Mixed martial arts has become a very popular sport, and one that people train for years, to become the best. But a local fighter jumped on board weeks ago, and is already an amateur title-holder.
"It was new, different, exciting. It was a scary,” said Manny Rojas, 20, of Redding. “A lot of nerves kicked in with the crowd cheering."
As an amateur, Rojas stepped onto the mat for the first time in a licensed fight and walked off as a flyweight champion.
Rojas took home the amateur title in the International Fighting Championship (IFC) Warriors Challenge at Feather Falls Casino in Oroville on Sunday. He pulled off a mixed martial arts championship, three weeks after taking up the sport.
"I came into this gym and was like, ‘I want to try it out,’” Rojas said. “One thing led to another and here I am."
His coaches called it a ‘Cinderella Story.’ Rojas beat two fighters, with each having four-to-five years of MMA experience.
"He just wrestled. He came here three weeks ago and he's here every day. He's here at noon. He's here at night. He trains his butt off,” said Golden State Sport Club owner Bill Harris. “He really wanted to fight, so this opportunity came up and we sent him out there."
The 125-pound fighter started as a high school wrestler in Southern California. He then moved up to the Northstate. One year of wrestling at Shasta College led to a challenge of a different kind. He is playing the role of dad.
"I'm fighting for me and my family. I have a little girl,” said Rojas. “You know, I want to fight for them and fight for myself."
The fight off the mat keeps Rojas fighting on the mat. He is hoping to turn his unpaid amateur status into a professional career.
"I want to keep winning championships. I want to keep winning some belts, and hopefully, I want to get paid,” Rojas said. “I want to take it as far as I can. I think I can take it really far."
"With this stuff, if he keeps at it like he has, he's already a champion in less than a month. The sky's the limit with the kid,” said Harris. “He can have a nice car, he can have a nice home wherever he wants, and he can take care of his family."