The anguished roar of System of a Down pounds the concrete walls and high rafter ceiling of the studio. The music’s intensity is matched by two rows of combatants—six men and two women—facing each other. The fighters in one row hold padded body shields while the others launch devastating sidekicks into them. The ones holding the body shields recoil from the punishing force.
This goes on for eight minutes. The training regimen will last another two and a half hours.
The combatants are students of the Salinas Combat Club, learning a hybrid fighting technique called mixed martial arts, or MMA, a combination of kickboxing, wrestling and jujitsu. “It is everything that works,” according to co-owner Allison Duckworth.
Angela Samaro and Duckworth are the newest local entrants into the world of MMA. They have owned and operated the Salinas Combat Club since last September.
Before getting involved with MMA, Duckworth played volleyball, basketball, and worked out at a gym—nothing too intensive. Samaro, on the other hand, had training in Shotokan karate in her younger years, and played basketball for King City High and Hartnell College to the degree that she was named All League, King City Female Athlete of the Year and MVP.
When they started watching pay-per-view MMA fighting competitions of the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), they decided to seek it out locally.
MMA dates back to the “pankration” wrestling of the ancient Greek Olympics, where competitors won either by forcing their opponents to give up by “tapping out,” or rendering them unconscious. For decades, full contact martial arts fighting in Asia has maintained popularity on par with boxing in the US. In 1992, the MMA concept was imported from Asia to the States by the UFC, generating fresh interest—as well as controversy—over its ferocious nature.
“I won’t talk to people about the training,” says Duckworth, who sports a T-shirt that reads “Monkey-Butt” and a fresh black eye. “I tell them to try it, for free, just come. And when they do, they love it. They usually sign up.”
In their search for a local MMA studio, the two found the Salinas Combat Club, then owned by Robert Reyes. They began to train there as students and liked it so much that when Reyes expressed interest in selling, they decided to buy it.
“I thought I was in shape before,” Duckworth says and shakes her head. “No. This is the best workout ever.”
The SCC trains in a number of disparate fighting styles: grappling, which includes wrestling and jujitsu; strikes from boxing and muay thai kickboxing; submission techniques like Brazilian jujitsu; even fitness regimens like cardio-kickboxing and “core” training, which focuses on the torso.
Tito Lozada, an experienced instructor at the studio, coaches vale tudo (“anything goes”), muay thai, Brazilian jujitsu, and lucha libre (“free fighting”).
“I’m a short guy,” he says fervently, “but I can take down a guy much bigger than me. What do you think that can do for someone’s self-esteem?”
While Lazado talks about the broad, holistic application of MMA and Duckworth stresses the health benefits, Samaro hones in on competitions. Though she considers herself an MMA fighter, Samaro took first place in a boxing match at Soledad’s Boxing Smoker event on March 17.
At a recent Las Vegas grappling tournament, Salinas Combat Club wrestler David Melendez, after unknowingly dislocating his shoulder, took second place in the beginner’s super heavyweight division.
On a national level, two recent events have created new waves of popularity in the MMA world that the Salinas Combat Club seeks to harness.
In February, Showtime broadcast the first female MMA fight in the US. Then on March 26 of this year, two of the biggest MMA associations—the US-based UFC and Asia-centric Pride—merged. With that in mind, Samaro is positioning herself to become a champion of the sport.
On March 25, the team traveled to Santa Ana, Calif., to compete in a Pankration tournament.
“We took seven fighters down there and five placed in their respective divisions,” Duckworth says. “This was the first time we had competed in this type of competition.”
At that competition, Samaro placed first. Her winning big titles is key to the promotion and growth of their studio.
“That’s why I say she’s the champ,” Lazado says of his student and employer. “When she wins, the stock of the school rises.”
“Female MMA is about to blow up,” Samaro says, “especially in the 140-pound weight class.” When asked what her current weight is, she replies with a grin, “140 pounds.”