Thursday, March 22, 2007

Team USA Dominates at “World’s Best Fighter”

*originally published in the Feb '07 issue of Full Contact Fighter*

It may have been chaotic behind the scenes, but at the February 3rd “World’s Best Fighter” (WBF) event at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the thrills in the ring more than made up for it. With matchmaker Ed Hsu’s card pitting some of New Jersey’s best against representatives from South Korea, China and Japan, the evening’s “Team USA versus Team Asia” motif steadily became “Team USA beating the crap out of Team Asia”. Yes folks, aside from two impressive knockouts in the San Da bouts, it was a veritable MMA trouncing. But a healthy dose of nationalist pride goes a long way, and whether the over 2,000 spectators were there to cheer on the local boys or root for the warriors from their homeland, the end result was the same for promoter Gianfranco Fiori’s fledgling fighting endeavor: crowd-pleasing action.

* * *

He took the bout on just one day’s notice, and as he was stepping into the ring against a complete unknown (most of Team Asia were, in fact, unknowns to those of us from this part of the globe), his Rhino Fight Team teammate and usual corner men were thousands of miles away in Las Vegas. But if any of this affected the 154-pound Kevin Roddy, he certainly didn’t let it show. No, he waged an absolute grappling war against the 154-pound Jong Man Kim – who proved to be the toughest Team Asia competitor – and for four minutes and 57 seconds, Roddy once more demonstrated the skills that make him one of the top lightweights in the Garden State.

With fantastic transitions and close submission attempts, Kim really took it to Roddy, first scoring with a takedown then hunting for heelhooks like crazy. But Roddy is 100% dangerous at all times, and in the final seconds of the first round, landed a picture-perfect armbar from the bottom for the tap out. In terms of back-and-forth action and competitiveness, this one was far and away the fight of the night. And as Roddy exited the ring, the text came in on his corner man’s cellphone: teammate Frankie Edgar, fighting simultaneously in his UFC debut, had kicked ass and won a unanimous decision (which the WBF ring announcer relayed to the audience). It was a good night for New Jersey.

The Team Asia beatdown continued when 169-pound Jersey Shore BJJ superstar Greg Soto took on Korean Top Team 169-pounder Hyun Kyu Lim. Lim came out with a flying knee meant to take his opponent’s head off. Soto had other ideas, though, and dumped Lim on his back, mounted, and rained down strikes until the clock struck “armbar o’clock”. The tap out came at :58 of the Round One. Soto has been unstoppable since he burst onto the scene as an amateur last year, and the rumor is he might represent Team USA in the future when the WBF visits Chinese soil.

Originally, the headlining bout featured the infamous Tank Abbott against Ji Hoon Kim, but (thankfully) scheduling snafus saw that match-up fall by the wayside. Instead, fight fans got an upgrade in talent in Miletich-trained UFC veteran Justin Eilers, who had no problem giving up eight pounds to his Korean opponent (Kim was 245 to Eilers 237). When these two big boys tied up, Eilers wasted no time blasting Kim with short punches and knees – one of which tagged Kim in the liver. Kim tapped out at 2:10 of the first round.

Rounding out the MMA rout was Jerry Jones-trained 188-pounder and Reality Fighting champ Mike Massenzio, who wielded far-superior wrestling to overcome Japanese 185-pound judoka Okuda Masakatsu. Like most of Massenzio’s past opponents, Masakatsu was on the bottom in no time, struggling against Massenzio’s constant pressure and ground-and-pound. Masakatsu did manage to score with an upkick and went for a number of submissions, but he was getting the worst of it, and other than a nice spinning backfist in Round Two, this one was all about the Team USA representative beating the stuffing out of the Team Asia representative. Massenzio garnered the well-deserved unanimous decision after three rounds elapsed.

* * *

In non-USA versus Asia action, 174-pound Team Tiger Schulmann stud Lyman Good took on Team Renzo 174-pounder Julio Cruz in what could’ve been a classic “striker against grappler” contest. But it wasn’t. No, this one was all about Good’s precision pugilism versus Cruz’s dogged clinchwork, with the TS-MMA representative peppering the Team Renzo fighter with leg kicks, hooks and crosses while Cruz tried to tie him up and dirty box. In Round Two Cruz continued to move forward, this time more willing to trade from the outside – and he paid for his folly with a face full of leather. Good rocked him good (ha-ha), and the referee stepped in at :29 into the round when Cruz covered up and turned away. Hopefully, Cruz (who is purportedly a beast on the ground) will realize he’ll never make Renzo’s IFL team if he tries to out-strike superior stand-up fighters.

