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After leaving behind team sports, Angelo Trevino and Joseph Morales are rising the MMA amateur ranks By JIM McCUE | SportStars   The images...

After leaving behind team sports, Angelo Trevino and Joseph Morales are rising the MMA amateur ranks

By JIM McCUE | SportStars


The images of mixed martial arts (MMA) portrayed on television and other media appeal to the consumer willing to shell out cash to watch modern gladiators battle to submission on a bloodied canvas inside a steel cage.

But don’t confuse that with MMA’s appeal to young athletes. 

There are plenty of young athletes drawn to MMA who simply want to be in top shape while enjoying one-on-one competition similar to what wrestling offers at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels.

“It’s just a sport to us,” said Angelo Trevino, a Rio Americano High graduate and current student and wrestler at Sierra College in Rocklin. “We don’t do MMA because we have anger issues or like to get into fights. We don’t want to be considered fighters, but rather mixed martial artists or sportsmen.”

Trevino and Joseph Morales, a recent graduate of Inderkum who will also wrestle 

at Sierra College in the upcoming school year, have been avid MMA sportsmen for years. Both athletes and their families, including parents and younger siblings, have 

embraced the sport and its physical and mental benefits.

“The life lessons that it teaches are great,” said Joseph’s mother, Deborah Morales. “The kids are taught about discipline, respect—on the mat, toward their training partner, and opponents—and safety. Of course, I do worry about injury, but the sport is very regulated for safety, especially for kids.”

Ironically, Morales was brought to MMA because of an injury he suffered on the football field. 

Playing youth football, he suffered a fractured hand that turned his attention away from the gridiron to the mat. His father, Anthony, introduced his son to wrestling and the pair also watched some MMA training and competition at a local gym. Joseph immediately embraced the mano-a-mano aspect of wrestling and MMA, and left team sports behind.

“I like the independence of fighting and wrestling,” Morales said. “All of the pressure is on you and you have no one to blame but yourself if you do not win. Controlling the outcome is very appealing to me.”

Trevino took a similar path to wrestling and MMA, minus the injury as a catalyst. A solid all-around athlete as a youth, he tried nearly every team sport, including baseball, basketball and soccer, before focusing solely on individual competition on the wrestling mat. Trevino’s father had Angelo participating in wrestling tournaments as early as elementary school, and the pair bonded over any and every kind of one-on-one grappling or fighting competitions.

Both Trevino and Morales ended up at Urijah Faber’s Ultimate Fitness Gym in Midtown Sacramento, where they became fast friends as well as training partners and supporters. 

For nearly six years, the pair have learned, trained, and fought out of Faber’s gym, drawing upon the knowledge and experience of a high-profile staff that includes the “California Kid” Urijah Faber himself and MMA professionals such as Dustin Akbari and Jeromy Freitag.

While the young pair has blossomed into successful amateur MMA competitors with legitimate opportunities for professional fighting careers, they both have placed a priority on education before pro fighting.

“I would love to go pro, but I really want to finish school first,” said Trevino, who recently won an amateur welterweight title in the main event of a local Titans Cage match. “All of my idols in the sport went to school and got an education before going pro.”

Both Morales and Trevino have chosen the path of education and wrestling at Sierra College before hoping to transfer to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to earn degrees while continuing to wrestle collegiately and participate in MMA as amateurs. For both, the challenges of a professional MMA career can wait until the challenges of a college degree are overcome.

“I want to get to the top of MMA and winning a UFC belt would be the ultimate,” Morales said. “But my focus is on school first.”

As amateurs, MMA competitors can still use the sport to travel and see the world. Morales travelled to Hungary and Trevino to Serbia to compete in the Pancrase World Championships in March, and both have been offered opportunities to compete throughout California and the United States. Morales won all three divisions (MMA, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and submission grappling) while in Hungary, and Trevino found success in Serbia despite competing with a knee injury he suffered during his college wrestling season.

There is also an effort to add Pancrase or Pankration (a sport in the ancient Olympic games) to the Olympics in the future. The “hybrid wrestling” competition is scored on points and technique similar to Olympic judo scoring, and could expose more people to MMA worldwide.

Wrestling and MMA are complimentary in regard to training, staying in shape, and competition, but separating the two can become important when facing off with an opponent on the mat or in the cage. 

While Jiu Jitsu dictates that fighters go to their backs to succeed, wrestling’s main goal is to avoid going to one’s back at all times. Both Morales and Trevino admitted to brief lapses in wrestling where they have caught themselves preparing to go to their backs in a defensive position, but neither has ever felt the urge or need to strike a blow while on the wrestling mat.

That discipline is what has kept the pair of young athletes on the right path, and both have worked hard to pass along their experience with discipline and self-control to younger athletes and students.

Morales developed an educational program for 3rd- and 4th-graders to satisfy a senior project requirement at Inderkum. He taught introductory techniques in wrestling, boxing, Muay Thai, and Jiu Jitsu to the youngsters, while emphasizing discipline, respect, and safety. The program, in which Morales instructed multiple 45-minute classes, allowed him to pass along his skills to teach kids about self-defense, bullying, and self-control, while at the same time learning humility, by teaching youngsters.

Trevino’s primary followers are his four younger brothers, age 8 through 11, that look up to him as a role model—a title the 18-year-old takes very seriously.

“They look up to me, so I don’t want to lead them in the wrong direction,” Trevino said. “They see me as someone who knows how to act right and how to conduct myself. I want to be a role model to them and for those who want to pursue MMA, so I can show them to be smart, finish school, and to be in control.”

So far, Morales and Trevino have shown growth as MMA competitors as well as role models in the community. Professional MMA fighting will have to wait while their development continues inside and outside of the cage.

“The greatest appeal to me about MMA is seeing myself grow as a fighter,” Trevino added. “It is great to win, but it is more satisfying to see progress in the ring and in my confidence and professionalism.”

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