'We love these fighters because this is a fighting town. Ronda is in for it; Holly is in her head,” she said. “She’s gonna take her down. She’s not fluff' -- Dawn Lowe, Holly Holm fan
BY JUANI HOPWOOD
At the entrance of the sold-out, standing-room-only First Turn Lounge at the Albuquerque Downs racino, mixed martial arts fans attending the pay-per-view screening of UFC 193: Rousey vs. Holm were greeted by hometown MMA fighters who signed autographs for a line that snaked its way around the perimeter of the venue.
The crowd was a blend of super fans and the curious, a throng of mixed ages, mixed hats, and mixed expertise. At the bar, ageless abuelas sat alongside day drinkers, protein shakes next to double whiskeys.
MMA fighters know that this solid fan base is what keeps them on their feet – and New Mexican fans are arguably the most supportive.
Joby Sanchez, a pro MMA fighter from the South Valley, appreciates that “the fighter spirit speaks to the Albuquerque crowd. This is the place to train,” he said. “The love and passion feeds into the sport and builds more fighters, just by support alone.”
Sanchez, 24, may be young, but he’s hardly a newcomer. He began training at age seven, and when he was 13, he watched Diego “The Nightmare” Sanchez, another Burqueño, win “The Ultimate Fighter.”
In that moment, Sanchez knew he wanted to fight in the cage. “The way he fought – with heart – just grabbed me. It was something I recognized in myself.” Sanchez spoke of his Damascus moment with deep reverence, and it was plain to see that he was both proud and grateful to be in his element, a fan energized by fellows.
Like most attendees, William Daukei, 29, rooted for hometown Holm over “It Girl” Rousey because, he said, “underdogs are more prepared.”
“I’m a boxing fan, not really a fan of MMA yet. Boxers stand to fight, and when they get knocked down, they can always get back up again. But there’s no second chance in UFC. A boxer versus a UFC fighter is a dream come true. It’s like the two sports are fighting, not just the ladies. They’re both undefeated,” he said.
Dawn Lowe, 44, made it to the First Turn just in time to bring up the rear of the autograph line. Like Holm, Lowe is blonde and blue-eyed with sandy freckles. She gleefully described the contentious weigh-in that preceded the match, characterizing Holm’s class and Rousey’s showboating as two different expressions of self-confidence.
Lowe said she is proud that Holm and other New Mexican fighters always acknowledge their staunchly loyal fans. “We love these fighters because this is a fighting town. Ronda is in for it; Holly is in her head,” she said. “She’s gonna take her down. She’s not fluff.”
When asked how he would characterize the UFC crowd in New Mexico, Matthew Santiago, 36, replied, “There isn’t really a ‘scene,’ just fans. Mostly hometown fans.” Tall and reserved but completely comfortable in the packed venue, Santiago was originally a boxing fan, but he said he now prefers MMA because its modern, free-form nature draws out fighters’ personalities. “Out with the old, in with the new,” he explained.
Angel Garcia, 46, volunteered at Holm’s fights for years. Garcia recalled that Holm, always gracious and friendly, would without fail take the time to get to know the support staff before her matches. Garcia was positive that Holm could feel the enthusiasm filling the room even from across the Pacific. When asked what advice she thought Holm would give to new fighters who admire her success and perseverance, Garcia answered, “Be true to yourself. Believe that you can do whatever you put your mind to.”
As pixels of Holm and Rousey squared off in Melbourne Australia, 8,531 miles away, the First Turn Lounge filled with cheers from fans gathered from as far away as Gallup and Zuni Pueblo. At the end of Holm’s ferocious performance in Round 1, it was as if the din here at home had whipped her into a fixated frenzy.
When Holm’s strikes reached a fever pitch in the second round and the flash of her white trunks preceded a decisive left kick to Rousey’s head that sent the champ to the mat, elated fans sprayed cascades of Corona and the congregation of the Preacher’s Daughter began to chant “Five-oh-five! Five-oh-five!”
Juani Hopwood is an editorial intern at ABQ Free Press. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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