silva (5-3) of Mexico City and Brenda Enriquez (1-1) of Salt Lake City.

The live telecast will feature a lightweight (155 pounds) matchup between Anthony “The Shark” Avila (15-5) of Sacramento and Jose Luis Verdugo (8-4) of Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. Other Sacramento fighters on the card include Kaleio “K.O.” Romero (1-0) and Andrew “Bulldog” Coyne (2-0).

McLaren said matches in his promotion has yielded a 61 percent finishing rate, meaning the winners have either scored knockout wins or forced their opponents into submission. That’s a much higher finish rate than the UFC, McLaren said, and is a testament to the Hispanic fighting style that’s based on boxing, rather than wrestling by most American and European fighters.

“You don’t have to be Hispanic to fight in Combates Americas, but you do have to fight like a Mexican,” McLaren said. “What I mean by that is you have to show an aggressive style, which make for very fun fights to watch. The DNA of the UFC is wrestling, while our DNA is stand-up fighting. To give an example, Conor McGregor is the Irish version of Combates.”

McLaren is counting on Sacramento's MMA fans to come out to the matches to see for themselves why Combates Americas has beaten the UFC in the Univision ratings since its inception in 2014. He said Sacramento fight fans are very knowledgeable and know what to expect once fighters get into la jaula, or cage.

They’ve been trained by watching UFC fights featuring Urijah Faber, T.J. Dillashaw and Stockton's Diaz brothers, Nate and Nick, McLaren said. He said the Diaz brothers and Faber, in particular, have been very helpful in getting Combates Americas and the Friday card off the ground. Faber and Team Alpha Male will be in full force to watch three of their teammates – Avila, Coyne and Romero – compete.

Avila, 29, moved from Lemoore to Sacramento a decade ago to pursue his dream of becoming a professional mixed martial artist. He joined Team Alpha Male soon after and has been working for smaller promotions, such as Combates Americas.

Avila is a jovial sort who can go from affable to aggressive as soon as the latch on la jaula’s door is closed. He said he’s more of a striker in the mold of a Mexican boxer, but bristled when asked if he’s comfortable going to the mat and grapple.

“I’m more of an all-around fighter,” Avila said. “I’m going to make (Verdugo) uncomfortable in there and, once that happens, he’ll start to make mistakes.”

Avila, with a chuckle, calls himself a generic Mexican. He was born in California, but is proud of his Mexican heritage. And, despite being billed as a part of the USA in the Mexico vs. USA format Friday night, he said his shorts will feature both flags.

He’ll have 20-30 close friends in the stands, he said, plus his teammates and co-workers from a West Sacramento food distributor. Avila says working the swing shift gives him the opportunity to get plenty of time at Faber’s gym, which sometimes include double workouts during a training camp. He’s proud of the career he’s had in MMA, he said, and if a call comes from the UFC, he’ll take it. For now, he’s happy to keep fighting and having fun.

“I’ve dedicated my life to this sport, and whichever promotion accepts me and wants me to fight, then that’s great,” Avila said. “I’m enjoying the journey.”

Mark Billingsley is a Carmichael-based freelance writer. Reach him at editorwriter@att.net or @editorwriter001.

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