Post-Pandemic Prospects: After being postponed for more than a year due to COVID-19 restrictions, Tucson’s premier Muay Thai event returns to the Rialto Theatre

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A jaw-dropping moment from Rise of the Prospects 9.

Tucson MMA fighter Jesus "El Toro" Hermosillo has been lying in wait to face his opponent in the squared circle for the past 19 months.

The 22-year-old trained for months leading up to his bout with Phoenix boxer Paul Flores in what would be both fighter's first Muay Thai match at Rise Combat Sports triannual event, Rise of the Prospects 10. However, the Rialto Theatre was forced to cancel Rise of the Prospects 10—and all future events—as the pandemic swept across the globe in March 2020.

The super featherweight fighters were supposed to meet again at a Muay Thai tournament in Phoenix a few months ago after Gov. Doug Ducey lifted all of the state's pandemic restrictions in March, but Hermosillo said Flores was unable to make it.

"Paul Flores has been on my mind since January 2020. I'm not sure what happened but he didn't make it to the last fight," Hermosillo said. "I fought there and unfortunately I lost. But the promoter called me an hour after and said 'Keep your head up because we want you to fight Flores in July.'"

Rise of the Prospects 10 returns to the Rialto Theatre on Saturday, July 31, making it the venue's first in-person event since shuttering in 2020. Hermosillo vs. Flores is the only surviving matchup from the original fight card to return for this event, said promoter and event matchmaker Jen Richardson. She and her husband, UFC veteran Chris Cariaso, own both Rise Combat Sports locations in Tucson and San Francisco. The couple started Rise of the Prospects in 2017 to help unite local Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai communities throughout the Southwest, she said.

"We've got a ton of fighters returning who were scheduled to fight at that last event. But, there's also a lot who either moved or are not training right now," Richardson said. "[Hermosillo versus Flores] was the only fight that survived the pandemic because the weight class is at 115 [pounds] and it's hard to find guys at that weight. I think that's why it held on because these guys want to fight and there's not many options."

Richardson said Rise of the Prospects 10 will feature 20 Muay Thai match-ups in numerous weight classes and six title fights. The fighters featured at this season's event are coming from Muay Thai academies across Southern Arizona, Phoenix and California. While the event typically hosts Brazilian jiu-jitsu bouts, the promoter said they decided to keep ROP 10 strictly for Muay Thai fighters.

"Right now the jiu-jitsu events are really oversaturated because there is so much going on these days," Richardson said. "I decided for this one show we would drop Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but we are going to bring it back for our next show."

Organizing an amateur Muay Thai event differs from setting up an amateur Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournament because the latter combat sport doesn't need to be approved by a sanctioning body like Muay Thai does, said Richardson. The approval process can be very lengthy because each fighter must meet numerous requirements before the United States Muay Thai Association will consider each match associated with the event.

"Everyone needs blood work and everyone needs a physical before every match can be approved by the athletic commission. It isn't just me deciding who gets in or not," Richardson said. "The Muay Thai community is hungry to fight and there aren't many events around here. So many people are wanting to fight after the pandemic and we couldn't do it all. It kinda made my jiu-jitsu people mad at me because they love the show, but we promise to bring it [Brazilian jiu-jitsu] back."

Similar to kickboxing, Muay Thai incorporates elements of traditional boxing with leg strikes. However, Muay Thai takes things a step further by allowing strikes from elbows, knees and shins, in addition to punches and kicks. The combat sport is known to be one of the most brutal martial arts a fighter can practice and a common style used in modern MMA fights.

Ever since his youth, Hermosillo said he knew he wanted to be an MMA fighter. He fought his first MMA match when he was 12 years old and studied wrestling as well as jiu-jitsu throughout middle school and high school, he said. Two years ago, the young fighter began training in Muay Thai at Rise Combat Sports and he said the experience has taken his fighting to another level.

"After I graduated high school, I knew it was time to fight. I always wanted to train at Rise because it's one of the best gyms in town," Hermosillo said. "Coach Chris Cariaso fought in the UFC at the highest level and he's also a smaller guy around my weight class. I knew I could learn a lot from him."

Now that his match with Phoenix's Flores is back on, Hermosillo said he's more physically and mentally prepared for this fight than ever before. Lately, he has been sparring with UFC bantamweight fighter Casey Kenney and a list of other local badasses to be ready for his dance with Flores on July 31.

While his Muay Thai record sits at 0-1, Hermosillo said getting those first-match jitters out of his system while gaining valuable fight experience will serve him well later this month, he said.

"I'm glad this fight is finally going to happen. My opponent, Paul Flores, comes from another high-level gym in Phoenix and I know he'll be down to scrap," Hermosillo said. "I promise our fight will be the fight of the night. Flores is the kind that will stand in the middle and throw punches with you and ask anyone at the gym...I'm that one."

Rise of the Prospects

Saturday, July 31

Tickets: $40

Ages: 7+

Doors: 4 p.m.

First Match: 5 p.m.

Tickets are available at risecombatsports.com and ticketmaster.com

For more information, check out risecombatsports.com

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