A WBF North American Light-Heavweight MMA Championship belt was on the line on February 3rd, and the men vying for it – Team Ronin 204-pounder Brendan Barrett and MFS/Daddis 206-pounder John Doyle – were known scrappers. Yes, this WBF bout had all the makings of a brawl, with Doyle working his wrestling and Barrett trying to land strikes from the outset. But the two tied up too close to the ropes, and after a split-second scramble, Doyle was suddenly tumbling out of the ring. The MFS/Daddis representative spent an awful long time on the floor, so it came as no surprise when the ringside physician called off the fight (rendering the bout a No Contest at 2:37 into the round). A bloodied Doyle was visibly dejected, but it was announced on the spot that these two would rematch at the next Combat in the Cage show.

Accompanying the card’s MMA bouts were three San Da fights (a kind of kickboxing with throws and takedowns), and this is where Team Asia shined. Team USA 129-pounder Lennox Chance was flashy, but his flashiness was no match for the 133-pound He Teng’s no-nonsense striking, as Teng sent Chance to the canvas three times before the referee called it off at 2:34 into the first round. The 152-pound David Cummings had speed, but the 157-pound Dai Shaung Hai had power – and with one looping right at 1:08 of Round One, Cummings was on the wrong end of a knockout. But the 181-pound Aaron Miesner saved the day with his Muay Thai skills (which seem to translate well to San Da). After three grueling rounds of clinchwork, the South Philly boy with a ton of heart earned the majority decision over a tough 179-pound Ao Hai Lin.

Capitol City Capitalizes on MMA: DC Legalizes the Sport

*originally published Jan '06 on*

(January 10th, 2007) Slowly but surely, the sport is taking over the country. By a unanimous vote, the DC Boxing & Wrestling Commission last night legalized professional mixed martial arts in the Nation’s capitol – making Washington, DC the latest addition to the growing list of MMA-friendly locales.

“I think that there’s a huge wave on the horizon and DC has got to get near the crest of the wave and ride it on in,” said Commission Chairman Dr. Arnold McKnight. “Our citizenry is crying for the intensity that mixed martial arts brings.”

In adopting the Unified Rules of MMA (the same rules used by such states as New Jersey and Nevada), the DC Boxing & Wrestling Commission has opened the door for such big promotions as the UFC and ILF, as well as a plethora of smaller events, to come calling – and with a high-capacity venue like the MCI Center in the downtown area, this dense population hub is certainly a prime place for a visit.

Said McKnight: “I’m overwhelmed how [pro] wrestling can sell out at the MCI Center, or at least give us twelve- to seventeen-thousand [in attendance], then at a recent boxing show here in the District we got as few as a thousand people. And yet wrestling can sell out a venue! As you well know, wrestling is scripted. Mixed martial arts is not scripted, and I am sure it’s going to bring a fan base as large as wrestling.”

Just how soon can fans expect an event in Washington, DC? “We will have everything in place in six weeks,” said McKnight, who mentioned fledgling MMA promoter Omar Olumee as someone already planning to promote a show. What if someone wanted to put on a show sooner than that? “If a promoter said they wanted to put on a show two weeks or three weeks from now, we’d utilize the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board’s referees and judges to make sure the event was carried on in a professional way.”

As for the sport’s burgeoning amateur scene, the District of Columbia will follow the Garden State’s lead. “We’re going to meet with the head of the recreation department here in the Nation’s capitol,” said McKnight. “We want to start staging events here on an amateur level. I talked with [New Jersey Commissioner] Larry Hazzard about that and he thought it was a great idea.”

Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Miami, Los Angeles, and now Washington, DC – from the looks of it, mixed martial arts will definitely be coming to a city near you.

