MSC 2 headliner Alan Arzeno on fighting: “If the crowd is screaming, I’m good”

The ground of the Miccosukee Resort & Gaming Entertainment Dome practically shook from the impact of Whitney Waddell’s body hitting the canvas. Standing over him at Mixed Striking Championship (MSC) 1, pacing predatorily like a cat waiting for its prey to right itself before pouncing on it once more, was Alan “The Rebel” Arzeno. Seconds earlier—and merely seconds into their bout which would inevitably last only 46 seconds altogether until a nasty hook from Arzeno permanently put Waddell out of the game—the 5’9” 36-year-old Santo Domingo-born powerhouse had hoisted his unfortunate foe into the air before giving gravity a little help. Then… KABOOM.

Arzeno’s fight library features several similar contests. He’s fought men who have later found success in the UFC, or captured titles in the local circuit, in 10 separate organizations over the course of an almost seven-year career. Although his mixed martial arts (MMA) record stands at a decent but unformidable 7-6, he’s headlining this Saturday’s MSC 2 card, held inside the BankUnited Center by the University of Miami, largely based on his action-oriented penchant for violent spectacle and his memorable finish in the promotion’s inaugural event. This weekend, his opponent is Johnavan “The Immortal Warrior” Visante (5-8 in MMA) of Hawaii’s 808 Fight Factory.

MSC—a mixed martial arts derivative that does away with almost all of MMA’s ground components in favor of strikes, upper-body grappling and throws—is a fitting platform for a fighter like Arzeno. His crowd-pleasing style relies on power, explosiveness and workable distance. Though he’s improved his mat skills significantly since his 2009 debut while working alongside some of the sport’s best at American Top Team Kendall and South Florida MMA Academy, he is in many ways the embodiment of MSC’s rather brutal tagline, “No Tapouts. Just Knockouts.”

TuffGnarl.com: You’ve been fighting since 2009, turning pro at 30 years old. Why did you wait so long to start competing professionally in MMA?
Alan “The Rebel” Arzeno: There wasn’t a venue here in Florida. There weren’t a lot of fights [available] back then. I was training for a while and kind of felt out of it. Then, when opportunities presented themselves, I jumped back into it.

I came across something pretty interesting about you: you’re are, or were, a graffiti artist. You’re involved in graf down here. The Wynwood area is just blowing up with that kind of art. Do you do that kind of muralist work, or the more traditional tagging style, or both?
I did illegal graffiti. I never did any of the legal stuff. That Wynwood stuff is for artists. I was a rugged graffiti artist. I wanted to put my tags up in big, bold letters—not the colorful stuff. I was about getting my name out there, not about making art.

What was, or is, your tag?
It’s “Rebel.” It’s still “Rebel.” It was always “Rebel.”

You haven’t competed in MMA since 2013. Why the prolonged layoff?
Nobody wanted to fight. I’ve been trying to get fights. I signed up with a couple of promotions and they told me they were going to put me in and [then there were] last-minute cancellations, people pulling out, just not being able to fight. I’ve been trying to fight, but just haven’t been able to, so I was glad that MSC gave me the opportunity to fight. Even though it’s not mixed martial arts, I really like the striking format that they have.

Your last professional MMA fight, however, was against a guy that [former UFC co-founder Campbell McLaren’s newest MMA venture] Combate Americas marketed as someone you had a prolonged beef with: Rene “Level” Martinez. What is the nature of your feud with him?
It wasn’t beef. It was more we were scheduled to fight at one point. When I first got into MMA, I was supposed to debut against him and he was supposed to debut against me. But it never materialized. I think he hurt his hand. It never happened. We went through the years. He went undefeated for a long time, I went through my road and we just ended up meeting again. Most of that beef stuff came from the show kind of trying to romanticize the situation.

This weekend, you’re facing Johnavan “The Immortal Warrior” Visante, who fights out of 808 Fight Factory in Hawaii. He’s on a six-fight losing streak in MMA and has been finished in all four of his most recent fights. He does have a couple edges; he’s a little taller than you, at 6’1”, and he’s almost a decade younger than you. But he only has one knockout win on his record. Are you thinking this is going to perhaps turn out the same way your fight against Whitney Waddell did the last time? Do you think you’re just going to steamroll this guy?
I don’t want to say I’m going to steamroll him, but I’m going to impose my will. The height and the age… That’s pretty much all of my opponents. All of my opponents are the same. They’re all taller than me, they’re all younger than me, but at the end of the day it’s a fight. I use what I bring to the table and I bring a lot of experience, so I’m going to beat him with experience, which is what I’ve done.

