‘CFA 12: Sampo vs. Thao’ Weigh-In Results and Interviews
n Friday, October 11, almost exactly 24 hours before the first fight scheduled at CFA 12: Sampo vs. Thao, fans and media members gathered at the Newport Beachside Hotel and Resort in Sunny Isles to witness the weigh-ins for what could very well be the biggest show Championship Fighting Alliance has put on to date.
Seats were set up poolside as the athletes idled in the nearby Ocean Reef Café where tables had been set up and the combatants sat merely feet away from their scheduled adversaries. A nearby cooler had complimentary water, though nary a fighter touched a bottle. The mood was far from jovial, however for the most part it was a positive environment. If one word could be used to describe the atmosphere, it would be “anticipatory.”
Once it was announced that the weigh-ins were set to commence onstage outside, everyone moved quickly to the patio, the fighters taking a seat in the front row and everyone else either likewise grabbing a chair or getting in the best possible position to snap some shots of the (mostly) dehydrated fighters.
Before the weigh-ins, I was able to pull CFA president Jose De la Noval and more than a handful of the fighters aside for some brief interviews on a variety of topics. You will find those interviews below their accompanying stare-down photos. Make sure to scroll down all the way to see all of the interviews, as I think I got some pretty good stuff.
After the fights, I’ll post De la Noval’s interview along with a breakdown of how the fights went, so be sure to come back to the site after the fights!
Rico Farrington vs. Diego Peclat
Only perhaps rivaled by fellow welterweight Jose Caceres (6’2″, whom we may see matched up with Farrington in the future), the 6″4″ Rico Farrington towered over every other competitor that walked onstage. Click HERE for an in-depth article MMA Owl put together about the young prospect.
Wascar Cruz vs. Bentley Syler
Wascar Cruz looked like he couldn’t wait to get started, forcing his forehead against Bently Syler’s at their stare down. Syler seemed unruffled and a little incredulous. Before everyone went outside I caught Syler meandering about the room and he obliged me with an interview:
JS: You fight at flyweight and… (He motions for us to walk a few feet away from, as his opponent was sitting right behind where we were standing.) Haha… Does it get a little tense sometimes when you’re in the same room?
BS: Not that. It’s just maybe if you ask something about my strategy or something, he’s right there.
Are you that open with discussing your strategy with the media prior to a fight?
It’s gonna be what it’s gonna be, so…
I figure you’ve gotta be a little coy about it, you know. Now, have you been training anything specific for your upcoming opponent? Has there been anything you’ve seen in a video or something that’s made you want to train in one particular thing?
Well, I know he’s a striker, so I’ve prepared for that.
Are you preparing to push back as far as that area is concerned or would you perhaps prefer to take it to the ground and pull off a submission?
Whatever he gives me, you know, I’ll test him on the feet and take it from there.
In the time that you’ve been doing this, what have you found to be your favorite aspect of the sport?
My favorite aspect of the sport is the extremeness of it, you know, the unpredictability of it. There’s only so much percent of it that’s your training and your preparedness for it, but there’s always a percent luck and destiny, you know. It’s kind of a representation of life itself, you know. You can prepare so much for, but certain things go out of your control.
The flyweight division is gaining some real public traction now with its introductions into some of the larger organizations. Is it an exciting time for you to be competing, because of that?
Yes it’s very very very exciting, trying to get as good of a record as you can as quick as you can, try to get some attention.
When you say as quick as you can, do you mean you’re trying to turn over as fast as you can and get as many fights as you can? I speak to some fighters and they say, “yeah, maybe afterwards, I don’t know, I may take some time off and relax.” That’s not what you want to do.
Not what I want to do, no.
Is there anything that you’d like to say to your fans that are going to be watching tomorrow?
Just thanks for the support and I work really hard for this and I work for you guys, to give them a great spectacle.
Leo Valdivia vs. Felix Penalvers
Neither of these guys has fought since 2011, so if ring rust is an issue, it’s a mutual one. Maybe we’ll see them both come out whirling dervishes, trying to take each others’ heads off, but it’s best to expect a calculated approach, at least early on, since both men are coming off of losses and have each been knocked out before.
