Oklahoma MMA took a big step forward in 2017. Multiple big fights and fighters made a large impact at all levels, with many namely finding a big boost through Oklahoma City's HD MMA organization and the Trigger KO network.
Everything started with an HD MMA title bout in Oklahoma City which would set the pace for the rest of the year. On January 7th, current UFC 125 pound Champion Nicco Montano made her way from New Mexico to take on Oklahoma’s Julia Avila for the State of Oklahoma Bantamweight Championship. The two warriors put on the type of fight that MMA fans salivate over and dream of being lucky enough to see live. The fight went all five rounds in a bloody, gritty, and back and forth battle which culminated with Avila taking the win and moving her record to 3-0. Montano had dropped to 3-2. Later in the year, Avila would go on to successful defend the belt against Candace Maricle, winning via submission just over a minute into the first round. The dominant performance earned her a 4-0 record and a contract with Invicta.
Montano on the other hand, may have made the biggest impact of all. Shortly after the fight, she jumped on the opportunity to compete for a spot on The Ultimate Fighter at 125 pounds. She made the house and shocked the world when she upset multiple top seeds earning a title shot on Fox Sports 1 against Roxanne Modafferi. Montano defeated Roxy, moving her record to 5-2 and capturing the title. No one could have expected such a meteoric rise and Montano truly shined in the spotlight. The future is bright for both fighters as Avila sets her sights on a 2018 Invicta debut, while Montano prepares to defend her UFC title.
Another Oklahoma female fighter who made a gigantic impact at the international level in 2017, was also once a relatively unknown name. Kristina “Warhorse” Williams amassed a 12-0 Amateur record between Muay Thai, Boxing, and MMA. In March, she had made her Amateur MMA debut on a Trigger KO network card during which she handily defeated her opponent Ashlynn Kleinbeck. Williams followed up that win with a dominant showing against Rachel Young on an LFA card, then capped off her Amateur career at HD MMA 9 with another one sided victory over opponent in Taylor Pace.
That’s when Bellator MMA came calling. Needing a foe for their perennial women’s star and reigning 20-0 boxing World Champion Heather Hardy, Bellator tabbed Williams for the opportunity, clearly underestimating the skill level of the debuting fighter. Williams was billed as a heavy underdog by all oddsmakers with not many offering much as to hope of an upset.
The fight panned out an entirely different way. Williams dominated from the opening bell, outclassing Hardy in every aspect of the fight. It looked as if Hardy was the amateur jumping to the big stage, rather than Williams who decimated her with kicks, elbows, and strikes from all angles. Hardy hung tough until a huge kick from her opponent smashed her nose forcing the referee to call a halt and prompted the doctor to stop the fight. A new name in women’s MMA was born. William’s popularity soared and her future looks bright with the organization as she prepares for her next fight.
Other HD MMA fighters who made a significant impact on the big stage were reigning Lightweight Champion Manny “The Dragon” Muro, who competed with HD MMA contender Emmanuel “El Punisher” Rivera, normally a Featherweight stepping up to the challenge. The bout was an all-out war with both fighters giving it all they had, never backing down. Muro used his jab and kicks in a wide array of diverse angles, outpointing Rivera en route to a clear cut unanimous decision.
Another Oklahoma fighter scored the second fastest submission finish in Bellator MMA Welterweight history as Brian Grinnell forced his opponent Kemyelle Haley to tap at just 39 second of the first round. Grinnell was coming off a dominant victory in his previous bout as well at Freestyle Cage Fighting in Shawnee, OK.
While the list of fighters who made a name for themselves in 2017 isn’t limited to this article, these were in our opinion the most impact worthy performances of the year for fighters who competed on an Oklahoma fight card. If 2017 shows us anything, is that Oklahoma MMA is on the rise and that HD MMA is an organization to watch for top talent. Multiple prospects are waiting for their chance to shine, such as current undefeated Champion (6-0) JR Coughran. 2018 will be an exciting year!