Local fighters excite crowd

CNJ staff photo: Kevin Wilson Clovis’ Mark Hightower, right, tries to protect himself from John Spark in the first round Saturday at the Evolution 2 mixed martial arts event at the Curry County Events Center. Hightower faced early trouble, but pulled out a split decision win.

Kevin Wilson

“If you’ve got anything left, Clovis, New Mexico,” announcer Ian Troy said, “make some noise.”

They had plenty left on the final fight of Evolution 2 Saturday night at the Curry County Events Center. So too, did Paco and Angel Castillo.

In a mixed martial arts battle with obvious bad blood, preceded by a weigh-in dust-up Friday evening, Paco “The Texas Punisher” Castillo held Angel Castillo in check just enough to earn a split decision at 10:25 p.m., nearly four hours into the 12-bout evening of pro and amateur fights.

Prior to the main bout, the events center crowd had plenty to cheer about, from pro to amateur fighter and from international fighters to punishing combatants right down the road.

The loudest local cheers went to Force of One’s Roy Saucedo, who left no doubt with a submission win 2:59 into the first round against Amarillo’s Tanner Varela.

“If he didn’t open up quick, I was going to just attack,” said Saucedo, who moved to 3-0 on his career. “It didn’t matter if it was standing or on the ground; I was going to get him.”

Saucedo fought with a heavy heart, telling the crowd that a little more than a month ago, he had lost his wife, Ernestina Bara, and he had dedicated the fight to her.

Bara, Saucedo’s common-law wife for seven years, died in a one-vehicle rollover near Bovina on Oct. 30.

Another local fighter, Marc Hightower, rallied against Albuquerque-based John Sparks. After Hightower was put to the ground on an inadvertent eye poke — and given ample recovery time — he fought off hold after hold to take the split decision.

“That was the best fight I’ve ever had,” Hightower said to the crowd. “John Sparks, you are an awesome fighter.”

In one of the night’s upsets, Brad “Carbomb” Nordquist defeated Eric Kucevic on a reverse choke hold in the second round of a fight where both fighters needed a minute after matching groin shots.

“That was the longest 3:39 of my damn life,” said Nordquist, who gave Kucevic an embrace during the match after the referees cleared them to fight again.

Saturday also marked a long time for a Tucumcari fighter — the end of a significant journey. Jeremiah Cullum, 18, defeated Plainview’s Jonathan Lopez in the 125-pound weight class with the night’s only heel hook 50 seconds into the second round.

“Jonathan was going to be the best fighter I’ve ever faced,” Cullum said of the formerly 7-0 Lopez. “I put in a really hard training camp, and I’m glad it paid off.”

After the fight, his father John presented him with Cullum Ground Fighting’s black belt. Jeremiah, known as “The Tick,” had spent many years watching the success of his brother Abel — who did fight commentary throughout — and living up to his father John’s high training standards.

“It’s amazing what a bag hanging outside on a tree can bring you to,” said Jeremiah, who spent 10 years earning the black belt. “It’s whenever (my father) decides; it’s a tough bar.”

In other fights Saturday:

• Jorrel Sparenberg of Hobbs won the opener in a unanimous decision against Andres Ramirez in the 135-pound class.

• Christian Reyes won his fight over Justin Dudley when the referee stopped matters 2:22 into the second round.

• Anthony Rozema of Tucson, Ariz., won his MMA debut, taking advantage of a significant reach advantage against Matt Gonzales of Amarillo.

• Harvey Suarez defeated Eric Bailon of Clovis when the referee stopped the match 2:21 into the second.

• Michael Escobar took a split decision over Portales’ Peter Bouton.

• Daniel Pinheiro defeated Filberto Ramirez on the pro card opener, with a rear naked choke 2:10 into the first round.