Cage Fury Fighting Championship: Throwdown at the Tropicana

*originally published Oct '06 on*

(October 6th, Atlantic City, New Jersey) The Cage Fury Fighting Championship (CFFC) is 2-0, and with promoter Felix Martinez and matchmaker Gary Moreno at the helm, they may just remain undefeated. Tonight, five championship belts were on the line, and the Tropicana Casino was awash with fight fans as a sold-out crowd cheered (and jeered). Knockouts, submissions, and back-and-forth battles - the action in the cage was equally as impressive, making the second CFFC event a success. Highlights of the night included:

  • The memorial to fallen MMA warrior Shelby Walker, which played out in the form of a video tribute and the sounding of the 10-count on the cageside bell.
  • Atlantic City MMA’s Anthony Morrison’s post-fight antics. After getting handled by Deividas Taurosevicius, Morrison came back into the cage to challenge Malachy Friedman (the other lightweight who lost that night). When he was heckled and booed, the miniature ‘Rampage’ went on a rant - then ran backstage to attack Friedman. Morrison now faces a 12-month suspension for his actions.
  • Team Evolution’s Al Buck, who weathered Malachy Friedman’s submission hurricane to rain down some bout-ending punches of his own.
  • Light-heavyweight champ Josh Rhodes’ fists of fury, which he unleashed on Lamont Lister (sending the challenger into a concussion-induced seizure that required him to be carried out on a stretcher). It was a scary moment, but Lister gave the crowd a thumbs-up on his way out of the cage.


Brian DeMuro (Balance-181lbs) vs. Doug Gordon (Rio JJ-183lbs)

Gordon via ref stop due to unanswered strikes at :51 of the third round.

Carlo Profico (TNT Martial Arts-157lbs) vs. Spencer Paige (CNY MMA-154lbs)

Paige via ref stop due to unanswered strikes at 2:11 of Round One.

Bill Bontcue (Team Balance-171lbs) vs. Jim Sweeney (Team PKA-168lbs)

Sweeney via armbar at :54 of the first round. *Sweeney was suspended for 60 days for failing to release the armbar.

Erik Uresk (United MMA-156lbs) vs. Steve Sorbello (freestyle-151lbs)

Uresk via unanimous decision.

Rich Ashkar (Team PKA-170lbs) vs. Ryan McCarthy (Rhino Fight Team-168lbs)

Ashkar via armbar 2:44 of Round One.

Anthony D’Angelo (United MMA-172lbs) vs. Josh Lydell (Team Invicta-169lbs)

D’Angelo via unanimous decision.

Alexis Aquino (TNT Martial Arts-185lbs) vs. Tim DeIturriaga (Advanced Fighting Systems-185lbs)

Aquino via guillotine at 2:11 of Round One.

Anthony Morrison (Atlantic City MMA-151lbs) vs. Deividas Taurosevicius (Panza/Gracie Barra-155lbs)

Taurosevicius via armbar at 2:09 of Round One.

CFFC Middleweight Championship

Dan Miller (Planet JJ-184lbs) vs. Lance Everson (Boneyard-185lbs)

Miller via rear choke at 2:26 of Round One - a dominant performance! Miller is the new CFFC Middleweight Champ.

CFFC Welterweight Championship

Carlos Nieves (Team Renzo/Almeida-170lbs) vs. Bobby Diaz (Boneyard-170lbs)

Nieves via ref stop due to unanswered strikes at 3:21 of Round One - a nonstop slugest. Nieves is the new CFFC Welterweight Champ.
CFFC Lightweight Championship

Al Buck (Team Evolution-153lbs) vs. Malachy Friedman (freestyle-152lbs)

Buck via ref stop due to unanswered strikes at 3:40 of Round One. Buck is the new CFFC Lightweight Champ.

CFFC Light-Heavyweight Championship

Josh Rhodes (freestyle-203lbs) vs. Lamont Lister (Balance-205)

Rhodes via KO at :51 of the first round. Rhodes retains his CFFC Light-Heavyweight belt.

NABC Welterweight Title

Mike Littlefield (Boneyard-169lbs) vs. Tamdan McCory (CNY MMA-168lbs)

McCory via ref stop due to unanswered strikes at 4:10 of the first round - an impressive performance by the relative newcomer. McCory is the new NABC Welterweight Champ.

An Afternoon with the Pitbulls

*originally published Aug '06 on*

(Tuesday, August 29th, New York City) Atop the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, on a flight deck populated with decommissioned Cobra attack helicopters and dormant F-16s, Renzo Gracie smiles. In less than a month he’ll face fellow legend Pat Miletich in the ring, but for now it’s all about the International Fight League’s film crew getting video of him and his team, acting natural as they stroll around the aircraft carrier parked in the waters off Manhattan’s West Side. September 23rd will mark the fourth IFL event (the MMA promotion that pits team against team), and while Moline, Illinios isn’t all that close to the Big Apple, that’s where the New York-based Pitbulls will be squaring off against Miletich’s Silverbacks. It promises to be a night of hard-fought battles.

