The fifth installment of Paramount Prize Fighting Championship comes to Denver on Friday night and showcases some of the best fighters in Colorado. The pro card features guys like UFC vet Tyler “Thunder” Toner, 10-1 Jarred Mercado and M-1 and Bellator vet Tyson Jeffries in what is sure to be an exciting night of fights. After the Denver Broncos had an embarrassing Super Bowl performance last Sunday, there should be a lot of animosity in the cage.

While the pro fights are usually what everyone looks forward to, the amateur card features some promising local up-and-comers. The opening fight of the evening features Denver native Joe Guerrero, who enters the cage for the second time ever to face off against Aaron Flores, a fighter making his MMA debut. Both guys are young, come from great gyms and are planning for big futures in the sport.

The 20-year-old Guerrero is a former high school wrestler who made his MMA debut in November at Resurrection Fighting Alliance 11. He faced Joey Espinoza from Trials MMA, home of UFC mainstay Ed Herman and former IFL champ Ryan Schultz.

In a back-and-forth, three-round battle, Espinoza captured rounds one and two, but Guerrero came back with a vengeance to win round three. Although he lost the fight, he was happy to finally make that first appearance in the cage. The experience has only sharpened him as a fighter.

Guerrero (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)

Guerrero (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)

“My biggest takeaway from my last fight was that I had little-to-no cage experience,” Guerrero told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “One of the main things I needed to work on was better cage defense. I defended the takedowns pretty well on the open mat, but against the cage, I gave up position. I learned that I need to keep moving in every square inch of that cage and not give up any ground.”

The kinks in Guerrero’s game would be expected from anyone making their MMA debut. However, in addition to his flaws, he recognized some very positive aspects of his game, especially against a guy who trains out of a BJJ-heavy gym.

“I didn’t get tapped out,” Guerrero said. “I didn’t lose by submission, because he had me in two positions where he could have finished the fight. I fought through it into the third round and was able to push the pace.”

Espinoza may have won the fight, but Guerrero put on a very impressive performance, especially in the last round. For his next fight, Guerrero faces another guy from a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gym in Flores, but Flores’ background is a bit different from Espinoza’s.

“I know he’s from The Farm BJJ, so I know it’s going to be another pretty decent jiu-jitsu guy,” Guerrero admitted. “I heard that he’s had a couple kickboxing matches, so he’s going to be decent on his feet.”

Guerrero is right about the fact that Flores has some kickboxing experience, but one of his matches left a lot to be desired. A couple years ago, Flores fought in a kickboxing match on a local card and won by first-round TKO. Although he won fairly quickly, video of the match shows an opponent who barely threw a dozen strikes, backed up for a minute or so, and eventually started turning his head away, which is a major fundamental flaw in any striking game. Flores will have to deal with a much better striker when he meets Guerrero.

Guerrero trains out of Trevor Wittman’s Grudge Training Center in the Denver area. Grudge is widely considered one of the best MMA gyms, not just in Colorado, but in the country. Wittman is an expert kickboxing coach, and all of the striking coaches at the gym are top-notch. Grudge has been Guerrero’s one and only gym, and the training he gets in striking puts him far beyond the kickboxing opponents that Flores has faced in the past.

After his first loss, Guerrero got right back to the drawing board. In addition to his current MMA and striking coaches Steele McCall, Luke Caudillo and Jake Ramos, he is now working with another grappling coach, too.

“It’s pretty much business as usual, but the only thing I changed is the intensity,” explained the Denver native. “I’ve been training a lot harder. It’s a lot of everything. My coaches and I got together and started working on every single detail possible.

“I have an additional coach now from 303 Training Center, a black belt in BJJ, Tony Basile. He comes down to Grudge and works with us on Thursday mornings.”

Guerrero (Dan Kuhl/The MMA Corner)

Guerrero (Dan Kuhl/The MMA Corner)

Professor Basile is a great addition to Guerrero’s already stacked coaching team. Guerrero felt his grappling was lacking in his last fight, and Basile can most certainly help him out with that aspect of his game.

Guerrero doesn’t have a ton of info at his disposal in evaluating Flores, but he does have an idea of where his opponent will want to take the fight.

“In this fight, I think he’s going to want to stand up with me, because in the press conference for the promotion he says that he’s excited and ready to go,” said Guerrero. “He’s confident, and I think this one is going to stay on the feet.”

The Grudge fighter is feeling confident and ready to put one in the win column. His first fight was on a RFA card, which is a more widely known promotion with events in several states. The RFA roster is also a lot deeper than the PFC roster, which is more regional to Colorado with only a few out-of-state fighters. At this stage in his career, though, Guerrero is just as gracious to be on this card as his first one.

“I feel excited,” exclaimed the youngster. “I’m happy to be on this event. For only my second fight ever, I still have some nerves and stuff, but I feel a lot better about this one. I feel more focused, and I’m excited.”

Although no fighter should look past his current opponent, it wouldn’t be very prudent to ignore the future. As early in his life as Guerrero is getting started in MMA, he might as well get as many fights as possible, and he has big plans for this year.

“My coach and I have been talking,” Guerrero elaborated. “He has something hopefully lined up for March in Nebraska. Like most guys, I’m focused on this fight, but I’m also excited to see where this goes in Nebraska. I plan on getting at least six fights in 2014, wherever they may be in whatever state.”

Six fights is a lot. Donald Cerrone recently stated that he would like six fights in 2014, which would be a record in the UFC. At the amateur level, it’s a little more feasible, but Guerrero would like to graduate to the pro level sooner, rather than later.

“I would love to [go pro],” Guerrero intimated. “That’s one of my biggest goals since I started—to get to the pros and try to get to the big show. My coach and I talked, and somewhere down the road, if my performances are good enough, I can reward myself and, hopefully by the end of the year, go pro.”

For now, Guerrero is focused on the task at hand—getting a win over Flores at PFC 5, live from the famous Paramount Theater on Friday night. His first cage performance didn’t end up the way he planned, but by the third round, he really shook the cobwebs and got to work. This weekend, he plans to start the fight the way he finished his last one. With the support of family and friends and a great work ethic, this kid should have a big future ahead.

“I’m going to show everyone why they want to see me fight in MMA. I want people to know I’m not the same fighter from the RFA. I’m growing every day, and I’m training even harder—sometimes longer, and sometimes shorter, but with a lot more intensity. I want people to know I’m not giving up with this loss that I have. It’s only motivated me more to become a champ. I have a really good example in my gym [in] Justin Gaethje. I’m using that to my advantage. I’m using those top-level guys to push myself.”

]Guerrero would like to thank all of his coaches from Grudge Training Center and 303 Training Center. He would also like to thank all of his training partners, his mother and father, and God. He would also like to thank his sponsor, Western Upholstery, and Red Robin for providing his post-weigh-in meal. Follow Joe on Twitter: @Mamushka125