Training hard, fighting hard with Tito Ortiz (w/gallery, video)
July 25, 2014 at 2:25 a.m.
Updated July 26, 2014 at 2:26 a.m.
For one night, the stage didn't belong to Tito Ortiz.
For fighters scheduled Friday at the Victoria Community Center on the card for "Gladiator" - mixed martial arts fights presented by South Texas Fighting Championships - the stage was theirs for the taking.
Former Ultimate Fighting Championship star Ortiz was just there to see it.
"We expect hopefully a full house tonight," said Ortiz while he spoke to fans who lined up to get a glimpse of the former champion. "For the fans in Victoria of MMA, it's a great event."
Yoakum native Kody Perez was scheduled to make his pro debut at the end of the night.
Like Perez, other fighters were trying to achieve the higher end of the professional spectrum.
"It's a blessing," Perez said before his featherweight bout with Manny Soria. "It's everything I could ever have asked for."
For Ortiz, he was glad to see his loyal fans drive to Victoria for the event.
"The fans are just ecstatic about me coming," he said. "It's great to see a few fans back in 1997 when we went to McAllen, Texas. They were there. And they're here now. So my fans have been following for a long time. It's great to see my fans who have been around here since the very beginning."
Friday morning, Ortiz held a training seminar for local fighters to learn different aspects of fighting at Heat Athletic & Fitness. A total of 16 local athletes showed up for to learn from one of the best in the sport.
Friday night's event drew close to 1,000 fans, which is what Frank Salazar, of Salazar Promotions and Victoria MMA Fights, was expecting.
"It's a great turnout," said Salazar. "We're happy to have Tito Ortiz here. The guy shows character. He's the kind of person we want to come to our town and events like these. This is a special event on all levels."
Salazar was especially proud of Perez's pro debut.
"We're so proud to have our first local professional fighter debut here," said Salazar, who said Victoria MMA has a loyal following.
That following includes fans like Victoria's Rodney Rodriguez and Chris Garza, both 28, who are regulars at the MMA events in town.
"This is great," said Garza. "We always come to these fights. We're big UFC, MMA fans, so we're definitely going to come out here. We come out here for the whole MMA experience."
For other fans, they came to support the local fighters.
Janie Trevino, 43, of McAllen, came with family to watch friend Sam Guardiola take on Johnny Chapa in the bantamweight division.
Guardiola won by technical submission by way of arm bar.
Trevino's son, Cesar, 17, and daughter, Emily, 10, train for jiujitsu at Team Ferreira in Pharr, a gym owned by Carlos Diego Ferreira, another UFC pro fighter.
"We enjoy coming and watching the fights," said Trevino. "You never know what to expect."
Ortiz, who was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2012, said he felt welcomed in Victoria.
"It's nice and warm here," he said. "People are really nice. It's great here."
Former light heavyweight champion Ortiz has a hefty resume with the UFC, and he has plenty of advice for the up-and-coming fighters.
"It comes down to hard work and dedication," he said. "If they put in the work, they'd be able to showcase their skills. You have to work hard, always have an open mind and never stop learning.
"This sport is a like a Rubik's cube," he added. "You have to work all the colors at the same time."
He said it's not power, speed, technique or even a signature move, like his ground-and-pound, that counts in MMA.
"It's your brains," he said. "You have to be smart. You have to use your skills at all times. You can have everything, but if you lose your train of thought, you can lose within seconds."