Paul John Reyna, Jr., 17, better known as PJ, is a member of the Yosemite High wrestling team who has been wrestling since he was six. But on Oct. 6, the 5-foot-7, 135 pounder stepped off the familiar wrestling mat into an enclosed ring at The Dome in downtown Bakersfield for his first sanctioned amateur mixed martial arts fight.
He walked out of the ring 1:32 later with his first victory after a bare-arm tap-out out by his 17-year-old opponent Chris Mackney of Fresno. Mackney is a wrestler at Central High and the cage fight was also his first.
"I thought he was going to be better than me the way he was talking before the match ... I thought I was in trouble," Reyna said. "I was a little nervous before the fight but once I stepped into the cage I felt comfortable. It turned out Mackney was a better talker than he was a fighter."
Reyna's match was the second of a 13-match card sponsored by 559 Fight and his short and sweet match can be seen at 559fight.com.
He said he has been wanting to be a cage fighter for a long time and his first experience in the cage was all he expected and then some.
"You know how you see the gladiators in the movies before they enter the arena to fight? It was a lot like that," Reyna said.
He said the crowd, including about 60 friends and relatives from Oakhurst, was so loud he couldn't hear a word his coaches were yelling at him.
"You have to rely on your training once you in the cage because you can't hear the coaches ... you have to stay focused and get the job done," Reyna said.
Up until a recent rules change, lowering the minimum age to participate in a 559 Fight event from 18 to 17, Reyna planned on waiting eight more months for his 18th birthday and first fight.
"I was glad they changed the age limit which allowed me to have my first fight sooner than I was planning on," Reyna. "I heard about the change in late June from my Madera coach Anthony Perales."
Perales has been coaching Reyna for the past six months. Reyna trains with Perales the Piranha Fight Team in Madera two hours a day, four days a week. He joined the team, made up of young fighters six to 16 years old, just six months ago.
The team is made up of inter-city boys and in addition to training with Perales, a cage fighter himself, Reyna is the team captain of the team.
"For some of these kids, being part of this team is all they have and they work hard," Reyna said. "For most of them, Spanish is their first language and they like giving me a bad time because I only speak English, even thought my dad is Spanish. I'm taking Spanish at Yosemite this year so I can understand more of what the kids are saying."
"I think PJ has a chance to become a champion as long as he continues on his determined path," Perales said. "He's a very determined kid who believes in himself, yet he is very humble. He feels winning and success are his only options. He doesn't like to loose."
Perales said Reyna has it all -- a combination of accuracy, kicks, striking and grappling on the mat which is his strong point.
"PJ is learning to strike real well," Perales said. "He's very attentive and wants to learn all he can which is a great quality to have."
Reyna, who is the youngest of three children and the son of Paul and Dina Reyna of Oakhurst
His dad, meat manager at Vons, said he knew how much work his son put into getting in shape for the fight and never once doubted the outcome.
"You could tell his opponent didn't respect my son and he ended up not being much of a challenge for PJ," Paul said. "PJ did great and being by his side through the whole thing and being able to watch him fulfill a dream was one of the better things I've experienced in my life."
In addition to his trips to Madera, he attends a YHS weight lifting class run by football and wrestling coach Kent Lincoln from 6:30 to 7:30 a.m. four days a week. After school he was running with the cross country team until wrestling practices started about two weeks ago. After practice, it's off to Madera to help with the young fighters before his own half hour practice.
Coarsegold resident Anthony Ruiz, a firefighter with Cal Fire, who has been a professional mixed martial arts fighter for 11 years, has been training and coaching Reyna for five years. Ruiz first met Reyna when he helped coach wrestling at Wasuma Elementary School when Reyna was an eighth grader.
"Since PJ was a kid, he has been molded into a great wrestler by Lincoln," Ruiz said. "He is super talented and will have a great career if he continues to work hard. I look forward to watching him grow."
Valley Vortex, a Fresno fight gear apparel company, sponsors Reyna and he receives support from The Produce Place.
"I hope to become a firefighter and reach my goal of becoming a pro mixed martial arts fighter two or three years from now," Reyna said.
But first, Reyna will finish his Yosemite wrestling career under coach Lincoln.
Last year he had a 29-7 record, losing at the Central Section Masters Tournament, just one step away from the State Tournament. He hopes to wrestle in junior college.
Jeremy Luchau and Joey Perez formed 559 Fights in April and have held seven events for young, amateur fighters in the Central Valley.
"We were honored to have PJ compete and he did so at a very high level," Luchau said. "He and his family, coaches and management were a pleasure to work with and we look forward to having PJ back."
Reyna will have his second fight Dec. 8 at the Tulare County Fairgrounds.
"The community has been very supportive of me ... I hope people from Oakhurst come down to Tulare to watch me in December," Reyna said.