The short but muscular frame of two-year old Staffordshire bull terrier, Koukla, mimics the same profile of her owner, Oakdale High graduate Martin Sandoval.
And as Koukla would argue, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight — it’s the size of the fight in the dog.
At 5 feet, 3 inches, Sandoval is one of the smallest professional mixed martial arts fighters in the state. But what he lacks in stature, he makes up for in superb knowledge of wrestling, Brazilian Jujitsu and striking.
“I’m kind of happy that I’m short because a lot of people underestimate me,” Sandoval said. “I come out with a surprise.”
Sandoval surprised his last opponent, Sammy Saunders of Dave Terrell’s NorCal Fighting Alliance, with some quick submissions in a March 27 Playboy Fight Night 2 card at Feather Falls Casino in Oroville.
Saunders rushed Sandoval with a double-leg takedown in the bout’s opening seconds, but was rewarded with his head trapped in Sandoval’s legs via a triangle choke. Saunders attempted to slam Sandoval to the mat to free himself, but only found himself tighter in the choke.
As he circled to avoid the maneuver, Sandoval cinched in a tight arm bar and forced Saunders to tap out just one minute, three seconds into the fight.
The former Mustang wrestler and soccer player is now 5-2 in a flyweight mixed martial arts career that has seen four wins in five attempts since a first-fight loss in April of 2008.
Sandoval thrilled local fans with a knockout of Oregon’s Jordan Sutton in Modesto last June, and did the same to California’s Mitchell Wykoff in July. He lost to Las Vegas fighter Ulysses Gomez (5-1) at the Tachi Palace in October, but bounced back with his 2010 win over Saunders.
“I didn’t expect to be this far that quick,” Sandoval said. “I have been blessed with the opportunity to train with Oakdale MMA and I have had some good promotions.”
Sandoval is one of several Oakdale MMA fighters who make up Tom Theofanopoulos’ Last Stand Fight Team.
The long time MMA instructor and Kajukenbo and Brazilian Jujitsu blackbelt has been instrumental in mentoring OHS graduates like Sandoval, Rolando Velasco and Muay Thai title holder Quincy Schoemann.
“We are pretty gifted for being such a small town and being lucky enough to have Tom here,” Sandoval said. “He is one of the more well-known, respected trainers around, and I am very fortunate he has taken me under his wing and allowed me to do all the things I have accomplished.”
Sandoval received an email on Sunday regarding a late May-early June fight for Playboy Promotions in Canada. He expects to fight for a Gladiator Challenge fight at the Tachi Palace (Lemoore) in September of this year as well.
“I just want to do well for the Last Stand Fight Team,” Sandoval said. “My teammates, my girlfriend and professor Tom have been big supporters of my career and I can’t thanks them enough.”
Sandoval’s Muy Thai teammate, Schoemann, lost a much disputed decision in Richmond last year, but rebounded with consecutive wins over Matt Lucas and Nicholas Balestra.
Schoemann’s viscous leg-kick on Balestra forced a stoppage on April 12 that awarded the Mustang alumni an International Kickboxing Federation super welterweight title. Schoemann and LSFT teammates Christian Burrone and Ricardo Garcia will fight again on May 29.
Sixteen-year-old Brad McDonald and exciting Modesto fighter Justin Smitely will take on competitors in a Gladiator Challenge event in Placerville’s Red Hawk Casino on May 1.
On May 22, brothers Michael and Andrew Gall will make career debuts in Fresno on an amateur MMA card. Frankie Flores (1-0), a former Buhach Colony High wrestler and state qualifier, will see his second career fight the same night.
Oakdale MMA’s next title shots will come in July, when 9-1 Michael McDonald looks for another victory on July 9 after upsetting World Extreme Cagefighting veteran Manny Tapia. His heavyweight teammate, Angel DeAnda, will also fight for a title on July 17.