(Evangelista delivers a fight ending strike to Aina’s…shoulder. Photo by Daisy Rosas.)
Mike Aina spoiled Billy Evangelista’s first homecoming at the Save Mart Center. Evangelista won’t let Jorge Gurgel spoil his second Strikeforce fight in Fresno, Calif. on Nov. 6.
At Strikeforce Challengers 1, Evangelista threw a knee to Aina’s body while “Iron Mike” was grounded. The Hawaiian pretended that the strike landed on his head, finding his way out of the fight and handing Evangelista his first loss. The hometown crowd disapproved and so did the California State Athletic Commission, which overturned the original decision and declared the bout a no contest.
“I thought even though they called it a loss, I considered myself a champion that night,” said Evangelista.
The Team Buhawe representative is soft-spoken and humble. In the cage, though, he’s aggressive and strong. The undefeated lightweight is eager to test himself against a Ultimate Fighting Championship vet like Gurgel, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt who usually stands and bangs in all-out wars like he did in his victory over Conor Huen in his Strikeforce debut in June.
“I think that I haven’t done anything yet, so if by winning this fight, I think it would turn a lot of heads and people would start looking at me,” said Evangelista.
Fighting in front of his hometown crowd is a double-edged sword for Evangelista. No travel translates to comfort. But there’s a pressure to perform and losing is hard enough without friends and family watching in-arena. Evangelista doesn’t feel the weight of added exposure or fighting a name opponent or remaining undefeated. All he wants is “a great fight.” With the hit-now-think-later Gurgel, that’s likely.
“I think all the fights, as long as I keep winning, will be big,” said Evangelista. “The guys that I will be fighting will be tougher and tougher as I come and start making it big. So yeah, this one is gonna be a big fight for me.”
Despite the step up, Evangelista isn’t ready to call out Strikeforce lightweight champion Josh Thomson or interim titleholder Gilbert Melendez. He’s honest about his abilities, citing he’s only been in the sport for three years and is in no hurry to become a champion.
“I think I’m still kind of new to it and I kinda want to sit back a little bit and watch what’s happening,” said Evangelista. “Like I said, the sport is changing so I don’t want to be the last one that’s not evolved in MMA.”
Still, homecoming is a time where all eyes are on the king, so Evangelista must fight like one.
Evangelista spoke with Acosta on Fox Sports’ Inside the Cage. Inside the Cage appears on Reno, NV 1450AM and is hosted by Greg Delong with co-host Danny Acosta.