Between takes everyone halts and waits for the cameraman to give new instructions. In the meantime, the Pitbulls make jokes and laugh, and stand for pictures with curious tourists.

“I feel good,” says the upbeat and amiable Gracie when asked how his training is coming along.

Flanked by the likes of Marcio Feitosa, Fabio Leopoldo, Delson Heleno and Carlos Cline, the Brazilian has definitely filled his roster with tough guys. Yet one can’t help but stare at the latest addition to the team, the grappling behemoth Bryan Vetell. A former Greco-Roman champ, Vetell will be cutting weight from 290 pounds to get down to 265, and he’ll be taking on the very experienced striker Ben Rothwell. It’s a tall order for the big man. Will he be ready?

“This is my shot,” says Vetell, who’s training six days a week - working on his boxing, grappling and conditioning - in preparation for the man who scored a TKO win at the last IFL event. “This is my chance to do well at the echelon of competition I want to be at. I mean, every day I train with guys that are already at that level [at Renzo Gracie’s Academy], so it’s not like I won’t be going in there ready.”

Vetell’s thoughts on Rothwell? “He’s a very experienced guy, coming from an awesome team in the Midwest. I don’t know what I think other than for me it’ll be my wrestling and my ground game, and for him it’ll be his striking and his overhand right.”

They pause before an old A-12 Blackbird. They stand under the American flags flapping in the wind. They pretend to read up on the design specs of an F-8K Crusader, all while the cameras roll, capturing the Pitbulls in their natural habitat of New York City. On September 23rd, two IFL teams will clash with Gracie and some of his best fighters at the forefront. But for now, it’s all about the photo op.

Cage Fury: A Stellar Debut

*originally published Jun '06 on*

(June 30th, Atlantic City, New Jersey) Camera crews, projection screens, solid matchmaking, a very smooth production - you’d never guess this was the Cage Fury Fighting Championship’s debut show. But it was, and with a nearly-full Ballroom at Boardwalk Hall, it was a great one. Highlights of the night included:

  • Atlantic City MMA’s Anthony Morrison, who displayed quite a bit of power in dispatching Will Loushin in just under a minute.
  • TNT Martial Arts’ Josh Rhodes, who withstood a hell of a beating to beatdown Wayne Cole.
  • Local star Carmelo Marrero, who put a game Petrus Walker on his back and pounded open a cut for the win.


John Swangler (Hamilton Martial Arts-188lbs) vs. Brian DeMuro (Balance-181lbs)

DeMuro via armbar at 2:49 of Round One.

Jason Pitman (Team Vendetta-173lbs) vs. Bill Bontcue (Balance-170lbs)

Bontcue via guillotine at :39 of the second round.

Joe Veres (Jorge Gurgel-156lbs) vs. Dwayne Shelton (Team Prodigy-155lbs)

Veres via unanimous decision.

Brian Vanes (Balance-154lbs) vs. Malachy Friedman (freestyle-156lbs)

Friedman via guillotine at :22 of Round Two.

Dave Perez (Jersey Shore BJJ-185lbs) vs. Dan Miller (Planet JJ-185lbs)

Miller via TKO - Perez could not answer the bell for the second round.

Rich Ashkar (Team PKA-171lbs) vs. Frank Lowers (Team Vendetta-166lbs)

Ashkar via rear choke 1:02 of the first round.

Anthony Morrison (Atlantic City MMA-156lbs) vs. Will Loushin (FAMA-155lbs)

Morrison via ref stop due to unanswered strikes at :59 of the first round - another impressive win from the powerful Morrison.

Alexis Aquino (TNT Martial Arts-185lbs) vs. Josh Roseanne (Dynamic Martial Arts-185lbs)

Aquino via KO at 1:58 of the first round.

Al Buck (Team Evolution-154lbs) vs. Mike Schneck (Xtreme Fitness-153lbs)

Buck via unanimous decision.

