History of MMA in United States: Arizona

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This is the third of a 50 part series documenting the history and the current state of MMA for each of the 50 states in the United States of America. Each part will chronicle the history of MMA as well as several notable fighters and camps in each state. Be sure to check out the previous part on Alaska. Arizona MMA is this installment’s current state.

History of MMA in Arizona

Arizona, the 48th state to join the Union, is known for producing arguably the best wrestlers in the country. Arizona State University itself has several wrestling alumni with lengthy UFC careers. Aside from the outstanding wrestling-based MMA fighters to come from the state, Arizona is rich in MMA culture. Arizona has a lot to offer to the history of MMA with its many “firsts.” Arizona has sanctioned combat sports for nearly 100 years.

Arizona Boxing & MMA Commission and Making History

All MMA bouts in the state of Arizona are sanctioned by the Arizona Boxing & MMA Commission. Limited boxing and sparring matches were first sanctioned in 1919, according to Arizona State Library of Public Records. In 1982 the Arizona Athletic Commission would be created but changed to Arizona Boxing & MMA Commission in 2010. Three commissioners serve on the board with former NFL player, Scott Peters, currently serving as the Commissioner Chair.

This state’s commission has had quite a few firsts in its state’s history. Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship, which held its first official event on June 2, 2018 in Wyoming, actually performed a bare-knuckle undercard for an event in Arizona in 2011. David Feldman, BKFC president, not only got BKFC 1 off the ground, but orchestrated this undercard in Arizona.

Arizona continued to allow history to be made by hosting UFC fighter, Arjan Bhullar, as he wore a turban to the octagon for the UFC on FOX 29: Poirier vs. Gaethje card that occurred on April 14, 2018, in Glendale, Arizona. Bhullar was allowed to wear the turban for the first time in UFC history. Mesa (about 30 minutes southeast of Glendale) was home to a horrific Sikh hate crime just after 9/11. A killer said he mistook the clerk for a Muslim and shot him.

Fighters and Camps in Arizona MMA

“Arizona is a place with very solid gyms and traditions,” former UFC middleweight and ACB fighter Clifford Starks told MMASucka. “Three gyms produce a lot of the talent in the UFC and Bellator today. Arizona Combat Sports, The MMA Lab, and Power MMA are three places that hold much of the talent in the sport. They will continue to be a landing pad for those looking to improve their overall game in the fight world.”

Starks himself was a very successful high school athlete in Arizona. He won a wrestling state championship while at Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix. Starks would first attend Mesa Community College before transferring to Arizona State University where it would wrestle alongside former UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez. Arizona Combat Sports is where Starks calls home along with undefeated LFA welterweight Kyle Stewart and LFA bantamweight Kevin Natividad.

One of the hottest young prospects in all of MMA, Sean O’Malley, trains at the MMA Lab in Phoenix along with other young talents Te Edwards, who just scored a huge win on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contenders Series, and TUF competitor Kyler Phillips. In contrast to the other camps, these young fighters do not have an ASU wrestling background.

An amazing list of fighters exists at a third camp in Arizona, Power MMA. Not only is it home to Ryan Bader but a host of other UFC and Bellator talents. CB Dollaway and former UFC star Aaron Simpson call Power MMA home. Certainly, Arizona is a state to watch for up and coming talent.

The Arizona State University Effect

Due to wrestlers translating well to MMA, Arizona State University itself is a who’s who in the MMA world producing such fighters as Velasquez, Bellator light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader, CB Dollaway, Dan Henderson, and Ben Henderson among many others. You can find ASU alum in the upper echelons of many major divisions. Most other schools in the country cannot make this claim. Furthermore, look for ASU to continue to develop top-level MMA fighters for years to come.

Part four of the 50 states series will be the state of Arkansas. Check back with MMASucka to keep up with the series.

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Matt's love and passion for martial arts began at the age of four with Taekwondo. Matt later trained in Brazilian jiu-jitsu while serving nearly ten years in law enforcement. Matt has just recently discovered his passion of writing on mixed martial arts.

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