What: Bellator MMA 97
When: July 31, Doors open at 3:30 p.m.
Where: Santa Ana Star Center 3001 Civic Center Circle, Rio Rancho, NM 87144
Cost: Tickets range from $25 to $90.
More info: To purchase tickets, contact Cris Leyva at 505-635-8092 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets also available at Santa Ana Star Center box office.
FARMINGTON — With the comfort of a new, three-fight contract with one of mixed martial arts' biggest promotions, Farmington's Cris "Lightning" Leyva is looking to start a new winning streak.
Leyva, 24, began his professional MMA career with a quick 8-1 start but has lost four straight in the cage, dating back to April 2, 2011. But, after signing a three-fight deal with Bellator MMA, Leyva is ready to put that behind him in a big fight July 31 against 155-pound fighter Will Brooks (9-1) in the final under card fight of Bellator 97 at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho.
"I am very excited about this three-fight deal I have earned with Bellator, and I look forward to training hard and putting on exciting fights and working my way up the lightweight ladder," said Leyva, a 2007 graduate of Piedra Vista High School. "Bellator puts on some of the most exciting and action-packed MMA fights. It's nice to have a big show like that in my home state and to be a part of it, especially this card on July 31. It will be one of the most stacked cards Bellator has had with two world title fights."
Wednesday's fight card is headlined by the lightweight world championship between David Rickels (14-1) and Michael Chandler (11-0). Also on the card is the welterweight (170-pound) world championship fight between Ben Askern (11-0) and Andrey Koreshkov (13-0).
There are also two Bellator tournament finals fights, including the light heavyweight (205-pound) tournament final between Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal (10-2) and Jacob Noe (12-2).
The heavyweight (265-pound) tournament will also come to a conclusion when Vitaly Minakov (11-0) squares off with Ryan Martinez (10-2).
Leyva's opponent, Brooks, trains with the famed American Top Team and is coming off his first professional loss. He currently sits at 1-1 in his Bellator career.
Brooks has won three fights via technical knockout and four via submission. The loss in his most recent fight on Feb. 28 came via knockout at the hands of Saad Awad.
"Will Brooks is a very tough and dangerous fighter. I respect all his skills he has, and I know fight day he will come prepared and be looking to make a statement and bounce back from his loss he had, because he didn't just lose his last fight, he got knocked out. That is hard on a fighter to have to look back on," Leyva said. "I've lost fights, but I have never been out the way he was in his last fight. I am expecting the best Brooks to show up July 31 and for a three-round war."
Though Leyva, who trains at 11th Street Boxing in Farmington, is winless in MMA since 2010, he has amassed a 1-0-1 boxing record, most recently fighting to a controversial draw at the Rumble in the Rockies II card at Sky Ute Casino on June 28, a fight in which Leyva's opponent Gerardo Quintana admitted he believed Leyva won.
"This fight is going to start off standing. (Brooks) will get hit and feel my power in my hands and legs. Brooks is going to get very confused with my awkward stand up I have and the way I use everything together," Leyva said. "He won't want anything to do with me standing."
With a strong background in wrestling, Leyva is confident he will be able to stand up if Brooks takes him down.
"I am confident anywhere the fight goes. If he wants to stand toe-to-toe, I will finish him. If he wants to take me down and play patty cake all night, I will get back up or fight from the ground for a submission," Leyva said. "I have done my homework and put in hard work this training camp. I have put in three training camps back-to-back-to-back, and this is the best shape I have been in."
Leyva hopes a strong showing will help convince Bellator MMA CEO Bjorn Rebney that he is deserving of a spot in the promotion's next lightweight tournament.
"After I win this fight, I am looking forward to having this as an open door into the next lightweight tournament and to keep moving up the ladder to get bigger fights against bigger names and making my name well known," he said.
John Livingston covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.