A Town of Oro Valley lifeguard is building a name for himself in the mixed martial arts community after winning his second professional match in the first minute of the opening round while fighting for an international MMA promotions company.
Professional lightweight MMA fighter Levi Escobar (2-0-0) submitted his opponent, Mario Lopez (0-1-0), by rear naked choke in 1:01 minutes of Round 1 during Univision’s Combate Global on Aug. 8. The 25-year-old said he was surprised by the quick finish, but his years of training Brazilian jiu-jitsu, boxing and other martial arts disciplines allow him to see his opponent’s weaknesses within seconds after the opening bell.
“In the moment it was surprising. I got up and was like ‘Man, did that just happen?’ But honestly, I was ready for a first-round finish because that’s the level we’ve been training at,” Escobar said. “I knew that if I pushed myself and stayed sharp, I would get a quick finish.”
The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black-belt said he was hoping the fight would’ve lasted longer so he could practice the striking techniques he’s been working on for five years with legendary local MMA coach Chris Valdez.
“I didn’t even get to do any ground-and-pound and I was really ready to let some shots go,” Escobar said. “But it was all jiu-jitsu on the ground because I started passing his guard right away. Then he tried to turn away from me and gave me his back. That was his mistake and all I could think is, ‘It’s time to go.’”
Valdez said he felt very good about his student’s “quick, decisive victory,” despite not having a chance to use the striking strategies they have drilled over the years. The coach believes Escobar is reaching an elite level of MMA, but still needs a little more experience and bigger fights before he’ll realize his goal of fighting in the UFC.
“The experience will come. Right now I just want him [Escobar] to get very technical. Get his kicking and punches up to a high-level professional,” Valdez said. “He can always get better with his striking and kicking, but he’s focusing on how to be a complete martial artist.”
The fighter’s father, Martin Escobar, is also his head trainer. The elder Escobar began practicing Brazilian jiu-jitsu in the 1990s and is the owner/founder of one of Tucson’s first jiu-jitsu studios—DeBrazil Jiu-Jitsu Academy. He said he was surprised by the fast win, but also happy that his son did not have to take much physical punishment to get the victory.
“[The fight] was really, really good. Levi had prepared for a war and that’s how we prepare every single time,” Martin Escobar said. “I was quite surprised with the finish, but I knew if the fight hit the ground...Levi has got so much experience down there I knew he would finish it and that’s exactly what happened.”
Levi Escobar made his professional MMA debut in 2018, but a back injury coupled with pandemic restrictions sidelined the fighter for a couple years. He took time away from MMA to rehabilitate a herniated disc in his back through yoga and swimming, which ultimately led to his position as a lifeguard at the Oro Valley Aquatic center, he said.
“I got a herniated disc after a weight lifting accident at 21 years old and it was a tough thing to deal with,” Escobar said. “But I do yoga, get chiropractic care, massages and use swimming as a part of my training regimen and that really helps with my movement. So I’ve been able to overcome it.”
His father was concerned the inactivity may work against Levi during his last bout against Lopez, he said.
“It has been almost a two year layoff for him and I expected a lot of ring-rust,” Marin Escobar said. “But Levi had been practicing really hard, putting in the time and effort with his kicking, punching and grappling. I know because I get to roll with him every day he is in class.”
The elder Escobar said he started exposing his son to jiu-jitsu techniques at age of 2 and began training him at his academy by 7 years old. In the early years, Levi lost many of his competitive matches, his father said, but turned a corner with his training around 12 or 13 years old. That’s when he knew his son could really grow to be an excellent martial artist, he said.
“When he was young he would lose a lot of matches. But the thing with Levi is he wouldn’t get bummed out and upset about it. He would ask when he was going to go again and I would have to tell him that he’s out of the tournament,” Martin Escobar said. “So he learned if you want to stay in the tournament, you have to win. I felt sorry for the kids when he faced them a second time because he just turned it on.”