Sam Temko, 27, knows how to roll with the punches in life and in the cage.
When his mixed martial arts (MMA) fight scheduled for last Saturday, Nov. 10, in Santa Cruz was cancelled just days before the event because promoters were unable to solidify an opponent — after months and months of intensive training — Temko withstood the blow of disappointment and accepted the news that was dealt to him.
“I will continue to train hard and stay ready because with or without a fight, I am still a martial artist and have a lot of learning left to do,” he said. “I have to roll with it, stay ready for whatever comes my way and take the next opportunity when I land one.”
MMA is a full contact combat sport that allows the use of both striking and grappling techniques, both standing and on the ground, from a variety of other sports such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, Muay Thai, and Taekwondo.
Last weekend's Showdown in Surftown fight at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium would have been Temko’s seventh fight. The mixed martial artist with a background in wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu says he was looking forward to returning back to the cage on Nov. 10 to showcase his skills after not competing for a year.
His first two MMA cage fights were at Blue Lake Casino in Humboldt County. “I finished both of those fights in the first round with a move called the rear naked choked or ‘Mata Leon,’ which in Portuguese basically means lion killer,” he said.
His third fight was at Cal Poly, SLO in the "fight for wrestling" charity event. “This fight I also won by rear naked choke in the first round,” he said.
Temko’s fourth fight was at Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco in the Dragon House Six event. “This fight I won in the first round by technical knockout due to ground and pound,” he said.
Ground-and-pound is a strategy consisting of taking an opponent to the ground using a takedown or throw, obtaining a top, or dominant position, and then striking the opponent, primarily with fists and elbows. A technical knockout is declared when the referee, official ring physician, the fighter, or the fighter's cornermen decide that a fighter cannot safely continue the match.
The fifth fight was in Richmond at the Rocktagon Promotion, and he won this fight in the first round by rear naked choke as well. The sixth fight was the main event fight at the Havok at Harley event in Carson City, NV, “which I won in the first round by technical knockout due to ground and pound,” he said.
Temko’s official amateur MMA record is 6-0, and he’s managed to finish all six bouts in the first round.
Still, winning for him has no significant reward other than “a new victory on my record and the pride and feeling of satisfaction from knowing my hard work, discipline, and sacrifice was worth it,” he said.
Since the Santa Cruz fight was cancelled last week, Temko says he’s open to the idea of fighting amateur again, but really wants to focus his energy on obtaining a professional fight.
He is working on earning his black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under trainer Raul Castillo on Main Street in Half Moon Bay at Raul Castillo Martial Arts.
“Raul is the best trainer for me because he is not only extremely knowledgeable and technical in the gentle art, but he also competes with success at the highest levels of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which makes him a great training partner as well as an excellent technique instructor," he said.
Temko’s been practicing for more than nine years with Castillo and holds the rank of first degree brown belt. Other than his black belt, his goal is to break into the professional fight scene as soon as possible.
The Half Moon Bay native began his interest in martial arts starting from a young age when he was at Farallone View Elementary School. He took karate at 7 years old, but it wasn’t until high school wrestling that he really developed a passion for hard work, discipline and that desire to succeed and excel in the sport.
After graduating Half Moon Bay High School in 2003, Temko went on to wrestle at Cal Poly, graduating in 2008 with a degree in business administration and accounting.
As a fighter, Temko describes himself as “versatile, relentless, and explosive.”
“I have thankfully never been seriously injured in any MMA events,” he said.
Still, his younger sister and mother are “supportive of my desire to be a fighter but they choose not to attend my bouts to avoid any of the violence that is inherent to hand-to-hand combat,” said Temko.
His dad, former harbormaster Dan Temko, on the other hand, attends all of his fights.
“I attribute a large amount of my success to his support and commitment to helping me achieve the training and resources necessary for my development as a martial artist,” said Temko.
In between training, Temko works full-time at the Ritz-Carlton, serving and bartending. His workouts with Castillo are intense and focus on judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, mainly a grappling art similar to lifting weights to control your opponent, explains Temko.
“I used to lift a lot of weights when wrestling but now that I'm doing mixed martial arts, you have to sacrifice to put extra time in other styles of fighting,” he said.
Temko also goes up to San Francisco once a week for kickboxing and Muay Thai with Kenya Prach for a more cardio and aerobic workout.
“There’s a lot of hard work in the months and weeks leading up to the fight,” said Temko.
This includes dieting and making the weight requirements, in this case 170 pounds. Days before the fight are spent resting and honing a mental focus and game plan “about how I want the fight to go,” he said.
Working out with extra layers on and spending time in the steam room and sauna to sweat out a couple pounds before fight day are also part of the training.
Temko figures he’s got another 10 years in him to do this.
And until promoters find him the next fight, “ I guess I just have to roll with the punches that life throws at me,” he said, “and stay ready for whatever comes next.”