South Lake Tahoe MMA fighters defend titles at World Fighting Championships at MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa
Escobar Training Grounds in South Lake Tahoe is home to some of the top Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) athletes in the Lake Tahoe region. And on Saturday, May 6, five of those athletes will be competing at the World Fighting Championships at MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa in Stateline.
“Something that I’m extremely proud of is that [South Lake Tahoe] is a small city and we’ve had four world champions come out of this gym,” said Cory Escobar, owner and operator at Escobar Training Grounds. “There’s some gyms in Reno and Sacramento that haven’t had one.”
Escobar said that the fighters he trains have fought people from all around the country and he’s looking forward to having another event in front of a hometown crowd. MontBleu was host to a WFC 60 in September 2016. For some of the fighters, this will be only their first or second time competing in an amateur event, and for others, they will be defending a title.
Church is a native of Tracy, California, but has been living in South Lake almost three years. He will be defending his title in the 170-pound Muay Thai division against Brandon Mendoza.
Church describes his style as more of a brawler and said that his endurance is key in keeping opponents on their toes. “That means to punch and get punched,” said Church. “I can take a lot of damage to my face and when [my opponent] is wondering what happened, I return fire.”
Church has been competing as an amateur through WFC for about two years and through other fighting tournaments for even longer. “I like to fight,” said Church. “It’s a recreational version of doing what I like doing anyway.”
Church said he’s been gaining a lot of experience and is able to stay prepared year round. “This will be my fifth fight this year,” Church said. “I’ve been repeatedly staying ready to fight.” Church said he isn’t taking his opponent lightly. Mendoza, a boxer out of Idaho, is undefeated this year and has dozens of matches under his belt.
Cocores is the hometown boy of the group, having been born and raised in South Lake Tahoe. Cocores, competing in the main event, will defend his belt against Lake Gee in the 145-pound Mixed Martial Arts title fight. Cocores said he is more of a “freestyle” fighter. “I like to incorporate a little bit of everything in there,” he said. “I think that’s where the direction of the sport is going. If you really want to stand out and be one of the best, you have to be good in all areas.”
Cocores’ background in the sport goes back six years when he first became interested in being a fighter. “It was a good discipline for me when I was younger,” said Cocores. “Martial Arts was my outlet to get my mind in the right place.” Cocores said once he got a taste of what it was like to fight in a real event, he was hooked.
Lake, Cocores’ opponent in the title fight, is also undefeated this year and will likely put up a good fight. “I know he’s going to try to take what I have,” said Cocores. “It’s nothing new for me. I’ve fought guys like this before so it’s just reading another page of the book and going out there and sticking with the game plan.”
Montenegro, who goes by the nickname “Flea,” was born in Mexico, but moved to the Santa Cruz area soon after. He has been a Lake Tahoe resident for going on a decade.
Montenegro brings several years of experience to the cage — having fought off and on for the past nine years. “I was a wrestler in high school,” said Montenegro. “I was 19 when I started MMA training.” Montenegro said that he had a close friend diagnosed with cancer around then, who was interested in MMA training, and that gave him some motivation to get serious about the sport.
Montenegro will be competing against Dillon Baker in the 125-pound Mixed Martial Arts fight. Montenegro has spent the past year getting back in shape and preparing for events. Montenegro competed at WFC 60 and is looking forward to another fight. “I’m really stoked to have another fight and keep it going,” said Montenegro. He said that his wrestling background comes in handy in fights and he likes getting things done on the mat. “That’s my goal, to take them down and finish on the ground,” he said.
Meno has been competing as an amateur for over three years and hails from Alaska. Not long after moving to the Lake Tahoe region five years ago, he started going to Escobar to brush up on his fighting.
Meno will be competing against Tony Gonzales in the 170-pound Mixed Martial arts match. “I just found out I was fighting this guy last Friday,” said Meno. “It looks like he has some wrestling and striking background. I’m just ready to go in and bang, you know. Check each other’s skull.”
This will be Meno’s first fight since competing at WFC 60 last September, but he said he’s been training in the meantime and is trying to adapt his tactics to his new opponent. “I try to train 20 to 25 hours a week … ” said Meno. “At this point in my camp, I calm down because my body has been beat up for the last six weeks. I’m really just trying to get to the weight now.”
Herrera is looking to gain more experience with the upcoming MontBleu brawl, having only competed in one other amateur match so far. Herrera had competed several years ago in MMA, but just recently revived his career in the sport. “I’ve always been fascinated by Martial Arts,” said Herrera. “And I like fighting.” His opponent has yet to be determined, but Herrera will be competing in the 195-pound Mixed Martial Arts Match. “I’m just asking for the toughest guys they got and hope that they give them to me,” said Herrera. “We’ll see what happens after this one.”
Originally from Washington, Herrera has been a Lake Tahoe local for a decade. Herrera said he has spent a lot of time studying Karate and typically uses that form of Martial Arts when competing. Herrera said he’s been trying to stay focused throughout his training and has been working on mental aspects lately. “I’ve been doing a lot of meditation and visualizing,” said Herrera. “I’m going to stay calm, stay warm and stay loose.”