By James Harper
Killeen Daily Herald
Move over football — mixed martial arts is here.
The Killeen-Copperas Cove area has been a hotbed of football talent for the last several years, sending countless athletes to the collegiate and professional ranks.
The region is set to send two more of its native sons to the highest level of their sport, but it's not football.
However, before Killeen's Travis Moore and Cove's Leville Simpson could move on to professional MMA status, they had some unfinished business to handle at Cage War: Championship Fight Night at Killeen Civic Center on Friday.
"Both these fighters are very talented and have a chance to be great, if they keep working," said TwinWolves gym leader Hector Ruiz.
Both men competed for the Texas Titles in the welterweight and lightweight divisions, respectively.
Simpson beat Corpus Christi's Adrian Barrera in a 2-1 judges' decision to earn the belt, ending his amateur career with a record of 5-5. He viewed the fight more as a stepping stone into his pro debut rather than a chance to win a championship.
"I wasn't worried about the title — I just wanted to win," Simpson said. "The title is really just a bonus. Now it's back to work and staying humble."
In the evening's second title fight, Moore lost by way of TKO a minute and 10 seconds into the fourth round to Corpus Christi's Santos Rosales.
Moore saw the title fight as a culmination of his amateur career, while hoping to use a win as a springboard into his professional debut.
That didn't happen.
Moore, a 2006 Harker Heights' graduate, began his athletic career as a tennis player for the Knights, but during his senior year fell in love with MMA. He knew then that he wanted to be a pro fighter. So upon entering college, he traded forehands and backhands for forearms and back fists.
"I started at a gym and just loved the competitiveness of the sport," Moore said. "After two weeks, I entered a tournament and did well — been going since."
Simpson, who's only been training for two years, never thought about the pro path until he was asked by Ruiz if he wanted a fight. Simpson accepted with positive results.
"I won my first fight by a knockout in the first round and I just kept going."
Though they know it's a brutal sport — neither Simpson nor Moore focuses on the dangers.
For Simpson the brutality is second to the calmness that the training brings.
"It keeps me centered and humble. I feel more disciplined in my life," he said. "I honestly don't know where I would be right now if I didn't walk into the TwinWolves gym."
Moore sees it differently.
"When you think about the risks — you hesitate. When you hesitate, you get hurt," Moore said. "I try to focus on what I need to do to win."
The 21-year old Simpson graduated from Cove in 2006 but didn't start fighting competitively until a year ago. But only once has he fought in his hometown and expects a different welcome than what he was used to when traveling for fights.
"Normally we get booed. In California, Oklahoma, and Louisiana we were all booed," Simpson said. "The first time I fought here was the first time I ever had anyone cheer for me."
He added that while having the home crowd helped to pump him up, he knew that they couldn't help him fight his opponent.
He had to do that himself.
Despite the loss, Moore also felt the excitement of contending for a title in his hometown.
"They pumped me up — it's nice to have people cheering for you instead of the other guy."
Cage War: Championship Fight Night
Devin Blair (1-0) def. Oscar Cruz (0-1) by tapout in Round 1 — 1:30
Roland Williams (7-8-1) def. Donnie Bedore by unanimous decision
Raymond Banda (1-1) def. Brandon Hanna (2-6) by tapout in Round 1 — 0:38
Diego Gutierrez (1-0) def. Noel Watkins (0-1) by TKO in Round 1 — 2:18
Matt McKeon (2-0) def. Michael Martinez by TKO in Round 1 — 1:13
Alfred Vargas (2-2) def. Ryan Wright (0-1) by tapout in Round 1 – 1:06
Kolby Adams (2-1) def. Chad Box (2-2) by tapout in Round 1 – 1:11