Bellator Fighting Championships
Thursday, April 29, 2010 | 9:50 a.m.
While many aspiring fighters come to Southern Nevada to begin their careers, Las Vegas native Eric Schambari had to do things the other way around.
"I was a cabana host at the Bellagio pool," Schambari said. "I got passed over for a promotion, so I left Las Vegas and moved to Texas for a couple years and started fighting."
It was the best thing to ever happen to Schambari, a Bishop Gorman High graduate who lettered in swimming, football and wrestling. The 32-year old Jiu Jitsu practitioner has compiled an 11-1 record in mixed martial arts since his move.
Schambari now has his sights set on the Bellator Fighting Championship middleweight tournament, where he will take on former Ultimate Fighter competitor Luke Zachrich tonight in the tournament's opening round.
The bout will be televised nationally, but Schambari is no stranger to publicity as a veteran of the WEC. He has fought in three WEC cards at the Hard Rock, winning two matches.
The only fight Schambari doesn't like to be replayed, however, is his controversial split decision loss to Bryan Baker back in December 2007.
"It was a very close fight," said Schambari's trainer Marc Laimon. "I think if Eric did a few things tactically different, there wouldn't be any question in the judges' mind who would have won."
That loss tormented Schambari for more than a year, as medical issues prevented him from fighting and threatened to force him out of the sport all together.
Schambari came down with a staph infection shortly after his bout with Baker, but the issue was complicated when he suffered an allergic reaction to the medication prescribed to him.
"I just didn't want to end my career with a loss, I didn't want to end it with an injury or anything like that. It was a bad time," Schambari said.
To make matters worse, Schambari's contract with the WEC was terminated after the organization dissolved their middleweight division in late 2008.
But Schambari was not deterred.
"Eric's very strong-willed," Laimon said. "If he wants something he will work hard enough and do what he can to achieve his goals."
Schambari slowly recovered before coming back in 2009. He has since compiled a four-fight winning streak while fighting in smaller promotions.
He now has an opportunity to get his long-awaited rematch against Baker, who is also competing in the Bellator tournament.
However, both fighters are on different sides of the bracket, meaning they will to have advance through to the final in order for a rematch to take place.
"That's basically the only fight I want, I just need to get to him," Schambari said.
By that point the fighter with the fewest injuries from the previous rounds will have the advantage.
"In the tournament format you don't want a long, drawn-out fight because you'll be fighting again in a month," Schambari said. "So you want to get out there and finish as quickly as possible."
And with seven of Schambari's 11 wins coming in the first round, Laimon believes Schambari's ability to strong arm his way to a submission will help him.
"Any time you can avoid being out there for a length of time is going to benefit you," Laimon said. "If he can go up there and get the stoppage and hopefully not injure anything, it is be the best case scenario."