Corey Gower had been trying for months to get back into fighting.
The only professional mixed martial arts fighter in the Cowichan Valley right now, Gower, who trains with Black Box MMA in Duncan, was looking everywhere for a bout, but for a variety of reasons — primarily the fact that he couldn’t find anyone willing to fight him — he couldn’t get on a card.
In May, he went to Hawaii for a training camp with the vaunted Gracie Technics Jiu Jitsu Academy, returning the day before a scheduled fight that didn’t end up happening. After that fell through, he headed south to California, where he found himself at the World Team USA Gym in San Francisco. As he signed his waiver sheet there, he found the opportunity he was looking for.
“The guy that worked there asked, ‘Do you want to do a Muay Thai fight in Mexico in a week?” Gower recalled. “I’d been calling promoters all over — B.C., Alberta — for a fight, and they couldn’t find one for me.”
Needless to say, Gower jumped at the chance to head to Rosarito, about 10 miles south of the U.S. border, and trained at the gym for the next week. He was supposed to be travelling with another guy from the San Francisco gym, but the other fighter backed out.
“I ended up going by myself, with no corner man, no idea who I’m fighting.”
He was assured that everything would be just fine.
“‘Just relax, OK,’” Gower remembered being told. “‘The promoter will pick you up.’”
Gower flew south to San Diego on weigh-in day and was picked up at the airport by a woman, who turned out to be the wife of one of the promoters. Her husband, Ruben Moreno, ended up agreeing to be Gower’s corner man.
“Who am I fighting?” Gower asked Moreno.
“Some guy, he’s had a few fights,” his new friend answered.
Trained as an MMA fighter, Gower had never done Muay Thai fight, although he had some experience in amateur kickboxing.
“I just went there on a whim. It was like, ‘yeah, I do kickboxing, I can do this,’” he remembered. “I went in blind. Not a lot of people would do that.”
Next, Gower had to cut nine pounds to reach the 142-pound fighting weight. He went to his hotel room and started the shower. He got the water as hot as could take it to get body temperature up, then got out of the shower and put on all the clothes he had brought with him until he started sweating, then started skipping and shadow boxing. He managed to make weight.
Gower’s fight ended up being third from the end that night.
“I felt really calm, relaxed,” he recalled. “I had no idea who I was fighting.”
The opponent landed a low blow in the first 10 seconds, and a while after that, caught Gower with a right and jumped on him. Gower was beaten up after the first round, but still in it.
Moreno gave him some advice, and the second round went better. Late in the second, Gower caught his opponent in a clinch and landed some elbows before dropping him with a knee to the face. The opponent was able to get up at the end of the eight count. In the third round, Gower dropped his opponent with a left to end the fight.
Gower was relieved to get an obvious victory for the first time since 2011.
“All my fights since  went to decision,” he said. “It’s one of those things you can’t leave to the judges.”
Gower was supposed to stay in Mexico for another night but left early to avoid the busy border crossing on Sunday.
He went back to San Francisco, where the owners let him stay in the World Team USA gym.
Meanwhile, Moreno got in touch with him, and told him he could go far in the sport, but his clinch needs more work. He added that Gower’s opponent in Rosarito, Alejandro Villareal, was a former WBC kickboxing champion.
Gower was shocked to find out he had defeated a former world champ, but at the same time not surprised to learn that Villareal was a high-calibre fighter.
“He’s a really nice guy, one of the most respectful guys I’ve ever fought,” Gower said. “When you meet a fighter, the more respectful they are, the more humble they are, it shows you the level they are at. I should have picked up on that.”
Not that it would have made a difference.
“I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into,” Gower said. “But if you’re a fighter, you should be willing to fight anybody.”
The entire experience was a positive for Gower in so many ways.
“It was a win-win for me,” he said. “I got to travel to a place I’d never been before and fight in Mexico. Even if I lost, it would have been a cool story.”
Since coming back from Mexico, Gower’s MMA career has been on the upswing. Last month, he landed a fight for Wreck MMA with their flyweight champion, “Relentless” Randy Turner who was previously ranked fourth in Canada. Turner was 8-4 going into the bout.
After a couple of weeks in Edmonton, training at Complete Fitness and Martial Arts and SVPT Fitness & Athletics, Gower made the trip to Gatineau, Que. with training partners Blake McVittie and Josh Spong for the Aug. 18 fight. He ended up going three rounds against Turner and winning a unanimous decision.
“I won every round, in my opinion,” Gower said.
After a quick start, Gower ended up maintaining control for most of the first round. They jumped out quickly again in the second round as well.
“He tried rushing me against the cage but was turned and paid for it with a knee and an elbow which cut him above his left eye,” Gower related. “They stopped the action to tend to the cut, then the fight continued. The rest of the round was on the feet, where I was able to chip away with punches and kicks to his body and leg.”
The fighters spent most of the third round on their feet as well, exchanging kicks to each other’s legs.
“I used my footwork and angled a lot, leaving him at the end of my range because he lived up to his nickname, “Relentless,” and just kept coming forward. All around good fight in my opinion.”
With the win, Gower, who turned 30 in June, improved his pro record to 6-3. His next fight will be against undefeated Brad Katona (3-0) in Regina for Prestige MMA on Oct. 7.
Gower received support for his recent fights from Black Box MMA, and from sponsors Ray Little Realty, Blake McVittie, John McVittie of Sticks ‘N’ Stones land and sea transport, Dave Smith of Clean Sweep Janitorial Service, and Brett Tichkowski of Star Land Welding.