There was a time, and not a long time ago, when the smaller men of mixed martial arts had no place among their larger, celebrated counterparts.
And it was Chris Cariaso’s fortune to be born a smaller man.
“Really, it’s just a dream come true to be able to fight on this stage,” Cariaso said, who’ll fight on the undercard of Wednesday’s UFC event at San Jose’s HP Pavilion. “I never thought that fighting in the UFC was ever an option.”
There was good reason for that. For when the co-owner of the Fight and Fitness gym in San Francisco — which will open the Rise Combat Sports facility in Tucson, Ariz., in August — began to fight professionally in modest venues, the flyweight division didn’t exist in the UFC — it was a feeble fighting thing.
In March, the UFC officially adopted the 125-pound class by holding an inaugural flyweight tournament in Sydney, Australia. And for the naturally small Cariaso, a 5-foot-3 Muay Thai battler who’s been a life-long bantamweight (135 pounds) by lack of choice, the new division is a good thing.
“I’ve fought bigger, stronger guys my whole career,” Cariaso said, whose last four fights were in the UFC’s 135-pound class. “And now that I’m going to fight guys that are my same size, I definitely should have an edge on them.”
Fellow flyweight Josh Ferguson will be the first on who Cariaso will test that hypothesis Wednesday.
Ferguson, 24, a recent contestant on the UFC’s “The Ultimate Fighter” series, is a wild striker with a knack of wrestling his opponents to the ground.
The Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt favors the ground and little else — the seven men he’s beaten have all submitted.
But Cariaso, 31, a jiu-jitsu brown belt himself and martial artist since the age of 5, isn’t worried.
“Kind of a one-dimensional type of fighter,” Cariaso said of Ferguson. “He’s not super technical with his hands. So I feel like when it comes to the striking, I definitely got the edge up on him.”
But the San Jose native has been striking for a long time.
It was his childhood infatuations with Muay Thai and amateur boxing that lead him to the professional ranks.
Though his MMA debut was anything but conventional.
Someone asked Cariaso to partake in an MMA fight in 2006. “I was like, ‘No way. I’m a Muay Thai fighter.”
The man then offered him $2,500.
“I said, ‘Uh, alright. I’ll try it. I guess I better learn jiu-jitsu,’” Cariaso remembered. “I was hooked. I think I found my sport.”