Fast-rising Angela Samaro of Salinas eyes her next mixed martial arts challenge this Saturday.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Type in “Angela Samaro” on YouTube and up comes a mixed-martial arts (MMA) scrap at Colorado’s Kick Down Classic. It doesn’t last long.
Salinas’ Samaro plants herself firmly in the ring while Louise Johnson jumps about. They go at each other without hesitation, trading haymakers with speed and verve. Some punches connect, some glance. The two tie each other up and rain knees to the body. After Johnson attempts an unsuccessful takedown, she makes a regretful mistake while jockeying for leverage – she lowers her head.
Samaro wraps her arm underneath Johnson’s head for a chokehold called a Standing Guillotine. As she ratchets it tight, the hold cuts off blood to the brain. Both combatants waver; then they fall. Before the high-pitched first round expires, Johnson has passed out on her feet. As the referee stops the fight, Johnson’s body twitches on the canvas, while Samaro stands and calmly steps out of frame.
Though she has competed in jiujitsu tournaments, this brief fight was Samaro’s amateur mixed martial arts debut.
“They kind of set me up,” she says. “They said it was 140 weight class, but the girl was 154 and much taller than me. But I took in the experience.”
A one-time league MVP in basketball and softball at King City High, Samaro’s MMA experience has unfolded suddenly. After she won an amateur boxing match on St. Patrick’s Day in 2007, Michael MacNeill approached her about managing and promoting her. After Colorado’s Kick Down Classic, Samaro says, “the calls kept coming in.”
The biggest offer was for $10,000 to take on a 6-0 overwhelmingly favored fighter. But she decided to fight on the Fatal Femmes fight card in L.A. for her pro MMA debut against veteran stiker Crystal Harris in July 2007.
“I could hear everybody cheering,” she remembers. “Then I go into this mode where I hear just my heartbeat and breathing. Your body’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing. As soon as she hit me, I knew – my body knew – that I didn’t want the judges to remember her hit, so I counter punched.”
She – and her bodily instincts – won that fight soundly.
Just as career momentum seemed to be gaining for Samaro, it shuddered to a crawl with a hyper-extended knee injury she sustained while tubing on a lake on her birthday. If her knee had been more functional, Samaro would have kicked herself for horsing around before an upcoming fight.
The injury has changed the way she trains. Unable to stand and continue sparring with men, pound on a punching bag, work on her jiu-jitsu kicks or do polymatrix exercises and box jumps, she toiled on her defense and grappling technique. Now, fittingly enough, Saturday’s fight is against an opponent who favors wrestling.
“I started to develop my ground game on my back,” Samaro says, “because I couldn’t do takedowns.”
During this time she also read books from masters of the sport: the Gracie family, BJ Penn, Randy Couture. All men, all champions.
Samaro knows that who one knows is as important as how one fights in women’s MMA. Co-manager MacNeill knows promoter Sven “Boogie” Bean, the promoter of the “Ring of Fire” series, which hosts Saturday’s event; fighters who do well in “Ring of Fire” are often signed by big boys like Dana White’s Ultimate Fighting Championship, the biggest MMA organization anywhere.
Her upcoming fight can be a stepping stone to the next tier of competition and attention. If she wins. Her opponent, Cat Albert, is Colorado’s number one ranked female fighter (according to “Boogie” Bean) who’s only been defeated once. The heartening news for Samaro: that one loss was against Louise Johnson.
Samaro downplays specific predictions on how the fight will go – but she does say that the fight “isn’t going to go three rounds.”
Ironically, pro fighting has mellowed Samaro.
“Before, I would have gotten into a fight over something stupid,” she says. “Now there’s no sense in me beating somebody up when I know I can beat them up. What good is a street fight when somebody’s willing to pay me to fight in front of people?”
But Samaro, who co-owns Relson Gracie Jiu-jitsu studio, (formerly Salinas Combat Club) with Allison Duckworth, approaches fighting with a touch of Far Eastern philosophy, from whence it all started.
“It’s not brutal, human cockfighting,” she says. “It’s a bunch of arts mixed into one. It’s beautiful. How can you not respect a sport that has so many combinations? It’s an art.”
Samaro will also fight for respect on another front. “We’re still stuck in this society,” she says, “where women aren’t supposed to be doing this.”
RING OF FIRE 33: ADRENALINE! takes place at Broomfield Event Center in Denver, Colorado, 5:30pm Saturday, Jan. 10, with 12 fights and four title matches. Tickets are available at www.rofmma.com or 303-830-TIXS; the fight can be seen live (20 min. delay) at www.purefight.org.
RELSON GRACIE JIU-JITSUIS at 330 Maple St., Salinas. 796-0126.