A mixed martial arts (MMA) fight that area fans have been clamoring for will finally transpire on Friday, Sept. 25, when promising, unbeaten local favorites Thomas Longacre and Travis “The Dark Knight” Calanoc clash in one of the top fights on the Strikeforce Challengers card at SpiritBank Event Center in Tulsa, Okla. (SHOWTIME, 11 p.m. ET/PT, delayed on the west coast).
Longacre and Calanoc, both 4-0, are no strangers to each other. They may not be the best of friends, but the talented prospects have trained at the same gym and known each other for years.
Both have lived in or around Tulsa for the majority of their lives. The 31-year-old, 5-foot-8 Longacre was born and raised in Sapulsa, Okla., and went to Kellyville High School in Kellyville, Okla. The 28-year-old, 5-foot-8 Calanoc was born in Anaheim, Calif., but moved to Tulsa when he was an infant. He attended Union High in Tulsa and, later, Tulsa Community College.
“This is a huge fight for Tulsa and one that people have been talking about for a long time,” said Longacre, who currently resides in Tyler, Tex. “My fights sell out almost every time there and with all the fighters from the area that Strikeforce has put on this card, I can almost guarantee this one will too. Fans are going to come out big time for this.”
Said Calanoc, whose wife also fights MMA: “Longacre and I have always known it was only a matter of time before we’d fight. We’ve trained some together and both work for LA Boxing. I work for the one in Tulsa. He works for the one in Sherman, Tex.
“Tulsa fans are in for a tremendous fight and a tremendous night. Tulsa fans continue to become more educated about MMA. Sure, they still love the all-out action but now they understand that MMA is more than just getting punched in the face. It’s still the most exciting, but it is only a facet of the sport.
“Longacre was already fighting Muay Thai fights before I turned pro, so I’ve actually watched him fight for real. His standup is very good. So is mine. This definitely has the makings of a stand-up war and is a great, natural fight for the city of Tulsa and SHOWTIME. It could be the fight of the night.”
Longacre wrestled in grade school and junior high but played baseball and football in high school. He had an opportunity to play football at Haskell Indian Junior college, but “it was too far from home, plus I was a mama’s boy and wanted to stay close,” he said.
His foray into the martial arts started with karate. “I was doing OK in karate but one day an instructor said ‘why not do full contact?’ so I got into kick-boxing, which I did for seven-eight years. I had about 30 fights in Las Vegas, Texas, Germany and Oklahoma. I fought in Chuck Norris’ World Combat League. Then I got into MMA,” said Longacre, whose parents met at an MMA gym and are still active members.
Longacre made his pro debut in October 2008 and last fought on July 25, 2009. “I love MMA,” he said. “It doesn’t do as much damage to my body as kickboxing. I couldn’t walk for two weeks after some kickboxing fights. My shins, knees, everything hurt. But striking is my game in MMA and I’m doing the kicking. So I don’t have to worry about taking the same shots. I can fight the next day. Don’t get me wrong, MMA is tough, but it is easier on my body.”
On his upcoming encounter with Calanoc, Longacre said, “There’s no doubt that Travis is well-rounded, but he doesn’t possess the skills in any one area I have to worry about. I don’t think he is better than me, or has an advantage where he can overwhelm me in any area.
“It is going to be great fighting again in Tulsa. I will have had more than seven hard weeks of preparation. It’s great this fight is televised, but I’ve fought in front of the TV cameras before. Travis has never fought on TV, much less SHOWTIME, and he is coming off a layoff.
“My engine will be in top gear. He’s going to be rusty. I think he should have taken a warm-up fight because he is in for a rude awakening. I’ve been in wars and had blood all over me. I’ve been tested multiple times. He’s never had a tough fight. His heart hasn’t been tested yet. But it will.
“I can’t wait to showcase my skills. Getting ready for the fight is the hardest part. The easy part is the fight itself. The one who worked the hardest will win, and no one works harder than me.”
Longacre has been married four years. His wife, Holley, “wants to fight MMA,” he says, “but I won’t let her. She knows a lot, but this is my job.”
Calanoc’s wife, Niccali, meantime, does fight MMA. “She started after meeting me,” Travis said. “Originally she wanted to box but her mother wouldn’t let her. But after we started dating, she started training and went from there. We have fought on same card before.
“With her doing a lot of the same things as I do, like going to the gym and dieting, it actually makes things a little easier for her to understand what’s going on with me. But watching her fight is very hard for me, more difficult than when I fight. We train together and have the same coaches.
“The Cyborgs made a name for themselves but we have no such aspirations. Our goal is to always try and win our next fight. In training, we try to beat the hell out of each other. It’s a different form of marriage counseling,” he added, jokingly.
Travis Calanoc, who turned pro in December 2004, will be making his first start since July 2008. The interruption in his career was due to military obligations.
“I put my MMA career on hold after 9-11 hit,” he said, “and enlisted in the Marines. After seeing what had happened, I wanted to give something back, get a piece of it. I volunteered three times to go to Iraq, but I think the only reason they didn’t send me was because I was an MMA instructor.
“So I went to Norway and Japan. I’ve done seven years and am currently stationed in a reserve unit in Broken Arrow, Okla.”
Calanoc, whose four MMA starts took place in Oklahoma, was introduced to the sport at an early age. “I started with the traditional martial arts, taekwondo and jiu-jitsu,” he said. “My dad was a body builder.”
This is a tough assignment for the comebacking Calanoc, but he’ll be prepared. “I am very excited about fighting on SHOWTIME. More people will see me than ever before. This is definitely the biggest fight of my career and I’m hoping to make a good show and give people what they want.
“I won’t be boring, that’s for sure. It is going to be a war. I prefer to stand and am very aggressive, but I feel I am well-rounded. I try and be as good as everything as I can be.
“I’m looking forward to fighting more consistently now that I have more time to train. Both my wife and I are going to give it our best the next five years and see where it takes us.”
Tickets for the STRIKEFORCE Challengers event, priced from $25, are on sale at SpiritBank Event Center box office, all Ticketmaster locations (800-745-3000), Ticketmaster online (www.ticketmaster.com), and STRIKEFORCE’s official website (www.strikeforce.com).
SpiritBank Event Center doors will open at 7:15 p.m. CT. The first preliminary bout will begin at 8 p.m.
In the main event on Sept. 25, American military hero Tim Kennedy (10-2) of Fayetteville, N.C., will face unbeaten Zak Cummings (10-0) of Springfield, Missouri in a middleweight (185 pounds) scrap.
In other SHOWTIME fights, K-1 legend and six-time world kickboxing champion, Ray “Sugarfoot” Sefo (1-0) of Las Vegas takes on Alabama-born Kevin “The Shaman” Jordan (11-7) in a heavyweight match, budding superstar and two-time All-American wrestler at the University of Missouri, Tyron “T-Wood” Woodley (5-0) of St. Louis, will face his sternest test to date when he meets former Tito Ortiz protégé, Zach “The Lisbon Outlaw” Light (4-8) of Huntington Beach, Calif., in a welterweight (170 pounds) fight and two-time United States Olympic wrestling team member and NCAA Division I national championship runner up Daniel Cormier will make his MMA debut against Gary Frazier.
World championship MMA promotion STRIKEFORCE will produce the event at SpiritBank Event Center along with eXtreme Fighting promoter and five-time world kickboxing champion Dale “Apollo” Cook.
STRIKEFORCE Challengers is a proving ground for up-and-coming MMA fighters. The series is designed to provide today’s top prospects with the opportunity to step-up their level of competition and demonstrate their ability in a nationally televised event.