Photo courtesy of Will Paul
FIGHTING FOR THE first time since August, reigning CES MMA Lightweight Champion Luis Felix of Providence, R.I., makes his 2016 AXS TV debut when he faces Bellator veteran Ryan Sanders of Bangor, Maine in the main event of “CES MMA XXXII” at Twin River Casino in Lincoln, R.I., on Friday, Jan. 8th. After suffering a hamstring injury in his last fight, Felix is hoping to be close to 100 percent when he challenges the ex-Bellator vet Sanders of Bangor, Maine, in a three-round non-title fight.
LINCOLN, R.I. (Dec. 31st, 2015) — Every fighter, whether it’s boxing or mixed martial arts, knows the opponent he or she originally agrees to fight might not be the same opponent standing across the way once that first bell finally rings.
Nothing is written in stone. The sport is way too unpredictable to take anything for granted, so a fighter is always mentally prepared for an unexpected, unwelcomed change.
Providence’s Luis Felix (14-8, 5 KOs), the reigning CES MMA Lightweight Champion, has dealt with it before and is dealing with it again as he continues preparing for a new opponent less than two weeks from his 2016 AXS TV debut Friday, Jan. 8th at Twin River Casino in the main event of “CES MMA XXXII.”
Instead of defending his 155-pound title in a five-round bout against former Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) standout Waylon Lowe, Felix will face Bellator vet Ryan Sanders (9-7, 1 KO) of Bangor, Maine, in a three-round non-title bout at a catch weight of 160 pounds thanks to an injury last week that forced Lowe to withdraw from the fight.
The rounds and weight aren’t the only difference; Lowe and Sanders are polar opposites on the tale of the tape, presenting somewhat of a unique challenge for Felix in his first fight since August.
“We went from a 5-foot-7 lefty who throws no kicks and is more of a slow-paced fighter who picks his shots and wrestles to a guy who’s 6-1, a righty, throws everything at you except the kitchen sink and comes at you nonstop,” Felix said with a laugh.
“We couldn’t have picked someone more completely different, but it is what it is.”
The mental preparation is only half the battle. Felix suffered a hamstring injury in his rematch against Julian Lane in August, forcing him to adjust his game plan midway through and endure several months of rehabilitation in the aftermath.
At this stage of his career, with a three-fight win streak on national television putting him on the cusp of something major, Felix can’t afford to his ease his way back in or hand-pick who he chooses to fight. He knows he has to strike while the iron’s hot, so he’s willing to accept the new challenge, even if he’s not 100 percent physically.
“Now we have to switch everything around and do everything from the opposite side,” Felix said. “I have to throw more kicks. Coming off the hamstring injury, it’ll be a little different. It’s definitely a challenge.”
Felix estimates he’s anywhere between “85 … 90” percent. The injury occurred at the end of the first round and worsened in the third. By the fourth, he stopped throwing kicks and simply relied on his experience – and adrenaline – to carry him through the final two rounds.
“I thought I’d do six weeks of therapy. I ended up doing 10,” he said. “I was hesitant when I got back to training, probably more of a mental thing, and never really got back to 100 percent where I wanted to be, but now we have to let it all out.
“I can’t afford to be one-dimensional with this kid.”
Sanders, a 16-fight vet, boasts wins over former CES MMA title challenger Lucas Cruz and UFC standout Marcus Davis. Jan. 8th will be Felix’s fifth consecutive fight on national television. After losing his AXS TV debut to Lane, he’s won three in a row and nine of 11 overall dating back to 2010.
“This is what drives me,” he said. “Standing there in front of the nation, going into battle, I’ve done it before. This stage is what really drives me to go out and compete and bring out my best.”
Outside the cage, Felix has found another driving force. He recently began an after-school teaching program for underprivileged youths, mostly in the high school age range, where the students receive half a credit toward graduation for participating in the 10-week course. His first wave of students finished up in December and he plans on expanding into two Providence-area middle schools for his next session beginning at the end of the month.
