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Inside Alliance Gym, near downtown Chula Vista, Eric Delfierro bustles from one end of the gym to the other, sweating almost as much as the 15 mixed-martial-arts fighters he is training. Of those 15 fighters, 10 are professionals under contract with some of the world’s elite fighting organizations; the others are some of San Diego’s top amateurs.

Delfierro is cofounder of Total Combat, a San Diego–sanctioned mixed-martial-arts promoter, and he has been training fighters since 1999, when mixed martial arts was in its infancy. He and business partner Diana Ocampo have hosted over 30 events in the area, most recently at Balboa Park’s Starlight Theatre in August.

On Thursday, October 2, Total Combat will host its first event at El Cajon’s Sycuan Casino.

Since 2003, Delfierro and Ocampo have watched mixed martial arts grow in the San Diego area. During the past five years, 100 professional fighters have trained at gyms and schools around the county.

Brazilian professional Fabricio Camoes moved from Rio de Janeiro to San Diego five months ago after signing a four-fight contract with the EliteXC fighting organization — the first mixed-martial-arts organization to broadcast fights on network television. Camoes says that the move to San Diego allows him to train with top fighters.

“San Diego is a very good place for mixed martial arts,” says Camoes. “You have many good fighters who live here and train here, and many good gyms.”

San Diego resident Patrick Speight also makes his living as a professional fighter. In June, Speight signed a three-fight contract with Affliction, another top mixed-martial-arts organization. Speight has been training in San Diego since 1999.

“Before, there was a ganglike mentality throughout San Diego because there were only a few schools in the area,” says Speight. “But once the sport started growing it became more of a ‘San Diego against everyone else’ type of thing.”

Ocampo says that during their August event in Balboa Park she received several complaints from fans about an intimidating police presence. “For our Balboa Park event there were 15 cop cars parked outside of our show. Let’s say you’ve never attended a mixed-martial-arts show, and you walk by and you see 15 cop cars — how’s that going to look?”

Delfierro, a San Diego firefighter, mentions the positive economic impact a mixed-martial-arts event can have on the community. “We do shows where our ticket sales provide about $10,000 in taxes; alcohol sales have exceeded $15,000 to $20,000. People are employed; everybody benefits. It’s just another sporting event.”

He continues, “As much as the sport is growing, it’s still in its infancy. San Diego’s conservative; it’s a conservative city. It’s weird because, like, Chula Vista is behind us. In [the city of] San Diego, we haven’t had that same backing.”

Despite some reluctance to embrace the sport, the popularity of mixed martial arts continues to rise. In early August, Ocampo penned a deal with MTV 3 to air Total Combat fights on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday mornings.

— Dorian Hargrove

Total Combat 32
Thursday, October 2
Sycuan Casino
5469 Dehesa Road
El Cajon
Cost: $40 to $200
Info: 619-659-3380 www.totalcombat.tv

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