HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. – It’s become an almost-weekly ritual in the mixed martial arts world: A knockout video goes viral.
They tend to feature fighters who don’t even have Wikipedia pages and compete in some off-brand promotion. The locale could be some far-flung country, or it could be at a bar or casino in some small town in flyover country.
After everyone oohs and ahhs over the clip – maybe it’s some flashy running or spinning move that lands on the button; or a fighter gets tagged right after taunting his or her foe – they move on to the next thing. Fans get a quick fight fix, MMA websites get their quota of clicks for a slow weekend, and the fighters have their moment in the sun before returning to obscurity.
Sabina Mazo, however, is determined not to be a one-hit wonder.
Just 20, the native of Medellin, Colombia, set the MMA world afire on April 14. At Legacy Fighting Alliance 9, Mazo stopped Jamie Thornton cold with a perfectly placed head kick. The short video of Mazo’s right foot to the jaw, as of this writing, is closing in on 1.5 million YouTube views.
But Mazo, who returns to the cage on Friday night, where she meets Linsey Williams on the AXS-TV main card of LFA 23 in Bossier City, Louisiana, didn’t get into this for YouTube fame. The undefeated Mazo relocated from Medellin to Kings MMA in Orange County, the gym that helped guide Fabricio Werdum and Rafael dos Anjos to UFC championships.
“That one moment was nice,” Mazo admitted, “but it’s not the whole reason why I got into this sport. I got into this to prove what I can do, to become the best martial artist I can be. It’s why I picked up and moved to a whole new country.”
Mazo won her first two professional fights in Latin America when her instructor in Colombia, David Gonzalez, came to an unselfish decision. She could reach a certain level of success under his watch, or Gonzalez could use his connection with Rafael Cordeiro, owner of Kings under whom Gonzalez once trained, to send her to the United States and further her career.
“I’m still grateful for what he did for me,” Mazo said. “He told me I had the talent to make it big, to become a champion some day. He said I would succeed with him, but he can only take me so far, and it would be in my interest to go train in California.”
And so she went, at age 19, and found herself in a room full of killers, some of the best fighters on the planet.
“It was really scary that first day,” Mazo said. “I thought to myself, ‘Do I really belong in this room with all these people?’ But the biggest names in the gym, guys like Fabricio, they made it clear from the first day that I was part of the team and part of the family, and that gave me the confidence to do my thing.”
On a recent morning at Kings, Mazo was part of a wrestling class taught by former UFC standout Mark Munoz. Mazo rolled with another female competitor while sharing the mats with the likes of Werdum and Lyoto Machida.
As the class went on, Cordeiro explains what he saw in Mazo.
“David Gonzalez recommended her, and that told me a lot,” Cordeiro said. “I knew if he was sending her up here, that she was really dedicated to her being a true fighter. For someone her age, she is humble and she conducts herself as a professional and she always wants to learn. Sabina is capable of doing big things.”
That became apparent the night of her head-kick knockout. While Mazo didn’t want to get caught in the hype, she did confess the moment was fulfilling.
“In the moment it was a very gratifying thing,” she said. “It was an adrenaline rush. I was thinking about my team and my family and my coaches and everyone who helped me get to that position. The individual gets the glory, but you are so grateful for everyone who helps get you there.”
Cordeiro notes that Mazo, after improving to 3-0 with the kick, didn’t take long to come right back to earth.
“I was in Russia at the time, and we got sent the link and everyone in our hotel room, when we saw it, we were celebrating,” Cordeiro said. “It was good for Sabina to get the attention, but at the same time, I told her, the people who are telling you that you are the greatest today, if you lose a fight, the same people will tell you that you’re no good. She understood. She was right back to work as if it never happened.”
With that type of maturity, it shouldn’t be a surprise that while Mazo’s end game is to succeed in the UFC, she’s not in a rush to get there just for the sake of doing so.
“I’m lucky,” Mazo said. “My family back in Colombia supports me. I’m not forced to accept fights just so I can pay my bills. I want to be a world champion some day, but if it takes me two more fights or four or five, that’s OK. I’ll go when it’s time.”