Your experience—let’s talk about that a little bit. What is your training background, what are you primary disciplines and how would you describe your style to someone who’s never seen you compete?
It’s just exciting. It’s exciting. I’m not a Muay Thai guy. I don’t want to say I’m a boxer. I’m not a striker. I like fighting. It doesn’t matter where it goes, on the ground or standing, I like fighting. I get joy out of fighting and I get joy out of the crowd going crazy when I’m fighting. That’s what I feel. So if [Visante] really does what he says he’s going to come and do—he said that he’s going to come and go to war with me—it’s going to be a great fight. But he has to bring the fight. He has to come and go out there and fight.

Whitney Waddell struggles to get to his feet after being power slammed to the canvas by Arzeno. | Photo: Luis Rodriguez Photography

Whitney Waddell struggles to get to his feet after being power slammed to the canvas by Arzeno. | Photo: Luis Rodriguez Photography

Are you preparing for him in any specific way to ensure that your fight is exciting?
Of course! [Laughs.] I train with animals. My main sparring partner is [UFC middleweight top contender and Olympic silver medalist] Yoel Romero. You don’t get better than that. I’m one of his main sparring partners when he gets ready for his fights, so what is [Visante] going to bring to the table that Yoel Romero doesn’t bring? I’ve got guys like [9-2 former UFC fighter and Fight Time Promotions lightweight standout] Yoislandy Izquierdo and all the Cuban guys down here in Miami, Florida that have fought in the UFC. I’ve got a bunch of pros, all these animals that are here, that offer a lot more than he can. And that’s what I do every day. He can’t bring anything that’s going to surprise me. It’s going to be a fight. I go in there to fight. I go in there to win. I don’t go in there to see if I can win.

Now that you mention Yoel Romero… He caught some flack a little while back and I actually got into some arguments on Twitter with some other MMA writers about what he said post-fight. Now, I’m born and raised in Miami. I’ve grown up hearing English-as-a-second-language English spoken by Cubans pretty much my whole life. He obviously said, “No forget Jesus.” He didn’t say, “No for gay Jesus,” right?
Definitely, yeah. We talked about it in the gym. After he came back to the gym we had jokes and joked around with him. He was very adamant that didn’t say that. He really did not say that. He’s not the type of person and he would never say that. He’s a really nice guy. I can assure you he did not say that.

I think it was something that was kind of lost a little bit in translation.
Yeah. He was trying to speak English and I guess it came out the wrong way. It happens all the time, but it sounded worse than it was just because of the timing. The law [to legalize gay marriage] had just passed, but I can assure you he did not say that.

I don’t know if you ever found your way to reading it, but I did a post-event review for MSC 1 on MMAOwl.com in which I gave away “Fight of the Night,” “Comeback of the Night,” “Performance of the Night,” and so forth. “Knockout of the Night” was no contest. Your victory, a 46-second thrashing of Whitney Waddell, punctuated by one of the most beautifully monstrous slams I’ve ever seen live… I’m there in a journalistic capacity and it doesn’t sound great when the press row is going, “Ohhh!” It was an absolutely outstanding performance. That’s what made me want to talk to you. Yours was the fight I remember the most. Should fans expect a similar kind of performance this Saturday?
Yes, definitely. Saturday, I’m going to go out there and get to work. I’m going to go out there and finish my opponent. I don’t want to go in there and play it safe. I want to give the fans their money’s worth. If I don’t fight that way, I’m upset at myself. I’m telling you, out of my [14] fights, all of them have been great fights. Most of them have won “Fight of the Night” and three have won “Knockout of the Night.” I go out there to put on a show. I really don’t care what happens to me as long as I’m fighting and putting on a show. If the crowd is screaming, I’m good.”

One of your past opponents, at Championship Fighting Alliance 7, was Mike Trujillo, who was featured in documentary director Billy Corben’s Dawg Fight, which examined West Perrine’s backyard fighting culture. Did you ever compete in any of those fights?
No, I never did. They’re unsanctioned and there’s no medical help. Nobody’s there to help you if you get cut or hurt. I wouldn’t put myself through that.

