ROCK WARRIORS – MMA stars to defend Gibraltar’s honour

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It takes a unique kind of personality to live as a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter and do whatever necessary to beat your opponent inside the confines of an inescapable cage. With nerves of steel, these fighters block out all distractions to face their challenger and defeat them mercilessly.

Let’s be honest, you need to be made of strong stuff if you’re going toe to toe in a cage with someone, especially if you know that they are trained in multiple fighting styles. There is nowhere to run and you must face your fears head on if you are to succeed in this extremely technical sport.

MMA is brutal and takes no prisoners with bystanders severely punished for not putting their all into a fight. As a spectator, you feel the energy and can cut the tension with a knife when both competitors square up to one another. It offers something brand new for younger generations, combining explosive power; strength; technique; flexibility and versatility. It’s a little like East meets West in martial arts. Discipline is the key and self-improvement cannot be unlocked without it.

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Introduced in 2013 and now in its third edition, this year’s ‘Cage Fight’ will be staged at the Tercentenary Sports Hall. It will be bigger and better, featuring strong competitors from across the border with higher skill sets than Gibraltar has experienced in the past. Six members from the MMA academy will fly the flag for the Rock and will look to make their country proud.

Sensei Anthony Joaquin has spent nearly four decades in martial arts, focusing on Ju-Jitsu, and has over 300 students in Morocco. However, he was unable to bring any of these top athletes over to Gibraltar due to visa restrictions and high costs.

Sensei Joaquin has established a family atmosphere at the club, a rundown section of the old defensive walls at Jumpers, converted into a frenzy of martial arts activity with Brazilian Ju-Jitsu and Kick Boxing at the fore. With a burgeoning youth academy moulding the next generation of fighters under the auspices of the ‘Master of Masters’, it is clear that MMA is here to stay.

Sensei Joaquin has summoned some of the Rock’s deadliest martial artists to face whoever dares cross the border on 25 November and step into the cage ‘of no return’. Let’s take a look at those who will defend the Rock’s honour as ‘fight night’ approaches and double training sessions take precedence.

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Ivan Hristov

Age: 29 years old

Height: 1.86 m

Weight: 95 kg

Record: Debut fight

Originally from Bulgaria, Hristov arrived in Gibraltar two-and-a-half years ago with the desire to experience something different. He saw the Rock’s cultural diversity as a utopia and soon convinced his family to join him.

The bullish Bulgarian practiced kickboxing and boxing for a year-and-a-half prior to arriving in Gibraltar, but had never done any floor-work. However, he soon fell in love with Brazilian Ju-Jitsu where the martial art becomes more sport orientated and traditional customs convert into a more subtle form, “It is not straight edged like in Japan, the mentality in Brazil is different and more about passion and fire. Traditional Japanese martial arts focus on ending the fight, usually by killing an opponent in battle. That is how it originated. Brazilian MA aims to subdue the opponent but not harming the body in terms of breaking bones for example. There are different techniques to lock down an opponent.”

Watching MMA on the sidelines it is difficult to really know what is happening when two fighters are grappling on the floor. But, in reality, there is a lot of action going on and that’s why they call this groundwork style ‘human chess’ as each fighter is trying to predict what the other will do. “If you flex one way to get a hold, the opponent will try and counter it. It can be very slight, but one false move and the fight could be over. It is a very intelligent martial art and it is all about attack, defence and counter. I fell in love with it around six months ago when I started and combining it with other martial arts gives me more in my locker.”

the_gibraltar_magazine_november_2016-web_page_060_image_0002Francis Cabrera

Age: 42

Height: 1.65 m

Weight: 65.6 kg

Record: Denmark 2015 United Nations of Bushido Ju-Jitsu – Gold/ Silver/ Bronze, MMA two fights one win one defeat, Campeonato de Andalucía 2016 Brazilian Ju-Jitsu – Bronze, Kick Boxing one fight one defeat.

