A fighting chance: MMA comes to downtown Glendale

The Glendale Civic Center’s ballroom will host the Valentine’s Day Massacre, a card of amateur fighters who aspire to eventually reach the highest levels in mixed martial arts, including Bellator and UFC. (Photo by Brady Klain/Cronkite News)

GLENDALE – A Native-owned fight-promotion company that holds MMA events at Arizona casinos hopes to expand its audience with an event in downtown’s Glendale Civic Center it has dubbed the Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Officially called RUF 38, the event will unfold Saturday with a card of amateur fighters who aspire to reach the highest levels in MMA, including Bellator and UFC. It’s a production by Ringside Promotions’ Ringside Unified Fighting MMA.

The card includes two RUF MMA amateur title bouts. A flyweight (125 pounds) championship matches An Ho (4-0) and Joseph Rivas (2-5).

The RUF title also is on the line in the featherweight (145 pounds) bout between Estevan Ulibarri (4-1) of Backyard Boxing and Christian Natividad (4-0) of Arizona Combat Sports.

“These two guys are both pretty much undefeated,” said Jason Martinez, fighter relations coordinator and matchmaker at RUF MMA. “They are both extremely popular in the states, in the Southwest. We are putting them together for one of the best amateur title fights that anyone ever is going to get a ticket to see.”

An Ho trains at Fight Ready in Scottsdale with Henry Cejudo, an Olympic freestyle wrestling gold medalist and two-time UFC belt holder. Cejudo is expected to attend the fights Saturday along with Benson Henderson, Ryan Bader and other Bellator and UFC fighters.

“We are the first professional fight promotion to do a show in Glendale,” Martinez said.

RUF MMA fights are featured at casinos throughout Arizona, as well as the Arizona State Fair, but the West Valley represents a wider audience of fight fans.

“So far, the response has been great,” said Joel Lopez, president of Ringside Promotions, which is 100% Native American owned. “There are thousands and thousands of people in Glendale that love MMA; not only in Glendale but the surrounding areas as well. A lot of businesses in the local area are going to benefit. The economy is going to benefit. The fighters get to display their skills.

“This is our home, this is our reach, this is where we are, and why not bring the show to our people, to our community?”

The staff at Ringside Promotions has been working on the event for several months. Although it’s the company’s first RUF MMA event, it has played host to another event at the Civic Center, West Valley Rumble, which featured a unique style of submission-only grappling and jiujitsu in a cage.

“There are a lot of professional fighters that are constantly entering jujitsu tournaments to stay fresh, to stay ready for when they get the call up to fight on a card with us, Bellator or UFC,” Martinez said. “We wanted to create this competitive environment for them where they can still get high level MMA style grappling done in a format they are used to.”

The Valentine’s Day Massacre will be live-streamed by RUF MMA’s partner, ZTV Live.

“We feel that this is going to sell out, there are only 900 seats available,” Lopez said. “We feel that it is appropriate for the world to see our show because it is a spectacular show. We parented with ZTV Live. They are coming to film and produce it live for the rest of the world to enjoy.”

One local fighter will be making his debut at the event. Matt Zazueta, who fights out of Fluid Martial Arts in Tempe, will take on Chance Ikei, who fights out of Fight Ready in Scottsdale. Zazueta originally was supposed to fight his first match in October, but it fell through.

“I am so excited; I am antsy to get in there,” Zazueta said.

In his corner will be John T. Burns, who’s head coach at Fluid Martial Arts, jujitsu instructor Nick Burns and striking coach Anthony Lopez.

“They are seriously the best, and I am so happy to have them in my corner,” Zazueta said.

With the fight being close to home for Zazueta, he is able to have more friends and family attend. He is already hoping Glendale will host events in the future.

“I think it’s awesome, I think they are going to hold a lot more shows,” he said. “We usually have it in Flagstaff. I am glad it’s down here. I obviously think the Glendale-Phoenix area is a lot more populated, has a lot more eyes. I am able to have family and friends all there. I think it’s going to be amazing.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix