It wasn’t supposed to go down like that.
When the cage door closed inside Mexico City’s El Plaza Condesa in Jan. 2017, a 20 year-old Lisbeth Lopez Silva took the center of “La Jaula” against one of the most decorated female fighters to ever compete at 105 pounds.
Roughly three minutes later, Nicdali Rivera-Calanoc was strangled into submission.
It had to be a fluke. How could a fighter with a 2-3 record coming from an unheralded gym topple Combate Americas “Night Queen” in such dominant fashion? The victory was a seminal moment for the young preparatory student from Veracruz, but it went largely unnoticed.
That’s because Rivera-Calanoc retired from active competition immediately following her loss, though she continued her groundbreaking ways by joining the Combate Americas executive team as Fight Director. Silva went back home to her dad, quietly and with little fanfare.
Well, except for her biggest fans.
“That fight was important for me, because I don’t live with my younger brothers but I want to be a role model for them,” Silva said. “They got to see that if you have a dream, hard work pays off and you can achieve your goals.”
Nobody outside of her friends and family paid much attention to what happened at Combate 10, with the exception of CEO Campbell McLaren, who — much like he did for Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) back in the nineties — built a world-class combat sports promotion from the ground up with nothing but his will to succeed.
And a keen eye for talent.
“I told our matchmakers after we left Mexico City, ‘I want to see that again,’” McLaren told MMAmania.com. “I knew Lisbeth had the ability to realize her potential the moment we signed her, all she needed was the opportunity.”
After taking the summer off to continue improving her skill set, Silva was invited back to compete at the promotion’s Copa Combate event, held last November in Cancun and perhaps most famous for the real-life Rocky story starring Levy Marroquin.
And the competition wasn’t getting any easier.
Silva was paired off with former Bellator standout Sheila Padilla, who also captured a submission victory in her La Jaula debut by turning away Josh Barnett-trained atomweight Alyssa Garcia at Combate 14.
Padilla was supposed to be a formidable challenge.
Midway through the second stanza, Silva carved her to pieces, capturing her fourth straight victory while earning the opportunity to dethrone Kyra Batara, the winningest female fighter in the history of Combate Americas.
“When I first became interested in MMA, I would watch fighters like Joanna Jedrzejczyk in UFC,” Silva said. “I loved her style and I know, as a woman, how hard it can be to make a name for yourself in male-dominated sport. But I saw her do it and she never apologized for doing it her way. I thought to myself, ‘I can do that, I want to do that.’”
And she did.
The stage was set for this Friday night’s (May 11, 2018) “Mexico vs. USA” main event on Univision Deportes Network (UDN) inside McClellan Conference Center in Sacramento, Calif. (details). Not a bad spot for the girl they used to call “Bunny” because of the shape of her teeth.
Then it all fell apart.
A late injury to Batara shook up the headlining act and Combate Americas was forced to scramble for a replacement. Fortunately for ticket holders, Brenda Enriquez was able to step up on short notice as a 110-pound catchweight replacement.
Safe to say Silva — appreciative for Enriquez — was less than pleased with Batara. To be the top fighter in your weight class, you have to beat the top fighter in your weight class, and “Mogwai” took that opportunity from Silva.
And her fans.
“I think she was afraid to face me,” Silva said. “I think she knows her wrestling is not enough to beat me so she had to ‘injure himself’ to back out. She not only failed me, she failed all the people who were waiting for this fight, this was a high-profile match, and by backing out she didn’t give it the importance it deserves.”
The show must go on.
Combate Americas: “Mexico vs. USA” airs LIVE on UDN from inside McClellan Conference Center at 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT, following a five-bout undercard on www.UnivisionDeportes.com at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT.
Priced from $40, tickets are still available at Ticketon.com.