The ‘fight gym’
Golden Fights Gym gets locals prepped for possible mixed martial arts careers
In 2013, before she became one of the biggest names in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, before Dancing With The Stars, celebrity cooking show Chopped and magazine covers, Paige VanZant’s road to mixed martial arts stardom cruised through Grand Junction.
She briefly trained in the valley, won a one-round bout at Cage Wars XV, and landed with Invicta Fighting Championships, what was then the largest women’s MMA promotion in the world.
The UFC has since added lighter weight classifications, using its behemoth status to take over the top spot, but Invicta still remains a premier destination for female fighters.
A Grand Junction fighter, this time a local, could someday get there.
Holli Salazar is raising her profile as a lightweight fighter out of Golden Fights MMA Gym in Grand Junction. Since losing her amateur debut early in 2016, Salazar has won two shortened fights — the first by technical knockout and the second with a first-round submission. Her submission victory won her Cage Wars’ first female championship fight during Cage Wars 27 at Two Rivers Convention Center.
Salazar is one of many fighters at Golden Fights with professional aspirations. Owner Steve Yates and his son, Andrew, a professional MMA fighter, are working to get them there.
“Holli Salazar, she’s one of our best fighters,” Andrew Yates said. “Hopefully she’ll be fighting on Invicta soon. Toughest girl in Junction, hands down. If any girl out there at her weight wants to challenge that, we’re more than willing to put a fight together for that. Holli needs a fight.”
Salazar said she hopes to make the UFC one day and that she’s “ready for anything.” As for her opportunities, Salazar credits the gym she trains at.
“It’s everything,” Salazar said. “That gym is where I come from.”
Those looking for bouts benefit from training at Golden Fights, Steve Yates said, because along with owning the gym, his promotion company owns Cage Wars. Golden Fights gets their fighters on local cards, and Andrew Yates’ professional connections help them move on after that.
Andrew Yates, even as he trains fighters, is still pursuing professional fights. He sports a 10-2 record and is on a Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA) card on April 21 at Massari Arena in Pueblo. He’ll take on Andrew Tenneson, who fights out of the gym of renowned MMA trainer Greg Jackson in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Andrew Yates’ last major pro fight came in 2013, when he fell to Chad Robichaux in a World Series of Fighting bout.
Angelo Trujillo, an 18-year-old senior at Grand Junction High School, won at Cage Wars 27 to bring his record to 3-1. His only loss came on a split decision at a Resurrection Fighting Alliance (now part of LFA) bout in September of 2016. His next fight is at FitCon in Salt Lake City, run by MMA great Jeremy Horn. Horn fought on the UFC and was the only man to defeat longtime UFC champ and MMA legend Chuck Liddell by submission.
Trujillo, who has a background in wrestling and boxing, said MMA was a good way to channel his athleticism, and he’s stuck with it since finding early success. He’s fought on big cards as a teenager, something he said could help him reach his goals.
“I’m pretty excited about these chances I’m getting,” Trujillo said. “I want to make a career out of it. Not a lot of people get to do this. I’m lucky, I guess.”
Tony Darling is another young fighter hoping for his shot in the pros. Darling won a wrestling state championship as a heavyweight for Paonia High School in 2014. He’s used his wrestling skills to great advantage, posting a 3-0 amateur record. Currently, the 21-year-old is the No. 14-ranked heavyweight in the U.S. West region, which includes Nevada and California.
Darling said the toughest adjustment was “learning to get punched” and added that he’s driven to go as far as he can in MMA.
Steve Yates says his gym offers a number of services, but having a connected fight promotion, professional connections and a razor-sharp focus on MMA skills makes it the gym for top-flight MMA fighters.
“We’re a fight gym,” Steve Yates said. “There are plenty of other gyms doing great things, but we’re a fight gym. There are boxing gyms that do a great job getting kids into boxing. But we’re a fight gym. Originally, this was set up to bring fighters to our promotion, but it’s grown into something much bigger than that.”