by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
As MMA has grown over the past decade the sport has become more open to styles, genders and weight classes. It used to be you’d hardly ever see a fight below 155lbs in the States, but not anymore.

Case in point is this past Friday’s Strikeforce fight between Anthony Figueroa and David Barrios, a fight that took place at the 135lb weight limit. In a time where larger fighters may lumber around in the cage, the lighter fighters such as Figueroa and Barrios are known for bringing a much needed dose of fast-paced action to events.

For Figueroa, his unanimous decision victory over Barrios, this was an opportunity to step up to a bigger stage and establish himself in an ever growing weight class that continues to impress each time out.

“I’m pretty happy with my performance, it’s a win,” said Anthony of his Strikeforce debut. “I got a little tired towards the end, the first time I fought this guy my performance was a little more dominant, I was able to ground ‘n pound and use some elbows on the ground – there was no elbows allowed in this one – but I felt good. I feel I can take it back to the gym and I’ve got a lot to work on, so I’m learning from it.”

During the fight action was halted twice due to two low blows on Figueroa’s part, but as Anthony explains, they were completely accidental and they forced him to rethink his strategy a bit for future fights.

“The fouls were unintentional, they were accidental, I didn’t mean to [do them],” explained Figueroa. “I felt bad because I did feel one low blow on my knee, but the kick I don’t think was low. There was an inside leg kick that I think I hit him with my shin on his inner thigh, my instep looks like it on the video, but I don’t believe it was low.”

“I was thinking about it, I want to bring my knees up higher. It makes me think when I knee I have to really go for the chest or stomach; it definitely made me think about it a little bit. But it doesn’t detour me…when you’re in a fight, in midst the fight it happens, it’s not intentional…we were just throwing some fast knees in there,” continued Anthony.

Even though the fight was scheduled for a 135lb weight limit, Figueroa came in much lighter, as he normally competes closer to the 125lb mark. While moving up to meet heavier competition may cause problems for some fighters, Anthony feels that moving up in weight might have helped him.

“It’s kind of funny, I ate dinner and then went to weigh-ins, while all these other guys you know are cutting weight,” said Figueroa with a slight chuckle. “I know he was cutting weight, like 10lbs or something, so I know they’re bigger but I train hard and I try to let the hard work pay off in there. I don’t really think about the difference in weight, I just go in there and fight where I’m comfortable.”

Anthony added, “It is something I’m definitely going to work on, I’m going to hit the weights and put a couple of pounds on, but I do feel like it’s an advantage [coming in at a lower weight] at the same time. Through the whole training I’m eating, training hard, eating and I don’t stop to cut on a diet or anything. I go in natural and I feel good.”

According to Figueroa, just having the opportunity to showcase the lighter weight division at a bigger MMA show such as Strikeforce was a blessing and an opportunity to show fans how exciting fights at his weight can be.

“I think that’d be awesome to have a [full-time] 125 or 135 pound division [in MMA],” commented Anthony. “I think that’d be great because we’re exciting, we fight…you see some of those bigger guys get out there and they stare at each other for half around…it’s like, ‘Get it on!’ The littler guys they get in there and start banging and I think it’s exciting and we can put on an exciting show. I was just excited to be on Strikeforce, that they opened the weight class for me, that was an exciting event.”

As for what’s next for Figueroa, teammate Elaina Maxwell hinted in an MMAWeekly interview at a team competition early next year in Stockton, California. And while that’s a definite possibility for Anthony, he’s keeping his options open for anything that comes his way.

“I’m going to go back to the gym, train hard with coach Cung Le, Elaina, and Team USH,” said Anthony of his immediate plans. ” [I’m ready for] whatever comes up…I know we have a team thing coming up, but I just let my coach Cung – he’s my coach and manager – he takes care of that. When he lets me know what’s coming up, I’m ready. I’m one of those fighters that’s always ready to fight.”

With a bright future in a wide-open weight class, Figueroa could very well become a staple in the MMA scene for a long time to come, and as always he’s thankful to those who’ve helped him get to where he is.

“I’d like to thank my sponsors…AdrenalineFightGear.com, Knoxx, and All Door Complete Trim. Thanks to all the fans and supporters from around the bay,” said Anthony. “Thanks to Cung, he’s taken me far, he’s brought me to where I’m at, he’s taught me a lot, I’ve grown with him…Cung, Elaina [Maxwell], Jose [Palacios]…the whole USH Fight Team, they’re awesome, they get me ready for these fights and take me to the next level.”

“For the fans, anytime I’m out there they’re going to see an exciting fight. They’re not going to see me standing around, they’re going to see me banging it out, taking people down and ground ‘n pounding. I’m always going to give 110% in there till the end,” concluded Figueroa.