With fight leagues like Strikeforce, Pride and World Extreme Cagefighting now merged with the pinnacle conference of MMA — the Ultimate Fighting Championship — the list of quality fight leagues outside of the UFC have dwindled down to just a few.
One of those few is based just 136 miles away in Lemoore, where the Tachi Palace Casino and Hotel plays host to Tachi Palace Fights.
It’s in TPF where Oakdale MMA star and UFC undefeated top-contender for the bantamweight belt, Michael McDonald, received his mainstream recognition and eventual WEC/UFC contract.
The stepping stone to the UFC hasn’t ignored Oakdale MMA talent since, and local fighters have taken advantage of the opportunity.
Oakdale MMA came away from TPF 15: Collision Course on Nov. 15 with a 2-0 record across the main event and co-main event, landing a stunning TPF belt and impressive upset along the way.
Oakdale light heavyweight standout Angel DeAnda improved to a four-fight win streak and 11-2 career with a round three technical knockout of TPF veteran Anthony Ruiz (29-18) in the card’s main event. Ruiz is well-known in the MMA world as a tough brawler with a rocklike chin and a penchant for premier fights. He’s also competed in Strikeforce and the WEC and is known for his stunning record of just one prior defeat by either TKO or knockout.
“I thought the win was great because Anthony Ruiz is a pretty well-known guy and he had only been knocked out once,” DeAnda said on Monday. “It feels great to beat somebody like that and it solidifies my spot at 205.
“This was the biggest win of my career and it’s only going to get me bigger fights.”
The only thing more shocking than DeAnda’s TKO of an MMA veteran was the feat of his teammate just one fight prior.
Oakdale High graduate Rolando Velasco was superb in the co-main event, landing an unexpected three-round unanimous decision victory over Carson Beebe, the brother of reputed MMA veteran, Chase Beebe. Carson entered the Nov. 15 contest on the cusp of a seven-fight win streak and appearance on the Ultimate Fighter television show, but failed to find success against the former OHS wrestler, who stole takedowns in all three rounds.
“His reputation didn’t concern me,” Velasco said on Monday. “If anything it was motivation to my training. Once I saw his fight videos I knew I could beat this guy.
“His reputation meant nothing to me.”
Velasco has won three straight fights in 2012 and sports an 8-2 record. His last two opponents combine for a sterling 29-7 record despite their two defeats at Velasco’s hands.
“Hopefully I am on to bigger shows and bigger fights,” Velasco said. “My manager is trying to get me in the UFC and that’s what I am striving for.”
Both Velasco and DeAnda could fight in early 2013 when TPF plays host to its next fight card.