When he wasn’t fighting, Felix was always teaching, dating as far back as his high school days at Cranston East in Rhode Island when he helped mentor would-be middle school wrestlers, but the responsibility of reaching out to the youth has taken on a new meaning as his own fame and celebrity status continues to grow.
“It helps you grow as a person, a human being,” Felix said. “Some of these kids are underprivileged. They come from different situations. Not everyone opens up right away, but as the program went on, I got to know a little more about these kids.
“Teaching MMA and wrestling is something I’ve done my whole life, but the relationships you build with those kids make you realize your situation and where you’re at and the difference you can make. It’s a humbling experience. It helps you appreciate life.
“I’ve always been myself. I never felt like I had to change too much to be a role model. I’ve just felt like keeping it real with people has always been right for me.”
As he prepares for his Jan. 8th return, Felix is once again the student, forced to learn on the fly as he adjusts to a new opponent. Differences aside, it’ll be business as usual once the bell rings.
Tickets for “CES MMA XXXII” are priced at $40.00, $55.00, $100.00 and $125.00 (VIP) and available for purchase online at www.cesmma.com, www.cagetix.com/ces, www.twinriver.com or www.ticketmaster.com, by phone at 401-724-2253/2254, or at the Twin River Casino Players Club. All fights and fighters are subject to change.
Also featured on the main card of “CES MMA XXXII,” reigning CES MMA Welterweight Champion Gil Freitas (18-5, 6 KOs) makes his first title defense in a five-round bout against Cincinnati’s Chris Curtis (12-4, 4 KOs), who aims to become the third Ohio-born fighter to capture one of the promotion’s titles, joining a list that includes UFC vets Lane and Dominique Steele.
Another familiar face in the northeast returns to the CES MMA cage Jan. 8th as Groton, Conn., heavyweight and four-time Bellator vet Josh Diekmann (15-6, 11 KOs), now in his 11th year as a pro, battles fellow knockout artist Ashley Gooch (8-4, 6 KOs) of Nashville, Tenn.
Rising featherweight Kyle Bochniak (5-0, 2 KOs) makes his second appearance on the televised main card as he puts his undefeated record on the line against Taylor Trahan (5-4) of St. Johnsbury, Vt., while red-hot featherweight Kody Nordby (5-3) of Cumberland, R.I., fresh off an outstanding win over Dinis Paiva at “CES MMA XXXI,” returns to the main card in a three-round bout against Derek Shorey (3-2, 2 KOs) of Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, a last-minute replacement for Zech Lange.
Rounding out the main card, undefeated bantamweight Rico DiSciullo (5-0, 2 KOs) of Peabody, Mass., faces 16-fight vet Chino Duran (8-8, 4 KOs) of Homestead, Fla. Fresh off a win over Jake Constant, DiSciullo is making his fourth appearance with CES and his second on the televised main card while Duran aims for his third win in four fights.
The preliminary card features six exciting bouts, starting with a featherweight showdown between unbeaten Manny Bermudez (3-0, 1 KO) of Abington, Mass., and Evan Parker (5-3, 1 KO) of nearby Worcester. South Boston featherweight James Murrin (3-3, 2 KOs) faces Mak Kelleher (0-2) of upstate New York and Providence’s Keenan Raymond (2-2) battles newcomer Ryan Todd of Cortland, N.Y.
Also on the preliminary card, middleweights Pat McCrohan (1-0, 1 KO) of Beverly, Mass., and Boston’s Mike Rodriguez (2-0, 2 KOs) put their unbeaten records and knockout streaks on the line against one another and flyweight David Baxter (1-0) of Bellingham, Mass., makes his CES MMA debut against newcomer Joshua Ricci of Whitesville, N.Y. Providence’s Nick Iaciofano (2-0, 1 KO) battles Luay Ashkar of Syracuse in a three-round flyweight bout.
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