Fighting for a fallen friend

Grand Junction's Gamoa wins first MMA fight at Cage Wars

With sweat smeared on his forehead in a back room at Brownson Arena on Saturday night, Ismael Gaoma remembered the words of his best friend, words that turned out to be some of Andrew Marquez’s last.

“He said, ‘I’m gonna get you a fight,’ ” Gaoma said. ” ‘I wanna see you fight.’ He believed in me.”

The best friends for 10 years were partying. That was about three months ago.

Days later, early in the morning of Oct. 31, Marquez and Travis Oropeza of Grand Junction were killed in a car wreck in Garfield County. The GMC reportedly drifted off the side of the road and over a cliff. Both worked on oil rigs for Monument Well Service.

Gaoma, a 25-year-old Grand Junction resident who attended Central High School, decided to fight. He’d do it for Marquez.

At Cage Wars XI on Saturday, Gaoma and Christopher Kimball, both oil-rig workers, met in the first Mixed Martial Arts fight for both.

Gaoma was fighting for Marquez. Kimball for Oropeza.

Gaoma said he didn’t feel a twinge of fear in the ring.

The lack of fear showed. After entering the octagon, surrounded by a VIP area at floor level and packed stands in the first of four Mixed Martial Arts events scheduled for Brownson Arena, Gaoma’s eyes appeared soft, almost kind.

He’d turn his head to the crowd and smile. His eyes were not darting in anticipation, nor was he shaking and punching the air. He stood still, shoulders sagging, as if waiting for a meal.

Maybe because the craziest part of his life already had hurtled by. Marquez was gone. To make Marquez proud, Gaoma trained at Crest Combat Conditioning in addition to the 80 to 100 hours of oil-rig work a week. He seldom saw his family. All for one brawl.

The first-round bell rang. Two fighters neared each other and Gaoma put a glove in the air to respectfully “touch gloves.”

Kimball dug a heel into Gaoma’s gut. The two tied up and tangled around the ring. Then Gaoma tripped Kimball and threw him on his back.

Training? Gaoma had little of it. Not organized, at least. Since he was a teenager, he learned to fight in the streets.

“I liked it so much,” Gaoma said. “I always thought I had talent for it.”

So did Marquez.

He was right.

Gaoma soon had two arms hooked under Kimball’s neck, sinking in a rear naked choke. Kimball tapped out. A first-round submission.

Gaoma won.

An entourage of Gaoma’s family and friends jumped and jabbed fists at the rafters, some wearing white shirts with black images of Marquez and Oropeza. They knew who this fight was for. They knew it was about filling the gaps left by the loss of life.

Life gives and takes. A loss, though, can form the mold of future celebration. Loose ends were fastened Saturday night.

Gaoma gave Marquez what he wanted.

“I wanted to make it right for him,” Gaoma said. “I grew up with him since we were 15. This is what he wanted to see.”


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