Fighting five: Local Escobar Training Grounds products highlight WFC 60 event at MontBleu
World Fighting Championships 60
Saturday, Sept. 24
MontBleu Resort Casino and Spa
Doors open 7 p.m., fights start at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $33-100, available online or at Escobar Training Grounds
The South Shore will have strong representation in the cage when the World Fighting Championships come to Stateline on Saturday, Sept. 24. Five local products from Escobar Training Grounds will compete in WFC 60 at MontBleu Resort Casino and Spa Theater — including two fighting for championship belts.
“We want to put on a good show for the home crowd,” said Cameron Church, who will fight in Saturday’s main event. “We’ve had to fight in enemy territory, and now we get a hometown crowd. I’m pretty excited and I’m pretty juiced.”
Church grew up in Tracy, California, before moving to Tahoe two years ago. In his third career fight, he will contend for the 170-pound Muay Thai title against Brennan Mishler — and relishes the opportunity to do so in his own backyard.
“It’s pretty sweet,” Church said. “It’s my favorite casino — before I started fighting I was just partying there, so it’s nice to be fighting productively there.”
Mishler is the coach of Church’s previous two opponents, and likes to come forward. After defeating his opponent’s students, Church compared this fight to taking on the final boss in the video game Street Fighter.
“The main event is going to be a slugfest,” Church said. “He likes to throw and I like to throw, so we’re both going to stay in the pocket and bang.”
Chris Cocores was born and raised in South Lake Tahoe, and the 25-year-old will also compete in his first career title fight at WFC 60. Cocores will battle for the Mixed Martial Arts featherweight title (145 pounds) against an opponent that trains outside Sacramento.
“I feel like it’s one of those fights I’ll remember forever,” Cocores said. “I’m really excited for the opportunity and I’m excited to represent my hometown. I have all these memories of growing up here and it really helps me have a reason to fight.
“It’s such a big part of me.”
Cocores said his plan is to be strong no matter what direction the fight goes. In addition to his hometown, two people he will have in his heart are family members that have passed away — his mother Jodi Fisher and his grandfather John Ryan.
“I just want to represent Lake Tahoe, and Escobar Training Grounds is Lake Tahoe,” Cocores said. “I’m here to represent Escobar Training Grounds and my hometown. I have to respect these coaches who put the time in by doing my best.”
Joshua Meno, who goes by the nickname “Nemo,” will compete in the cage in a 170-pound MMA fight at WFC 60. The 23-year-old Alaska native has lived in Tahoe for five years, and currently attends Lake Tahoe Community College in pursuit of degrees in business and natural sciences.
“I plan to take it down on the ground and show him how deep the ocean is — just really wear him out,” said Meno, who is typically taller than his opponents. “If he’s not on the ground a lot, I can use my weight and tire him out.”
Meno is competing in his third fight, and considers himself well rounded with a background in wrestling, Jiu-Jitsu and striking. He said the support during his fight camp at Escobar Training Grounds has been strong, and that he will be rooting for his teammates Saturday night.
“This is a one-on-one sport where you go and put your dukes up, but no one thinks about the hours of working with a team and developing skills,” Meno said. “All the Escobar Training Ground guys are pushing us to win.”
Cris Montenegro will put his talents on display in a 155-pound MMA fight at MontBleu. The 26-year-old nicknamed “Flea” hails from Santa Cruz, California, and has lived on the South Shore for nearly a decade.
“Over the years, I’ve come a long way,” Montenegro said. “I’ve had ups and downs, and I’m coming up; MMA saved my life pretty much. I love the sport and I love the competition.”
The downs in Montenegro’s life came after a close friend died from cancer, leading him to turn to drinking. His fourth MMA fight represents a rebirth, and a chance to take his fighting career — and life — in a positive direction.
“I just have to be calm and patient,” Montenegro said. “If I see something, I’ll take advantage of it.”
Erik Searcy is making his competitive debut in Saturday’s event, and will fight in a 140-pound MMA bout. The 35-year-old has lived in South Lake Tahoe since 2004, and the chance to fight on the South Shore was his main motivation behind taking the fight.
“We’ve got a great gym up here, and it’s nice to be able to represent in front of the local crowd — and show everybody what we’ve worked so hard to do,” Searcy said.
“This fight camp has been really awesome. With the number of guys we have fighting, it’s been a benefit — we can all push each other and put a little work into each other.”
Searcy has an original background in wrestling, and has strengthened his karate and Jiu Jitsu during the fight camp. He said he plans to stay focused on his training when he finally steps into the cage.
“I’ve really taken to the style of this gym, which really incorporates a lot of high-level striking, techniques and grappling,” Searcy said. “We have a lot of faith in what they tell us to do — we just have to go with that and it makes it easy for us to be confident.”
The fight camp at Escobar Training Grounds has included four hours in the gym six days a week for the past nine weeks. The South Lake Tahoe gym that can lay claim to past MMA champions Corey Carlson and Ryan McCarthy has delivered high-level training and coaching during the intensive camp.
“We’re in a small area,” said studio owner Cory Escobar. “A lot of gyms are in Reno, Sacramento or Las Vegas — we’re pulling from a smaller amount of people, but the quality of fighters and technique we have is working really well.”
Escobar Training Grounds has a strong record in competition, and plans to build on that in this hometown event. Escobar’s training techniques paired with those of boxing coach Martin Franco and the daily grind against fellow fighters has each of the gym’s products ready for WFC 60.
“We have guys from debuters up to advanced kickboxers,” Cocores said. “We get to come to the same small house every day, and it’s like a brotherhood — Cory is a phenomenal coach and super involved.”
Tickets are still available for Saturday’s event — if purchased through a fighter or at Escobar Training Grounds, 20 percent of sales go to the competitors. Ticket prices are $33, $60.50 and $100, and can also be purchased online — doors open at 7 p.m. with the fights scheduled to start at 8 p.m.