Mando Gutierrez improved to 4-0 as a professional mixed martial artist with a dominant debut for Legacy Fighting Alliance. The Michigan native submitted Jeff Jepsen just 1:57 into their bantamweight bout on Friday at LFA 86 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
“Honestly, man, I feel on top of the world,” Gutierrez told MMASucka. “But I can’t sit here and just be too complacent or too happy with that. There’s obviously work to do. Things to improve on to get ready for the next one. Can’t admire my work.”
Gutierrez entered the Thai clinch 20 seconds into the bout and landed powerful knees to Jepsen’s body. He attempted a standing guillotine, allowing him to drag Jepsen to the mat. Jepsen gave up his back following some top control and ground and pound from Gutierrez. It took “El Toro” seconds to snatch a rear naked choke which forced Jepsen to tap.
Gutierrez graded his performance as a “high B.” A stand-up finish would have led to an ‘A,’ however. He’s a tough critic on himself, he said.
“I thought I was going to drop him on the feet,” Gutierrez said. “After that little Thai clinch exchange and the knees, he started giving me his neck. I don’t get paid by the hour, so the first thing I see, I’ll take it. The little standing guillotine didn’t quite work, so I took things to the ground to try and do a little damage there. I knew he was going to give me his back from watching film. I knew that was going to be my tap-out finish right there.”
Jepsen entered the bout at 5-2; he had the most professional wins and best record of any of Gutierrez’s professional opponents to date. Gutierrez has submitted all four of his opponents, and only one has seen a second round. Gutierrez didn’t see himself making any kind of statement based on Jepsen’s record, however.
“That was my fight to win. I just wanted to show more of what I could do rather than beating somebody else. My focus wasn’t on beating him. It was on bringing the best me possible. I feel like my skills really shined that night. I’m ready to keep going and show more and more of what I can do.”
Gutierrez said he’d like to fight at least a couple more times by the end of 2020. He doesn’t want to be rushed to the UFC, though getting there is his goal.
“Once you’re there, there are no easy fights,” he said. “I want to make sure I’m battle-tested, proven, comfortable in every position and comfortable in every aspect of the game before I make it to the UFC and start putting together real big performances. I want to hit the ground running, come in and be one of those guys who are ready to go and keep racking up the wins.”
Gutierrez said he’ll “ideally” take another fight with LFA, adding that it was a fun experience to make his promotional debut. UFC Fight Pass aired the fight live, so he enjoyed the exposure from that.
He eventually wants to fight for the LFA bantamweight title.
“If you win a belt in LFA, it’s guaranteed you’re going [to the UFC],” he said. “Being able to go against a tough, formidable opponent [in LFA] and put on a big performance, there’s no better way to build my name. Especially with a promotion like LFA that does a lot for their guys. They really push them and promote them heavy. That’d be a dream come true. Obviously, I’ve got my work cut out for me. There are some tough guys in the LFA bantamweight division. That’s what I work towards. I love the gold in every aspect. I want the belts; as many as I can get.”
Gutierrez came up through the Michigan regional circuit, mostly between Lights Out Championship and Total Warrior Combat. He expressed his desire to be LOC’s first homegrown talent to reach the UFC. While he’s made his LFA debut, Gutierrez hasn’t ruled out a return to LOC on one condition: it has to be a title fight. He told CEO Matt Frendo as much.
“Frendo’s a good friend of mine,” Gutierrez said. “I give him shit for it all the time. He knows I’m not fighting there if it ain’t for the gold.”
Gutierrez fought twice for LOC in his professional career, as well as a couple of times in his amateur days. He would take more fights with LFA if forced to choose, due to its larger platform, but capturing LOC gold is on Gutierrez’s wish list.
“If LFA wants me, no one can blame me for wanting to go there more,” he said. “I’d definitely love to go out on top as far as Lights Out. If I can squeeze out a belt win there, like crank that one out, then go over to LFA, that’d be awesome. I want to be the inaugural 135-pound champ for Lights Out Championship.”
Gutierrez’s victory over Jepsen marked his bantamweight debut. He fought at featherweight in his previous contests. The 135-pound weight class is the future for “El Toro,” he said. Opponents are closer to his 5’6″ height, and it’s easier for him to land head kicks.
“I don’t know many 135’ers who are bigger than I am,” he said. “I feel like I really found my home there, as I had a newfound sense of cardio, confidence, strength. Going down to 135 gave me superpowers. When I grabbed a hold of Jeff, there’s nothing he could have done to get out from under me.”
Gutierrez is looking to return to the ring by the end of August.
Training during the coronavirus pandemic has not presented many issues to Gutierrez. There were more pros than cons in his camp for Jepsen, he said.
“Honestly, I couldn’t tell you any con I had other than the fact that not all of my teammates were accessible,” he said. “Everything else was a pro. I had more attention from my coach, and I had a lot more time to focus on fighting. I had a lot more time to turn every stone that needed to be turned. My cardio, my ropework, and my diet. Everything I could possibly do for my mind. Time to watch film. Up my fight IQ. Things like that. There was no stone unturned, so if I could have it my way, I wish the rest of my life would be just like this. Just training my ass off all day long and going out there, showing that hard work and watching it pay off on fight night.”