MMA's Jardine, Esquibel delivers knockout punch to diehard fans

By Quentin Jodie
Navajo Times

GALLUP, August 8, 2013

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(Times photo – Donovan Quintero)

Former mixed martial fighter Keith Jardine and Invicta FC fighter Jodie Esquibel were signing autographs and posing for pictures in Gallup on Saturday.

H is reputation inside the octagon has been well documented. But behind those unsympathetic eyes, there is a softer side to mixed martial artist Keith Jardine.

On Aug. 3, Jardine was posing for pictures and signing autographs with Invicta FC fighter Jodie Esquibel at the grand opening of the Xtreme Ground n Pound Fight Shop in Gallup at the Rio West Mall.

"I always had a reputation of being mean so when I started to do kickboxing I needed to come up with a nickname," Jardine said.

Initially, he and his coach Michael Winklejohn came up with "Mean Jardine" but after rifling through some more names they came up with the moniker "Dean of Mean."

"We were playing around with that but it took off from there," he said.

A day after shooting a movie with Joaquin Phoenix in southern California the semiretired MMA fighter said he was grateful to see a lot of followers in the Gallup area.

"I am surprised with the turnout," said Jardine. "I didn't know what to expect but the lines were huge. It's such a blessing, especially with the little kids coming up to you."

"Everyone has been great," Esquibel added. "We've met some people who drove a couple of hours to meet us. That's really humbling."

Esquibel, who transitioned from kickboxing to MMA, said the sport is rapidly changing with the addition of female fighters.

"You know what Dana White himself said there is never going to be any females in the UFC," Esquibel said of the president of the MMA organization. "I went to Seattle and saw Julie Kedzie fight and she was not the only female on the card, there was two. That alone is huge."

Currently she's signed with Invicta FC. According to Esquibel, it's the largest women's MMA organization in the world.

"With InvictaFC, were taking over," she said. "We're fighting for all those people who doubted us. We've also opened the doors for those girls that are training right now that want to fight in the UFC. That is super cool to be part of.

Esquibel, along with Jardine, made an appearance in Gallup thanks to the connections Xtreme Ground and Pound co-owner Shinasha Benally has in the fighting community.

"We sponsor a couple of fights in Gallup and Albuquerque so we've developed some business relationships," said Benally. "… We made a few phone calls and I got in touch with Mr. Jardine."

Benally, who owns the shop with her brother Emerson Richards, said with the popularity of mixed martial arts they felt there was a need to open a shop in Gallup.

"We've been following this sport for awhile," she said. "And when MMA started to become more popular we saw all these people going to these tournaments and events and they were wearing all the apparels and name brands. They were there to support their favorite fighters so we asked ourselves 'why not bring it to Gallup.'"

They opened their shop two years ago on the north end of Gallup before they moved it to it's current location, selling MMA apparel and gear equipment for boxing and wrestling.

And with the MMA gaining more popularity they are looking to expand their business. The two business partners are working with Emilio Esparza, the President and CEO of the Spartan Media Group.

"Pretty soon Xtreme Ground and Pound Fight Shop is going to be the flagship of MMA apparel and gear shop in the state," Esparza said. "The one thing we are pushing right now is social media and we've seen a 600 percent increase in their number of fans (on Facebook)."

Esparza said they are in the process of setting an online shop with their Facebook page to better serve their customers.

"There are so many people throughout the area that would want their items to be shipped to them," he said. "Once we become the flagship we'll be looking at sponsoring big fighters such these two (Jardine and Esquibel)."

Currently, the Xtreme Ground n Pound sponsors a number of fighters, including Randy Yellowhair. On Friday, Yellowhair is going to be sparring with featherweight veteran Curtis Johnsen in Salt Lake City.

"This is going to be my fourth professional fight," Yellowhair said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon.

The former Chinle High grad said his opponent is a standup fighter so to prepare for this match he's been working on his wrestling and jujutsu skills.

"He's probably a kick boxer so I am going to try and use my hands and counteract his moves," Yellowhair said. "But I'll be ready for anything."

Besides Yellowhair, Xtreme Ground and Pound has also backed Chinle MMA fighters Terrin Yazzie and Jeremy Vasquez. Both fighters belong to the Blackwater MMA and Damon-Bahe Boxing clubs.

"We try to help our local fighters," Benally said. "We also have a good relationship with some of the local gyms."

As for their grand opening, Benally said she was also pleased with the turnout as some fans waited as long as an hour to get a chance to meet up with the Albuquerque-based fighters.

"I'm really surprised that they came out here," said Jeremiah Hood, who showed up with his two sons – Shance and Silas – at last Saturday's event.

"This is pretty awesome because we usually see them on TV," the Gallup native added.

Shance, 9, said it "was pretty cool," seeing Jardine in person while his younger brother Silas, 7, was just happy they got a chance to meet them.

"I was glad that we came out here," Silas said.

Nykki Antonio and Araya Pinto were two other fans that showed up on Saturday. And although their wait was long, the two Gallup natives said it was well worth it.

"This was a good experience to have them around," Antonio said of Jardine and Esquibel. "This kind of helps other people with them being role models."

As for Pinto, she was more impressed with Esquibel's commitment to help change the MMA culture as a women fighter.

"It helps boost our self-esteem," Pinto said, "It tells us that we can do something for ourselves."

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