Andres Quintana reigned supreme on Dec. 7, as the 2018 Copa Combate drew to a close. The New Mexico native outlasted seven other featherweights during the one-night tournament. Now $100,000 richer, he has begun to realize the value of his stock within the promotion.
“The Bullet” is no stranger to the fight game. Quintana despite being just 27 is a 15-year veteran of combat sports, as he competed in youth boxing exhibitions as a pre-teen. Even so, a career in MMA was not the original plan.
“I actually wanted to be a professional boxer when I was younger,” Quintana told Sherdog.com. “When I started getting older and [competing] in the bigger tournaments, I just felt like they were really political, which is a shame.”
The disappointment with boxing’s bureaucracy was not a setback. As a longtime fan of MMA, he was inspired by the war put on by Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar at the first “Ultimate Fighter” Finale. He was also an avid supporter of former Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight titleholder Anderson Silva. Plus, because of the strong MMA culture in parts of New Mexico, transitioning his dreams of stardom to mixed martial arts was easy.
Quintana landed with the Luttrell-Yee MMA team and crossed paths with many of the talented fighters that frequent Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the world-renowned Jackson-Wink MMA academy. His head coach, Chris Luttrell, was one of the first individuals to earn a Gaidojutsu black belt under the art’s creator -- and coach to many MMA champions -- Greg Jackson. For a time, the gym was closely affiliated with Jackson-Wink, and although the connection was eventually severed, the experience of working with some of the talent there left a lasting impression on Quintana.
“Before they split, we used to cross train at Jackson’s, so I have trained with a lot of the top guys over there,” he said. “Jon Jones was a big influence.”
Quintana started his career 8-1, but he can point to one moment in particular that helped push his career in an entirely different direction and led to his success in the Copa Combate tournament: a 2015 loss to Thanh Le. It came during an elimination bout for Season 22 of “The Ultimate Fighter” and served as a wakeup call, forcing him to become a more complete martial artist.
“I would rely heavily on my boxing, but now recently, I got two submissions,” Quintana said. “I’ve learned to trust my MMA game as a whole a lot more.”
All of his skills were on display at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, California, where he defeated three different opponents -- two in the first round -- to win the Copa Combate, a $100,000 prize and a massive golden trophy. It was the first time Quintana had ever competed in a one-night tournament, though he believes his previous boxing experience helped.
“I’ve never been in one-night tournaments before,” he said, “but I have competed in Golden Gloves, [where] I would fight three fights over the course of a weekend.”
Still, the possibility of three fights in one night -- a one-round, five-minute bout followed by two three-round, 15-minute bouts -- required some specialized training. When sparring, Quintana took part in a five-minute round before resting. He then followed with three five-minute rounds, a respite and another three five-minute rounds.
“It was really different [and] really challenging,” Quintana said. “We trained to simulate the tournament as much as possible.”
In the end, he did not need much time to win the Copa Combate, his run starting with a decision over Marlon Gonzales in the quarterfinals. However, the semifinals came with some controversy. After a Bruno Cannetti punch dropped Quintana, he withstood the follow-up onslaught and eventually landed a series of shots that cut down his counterpart. It led to a technical knockout soon after, and while many onlookers viewed it as an early stoppage, Quintana does not share their opinion.
“I hit him with a really good uppercut and left hook, and that left hook really [hurt him],” he said. “He was falling like a tree, kind of in slow motion. He tried to grab a single-leg, but he didn’t even grab [it] properly, which goes to show how much he was really out [of it]. I feel like if the ref didn’t stop it, it was going to get a lot worse for him.”
Quintana advanced to the final, where he confronted Alejandro Flores. He landed a highlight-reel spinning elbow that floored Flores and forced the finish 2:49 into Round 1. While the maneuver appeared to be sudden and improvised, Quintana claims it was calculated and measured.
“I’ve practiced this a lot of times. I’ve actually accidentally cut a few of my partners and dropped a few of my training partners with that spinning elbow,” he said. “[Flores] pressured me too much. He was getting a little bit greedy and trying to throw for the kill. I knew his hand wasn’t going to be at his face [to defend the elbow].”
The tournament win resulted in the most substantial payday of Quintana’s career. The $100,000 prize offered him the kind of financial stability he had never enjoyed before -- he claims his previous-best purse was less than a quarter of what he earned in the Copa Combate -- and gave him a feeling of legitimacy in his vocation.
“I’ve never made six figures in one night,” he said, “so it’s really an honor to say I’m a professional fighter and not struggling fight to fight, worrying that I have to fight this month, or [that] I have to fight in three months, or [that] I’m not going to make my bills. I just feel now I’ve proven myself over and over again. They can’t turn a blind eye to me anymore. I’m the best ’45er in the promotion, and I feel like I’m one of the best ’45ers in the world.”
Quintana recently sensed a change in how the Combate Americas promotion perceived him. While he concedes he has always been treated well, he believes the company now fully grasps the kind of talent it has on its roster.
“Lately, they’ve been flying me out more to different events and just kind of putting my face out there more,” Quintana said, “and it’s really cool.”
Being involved with Combate Americas has been a positive experience overall for Quintana. He enjoys fighting for a promotion that caters to a Spanish-speaking audience and showcases a mostly Latin roster; and as a Mexican-American, he revels in his cultural roots. However, he claims to have encountered some backlash for being an American fighter of Mexican descent.
“I do feel special and honored to represent my culture and heritage, but I kind of get the bad end of both sides,” Quintana said. “Because I am American, I feel like all the Mexican fans kind of have hate towards me, especially since I just beat [a Mexican fighter in Flores] and I’ve fought a lot of the fighters that have been born and raised in Mexico. A lot of people [on social media] call me lucky, call me a Yankee. I [think] it’s a little disrespectful.”
Quintana shrugs at the hate and remains devoted to his heritage, but if he needs to play the villain in the Combate Americas featherweight division, he has no problem with doing so.
“I will always have love for Mexico and my Mexican fans, but I don’t mind being the bad guy,” he said. “I don’t mind being the Floyd Mayweather of this company.”