A number of New Mexicans will duke it out on Saturday » Albuquerque Journal

Tony Valdez, left, is shown during a fight against Raymond “Hollewood” Montez in December 2012. Valdez is scheduled to fight Felipe Rivas on Saturday at Buffalo Thunder Resort. (Pat Vasquez-Cunningham/Albuquerque Journal)

Saturday might well be the busiest day in the history of New Mexico combat sports.

That night, Moriarty’s Tim Means makes his return to UFC competition, and Albuquerque’s Victoria Cisneros fights for a world boxing title in Germany.

Boxers from Santa Fe, Española and Albuquerque throw down at Buffalo Thunder, and amateur MMA fighters do the same at the historic Albuquerque Rail Yards. Some of the Western United States’ best young amateur boxers battle on the first day of competition at the USA Boxing Junior Olympics Regionals in Los Lunas.

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Here’s the lineup:

A bit less lean

Unlike boxing, which affords 17 weight classes with gradients of as few as 3 pounds, mixed-martial arts is unforgiving when it comes to making weight. The divisions are 10 pounds apart in the lighter weights, 15 for the bigger fighters.

Tim Means was feeling the pinch.

Campaigning at the MMA lightweight limit of 155 pounds, the Moriarty fighter had risen spectacularly through the ranks.

Three consecutive victories at that weight, by first-round stoppage on King of the Cage cards in 2011-12, caught the eye of the UFC, the sport’s No. 1 circuit. Means, unusually tall for a 155-pounder at 6-foot-2, proceeded to win impressively in his first two UFC fights.

Getting down to 155, however, was getting more and more difficult – leaving him dehydrated and sapping his strength.

“It was getting really hard,” Means said. “When I first started cutting to 155, I was cutting from, like, 175. Then my body started to adjust (to growing older; he’s now 30).

“I got up to 195, and cutting that weight to 155 in the short amount of time that the UFC was giving me was super difficult.”

In April 2013, Means lost by decision to Jorge Masvidal on a UFC card. Though he had plenty of advance notice, making 155 left him feeling weak on fight night.

Then, that July, he accepted a UFC fight on short notice against Danny Castillo. Means couldn’t make 155, was fined 20 percent of his purse for failing to do so, and lost by unanimous decision.

The UFC, displeased, cut him.

“I understood that,”Means said. “I told them I could make (155). I needed the money at the time.”

For Means, however, there is life after 155.

Competing in the next weight class up, the welterweight limit of 170, Means quickly disposed of Pete Spratt (first-round KO) and Artenas Young (first round TKO) on Legacy Fighting Championship cards.

The UFC, needing a replacement opponent to face 170-pounder Neil Magny for Saturday’s “Fight Night” card in Cincinnati, came calling once again.

Means signed a four-fight contract.

All four fights, he said, will be contested at 170 pounds.

“I’ve had tons of energy at that weight,” he said. “… I just feel better. I’ve been focusing on the weight room, which I’ve never done. Eating 5,000 calories a day, drinking 2 gallons of water a day.

“Things are just better.”

One could say that about Means’ entire life.

Having encountered his share of trouble in his teens and early 20s, he devotes considerable time to helping others avoid a similar path. He shares his past with kids at juvenile Drug Court and at a meth awareness program.

Means’ coaches at Albuquerque’s FIT-NHB gym, where Tom Vaughn, Arlene Sanchez Vaughn and Jon Judy have established an MMA program for teens.

“I’m seeing that a lot of kids are just bored,” Means says. “… If we have a group of 50 and if I can help one or two kids out of that 50, that’s accomplishing something.”

Means says his long-term goal is to coach.

In the short term, there’s Magny.

At 170 pounds, Means (20-5-1) doesn’t have the height advantage he almost always enjoyed at 155. Magny (9-3) is an inch taller than him.

No problem, Means said, noting that Young, whom he demolished on a Legacy Card in January, is 6-2.

Weight, he says, not height, is what’s important. The agonizing weight-cutting process is, well, no longer agonizing.

