The Orlando Sentinel reported that Orlando’s Elite Preparatory Academy was booted from Florida’s Department of Education’s scholarship program in November. This was after a parent questioned the school’s hiring of Ruben Saldaña as a youth MMA coach.
The Orlando Sentinel called Saldaña a ‘former gang leader’ who helped organize a ‘gang hit’ that left two men dead. He was convicted of manslaughter in 1999 and served nearly 14 years in prison. Prior to that conviction, Saldaña also served prison terms for robbery, grand theft auto, and aggravated assault.
After Elite’s principal Hong Steele stated, in a letter to the Department of Education, that Saldaña was terminated from the school on November 5th, the school was readmitted to the scholarship program. Steele has also signed an agreement with the Department of Education ensuring that she will not hire anyone who can’t pass a mandated background check.
Most of Elite’s students rely on state scholarships from the Department of Education. This school year around 230 students at Elite accessed a combined $444,000 worth of scholarship funds designed to cover tuition for children with disabilities and children from low-income families.
Saldaña spoke to the Orlando Sentinel about the situation. “We decided that I’m not going to work there, even though we were not doing anything illegal.” Saldaña also stated that he only worked at the school after school hours. This is despite a parent complaining that Saldaña was on campus during the day.
A video posted to YouTube on December 6th, 2017 by user Florida Muay Thai touted Saldaña’s work at Elite. That video stated that, “Elite Preparatory Academy is the first school in America to have an MMA program as part of their curriculum.
An advertisement posted to Facebook by United States Fight League showed that Saldaña was also promoting MMA fights at the school’s campus. The advertisement revealed there was an event scheduled at the school on October 28th, 2017. That event included Youth Pankration Class B Rules and charged $20-25 for tickets.
The USA Federation of Pankration lists Class B Rules as involving takedowns, submissions, and body strikes. That rule set also dictates that “matches cannot be won by brutality” and that “potentially dangerous strikes, takedowns, and submissions are prohibited.”
A post on Sherdog discussing the October 27th event revealed that teens aged between 13 and 15 would be fighting on the card. That post requested that individuals who wanted to compete at the event contact Saldaña.
Despite his MMA program at Elite being shut down, Saldaña told the Orlando Sentinel that his “work with the kids will never stop” and that his after-school program will move to another venue.