Nick Cottone (Balance-136lbs) vs. Matt McKabe (Jorge Gurgel-133lbs)

Cottone via ref stop due to unanswered strikes at 4:53 of the first round. Cottone is now the Cage Fury Fighting Championship Featherweight Champ.

Doug Gordon (Rio JJ-185lbs) vs. Marcus Davis (Team Irish-182lbs)

Davis via unanimous decision.

Josh Rhodes (TNT Martial Arts-201lbs) vs. Wayne Cole (Team Cole-205lbs)

Rhodes via ref stop due to unanswered strikes at 4:28 of the first round - a good, back-and-forth battle. Rhodes is now the Cage Fury Fighting Championship Light-Heavyweight Champ.

Carmelo Marrero (freestyle-227lbs) vs. Petrus Walker (ATT-257lbs)

Marrero via doc stop due to a cut at 2:41 of the third round. Marrero is now the Cage Fury Fighting Championship Heavyweight Champ

Tangential MMA News: Ohio Lawyer Representing Fighter Earns Unanimous Decision

*originally published in the Feb '06 issue of Full Contact Fighter*

In this month’s Tangential MMA News, an Ohio defense attorney representing a mixed martial arts fighter opened up a can of whoopass on the prosecution. KOTC (King of the Courtroom) stud Aaron Conrad, a civil and criminal defense attorney from Lancaster, utilized some quick thinking and a Rule of Evidence haymaker that earned him and his client a unanimous decision at the Franklin County Municipal Court.

“My guy was charged with assault,” said Conrad, a Capital University law grad who once represented UFC fighter Wes Sims against the Nevada State Athletic Commission. “It stemmed from when he was leaving a nightclub. Another gentleman began berating my client, and as my client was a known fighter who fought on local shows, the gentleman wanted to make a name for himself by fighting my client.” What happened next? Two punches and it was over. “My client didn’t do too much damage – gave the guy a broken nose and a cracked orbital bone. People there said it was over pretty quick.”

Conrad’s client was charged with assault, and with no plea bargaining offer on the table, it was clear the prosecutor wanted to slug it out before a jury. “With my guy having no priors, what did we really have to lose? The burden was on the State to prove [his guilt].”

And like a UFC light-heavyweight title fight, it was on.

“At trial, [the] prosecutor attempts to question [the] alleged victim about fact that my client is an MMA fighter. I immediately object, ask to approach the bench, and tell the judge that my client’s occupation has no relevance to whether he assaulted the victim. [The] prosecutor becomes very vocal and laughs at my objection, stating that as an MMA fighter my client is more prone to violence and therefore testimony regarding my client’s occupation is definitely relevant. The judge looks at me and says, ‘Well, he has a point? How do you counter that argument, counsel?’ Without hesitation I look back at the judge and say, ‘Your honor, if I bring a client in tomorrow who is charged with reckless operation of a motor vehicle, are you going to agree to dismiss the charges if I show that the client is a NASCAR driver, because obviously as a NASCAR driver, my client could never be a reckless driver? And are you going to extend this logic to a physician who removes feeding tubes from someone in a permanently unconscious state... is that physician more prone to commit murder? I guarantee you the prosecutor can produce no evidence which supports his theory that an MMA fighter is more prone to violence, and therefore evidence that my client is an MMA fighter is not relevant and will serve only to unfairly prejudice the jury.’ The Judge agreed with me and instructed the prosecutor that he was not to ask questions about my client's occupation.”

It took the jury no more than 30 minutes to find the defendant not guilty.

Said Conrad: “There was no doubt in my mind that the judge was going to let the information that my client was a fighter in to evidence. He was leaning towards that. And I’m sure that if I’d have given the prosecution advance notice, he’d have come up with an argument as to why that information was relevant.” But, like an Abu Dhabi grappling champ getting a kickboxer down and hunting for submissions, it was all about strategy. “I assumed the issue might have come up during the trial. What I could have done was attacked it first hand [at the beginning of the proceedings – when motions are made to exclude potentially inappropriate and prejudicial evidence]. But my thoughts were I wasn’t going to give the prosecution advance notice.” Instead, with his objection in mind once the trial was underway, it was all about Conrad approaching the bench with a rock-solid argument that had the prosecutor off-balance and contemplating tapping out.

Ultimately, the judge could have over-ruled Conrad’s objection, and his client’s occupation would have then been ruled as relevant and admissible. “It’s really at the judge’s discretion. That’s what it came down to.” Thankfully, thanks to Conrad’s legal skills and strategy, things played out in his client’s favor.