“Now,” he said, “I don’t have to get ready for fights.

“I stay ready for fights.”

Victoria Cisneros is training for a fight in Ulm, Germany, on Saturday for three versions of the women’s light welterweight title. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Victoria Cisneros is training for a fight in Ulm, Germany, on Saturday for three versions of the women’s light welterweight title. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

The Warrior Queen

Victoria Cisneros’ boxing epitaph could have read “L TKO 4.”

Instead, just 17 months after a seemingly disastrous defeat on her home turf, the 29-year-old Albuquerquean will fight for a world title belt.

On Saturday in Ulm, Germany, Cisneros will face Lebanese-born, German-reared Rola El Halabi for three versions of the women’s world light welterweight title.

“She’s gonna be a strong fighter,” Cisneros said of El Halabi (13-1, seven knockouts), who also happens to be the promoter of record for the card. “But I’ve fought the best of the best.

“I’m going to get (the title). She may think otherwise, but there’s nobody like me. That’s the way I feel about it.”

Back on Dec. 7, 2012, Cisneros’ hopes of fighting for a world title seemed to have been permanently dashed. That night at Route 66 Casino, she was handed a fine shellacking by Indiana’s Mary McGee. Cisneros, helpless against McGee’s superior speed and power, lost by fourth-round TKO.

The Warrior Queen (a loose translation of her Cisneros’ nickname, “La Reyna de la Guerra”) seemed to have lost not only the battle but the war.

“You have to understand, there’s fighters that have their days and don’t have their days,” she said. “Everybody’s human. … With me, no excuses. It just wasn’t my day. I didn’t give it all I had, and it showed.”

Her record dipped to 8-14-2 that night.

The loss to McGee wasn’t the first beating Cisneros had absorbed in the ring – Melissa Hernandez, Cecilia Braekhus, fellow Albuquerquean Holly Holm twice – but many of Cisneros’ fans and friends told her it should be her last. Her husband, she said, was among those concerned.

Instead, Cisneros rededicated herself to the sport.

She gave up her job at New Mexico Educators Federal Credit Union. With the help of boxing promoter Joe Chavez and her manager, Robert Padilla, she opened her own gym and started a fitness training business.

Since the loss to McGee, Cisneros is 3-0.

In November, she traveled to Aguascalientes, Mexico, and scored a stunning upset over previously unbeaten Paty Ramirez for the WBC Silver female welterweight title.

Ramirez simply withered that night under Cisneros’ unrelenting, two-fisted attack – quitting on her stool after the fourth round.

From an L TKO 4 to a W TKO 4 wasn’t a short trip, but a worthwhile one.

Of the trip to Germany, Cisneros said, she’ll be thinking about the titles at stake: the WIBA, the WBF and the UBF – not the most influential of sanctioning organizations, but offering world titles nonetheless.

Mostly, though, she’ll be thinking about her kids: a son, 12, and a daughter, 6.

She’s not getting big money for this fight, she said. But, with a victory, maybe the big money is yet attainable.

“I keep telling myself,” she said, “that one of these days (the major paydays) are gonna come.

“That’s what pushes me to keep on going.”

Latin Collision

Angelo Leo was 7 years old when Tony Valdez made his professional boxing debut in September 2001.

On Saturday, the 19-year-old up-and-comer and the 32-year-old veteran will be fighting separate bouts on a professional card – labeled “Latin Collision” at the Buffalo Thunder Resort in Pojoaque.

Valdez is a father of two who holds down a full-time job. Leo recently quit his job at an Albuquerque restaurant to train full time.

Yet, each fighter fights with the same goal in mind.

“Hopefully, in the future, I’ll become a world champion,” Leo said. “That’s my dream ever since I was a little kid. Ever since I was around 8 years old, I’ve wanted to be a world champion.”

Many young boxers have that dream. Few, even in today’s world of myriad sanctioning bodies and 17 weight classes, realize it.

Yet, a winner in his first four pro fights, Leo has yet to experience any roadblocks.

