This second part of our inside look at the impact Oklahoma MMA made nationwide in 2017, focuses on fighters outside of the TKO Network (Trigger KO®, HD MMA®, etc.). Three out of four fighters in this group competed for championships on national TV and helped continue the surge that Oklahoma MMA has been making throughout the nation.
The name who arguably made the biggest impact in 2017 was the lone fighter in the group who didn’t compete for a belt. World champion BJJ black belt Rafael Lovato Jr. made giant strides in his MMA career in 2017 as he won all three of his Bellator MMA fights pushing his undefeated record to 7-0. The 34 year old Lovato also scored a spectacular 13 second knockout shining bright in the spotlight. Lovato’s BJJ career includes many accolades, none bigger than being one of only three Americans to ever win the World Jiu Jitsu Championship. The future looks bright for this world class athlete, who also runs and coaches his own academy in Oklahoma City. Expect big things from Lovato in 2018 as he sets his sights on contention for the Bellator MMA belt.
Our next focus is on another top female talent out of the Oklahoma City area, which seems to be infused with high level Women’s MMA in all weight classes. Multiple prospects, training at different gyms all around the city, have recently shined in big moments. Emily “Gordinha” Ducote is no stranger to these moments and is arguably the pioneer of the Oklahoma women’s rise over the past few years. Ducote (6-3), stepped up to the Bellator MMA stage in 2016 and handled a favored prospect earning her spot on the roster. Gordinha has been instrumental in the development of the Bellator MMA 125 pound division. Since that victory, she fought five more times for the organization, losing only two of those fights. Both of those defeats are against current Champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane.
Overall Ducote went 2-1 in 2017. The lone defeat of the year was in November, when Ducote and Macfarlane re-united to fight for the inaugural Women’s Flyweight Championship on Spike TV. While Ducote may have come up short, she never wilted in a five round war with her opponent and fans all over were able to witness the exact type of talent that Oklahoma MMA has been showcasing at the national level. With the 125 pound division still in it's development stages and new, exciting names starting to make their case for a shot at the top, Ducote is in perfect position to be featured in some very exciting match ups. In 2018, she will have the opportunity to climb back into the title picture.
The final two fighters we will take a look at below are Justin “Darth” Rader (7-3) and Darryl “The Reaper” Wilson (7-2), capping off what in our opinion are the most deserving Oklahoma fighters of the year, in terms of impact at the main stream level.
Rader, an Oklahoma City fighter training under the first name we discussed in this article, Rafael Lovato Jr., is another standout Oklahoma prospect. Just as Lovato, known for his championship caliber Jiu Jitsu, Rader has likewise successfully transitioned to MMA. Rader went 2-1 in 2017 with a huge win over former FCF Champion Zach Church (8-5), and snapped the six fight undefeated record of Emmanuel “El Punisher” Rivera (6-2). Both wins earned Rader a title fight opportunity for Legacy Fighting Alliance in August on AXS TV. Darth fought a hard and gritty battle, going the distance with the defending Champion Kevin “The Angel of Death” Aguilar (13-1). While Aguilar went on to defend his belt, Rader showed an incredible array of improvement in all aspects of his game. A fighter who was once primarily known for his grappling, added diverse kicks and movement to his arsenal in 2017 and looks to show in 2018, that he is a true contender at the highest levels of the sport.
Daryl Wilson out of Tulsa, OK is a similar story. A fighter who was once primarily known to be a striker, showed a rapid jump in development as he went on a five fight winning streak, finishing four of five opponents. Two of those wins were via submission and the others via way of exciting knockouts. In 2017, Wilson went 3-1 and earned a shot at the LFA Lightweight Championship held by Rob Watley (9-1). Wilson jumped on the opportunity and squared off with Watley on AXS TV, adding his name to the list of 2017 Oklahoma fighters in the national spotlight. Watley defended his belt as well, but Wilson’s showing left a lot of room for growth and the young fighter seeks to come back even stronger for 2018.
2017 showed the world that Oklahoma MMA is a force to be reckoned with. In both parts of this series, we were able to look at some of the incredible talent that is centered within about a three hour radius of Oklahoma City. The state’s rise in recent combat sports success is a testament to the quality of the gyms, coaches, and opportunities available to fighters in the area through organizations such as LFA, Bellator MMA, HD MMA, to name a few. As more talent continues to emerge, we wouldn't be surprised if 2018 ends up even bigger. If anything can be said about the past year and looking into the future is that one year's time can change a lot of things.