POSTED ON MAY 15, 2013:
Fighting for Recognition
Hometown warrior struts his stuff
They have no website. You do not see post-event photos circling on Facebook or various combat-related message boards. One press release was received two months prior to the event date.
But Combat!! MMA keeps chugging along. The upstart fight promotion firm invades the SpiritBank Event Center for the third time in 2013 on Saturday, May 18.
Upon the first Combat!! event, many fight fans wondered aloud whether a startup promotion could find success in what many call a saturated MMA market. Combat!! promoter Logan Cunningham chimed in quickly.
"I promise Combat! isn't going anywhere for a while," said Cunningham.
So far, he has lived up to his promise. His third event seems poised to grab national attention if not more local interest.
The dilemma is simple. How to spread the word without the marketing muscle of a casino or a big name special guest?
Daniel Roberts (pictured right)
"The promoter contacted me," said Daniel "Ninja" Roberts. "He offered me Brian Foster. I said, 'perfect,' and right away accepted. The rest is history."
Roberts is a 170-pound fighter who sports a 13-4 record. His mixed martial arts career started in 2007. He reeled off nine straight wins on the local fight scene before the Ultimate Fighting Championship took notice.
Once on the big stage, he competed against the world's best. He compiled a respectable 3-4 record before the UFC released him from contract.
He fought once post-UFC in October and soundly defeated his opponent by submission in the second round.
"I definitely would like to be fighting back in the UFC," Roberts said. "I know my skill level is sufficient enough to fight in the UFC. I have proven that."
But first, he faces competition on par with his UFC foes.
Brian Foster fought in the UFC, as well. His time with the company ended on a different note. After scoring two impressive victories in a row, a medical condition forced his exit from the company, and he has not competed since October of 2011.
"He is pretty tough," Roberts said, "but I'm pretty tough, as well. It's a good matchup."
The Roberts-Foster fight headlines the card. Once again Tulsa witnesses an epic battle between former UFC fighters trying to break back in to the organization.
Roberts' ground game is top-level. His wrestling and submission savvy were what earned him his UFC spot originally. Now, he is focusing on his standup -- and I don't mean comedy. Most notably, he has been boxing extensively at Ghost Dog Boxing with Tulsa badass Allan Green.
"He is a really good boxer," Roberts said of Green. "Definitely the best boxer in Oklahoma. I'm learning a lot of new tricks as far as my standup. Now I'm starting to learn a lot about boxing."
He recently travelled back to Northern California to help UFC lightweight contender Gilbert Melendez prepare for his title shot. "I go back there frequently. I train back and forth," Roberts said.
Whether training with the Skrap Pack in Cali or at The Factory in Tulsa, he is putting in work. Unlike many local fighters, this is Roberts' full-time job.
"It is pretty hard," he said. "I'm looking for sponsors. It is pretty much impossible to just fight on the local level. You need sponsors that will help you out. It is a hard time for me, but I know I'll be alright. I just keep training hard."
On a positive note, the location of this fight is perfect for his family. All of his UFC fights took place outside of Oklahoma -- and sometimes outside of the United States. Fighting at home, then, is an exciting prospect.
"It is good to fight at home," he said. "I have a really big family and they are real supportive. I'm not just fighting for me. I'm fighting for everybody. They cheer me on. I hear them up there. I have a little bit more motivation going in here."
Motivation, but not pressure. Battling in front of family and friends should feel like a walk in the park next to fighting in front of the 50,000 Canadian fans at UFC 129.
In his first go-round with the UFC, Roberts learned valuable lessons. His days of taking fights on short notice are over. He's been preparing to battle Foster for close to two months.
"It is one thing to be prepared for a fight and another thing just fighting," he said. "If you are not prepared, there is a very slim chance you are going to win."
Illness prior to one of his UFC fights drained him. Personal issues also affected his performance towards the end of his UFC run. He relocated back to Tulsa -- home to him since the sixth grade -- from California where he was living and training. Now, he's ready to go to war in his backyard.
"I am going to be prepared for the fight both physically and mentally. You learn a lot from your losses, and I don't plan on losing anytime soon," he said.
Also on the card is local fan favorite Chavous Smith. Smith is 3-3 as a professional. None of his fights have reached a decision, so more than likely, whether Smith wins or loses, that will be an exciting fight. Other fighters include George Palmer, Brandi Smith, Keelan Rybacki, and Autumn Lamle, so if you haven't seen chicks beat the snot out of each other before, this is your night.
Combat!! MMA, featuring Daniel "Ninja" Roberts starts at 7pm on Saturday, May 18 at the SpiritBank Event Center, located at 10441 S. Regal Blvd. For tickets (which start at $28) and more information, visit spiritbankeventcenter.com.
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