His scheduled opponent at Buffalo Thunder is Albuquerque’s James Piar (3-1, two KOs), who hasn’t fought in almost five years.

Piar’s inactivity makes him a bit of a mystery man, but Leo said he’s unconcerned.

“I just go in there and pretty much focus on myself and what I need to work on in the fight,” he said.

Leo is trained by Luis Chavez, one of Albuquerque’s most experienced teachers of the sport; Rudy Chavez, Luis’ son; and Miguel Leo, the boxer’s father.

Valdez, 32, lives in Española and works for the Rio Arriba County Roads Department. He commutes to Santa Fe to train with Pat Holmes, who is also the promoter of the card.

In the almost 13 years since his pro debut, Valdez has had only 15 bouts. He did not fight between July 2006 and September 2012.

“I was just trying to get everything situated at home, and time flies. … Before you know it, it’s one year (of idleness), two years, three years.

“A lot of people doubted me in boxing, (but) Pat’s always kept the faith in me. He’s always been there for me, not only as a manager-trainer but as a father figure.

“He said, ‘You can do it, but you’re gonna do it right, and let’s go for it.’ So we’ve been giving it hell.”

After a draw and a victory by seventh-round TKO in a pair of sensational fights against Albuquerque’s Raymond “Hollewood” Montes, Valdez lost by TKO in the eighth and final round against Felipe Castañeda in his bid for a World Boxing Council-sponsored United States National Boxing Championship super flyweight title.

Valdez bounced back with a victory over Jaime Gutierrez in January, but the loss to Castañeda – and of the title belt – still rankles.

He was winning the fight handily, he said, when he ran out of steam in the eighth and final round. It was a premature stoppage by the referee, Valdez said, but added he had only himself to blame.

This Saturday, Valdez (8-4-3, seven KOs) is scheduled to face Mexican veteran Felipe Rivas (15-16-2, five KOs). There is no title belt at stake.

Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA will debut its Protégés Series on Saturday at the Albuquerque Rail Yards, shown above. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA will debut its Protégés Series on Saturday at the Albuquerque Rail Yards, shown above. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Still, the dream has not died.

“I think (a title belt),” he said, “is every boxer’s dream.”

For love of the sport

This weekend isn’t just about the punch-for-pay crowd. Amateur fighters in both boxing and MMA will be in action.

Saturday night at the recently renovated blacksmith shop at the Albuquerque Rail Yards, Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA will stage an all-amateur show.

It’s the first installment, Jackson-Winkeljohn general manager Ricky Kottenstette said, of the “Protégés Series,” an effort to help repopulate the amateur ranks.

Kottenstette said staging a card at a venue like the Rail Yards – not a hotel ballroom, not a stand-alone arena – figures to be a daunting but worthwhile task.

“We’re having to bring in trash cans, cleaning crews,” he said. “… I have to bring in every table, every chair, every tablecloth. It’s not like I can go to (a hotel or arena employee) and say, ‘Hey, I need another table.’ ”

Some of Albuquerque’s food trucks will provide concessions, Kottenstette said. Fans will be able to look at adjoining Rail Yards buildings and form an idea of what the place looked like back in the 1950s – and what it might look like in the future. The city of Albuquerque purchased the 27-acre, Barelas neighborhood property for $8.5 million in 2007 and plans to develop it.

Meanwhile, Saturday and Sunday, more than 50 young amateur boxers from four states will gather at Los Lunas Middle School to compete for USA Boxing Junior Olympics Regional titles.

New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona will be represented.

Albuquerque’s Steve Garcia is one of the organizers, but he also has a highly personal interest. His daughter, Jordanne Garcia, is a defending national Junior Olympic champion and will be seeking to repeat. Steve Garcia mentioned Albuquerque’s Isaac Perez as another top contender from New Mexico.

There are two age groups, 13-14 and 15-16. Only the 15-16 fighters can advance to Junior Olympics Nationals if they win this weekend. Nationals are scheduled June 10-14 in Charleston, W.Va.

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