Evolution of a champion: Mapatis heads into Avi WFC bout wearing two title belts
LAUGHLIN — Needles native Shane Mapatis does not need to fight in the World Fighting Championships Cage Fight at 7 p.m. on Saturday at the Avi Resort & Casino.
Professor Rick Lucero, who is Mapatis’ manager and trainer since he was 15, said his top-ranked pugilist accepted the fight because he wanted to compete in front of his community.
Mapatis, a Mohave Valley resident, will fight against Sullivan Cauley (2-0 overall), fighting out of Phoenix.
Cauley was an NCAA Division I wrestler at Arizona State University and trains out of Power MMA in Phoenix, according to Matt McGovern, president of WFC.
Competing against a wrestler of Cauley’s caliber will be a challenge for Mapatis, especially when his opponent changed 72 hours before the bout, Lucero said.
Mapatis was originally slated to face Devonte Bennett of Yuma, Arizona.
“We’ve got to completely change our strategy now,” Lucero said. “A lot of guys wouldn’t even do that. They’d be like, ‘Wait a minute; we’ve trained all of this time for this guy and all we’ve got is two or three days to switch our complete strategy.’ I think that’s a big risk — being his manager.”
While competing against a surprise opponent just hours before the bout, Mapatis has personal reasons for wanting to fight at the Avi on Saturday.
“He doesn’t have to do it. He wants to do it because he wants to fight in front of his family... he has no benefit for doing this fight,” said Lucero, who’s specialty is Brazilian jiu jitsu.
That desire to enter the cage has helped Mapatis, 23, move up the MMA food chain quickly.
“When he first came he was quiet — I think a lot of these Native Americans are kind of quiet,” Lucero said. “Shane has been working hard and now we’re at the top and we’re ready to make the next move.”
Lucero’s appreciation of his champion is reflected in his young fighter’s feelings for his coach.
“He is very charismatic the way he coaches,” said Mapatis about Lucero. “He’ll push you into the ground, with all of the warm-ups, all the push-ups, all the sit-ups and everything but when he thinks you’re at your breaking point, he’ll bring you right back up.
“You feel like you want to quit, but he’ll keep talking, ‘You only got a couple more, let’s go.’ He’ll just bring you up to go even more.
“That’s what I like about him.”
Mapatis is 11-0 overall and he holds two title belts: one for Tough Enough and the other for the WFC.
“It was pretty hard coming up; I’m a big dude and there wasn’t really a lot of big dudes around,” Mapatis added. “So, I had to change my way of thinking. I was rolling up a lot of smaller dudes, so I tried my hardest not to hurt them.”
His smaller sparring partners were a lot faster, which helped Mapatis enhance his quickness, he said.
Flexibility is something that is unnatural for a 5-foot 11-inch, 260-pounder.
“It took me a couple of months of a lot of stretching and kind of like working on the technique on the bag,” Mapatis said. “Stretching was the hardest.”
Tom Ramirez, boxing trainer at the Mohave Valley Boxing Club and Mohave Valley resident, has helped Mapatis add a stand-up approach to his already excellent ground-and-pound game.
Mapatis said he showed up at Ramirez’s Mohave Valley gym after his first MMA fight and “fell in love with it ever since.”
“Absolutely, without a doubt, Tommy trains Olympic-level athletes, national-level boxers, (and he) is not very far from here,” said Lucero about having a boxing trainer of Ramirez’s caliber in town. “Do you think I wouldn’t take advantage of that? Absolutely, 100 percent. I know my expertise is in the grappling. I fought quite a bit myself, so I know the value of the striking. ... Shane is a good striker, a good boxer, a good boxer and he could do everything really well. That’s why he does so well in these MMA fights because he fights guys who kind of specialize in one thing.
“Shane can go, ‘Oh, are you boxing? I’ll wrestle. Oh, are you wrestling, I’ll box. Oh, are you doing jiu jitsu, I’ll go box you.’ ”
Lucero said he knew Ramirez before he started training Mapatis.
“When Shane said, ‘Oh, I’m going to start boxing with Tommy,’ (I said), ‘Absolutely, we’re going to start boxing with Tommy.’ ”
The pupil has taken well to boxing.
“I’m really confident with the work we’ve put in together,” Mapatis said.
In the heavyweight division, Mapatis is one of the shortest competitors but the southpaw hasn’t let height stop his climb.
“Most of my opponents are taller and I have a shorter reach,” said Mapatis. “So, I have to use my jab to get into my range.”
Ramirez said Mapatis is very good, putting his weight behind his punches.
“He had a little bit of boxing skill when he came in here, but he’s come a long way,” Ramirez said. “He’s deceivingly fast for how big he is; he moves fast with hands and his feet.”
Mapatis knew early on he wanted to fight in the cage, and his first victory over Anthony Womack in 1 minute, 9 seconds when he broke his opponent’s arm at the Edgewater Hotel & Casino during the King of the Cage Future Legends 10 in 2013, solidified it.
“My first MMA fight I was nervous,” he said. “I was sitting in the back, everyone was warming up, I was behind the curtains and all you could hear was the crowd. And when someone gets knocked out, all you hear is, ‘Oh look!’ So, that made me really nervous. I said, ‘I hope that’s not me.’ I remember standing up there when they called my name and my legs were shaking so bad. But once I saw the crowd and walked down to the cage, all of that kind of just went away. I had a big adrenalin rush and I was ready to go.”
Mapatis said he has been rocked just once during his career and he obviously weathered that storm, as he remains undefeated going into Saturday’s bout.