Colby Covington vs. Jose Caceres
While Covington seemed on edge, Caceres appeared almost too serene. Neither man offered to shake the other’s hand and, immediately after this shot was taken, they both were outta there. Keep an eye out for this one. Covington, who has a background in wrestling, has yet to see defeat, while Caceres is a submission ace who has never gone the distance in a victory, earning all of his wins by tap out.
Sabah Homasi vs. Michael Trujillo
Both guys lost their last fight, are looking to get back on the right track and both go for the knockout. You do the math.
Hayder Hassan vs. Jason Jackson
Riding two-fight win streaks each, Hayder Hassan and Jason Jackson appear to be different kinds of fighters on paper. Jackson has only lost once to Colby Covington (see above) by decision. All of his wins have been finishes. Hassan has only gone the distance once in victory and appears to have a penchant for the knockout.
Yosdenis Cedeno vs. Torrance “The Tyrant” Taylor
Lightweight (155 lbs.) Championship Fight
This fight marks the beginning of the main card. Five absolutely fantastic fights are set to take place, and I did a nifty little preview of it a few days ago that you can see right HERE.
Torrance Taylor, a veteran of several notable organizations, was nice enough to sit down and speak briefly with me. Check it out:
JS: Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?
TT: Sure, just make sure that they’re delicate! (Laughs.)
Alright… What do you think of the government shut down? I’m just kidding.
I think the government shutdown sucks, you know. You got all these hardworking government workers and now they gotta wait on their paychecks and it’s a bad situation. I don’t think it’s the President’s fault, I just think it’s just a bad situation.
John Boehner: great Speaker of the House or greatest Speaker of the House?
No comment. He’s not in the same party I’m in and I think a lot of times he does things to counteract what the other party’s doing so… He’s a great Speaker of the House, but as far as collaborating with, just making America a better place, I don’t know if he’s doing such a great job.
(Laughing.) Thank you, sir, for the political side of things. I wasn’t expecting that.
Well, you asked the questions. They were delicate enough. I gave you delicate answers.
Going into your fight, how do you think your veteran XP is going to play a part?
I think that’s going to be the deciding factor in this fight, the level of experience that I have. I’ve been where my opponent’s been. I’ve been a karate striker with unrefined skills. I’ve been there. This guy, he fights like me three years ago, so experience is definitely going to be a huge factor in this fight.
It’s pretty interesting. If I’m not mistaken, both of you guys are on five fight win streaks, both of you have knocked out three of your last five opponents… is it safe to say this is going to be a pretty gangbusters fight?
(I think he misheard me and though I said “lackluster.”) No. No. I think this is going to be a fast fight. I think it’s going to be a quick fight. If you look at the opponents my opponent has fought, they’ve been low-level guys, you know. They’ve been C-level opponents. They haven’t been great fighters. My last few opponents, one of them, he was recently the welterweight champ in the NAAFS (North American Allied Fight Series). I fought him once at a catchweight, at 160 lbs. My last opponent, he’s been fighting since ’06, Terry Blackwell. We fought for a title, which I earned. So, I think his last opponents have been lackluster, my last opponents have been pretty damn good.
Do you think it’s very important to stay as busy as you can? You just mentioned a catchweight fight. That’s a little dangerous.
Well, it is dangerous, but there’s pros and cons to taking a catchweight fight. The guy was much bigger than me but I didn’t have to lose as much weight, so I was a little more comfortable at that weight. So it’s not too dangerous. I felt confident. I mean, I’m confident in every fight. I don’t take a fight unless I’m confident that I can beat the guy. This is my fourth title fight – third or fourth, I don’t remember – and I’m excited for it.
Valdir Araujo vs. Romario Manoel da Silva
Welterweight (170 lbs.) Title Fight
You know that phrase “the eye of the tiger?” I know it’s a cheesy song synonymous with a mush-mouthed boxer who blew up box offices in the ’70s and ’80s, but I’m pretty sure that phrase is doubly applicable here. If one of these dudes doesn’t go to sleep in one form or another tomorrow night, I’ll eat my foot.