Known locally as ‘El Warrior’, Cabrera admits that this nickname defines his character in every walk of life. As the most experienced martial artist on the local side, Cabrera will hybrid his numerous styles into a deadly combination on ‘fight night’. Through a fusion of Muay Thai kick boxing and Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, the finely aged warrior places no limits on himself and will fight on until his body can take him no further, “I have to be realistic here. Let’s say you are 60-years-old, it’s going to be impossible to fight a 20-year-old lad, especially if he has a martial arts background. But if the other fighter is 58, then why not. We must get out of our comfort zone and learn more of ourselves.”

Cabrera chose to get involved in MMA merely three years ago, inspired by Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan movies. “I started Bushido Ju-Jitsu with the master of masters, Anthony Joaquin, and a few months later, I joined his MMA classes with Kickboxing instructors Joe Williams and Lee Tierny who have done a great job in introducing me to one of the top sports of the world.”

the_gibraltar_magazine_november_2016-web_page_061_image_0002Jyl Pozo

Age: 28

Height: 1.74 m

Weight: 77 kg

Record: Seven fights, five wins, one no contest, one defeat

Pozo is an all-round fighter who is equally capable on the ground as he is on two feet. He enters the cage with intense aggression and relishes the challenge of a strong opponent.

Modelling himself on professional MMA star Nick Diaz, the former boxer considers himself ‘a born fighter’ who can get stuck in and take a punch.

Pozo has trained in MMA for the last eight years, spending most of his evenings preparing for upcoming battles. The support he receives from family members and the club are his driving force, pushing him to levels he was unaware he could attain, “When I train, I make sure to give it my all. When I fight, I wanna show everyone what I see every day, a strong and determined fighter. I have always been a fighter, when I step in that cage, there is only one thing on my mind…winning!”

Pozo has scouted his rival and plans to take him down to the ground as fast as possible where he is confident he will gain the upper hand, “From what I have seen, I have come to the conclusion that he only knows the basic Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, which I could use to my advantage on the ground.”

the_gibraltar_magazine_november_2016-web_page_061_image_0001Shane Moreno

Age: 32

Height: 1.68 m

Weight: 70 kg

Record: MMA four fights, three wins and one draw.

A brawler by nature, Moreno is ready to exchange blows in a calculated and channelled rage to overpower his opponent. He likes to finish off his rival competitor quickly through his power and determination. This fighter gives no quarter when you step into the cage with him. Moreno cultured himself in the art of boxing for a number of years before making the step into MMA and he feels that the addition of other styles to his arsenal has formed him into a deadly fighter, “I’m not afraid of anyone and whatever happens on the night I know that I would have given it my all. I am fully focused on this and I look forward to facing my opponent later this month.”

the_gibraltar_magazine_november_2016-web_page_060_image_0003Leeroy Ruiz

Age: 18

Height: 1.73 m

Weight: 65 kg

Record: Debut fight

The youngest of all the fighters on show, Ruiz will make his debut appearance on the MMA stage this month. The enthusiastic fighter has the world at his feet and great potential to succeed locally and abroad in the near future. He will hope to impress home fans but is keeping level-headed and balancing his training regime in the lead-up to the encounter. Ruiz is an all-round fighter with good technique and a maturity beyond his years, “I can’t wait for ‘fight night’. Training has been excellent and I have to thank everyone at the club for giving me this opportunity, especially Sensei Joaquin.”

the_gibraltar_magazine_november_2016-web_page_061_image_0003Steven Pardo

Age: 29

Height: 1.61 m

Weight: 69 kg

Record: One fight, one win

Pardo started MMA around nine years ago, specialising in kickboxing, groundwork and wrestling at two different clubs across the border. His height and reach are a disadvantage when facing taller fighters, but he counters this by taking his rival to the ground as soon as possible. This is where his is at his best, “My speed is also a great advantage as it helps me get under the fighters very quickly for some close quarter shots or a quick sweep to the ground.”

Following an injury setback last year, Pardo impressively managed to perfect his diet and training regime to lose ten kilos in seven months.

His opponent on the night specialises in kickboxing and the miniature maestro fighting machine already knows how he will win, “I have to take the fight to the ground as soon as possible as at this weight I should be stronger and dominate the ground with some Brazilian Ju-Jitsu. All in all, I feel quicker and stronger than ever and I’m looking forward to fighting in front of our home crowd.”

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