Having celebrated its landmark 30th event in Chandler, Ariz. less than a month ago, one of Arizona’s premier mixed martial arts promotions, the World Fighting Federation, is returning to Tucson for another night of thrilling amateur and professional fights within WFF cage. On Oct. 1 Casino Del Sol Resort is hosting WFF 31 at the AVA Amphitheater, and the fight card is already competing with WFF 30’s fight of the year atmosphere.
Even though the most exciting part of any MMA contest are the competitors which enter the cage, WFF cofounder Brandy Pierce said the crowd plays a large role in the success of any show – and that the Tucson community really rocks the house.
“We absolutely love bringing WFF to Tucson,” Pierce said. “The fight community within the city really turns out to support their fighters, and few places really show that tremendous level of support and excitement like Tucson.”
Headlining the Oct. 1 fights is Tucson’s own Raymond “The Truth” Piña, who currently holds and 8-2 pro record and is quite familiar with combat sports - not only fighting for WFF but also for Bellator MMA. A Sunnyside High School wrestler turned professional fighter, Piña will be facing off once again in the 170-pound welterweight division against California-based Nathan Espinoza (5-6).
Piña, who trains out of Neutral Corner in Tucson, was last seen fighting at WFF 29 on July 23 against MMA veteran Estevan “El Terrible” Payan (16-10). Having out-wrestled the more experienced Payan during that night’s main event on his way to a unanimous decision victory, Piña said he feels as though he is “on the door step of taking the next leap to the next level” and looking to keep his three-fight win streak alive.
“I feel great physically and mentally,” Piña said. “I think I'm finally on the fight trail to where I want to go. My last opponent was such a veteran of the sport. He's one of those guys who won't quit. I've learned that I can get through a grueling three round war. There are not very many fighters who push the pace like I do. It requires being in great shape and I'm glad I got some experience with that against Payan.”
Returning to Tucson after training at high elevation in Denver, Colo. will be Andrew “Golden Boy” Perez, who trains locally at Apex Mixed Martial Arts and holds a 4-4 professional record.
Having previously been what he called “a fat fighter,” Perez moved down from welterweight to the 155-pound lightweight division and said that his recent trials within the cage have given him a better perspective as a fighter – and that he looks at the sport much differently now. Looking to right a four-fight slip, Perez was last seen fighting in Wilkes-Barre, Penn. at “PA Cage Fight 25” on Aug. 19 where he fought in the main event against Pennsylvania-based Jim Jordan (6-3) and lost via unanimous decision.
Perez has been pitted against Safford-based Anthony Wray (3-1), who last fought at WFF 29 and will be a perfect challenge for a highly motivated Perez.
Though not a professional yet, one young fighter who has been making quite a name for himself within the regional circuit fighting at WFF 31 is 20-year-old Levi “El Toro” Escobar. Tucson-born and training out of DeBrazil Jiu-Jitsu Academy under his father Martin, Escobar most recently won himself a championship belt at WFF 29 after quickly submitting Kyle “Nuk Soo Kow” Sullenberger of Knox, Penn. by way of standing guillotine at the 43-second-mark in the first round of the fight in the lightweight division.
Having fought his last three contests under the WFF banner – going 2-1 in those fights - Escobar has become a crowd-favorite within the amateur roster. Holding a 3-1 record overall, Escobar said that he still sees plenty more fights in his amateur career before he takes the step up to the pros.
“I plan on going pro after I close in on about 10 amateur fights,” he said. “All I'm really seeking right now is true comfort and experience in the cage so that my vision is clear at the end of my [amateur] career. I want to be able to see everything that is there for me in the cage and that feeling, that vision, only comes with experience and comfort.”
Looking at the rest of his career, Escobar said that he plans on remaining undefeated as an amateur and hopes to be tested against the best amateur fighters in the Southwest – and hopes on moving up from the local scene to fight with the TuffNUff promotion in Las Vegas at the end of this year or early next year.
Though he may have his sights set on greater fame in the future, Escobar said that he loves to fight in front of a home town crowd.
“I like to display what a true product of Tucson looks like in the cage when all the aspects of a true MMA fighter are there, so any chance to show out in front of my family and friends is a blessing,” he said. “Specifically with WFF, there's something about fighting at the Casino Del Sol that's special to me. I really embrace the feeling of going to war in the desert at such a beautiful location like the AVA. To feel the October air touch my skin while I'm walking to the cage is an unexplainable and priceless feeling.”
Also named to the WFF 31 main card is a bout between Tucson-native and Apex fighter Joel Champion (3-0) and Gilbert, Ariz.-based Chris Collins, who will be making his professional debut after a long amateur career at multiple weights. The fight will take place at welterweight.
“Though there are plenty more fights to come on this card, the group of guys already training to compete at Oct. 1 are some of the best the regional fight community has to offer and I am honored that they are willing to put it all on the line within the World Fighting Federation cage,” said Thom Ortiz, WFF cofounder and matchmaker. “Our organization thrives alongside these fighters, so to see them so willing to not only fight for us – but come back and fight again – it just means so much to me and the whole organization.”
While many of the fighters competing under the WFF banner have ties to Tucson and the surrounding region, Ortiz himself is a native Tucsonan and a Sunnyside High School graduate who in his own right has made a lasting impact within the local sports community.
During his time at Sunnyside, Ortiz was a two-time Arizona state wrestling champion, a two-time runner-up and a three-time High School All American who was voted Most Outstanding Wrestler and Arizona Republic’s Wrestler of the Year in 1985.
Moving on to compete while attending Arizona State University on full scholarship, Ortiz was a four-year starter, three-time NCAA All-American, three-time PAC-10 champion, Academic All-American and a member of the 1988 NCAA Championship Team and held an overall record of 118-34-2, competing at both 150 and 142-pounds.
After graduating, Ortiz coached at both Iowa State University and returned to ASU for eight years. While at the latter he garnered three Pac-10 Conference Coach of the Year awards, two top six finishes within the NCAA Tournament, coached a NCAA individual champion, 14 All-Americans, 17 Pac-10 champions and earned three Pac-10 team titles.
For his efforts and contributions to wrestling, both as an athlete and coach, Ortiz was inducted into both the ASU Sports Hall of Fame and the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame for the class of 2016.
“It’s truly an honor to be recognized like that,” Ortiz said of his inductions. “Halls of fame were never something I aimed to be in, I just thank God that I have been lucky enough to be given the opportunity to achieve so much. That is part of the reason that I helped found WFF; to give other athletes the opportunity to create a future for themselves as I have.”
For Piña, achieving glory is one of his goals, and another fight in the WFF cage is just another step along the way.
“I would love to fight with the best of the best in the UFC,” he said. “But whatever the next step is, we shall see. My goal as a fighter is to fight with the best and when people think back on me they will say, “damn, that's was one tough SOB.’”
Casino Del Sol Resort is located at 5655 West Valencia Road. For tickets to WFF 31 go to www.BuyFightTickets.com and for more information on the World Fighting Federation visit www.wffmma.com or follow on social media. For those unable to make the fights, streaming service is available for $9.99 through the WFF website.
The World Fighting Federation will also be heading to Puerto Peñasco, Mexico (Rocky Point) on Oct. 15 in conjunction with longtime Ultimate Fighting Championship and Bellator MMA veteran Efrain Escudero.
More information on the full fight card will be made available via WFF in the coming weeks before WFF 31.