Heath Bebout, a 1999 Payson High School graduate and one of the finest long distance runners to ever don a Longhorn track and cross country uniform, is spearheading a move to bring mixed martial arts to the Rim Country.
The sport, sometimes known as Cage Fighting, No Holds Barred and Ultimate Fighting, will arrive at 7 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 13 in the form of a tournament expected to draw MMA fighters from around the state.
Bebout says the competition, which will be held in the Tonto Apache Gymnasium on the reservation south of Payson, will feature 16 total fights, most of which will be three rounds of three minutes each.
Some will be three, five-minute rounds
Gates open at 6:30 p.m. and admission is $20 if purchased before the day of the event. At the gate tickets are $25 per person.
Tickets are available at Steve Coury Ford or at the Tonto Apache Recreation Center.
Bebout anticipates a full house mostly because of the success of the last MMA fight held in 2007.
“I believe we were 88 tickets short of selling out,” he said.
Teaming with Bebout to host the Payson event is former Payson resident Wyatt Shepherd, who owned and operated the Pankration Martial Arts School before moving to Tucson.
“Wyatt moved for more opportunities and he is now the head jujitsu instructor at a school down there,” Bebout said.
Shepherd and Bebout, longtime friends, own and operate the Valley firm of All Powers Combat, which is sponsoring the Payson show.
While in Payson, Shepherd earned a black belt in Pankration — a sport he defines as “a discipline in which jujitsu and judo form the core of the program.”
It is also a hybrid martial arts system that uses techniques from various arts including Muay Thai kickboxing, grappling, karate, taekwondo and kung fu.
Bebout, also a student of Pankration who specializes in jujitsu, expects some of the fighters entered in the Payson competition to use Pankration skills, tactics, strategies and techniques.
One of fighters on the upcoming event card, Payson’s Randy Steinke, studied locally at Shepherd’s school before turning pro in 2008 and signing a contract with the California firm of Fight Legion, Inc.
The same year he became a professional, Steinke won the Rage in the Cage lightweight (155 pounds) championship at a competition in Prescott.
In the Payson event, Steinke will be paired in the main event against 155-pound pro Nick Rhoads of Tucson.
According to the Sherdog Web site, Rhoads has a 5-4 record and has three wins by submission, one by decision and one on a TKO.
Bebout also expects Payson fighters Waylon Quotskuyva and Nolan Blalock to be on the fighter card against one another.
Bebout says he was motivated to host an MMA tournament in Payson for the first time since 2007 because there have been shows held locally that were not up to snuff.
“They just weren’t good ones, which drove me to do this,” he said. “We are going to have a very good event with some good fighters, some professionals, and others on the cusp of turning pro.”
Mixed martial arts has its roots in contests that took place in the early 1900s in Japan and Europe.
The combat sport became a rage in the United States in about 1993 after being introduced by the Gracie family.
The sport was then called Vale Tudo and was developed in Brazil in the 1920s.
Using Brazilian jujitsu, Royce Gracie won the first Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1993, whipping a trio of opponents in five minutes.
That win ignited the popularity of martial arts in the United States.
Originally, there were minimal rules, but later promoters adopted standards aimed at increasing fighters’ safety and generating public acceptance of a full contact sport that can turn brutal prompting some to cry for banishment.
Some states continue to ban MMA bouts.
While many MMA shows around the country now include female fighters, Bebout doesn’t anticipate any entering the Payson show.
In 2008, a law went into effect that will affect the way the Payson competition, and others around the state, can be conducted. It allows mixed martial arts fighters to elbow their opponents, knee them in the head or punch them in the face while they are on the ground.
Then-governor, Janet Napolitano signed House Bill 2834 into law after lawmakers passed it by an overwhelming margin.
Republican Rep. Jonathan Paton, the bill’s sponsor, argued that the legislation would allow Arizona to host mixed martial arts contests like those seen on pay television.
Paton said hosting the mixed martial arts fights would generate state revenue through fees and sales taxes.
The new law means that Arizona’s MMA rules are now similar to those used in New Jersey, Nevada and other states.
Ken Shamrock, a martial arts legend and hall of famer, threw his support behind passage of the bill.
He argued that educating legislators and the public about the sport was the best way to gain acceptance.
During the legislative process, Shamrock offered statistics and facts to reinforce his arguments that sanctioning MMA competitions would be a huge benefit to the state.
One of his claims was that MMA fighters suffered fewer injuries during competitions than did boxers.
Arizona Senator John McCain is of the other persuasion, once comparing the sport to human cock fighting.
At the time, the mid 1990s, McCain was at the forefront of the battle to ensure No Holds Barred fighting didn’t become a part of the American sports scene.