Fallon Fox vs. Ashlee Evans-Smith
Women’s Featherweight (145 lbs.) Title Tournament Final
The third title on the line is possible the biggest viewership draw, as Fallon Fox – who made national headlines earlier this year when it came out that she was a transgender fighter – faces Ashlee Evans-Smith, who took a few minutes out of being miserably hungry to talk to me:
JS: What do you have to say to the people who say you got lucky in getting a ‘bye’ with your last opponent [Anna Barone] who didn’t make weight? I image you think you would have beaten her anyway…
AES: If I thought I wasn’t going to win, I wouldn’t take the fight. The girl was a known brawler which, I think if anyone is intelligent in MMA, you know that brawlers are really easy to beat. You know, just be a smarter fighter. Without discrediting Anna, I think I definitely would’ve beat her.
What do you think of the age difference [Evans-Smith is 26, Fallon Fox is 37]? Do you think that’s going to be a factor coming into this fight?
I think it definitely plays a part. I think she has to train harder, especially on her cardio and if she did that, then she should be okay, but if she didn’t, she’s in trouble.
She’s a pretty unique opponent, and a lot of people would say that you’re really stepping up. Obviously, you want to get the title, but what do you have to say in regards to the unique circumstances you’re facing?
I understand how most people feel and honestly I feel the same as most people. I really think that she should be in her own league but I was in this tournament first. I entered this tournament to win it. If I pull out, I’m allowing her to take that money [$20,000 for the winner of the women’s featherweight tournament] and the title from me, so I just think that I deserve it more than her, and at this point I don’t care who’s across the cage from me.
I watched a snippet of the video yesterday of the press conference. You didn’t look like you had anything written down, but you’re a pretty good public speaker. Do you have a background in that?
It’s weird. People have told me that I’m good at speaking in front of audiences. It’s just, I feel it’s very easy to talk about a topic that you’re so passionate about. If someone asked me to talk about physics or biochemistry I’d be stuttering and mumbling and not annunciating, but I know what I’m talking about and I’m passionate about it, so it’s easy for me. But no, I have no background in public speaking.
Not to say that people in this sport are inarticulate or anything, but it is a rarity to find someone who has poise when speaking in front of so many people. Do you think that De la Noval took notice of that, or has he mentioned anything about that, and do you think, upon victory tomorrow, that they’ll give you a pretty big push as a result of not only being the champion but as being someone who can speak so well on the topic of fighting?
I think, as an athlete and person, I’m a great representative of the sport. You know, I conduct myself in a manner that can be looked up to. I don’t trash talk. I’m not negative. I’m very positive. I always see the bright side of things. And it’s up to CFA to offer me more. But yeah, that’s all I can say about that.
Luis Palomino vs. Efrain Escudero
The co-main event of the evening features two veterans of the sport who have fought all over the world and can handle the fight wherever it takes place. Escudero, who won The Ultimate Fighter Season 8 and has had his shares of ups and downs since, has the bright outlook only someone who has seen what he’s seen can have. He offered me a seat and fielded a few questions. Here they are:
This is your second stint with CFA. Is there something in particular about the organization that you like, that you find to be compatible with the way that you like to conduct business?
CFA is one of those organizations that you don’t have no tomato cans, you know. A lot of organizations that have been around the country, they have a lot of fighters that are there just to put fights on. CFA has developed that atmosphere where they start doing like the UFC does where they recruit fighters. Not just anybody. Not just the guy that’s 0-0 can come and make their debut here. Everyone that’s fighting at CFA is either a badass or is meant to be something. So I know that the competition that they’re going to match me up with every time is gonna be someone up in the levels. I fought Mike Rio my last fight, and look at where he’s at now: he’s in the UFC.
Now, you’re a pretty recognizable person in this sport; You won The Ultimate Fighter and you’ve done several stints in several visible organizations. Do you take your notoriety and the fact that you’re recognizable and use it for any charities, nonprofits or outreach causes that you’d like to mention?
I help a lot. I do a lot of things, but not for any well know charities, you know. For instance, I have a daughter and a month and a half ago me and my daughter went and bought a bunch of waters, like cases and cases of water, and a bunch of hamburgers and stuff, and we just went driving around the town and feeding the homeless. Stuff like that. Something that I can teach my daughter, you know. We have it now and we can share it and that nothing’s ever there forever, to show my daughter that common sense mentality. It doesn’t have to be major charities to do good, you know. It can be donating a dollar here or giving a water bottle to a homeless guy. That makes a big difference.