Arzeno has competed in numerous promotions including UFC co-founder Campbell McLaren's Combate Americas, however none may fit his style as aptly as Wayne Bermudez and Dave Zalewski's Mixed Striking Championship.

Arzeno has competed in numerous promotions including UFC co-founder Campbell McLaren’s Combate Americas, however none may fit his style as aptly as Wayne Bermudez and Dave Zalewski’s Mixed Striking Championship.

Because you have more riding on it than just your own health; you’re a family man.
Yes. I have a son and a baby girl on the way. I am a family man and I run a school where I teach kids. I wouldn’t want to teach them that. Honestly, if you want to fight you have to do it the right way. You have to go through the process. There are amateur fights. There are professional fights. There are plenty of ways you can do it without going into somebody’s backyard and getting paid $100 bucks to get your face caved in.

You alternated wins and losses in almost all of your fights during your MMA career and, possibly because of that, you were one of the guys that [MSC partner and matchmaker Dave] Zalewski mentioned who would benefit from the style of competition MSC offers. Why do you think you had such a checkered record? Why do you think you weren’t able to find your stride in MMA?
Records get built up all the time. You get guys who fight nobodies. I fought whoever they put in front of me. I fought some tough guys. Those guys beat me and I can’t say they didn’t. I can’t say I have an excuse for it. When they beat me, they beat me, and that’s just truth. I never had a bad loss besides besides… The only TKO loss I have was to [former Bellator MMA and current Fight Time Promotions lightweight] Frank Carrillo, which was a great fight until he got on top of me and I couldn’t get him off. He’s a huge guy, a strong guy, and he just controlled me. But besides that, I don’t like I’ve been beat up by anybody else. I had a split decision to [Mike] Trujillo, a split decision to Jerrid Burke [at CFA 4]. My first opponent was [current UFC lightweight] Vagner Rocha, who is a monster in jiu-jitsu, when I didn’t know any jiu-jitsu. I fought Patrick Mikesz who, when I had three fights, had 16 or 17 fights. I can go on down the list.

Back then, MMA was starting to pick up here in Florida and you just took fights. There was no “Let me pick my opponent.” There was no “I should fight this guy” or “I should fight that guy; this one’s going to be convenient for me.” It was just “Fight whoever they put in front of you, take your money and go home.” If you win, you win. If you lose, you shake his hand and go home. Nowadays you’ve got guys who are building up their records, taking fights, waiting six, seven months for the right opponent, and it takes away because when they get to the big show they crumble. I don’t want that to happen in my career. I want to say that I fought the best when they were here. To me, whether I win or lose, if I put on a show, it’s great. When I lost to Patrick Mikesz and we had the “Fight of the Night,” back then they had a “Fight of the Year” award and they gave it to us. Whether I win or lose doesn’t matter to me. As long as I’m fighting and having fun, I’m going to keep fighting.

Last question: What are you predictions for this Saturday?
I’m going to win by knockout. He went online and said that he was going to break me. I haven’t met someone who could break me yet. Nobody’s breaking me. [Frank] Carrillo beat me, but he didn’t break me. Now, this dude [Johnavan Visante] said that he was going to break me. I want to see that happen. If he keeps on saying he’s going to go in there and go to war with me, he’s going to show me skill and all of that, I want him to do that. I want him to show me all that. But he has to go in there and do it. I don’t want to see no Mayweather/ Pacquiao, running around and me having to run after him. I want to really fight.

Alan “The Rebel” Arzeno faces Johnavan “The Immortal Warrior” Visante in the main event of Mixed Striking Championship 2 this Saturday, July 25 at the BankUnited Center located at 1245 Dauer Drive in Coral Gables, FL. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. For more information and to buy tickets, visit www.MSCFights.com. To watch live from home, visit www.GFL.tv.

MSC2 poster

Slider Image appears with permission from Luis Rodriguez Photography.

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Jesse Scheckner

A freelance MMA, entertainment and business journo born, raised and residing in Miami, FL, Jesse Scheckner is a former semi-serious musician, cinephile and recovering ne’er-do-well who still believes Mickey Rourke’s finest performance in film has yet to come. He is TuffGnarl.com's editor-in-chief, a feature staff writer for MMASucka.com and the 2014 MMA Media Correspondent winner at the Florida MMA Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner to talk about the stuff he writes about with him.

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