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Valdez preps for title bout
When Santino Valdez heard Nick Sperling earned a chance to fight for the vacant Gladiator Challenge bantamweight title, he sent Sperling a message on Facebook.
"I told him I hope he beats the dude up — then an hour later I get the call and find out he'll be fighting me," Valdez said.
Valdez, 19, fought Sperling in his mixed martial arts debut on Nov. 24, 2012 and lost by doctor's stoppage due to a cut.
Impressed by his opponent's humility and professionalism after the fight, Valdez traveled with fellow Colusa fighter Kevin Montejano up to Grass Valley where he trained with Sperling during an open mat day.
But the two competitors won't hold anything back when they face each other in a rematch in the 135-pound weight class Sunday at the Gladiator Challenge: Hammer Time event at Thunder Valley Casino Resort in Lincoln.
Still in high school at the time of their first fight, Valdez (0-2) suffered a large cut above his left eye when Sperling (3-4) connected with an elbow. As blood gushed from the wound, the ringside doctor halted the fight.
When the referee paused the action to bring the doctor into the cage, Valdez wasn't sure why until he stood up and he realized he was badly cut.
"As soon as I stood up the blood rushed into my eye. When I was laying down it was going backwards then when I stood up I couldn't see anything," Valdez said.
It was a disappointing end to a fight that the-then 18-year-old focused on so intensely that he dropped out of Colusa High and finished his education at Colusa Alternative High.
"The reason I was put there was because I was training to fight him and I didn't care about anything else at that point in time," Valdez said.
Now 19 years old, Valdez has graduated from high school and is working full time at Pacific Coast Aluminum Products in Colusa. He now trains out of Galaxy Boxing and MMA Gym in Yuba City.
Valdez got his start training with John Soares at Colusa Fitness before Soares MMA closed when gym ownership changed. He then began training with Alex Zuniga at Powerhouse MMA in Williams before switching to Galaxy when work schedules made it difficult to train full time there, Valdez said.
Fellow Colusa fighter Clinton Fouse and Armando Renteria often train with Valdez at Galaxy where a full team of coaches help them develop their skills.
Five days a week Valdez makes the trip to Yuba City to train and he is ready to see what he can do against Sperling this time around.
"I feel more comfortable because I know him," Valdez said. "I've been in the cage with him and went to his gym so I know him more."
Valdez fought again on May 18 but his original opponent dropped out and his new opponent, Chad Mertens, was two weight classes above him.
They engaged in an exciting stand-up fight but Mertens' size proved to be a difficult challenge, and even though Valdez landed several clean power shots, Mertens wouldn't go down. Eventually Mertens landed a solid high kick that connected with Valdez's head and knocked him down.
Sperling also fought on the May 18 card and won by first-round TKO against Aaron King.
"Now that there's a title involved," Valdez said. "I've never been more excited to fight."
CONTACT Kirk Barron at 458-2121 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like us on Facebook at TCN Sports; follow us on Twitter @TCNvarsity