You’ve never been knocked out. What do you attribute that to? It can’t just be a hard head…
I keep my hands up, I keep moving and that’s about it, man. I don’t know what it is, but I can see when punches are coming. I have a very good way of studying my opponent, so when they start loading I know what they’re going to do.
The main event of the night is an exciting match between two very crafty flyweights, both of whom were willing to submit to brief interviews. Here they are:
Flyweight (125 lbs.) Title Fight
The Challenger: Sam Thao
You’re very proud, being of Hmong descent. How does it feel to be representative of your heritage in such a combative sport?
It feels good. I guess you’d say I’m one of the higher Hmong fighters right now that people look at and I’m just trying to represent the name and say that hey, there’s Hmong people out there and we’re solid, too.
I read up on you a little bit and watched some videos. You started off with Tae Kwon Do but you’ve been a lifelong wrestler as well, if I’m not mistaken.
How would you describe the evolution of your learning curve and your disciplines? How have you kind of pieced together those different disciplines into one cohesive thing?
It’s like you said. I’ve learned Tae Kwon Do and wrestling and it’s just a matter of time where I can combine all of them together so that makes an unorthodox fighter a little bit. So… that’s my way.
How excited are you to be fighting for the title tomorrow?
I’m very excited. This is a great opportunity and a one in a lifetime chance, so I’m just hoping I can bring that title back home.
You’re pretty known for your KO power. To what do you attribute your success in being able to repeatedly do that?
A lot of repeated training, you know. And hopefully this time I’ll be able to get the KO with legs.
So you’ve been training specifically with kicks and things like that?
So by legs, do you mean leg kicks, do you want to put him out like that, or head kicks, or…
Spinning back kicks. Mostly spinning back kicks.
So like Tae Kwon Do stuff. Very cool. You know, it’s interesting because back in the early days of the UFC there was a guy who came in with a discipline of Tae Kwon Do his opponent just mopped the floor with him. You can’t just go in with that specific thing, but when you go in with the wrestling and prevent the takedown you can open up. Is that what you’ve found?
Yep. That’s true. If you just go in there with one style you’re not gonna win. You’ve gotta have every style out there and perfect every style: boxing, Tae Kwon Do, Muay Thai, wrestling, everything.
For your fans at home who’ll be tuning in to AXS TV tomorrow night, is there anything you’d like to say to them?
Yeah, I’d just like to shout out to all my fans, you know, and say thank you for everybody’s support. I’d like to say to my Hmong people,
Khaws koj tus ntsujplig mus. Peb muaj zog li hlau..
(Keep your spirits up. We’re strong like steel.)
The Champion: Josh Sampo
You took a hiatus from fighting to finish your master’s in education. Now obviously you have you pro career – you’re fighting for the title – so is education a “plan B” or is it something you plan on doing concurrently while fighting?
Well, the thing is, you can’t make a living off of fighting right now. It’s very hard to live within the means of what you get paid to be a fighter. I have to be able to do something that doesn’t deteriorate my body while I train. Education was big on me. I mean, I got in to this after wrestling in college and I knew that I had to have a fallback plan. There’s no guarantees in fighting. I go out there and fight, my femur gets snapped, something bad happens – if that does occur, I need a backup plan. Education, I have a career outside of fighting. It’ s my backup plan.
General education or is it a specified education?
I’m a biology teacher currently, and I’m going to get certified in chemistry and physics as well, so I want to be pretty marketable in multiple districts, able to do it wherever I need to.
You’ve got to recognize the almost poetic dichotomy in being in both the hurt business and in the mental business…
I use fighting a lot in my education, you know what I mean. I tell the kids, “hey, I do this outside, in the outside world – I’m a fighter – but because I choose to, not because I have to.” I enjoy the competition, the hard work I have to put in. If I can make the kids understand that and implement that with their studies – that this is the road to what I want, and it’s through education, being able to chase after my dreams and get what I want through education and get that diploma. Move on with their life, things of that nature. I use it as leverage. A lot of kids are like, “hey, I want to see you fight,” and I’m like, “hey dude, get this much work done, I’ll show you a round in one of my fights.” So I use that and implement that in my lesson plans sometimes, and that kind of benefits them.
(All photos were taken by – and are the property of – MMAOwl.com)