Next month on Tangential MMA News: an MMA fighter does his taxes!

Ultimate Fighter Season 2 Tryouts: NYC

*originally published in May '05 on*

(May 19th, New York City) They flew in from San Jose, California. They drove in from as far south as Atlanta, Georgia, and from as far north as Canada. They came from far and wide, these welterweight and heavyweight hopefuls, each one doing their best to shine as they grappled and boxed. Each one vying for that coveted spot on the second season of the Spike TV hit “The Ultimate Fighter”. Tryouts for the smash reality show took place at 5am today at the Renzo Gracie Academy in Manhattan, and on hand for the open casting call were UFC president Dana White and UFC veteran Matt Serra.

“We’re looking for guys that are well-rounded mixed martial artists,” said White, clipboard in hand. “We’re looking for guys that are funny, that have great TV personalities.” He added: “We’re looking for two guys – one at 170 and one at heavyweight. But we’re not just looking for guys for ‘Ultimate Fighter’. We’re also looking for guys for the UFC.”

As White and Serra put the potential fighters through their paces, first by having them grapple each other, then by having them hit pads, a camera crew from local TV station WB11 filmed segments for their morning show (complete with antics from newsman Larry Hoff). But the real stars of the event were the fighters. So who stepped onto the mat to strut their stuff?

The experience and skill levels varied as much as their backgrounds. Aiming for the welterweight slot were the likes of Mixed Fighting Championship star Eddie Alvarez, local MMA pioneer Eddy Rolon, Serra-rep Joe Scarola, Reality Fighting/Mass Destruction vet Jerry Speigel and underground fighter Erik Uresk, to name a few. Among the heavyweights were Chris Wellisch (an American Kickboxing Academy student from California), kickboxer and sambo fighter Bernard Rutherford (from Georgia), Chris Herring (from North Carolina) and local warrior Kaream Ellington. As for the lucky two fighters who caught Dana White’s eye, who said all the right things in their interview and who made it to the next round of the screening process to join the cast of the next ‘Ultimate Fighter’, well… only time will tell.

A Brief Update on MMA in Pennsylvania

*originally published in the Aug '05 issue of Full Contact Fighter*

Slowly but surely, Pennsylvania is starting to come around. No, there isn’t a UFC scheduled for the Keystone State. No, King of the Cage or the IFC isn’t setting up shop. But the Commonwealth’s State Athletic Commission has stuck its toe in the water to gauge the temperature, and thanks to the efforts of a knowledgeable mixed martial arts coach and part-time promoter, a big plunge might be next. For MMA in Pennsylania, it looks like things are happening sooner rather than later.

The Muay Thai kickboxing trainer for the venerable Fight Factory team in Philadelphia, Angel Cartagena has become the MMA community’s point-man on his state’s journey towards official sanctioning. As owner of the BodyArts Gym – the home of the Fight Factory – he’s been in the trenches sweating it out with the likes of local warriors Steve Haigh and Eddie Alvarez, so when Pennsylvania decided it wanted try mixed martial arts on for size, he got the call. “A few years ago I approached the Athletic Commission about mixed martial arts,” says Cartagena. “ They told me it was illegal. Then two years ago the State Athletic Commission pursued me and asked me to help them put on an event - a mixed fighting event.”

He goes on to describe what Pennsylvania meant by ‘mixed fighting’: striking and throws on the feet, with no groundfighting allowed whatsoever (similar to a san shou competition, i.e., Cung Le’s style of combat). “They threw their first mixed fighting event, which was really a san shou event. They did that about a year and a half ago and I acted as the fight coordinator for that event. Then just a few months ago they gave me [permission] to do an MMA-style event for amateurs. But then the night of the fight they actually changed the rules on me. They let me throw one modified mixed martial arts fight (striking on the feet, grappling-only on the ground), and then they made me go back to the old rules of mixed fighting on all the other fights.” Adds Cartagena: “It was a test run.”

