Arnold Understands

“The reason it’s a bloodier sport than boxing is that you’re allowed to use elbows and knees,” says Eric Del Fierro, chief operating officer for Total Combat Entertainment, a San Diego–based mixed martial arts event-production company. “Both are sharp, and the intention when you throw an elbow or knee is to cut — that’s a way to get the fight stopped.”

Total Combat is a mixed martial arts event in which two athletes fight with techniques drawn from various fighting disciplines, including boxing, wrestling, judo, jiu-jitsu, and karate. Only a few methods of attack, such as groin punching, eye gouging, or biting, are prohibited.

On Saturday, February 16, fighters matched by Del Fierro will square off in “Total Combat Xtreme Cage Fighting” at 4th&B. Each match consists of three three-minute rounds; championship matches are extended to three five-minute rounds.

“We were the first mixed martial arts show in Southern California to be sanctioned,” says Total Combat chief executive officer Diana Ocampo. The California Athletic Commission sanctioned the event in March 2006. “We were lucky because the governor understands [the sport]. He has his own promotion in Ohio.” The Arnold Classic, an annual sports event named after Arnold Schwarzenegger, began as a bodybuilding competition 20 years ago and has since expanded to include dozens of sports. Mixed martial arts (also known as “ultimate fighting”) was added in 2006.

“A lot of these athletes are businessmen, college students, or college-educated,” says Ocampo. “They’re not thugs, you know? People take time out from their families and jobs to train. To train for a fight, they do conditioning for three or four hours, just in the morning, and then they come back later in the evening to do sparring techniques.”

Another misconception is that ultimate fighting is more dangerous than boxing. According to data compiled by the Journal of Combative Sport, 146 boxing fatalities have been documented since 1990. In the same time period, only 2 deaths — Doug Dedge in 1998 and Sam Vasquez in 2007 — have occurred in association with mixed martial arts.

The most common injury in mixed martial arts is laceration. “Most hospital visits are for stitches,” says Del Fierro, who, in addition to his work with Total Combat, is a full-time firefighter and mixed martial arts coach at Alliance Gym in Chula Vista.

One of the more effective ways to win a match is to break the skin of the opponent to cause bleeding. “If it’s blocking the fighter’s vision because blood is bleeding into his eye, it might cause the ringside doctor to stop the fight,” says Del Fierro. “In every show, I guarantee you that somebody’s going to get cut. The last show we had a total of four guys who needed stitches.”

Del Fierro continues, “We also had a kid who ended up winning his fight but got his jaw broken.” That fighter, Casey Ryan, took a jaw-crunching punch and then managed to get his opponent in a “triangle choke” (by wrapping his legs around the man’s neck and arm and putting pressure on his head), causing him to pass out. For a month after the match, Ryan’s jaw was wired shut.

During the Ultimate Fighting Championship in Ohio in October, Alliance Gym’s Brandon Vera hyperextended his thumb while throwing a punch. “This was in the first 2 minutes, and [Vera] ended up fighting two more rounds, a total of 15 minutes, with one hand.” Vera lost the title match to a split decision by the judges.

Del Fierro says the “most incredible” fight he has witnessed was between Christian Vargas and Mike Granchi in 2006. “The fight was very competitive; it went to a split decision. Christian ended up hyperextending his elbow in the first round and couldn’t feel it after that. Christian had Mike off of his feet a couple of times; he rocked him with a couple of knees — they were covered in blood. Mike won by split decision. They walked out of there dead; they both needed stitches. It was easily the fight of the night, maybe of the year.”

— Barbarella

Total Combat Xtreme Cage Fighting
Saturday, February 16
7 p.m.
345 B Street
Cost: $40 to 100
Info: 619-392-4660 totalcombat.tv/

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