JACKSON – If there were any demons hanging around Chris Inocencio, they’ve all been sent home. Nearly two years after losing his first ever professional fight by way of a TKO, while fighting at Jackson Rancheria Casino and Resort’s Grand Oak Ballroom, Inocencio returned to the same venue and not only picked up his second professional mixed martial arts victory, but he did so in a convincing fashion.
In the co-main event on Sept. 7 at Global Knock-Out 14, Inocencio knocked out Luis Espinoza with three seconds remaining in the first round. If there was anyone doubting Inocencio’s ability as a result of his previous fight at the Grand Oak Ballroom, Inocencio put that debate to bed.
“It was a fluke,” Inocencio said about his August 2017 knockout loss. “I had a lot of pressure (heading into the fight with Espinoza), but my coach keeps pushing me. I’ve got the best team in the world and I feel confident. Everything was put together correctly.”
Inocencio, a Calaveras High School graduate, walked to the cage and received a massive hometown ovation. And after picking up an impressive victory over Boris Navachkov via split decision in March while fighting as a part of Bellator 220 at the SAP Center in San Jose, there is no amount of pressure that can rattle Inocencio’s cage.
“I’m learning to take in the crowd and use the energy as I’m walking out,” Inocencio said. “In the ring, I canceled everything out and once the door locks, it’s just him and me.”
Once the bell rang, there was no question that Inocencio was the crowd favorite. Each punch the Calaveras graduate hit was cheered on by an electric crowd. But it didn’t take long for Inocencio to receive some of the same punishment that he was dishing out.
“He woke me up with that first hit and I knew it was game time,” Inocencio said about the first punch he took. “I had nothing else to do but just do my best. The cage was closed and I can’t run or train any more, all the hard parts are done, so it’s time to get it done.”
With 3:12 left in the first round, Inocencio got Espinoza on the mat and quickly went on the attack. While Espinoza was stunned, Inocencio knew that he couldn’t put himself in a precarious position where his aggressiveness could be used against him.
“I knew I hurt him, but he’s a purple belt, so I didn’t want to jump in and get caught in a triangle or an armbar and lose the fight,” Inocencio said. “I had to slow it down and just focus and not try to kill too hard. I knew I also had the second and third rounds to defeat him.”
Inocencio continued to dominate the first round and, with under a minute remaining, he landed a shot that left Espinoza wobbly. With time about to expire in the opening round, Inocencio knocked Espinoza against the cage, and while in a vulnerable position, landed punch after punch until the referee stepped in and called the match with two seconds remaining in the round.
“When I was trying to finish him, I thought about slowing down and not wasting energy because I still had two rounds to go, but I kept going and I kept hitting him and they stopped it,” Inocencio said.
The TKO victory over Espinoza was redemption for Inocencio. He not only won in the first round, but he made sure that he made quick work of his opponent. But had the fight gone two or three rounds, he was ready for that as well.
“It made a statement,” Inocencio said of winning in the first round. “I came in here thinking it was going to be a three-round war. I don’t take my opponents lightly. Everything worked in my favor. He got comfortable and didn’t shoot very much, which threw me off. He was standing up with me, which threw me off, but then I started getting my rhythm and I did what I had to do.”
After Inocencio left the cage and changed into his street clothes, he didn’t appear to be a fighter who had just picked up his second straight professional victory. Rather, he had the demeanor of someone who went to work, clocked in, did his job, clocked out, and was ready to go back to work the next day.
“You can’t get too high,” Inocencio said. “That (knockout) could have happened to me. You fight with the sword and you die with the sword. That could happen to any of us. This doesn’t make me any better than I was yesterday. I’m still going to work hard and try to get better and try to get to the top. I love this and I’m going to continue to do what I love.”