Evangelista Making Rapid Ascent Up MMA Ladder

By Joseph Zigler Oct 1, 2008
Billy Evangelista does not fight for money or fame. To hear him tell it, his career borders on a spiritual quest toward self-actualization.

The unbeaten lightweight says he fights to see how good he can become at his chosen profession and to discover how far he can take his career in mixed martial arts. He fights for the Buhawe Mixed Martial Arts Camp, where he trains, and for his trainer, Jasper Tayaba. He also fights to silence the naysayers who told the kid from a small town south of Fresno, Calif., he would never succeed as a professional fighter.

Evangelista (7-0) will carry those motivations into the cage when he meets UFC veteran Luke Caudillo at Strikeforce “Payback” on Friday at the Broomfield Events Center in Broomfield, Colo.

Growing up in Parlier, Calif., Evangelista never planned to enter MMA, even though he started wrestling at the age of 12 after a close friend had piqued his interest. It was the closest thing they had to the World Wrestling Federation. Evangelista continued to wrestle through high school, but, in retrospect, he remains uncertain as to why.

“I don’t remember why I liked it,” he says. “It was all hard work.”

After wrestling for one year at a local junior college, Evangelista joined the Army, became an Airborne Ranger and got his adrenaline fix jumping out of airplanes over Alaska. While there, he received a phone call from his brother -- current Palace Fighting Championship featherweight titleholder Jorge Evangelista -- who told him he had started studying a martial arts discipline known as jiu-jitsu.

Evangelista wanted to try it. Soon, he was hooked. Through his brother, he also met Tayaba, the lead trainer at the Buhawe MMA Camp in Fresno. Just like that, the final piece fell into place.

The first time he set foot in Tayaba’s gym, however, he weighed 215 pounds and laughed when his soon-to-be mentor took one look at him and exclaimed that he had discovered a new lightweight.

“My brother, Jorge, was already training with Jasper, and so he looks at me, and my brother introduces me,” Evangelista says. “Jorge said, ‘This is my brother. He’s gonna be fighting.’ And Jasper looks at me and says, ‘Oh, yeah, a ’55er,’ and I think, ‘Man, you’re crazy.’ I’m walking around at 215, and this guy is telling me I’m gonna be 155 pounds. I was thinking I’d fight at 170.”

In the two and half years since Evangelista turned professional, he has proven Tayaba’s foresight correct. Undefeated in seven bouts, his most recent victories have come by split decision against K-1 Hero’s and King of the Cage veteran Nam Phan and by knockout against Marlon Sims, the exiled, self-professed street-fighter from season five of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series.

What’s most surprising about Evangelista’s success is how quickly it has come. He trained for little more than a year before he made his professional debut -- a technical knockout victory over Ryan Healy at a World Extreme Cagefighting show in January 2006. Unlike many fighters, he has already achieved the kind of financial stability needed to train on a full-time basis.

His training regimen can best be described as rigorous. Evangelista’s average weekday consists of four practice sessions that begin at 5 a.m. and end 17 hours later. Each day includes work on strength and conditioning, wrestling, muay Thai, jiu-jitsu and sparring. He attributes his success to hard work and determination.

Evangelista’s latest challenger will enter the cage as his most experienced opponent to date. Caudillo (15-11), a five-year veteran, will carry a three-fight losing streak into the bout. His experience against top-flight competition, however, makes him a stern test for the young Californian.

Those who know Evangelista best believe he is up to the challenge. In fact, Tayaba wanted to test his pupil against the highly regarded Mitsuhiro Ishida, the first man to defeat former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez.

“We wanted Ishida,” Jasper says. “That didn’t happen, so we get Caudillo.”

When told he had drawn a UFC veteran at “Payback,” Evangelista was overjoyed. A convincing victory against Caudillo can only increase his stature in the industry.

“Everybody wants to be in the UFC,” Evangelista says. “[A win over Caudillo] would definitely open doors, at least make some noise so that somebody will look at me.”

Marcelo Rivas, the assistant manager at the Buhawe MMA Camp, believes Evangelista has already proven himself Octagon worthy.

“I see Billy as an elite level athlete,” Rivas says. “He should be in the UFC now.”

When asked which fighters in the UFC might make for solid matchups against Evangelista, Rivas points in two directions.

Roger Huerta,” he says. “I think that would be an exciting, entertaining fight that Billy would win. Aside from Huerta, a good matchup would be Tyson Griffin.”

Even though he has yet to taste defeat, Evangelista remains humble. He knows he’s nowhere near close to reaching his potential. His prime years lay ahead.

“I don’t think I’m ever satisfied with any of my fights,” he says. “I always think I can get smoother, faster, stronger.”

Advice he received from his father when he told him he planned to become a mixed martial artist also keeps Evangelista on his toes.

“You better be prepared,” his father told him. “I wouldn’t want to go in there.”
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