Self-Defense Instructor Wins ‘King of Cage’ Title

Susan Aksu

Armando Sanchez is more than just a tech-savvy guy who sits behind a desk and helps students and faculty with computer problems.

Sanchez, also a self-defense instructor on campus, has taken his love for martial arts one step further and has made it a career by recently becoming a champion fighter (7-5) in the world of professional cage fighting.

The world of professional cage fighting is a sport known to be brutally dangerous and was only recently sanctioned by the California Athletic Commission. It combines the elements of martial arts as well as jiu-jitsu, both of which Sanchez has excelled in.

Sanchez, 30, began to show interest in martial arts in elementary school while living in East Los Angeles, through his close friend and neighbor, John Robles.

At the time Robles was a brown belt and was ready to advance to a black belt, the highest honor in karate. In order to receive a black belt one must teach another the art and Robles decided to teach Sanchez and make him his protÇgÇ. Sanchez began to learn Tae Kwon Do and said he thought “it was pretty cool.”

After earning his black belt, Robles moved on to other martial arts such as Jujitsu and Judo while Sanchez continued his interest in martial arts. He began training with Robles with a focus on kick boxing. While with Robles they formed a fight team known as The Modern Gladiators consisting of mixed martial arts.

At the time mixed martial arts was illegal in California, except on Indian reservations due to its violent combat nature. He moved on as an amateur kickboxing competing in smoker (meaning non- sanctioned) type events which consists of striking.

“I was good with my kicks and hands,” said Sanchez. “I did really well. I would take on people who were bigger than me.”

Sanchez’s professional fighting career did not take off until Robles and Robles’ brother Sylvester began to feud about who is training the stronger fighter. Sylvester claimed he had a student that could take on Sanchez, a claim which John dismissed.

Meanwhile in San Jacinto, an organization called King of the Cage was formed and was looking for fighters. The King of the Cage was similar to the Ultimate Fighting Champion, a mainstream cage fighting organization which had been removed from air due to its extensive violence which was not yet accepted by athletic associations.

The structure of the fights are no rules, everything goes, with the exception of no biting and no kicking the groin area.
The Robles brothers set up the fight between the two students for the cage match to settle their claims. John told Sanchez his brother claimed he had a student who “could man-handle” him.

Despite the risks, Sanchez agreed to fight, proving Sylvester wrong with a “nothing to lose” mind set. Sanchez won the fight after two five minute rounds, bringing his opponent to the floor, according to Sanchez.

“To be honest, I don’t remember my first fight, not until I saw the video [did I remember]. I just blacked out,” he said.
Sanchez continued to fight, but knew his striker and kickboxing background was not enough to beat the more experienced fighters. The others he had fought had strong jiu-jitsu backgrounds which he could not compete against with just his kickboxing experience.

His close friend and colleague, Mark Ragonig who works in IT Operations has been to almost all of Sanchez’s fights and said that there is “more to cage fighting than just fighting.”

“It’s not just two brutal people hitting each other. You have to know the disciplines: wrong punctuation Brazilian jiu-jitsu, karate, muay thai,” said Ragonig. “It’s like a chess game between fighters.”

Ragonig helped Sanchez during his self-defense classes for six semesters. Rheonig would serve as Sanchez’s “dummy.” Sanchez would apply moves on him as a demonstration to his class.

“I would get hurt a lot,” said Ragonig, recalling the times when he assisted Sanchez during class. Sanchez has been teaching self-defense classes at GCC for five years. He had been interested in teaching a men’s self defense class as a women’s self defense class had already existed. GCC athletic director Jim Sartoris offered Sanchez a position to teach both the men’s and women’s self defense class since the former teacher had stepped down.

His second competitor was the King of the Cages’ champion Valentine LaFoya (5-0) who he lost to during the first round due to submission.

His third fight was against a former high school wrestler who had just returned from serving time Marines who also had a significant background in jiu-jitsu. This fight led to one of Sanchez’s excruciating injuries. Within the first 30 seconds Sanchez tore the muscle in his shoulder as his opponent raised him in the air and threw him to the floor face first.

“That wasn’t very fun,” said Sanchez about his painful experience. “I went the distance and pretty much got pounded out for 10 minutes.”

Regardless of his torn muscle, Sanchez stayed in the event though he remained defenseless.

His persistent determination got him involved with learning jiu-jitsu on his own. He entered in competitions and began placing in second and third place.

Due to personal issues Sanchez stopped training with Robles and sequentially blew his left knee which required surgery. He took two years off from fighting in order to rehabilitate his knee and spend more time with his family and three young children.
Fighters would drop weight by dehydrating their bodies for an entire day in order to compete in a certain weight class. The day after the weigh-in fighters would spend the day drinking water, re-hydrating their bodies and gaining the weight they dropped back. Sanchez would fight against people who weighed in at 155 pounds, but would weigh at least 170 pounds the day of the fight.

He decided to move down to a smaller weight group instead of having to compete against fighters who were unevenly matched against him. Being in a smaller weight class required Sanchez to drop weight by dehydrating and then re-hydrating.
When he returned to fighting, his jiu-jitsu training paid off. He reached his goal by winning his first championship belt, the Feather Weight belt on Feb. 24 against Martin Bautista (3-3) in the Total Fighting Alliance’s (TFA) “Conflict of the Coast,” held in Santa Monica.

“I wanted my first belt and I accomplished that. Now I just want to see how far I could take this,” said Sanchez.

This year Sanchez has approximately three TFA fights scheduled for July, November and December as well as jiu-jitsu competitions throughout the rest of the year. Sanchez had originally anticipated his cage fighting days would be over last year, but as he started to win and do well he said it would have been a shame to come so far in his fighting career and to just stop fighting.
His popularity earned him sponsorship offers from the fight gear lines Hear and Soul and from Take a Nap Fight Gear as well.