Climbing the ladder: Yates fighting to establish himself on MMA circuit

Andrew Yates entered Riverton, Wyo. as an undeniable underdog.

A 19-year-old mixed martial arts fighter from Fruita, Yates was in the main event fight against Riverton’s hometown hero Orlando Rodriguez on Dec. 12 at the Don’t Blink ENT Border Wars.

With 3,000 people peering toward the ring, Yates walked out to dead silence.

“That was the first time I’d seen something like that,” Yates said. “I had my friend Tanner (Roybal) there, and he kept me focused. All I heard was him.”

Rodriguez was in his first MMA event after a decorated high school wrestling career that included finishing as a state runner-up twice at Riverton High School. Needless to say, the 155-pound fighter had plenty of fan support.

“Orlando came out and the place erupted,” Andrew’s father and trainer Steve said. “They had ‘Orlando’s gonna take Andrew’ T-shirts, they were holding up signs, it was like WWE.”

The fight went three rounds with Yates winning by unanimous decision 30-27. With the crowd against him, Yates figured it was going to take a knockout or submission to win.

“After the fight, Andrew said I’m going to lose this aren’t I?” Steve Yates said. “He said ‘this is his hometown, I lost this thing,’ but the judges were fair. The fans were booing and hissing, and he was escorted out of the cage by police officers.”

The win over Rodriguez helped Yates improve his amateur MMA record to 15-7-2.

Yates is in the same situation as a lot of young talented fighters trying to work their way up the MMA ladder. He will fight anyone, anywhere, just to continue to improve as a fighter and gain exposure in the fighting world.

“I’m fighting whoever they throw at me,” Yates said. “But this takes a lot of time and dedication; you just can’t step in there and be successful.”

Yates graduated from Central High School in 2008, where he wrestled for four years. While in high school, Yates had his first fight set up with local fighter Brenton Swanson.

“I was working at Perri’s Automotive with Mike Smith, who’s a pro fighter, and he took me on and told me I should fight,” Yates said.

The day before his senior prom, Yates stepped into the cage for the first time. Despite building himself up for a win, Yates lost quickly in the first round.

Like many who try their hand at MMA, Yates could have been another fighter walking around with a permanent 0-1 record.

“I learned that, because I had some wrestling experience, I couldn’t just jump in there and be great,” Yates said. “I had to train twice as hard and twice as long.”

Difficult training was something Yates shied away from during his wrestling career. A natural on the mat, Yates did well at the Rocky Mountain Nationals Wrestling Tournament growing up, but in high school was unable to ever qualify for the state tournament. Yates admitted that some of his struggles in high school might have been because he didn’t work very hard in practice.

“I would wrestle against weaker kids just so practice was easier,” Yates said. “But now when I train, I always try to go to the next level with my conditioning. If I go out for a run, no matter what, I always try to go that extra mile, or that extra couple of feet, or that extra street block.”

Fighting might have always been in the cards for Yates. Andrew is a fourth-generation fighter. His great-grandfather Mende Vincent was a boxer in the 1930s, his grandfather Tom Yates fought Golden Gloves in Los Angeles and his father Steve was on the All-Service boxing team for the Marine Corps in 1984.

Despite the family pedigree, Andrew Yates’ early MMA career is best described as a learning process. The 5-foot-9 fighter would win a fight, then turn around and lose a fight. He was training a lot, but struggling to find consistency in the cage. Steve Yates said he was sliding back into bad habits.

“He would say he was going to train with Alex (Trottier of Impact Boxing) and he would have the best intention of going there,” Steve Yates said. “Then it was like he would go somewhere else instead, and not train.”

As an attempt of both fighter and trainer to get back on the same page, the Yateses decided there needed to be a change in Andrew’s training. The change ended up being AREDZ gym, which is a homemade cage set up in the Yateses’ garage.

“Here we can train as long as we want and as often as we want,” Steve Yates said. “We do it all right here, and it’s much simpler and easier for us.”

The cage was constructed in December of 2008. A combination of the at-home training and a bump from 145 pounds to 155 pounds made 2009 a good year.

He won three belts, and is on an eight-fight winning streak after defeating Andrew Alirez by disqualification at Caged Madness in Sheridan on Saturday night to improve to 16-7-2.

Yates said he plans to fight as an amateur for five or six fights before trying to turn pro.

“Everyone that fights in the cage wants to get onto Strikeforce or UFC,” Yates said. “It takes a lot of work to get there.”


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