There have been a total of three events thus far, the third (featuring the amateur MMA bout) dubbed ‘Evolved Fighting’. What caused the State Athletic Commission to lose its nerve at Evolved Fighting? “I really can’t tell you why except that it’s a bunch of gun-shy people. At this event, unlike any other event you would go to, everyone there was representing the State Athletic Commission. From the director to the actual commissioner to the assistant commissioners, even the state doctors are there - it’s all kinds of people. So it’s one guy or the other, it could be the director or the doctor - they just call it. They just get a little gun-shy about the grappling. I don’t know exactly what it is… A lot of things could cause one of them to squeeze the trigger and say, ‘hey, we’re a little concerned about this. Let’s stop it and go to the old rules.”

Still, Cartagena is optimistic about how the Commission felt about what it saw. “Do I think it helped support MMA in the state of Pennsylvania? Yeah, I think it did a lot for it.” Is this optimism unfounded? “I know the director of the State Athletic Commission is moving forward with a legal body and a legal set of rules that is going to support MMA in the state of Pennsylvania,” he says. “The state is reviewing everything that happened at the last three events, with the mixed fighting and modified MMA, and they are trying to move forward with it.” Cartagena goes on to predict mid-2006 as when the sport will ultimately be sanctioned.

But the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania isn’t quite there yet; there’s still a bit of work that needs to be done. Says Cartagena: “I don’t have any real weight to push around. I’m not politically connected. I just go there and educate them. I try to expose [the Commission] to the right mixed martial artists, the right community. The only thing I’m thankful for is they kind of trust me enough to do the mixed fights. But they don’t give me carte blanche. I’m in charge but I’m not in charge. There are no rules in the state of Pennsylvania that support MMA.”

What, if any, obstacles are standing in the way? “I think it’s the MMA community not supporting it,” he says. “It’s on the table, there’s an awareness of it, it’s trying to be brought to the forefront, but [the biggest obstacle] is just getting the right group to support it and help push it forward.” He references the legislative process, and the steps that must be taken for a state to enact a law, then adds: “I would consider myself right now to be the biggest player in the MMA community to be involved with the State Athletic Commission. But to be honest with you, regarding the MMA community and what I bring to it, that’s really not enough. I know there are more qualified people out there than me that can help. The only thing I can bring to it is a level of professionalism and effort.”

So what does the man who’s done his best to educate the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania suggest? Naturally, a call to arms. “People should contact their local councilmen and get them to support it,” says Cartagena – and he stresses this point repeatedly. According to him, the time is now for MMA fans to act.

In September, Evolved Fighting is scheduled to return with a Muay Thai-only event, and Cartagena has his sights set on making his October show a mixed fighting affair. As for mixed martial arts, well, if his assessment is correct, fans and fighters alike in the Keystone State have only a little less than a year to go for the door to be open for a wide range of fighting promotions. The future certainly looks bright.

Rumble in Rahway: Amateur Action at its Best

*originally published in Jun '06 issue of Full Contact Fighter*

The Rahway Recreation Center was filled to capacity, and it wasn’t for some UFC veteran or other established fighter. No, promoter Ed Hsu’s June 10th Rumble in Rahway show was packed with fans out to see the amateurs compete. It was Hsu’s most successful outing thus far – proving yet again that it’s the local boys who make the wheels of MMA turn here in New Jersey – and it was a card of fourteen bouts that provided excitement from beginning to end.

At the top of the list for ‘excitement’, and showing a ton of potential, was Joe Diamond lightweight Anthony Morrison. Sporting a chain a la Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson (not in the cage, of course), Morrison took on a tough jiu-jitsu purple belt in Rene Dreifuss, and used an accurate hook to score the 35-second knockout before the Marcio Santos’ student could get things to the ground. Also exciting was Pitts Penn rookie Ryan Broderick, who tagged Daddis Fight Camp’s David Theis repeatedly with a blazing right hook until the lightweight Theis dropped at 1:23 of the first round. Crowds love sluggers, and Morrison and Broderick both delivered.

For quick submissions, Team Renzo super-heavyweight Bryan Vetell gave us a 34-second keylock win over Ariel’s Combat Club-representative Simon Manning, while Atlantic City MMA middleweight Brandon Piper armbarred Aikido of New York’s Richard Dunn at 1:55 of the first round. Not to be outdone, Team Endgame heavyweight J.A. Dudley got his groove on – and a tight guillotine – at 2:35, forcing Combined Martial Arts’ Shane Dever to tap out. Ecclectic Martial Arts rising star Phil Ferraro was undaunted by IM Sports’ Tim Troxell and the legion of fans the lightweight Troxell had brought with him, as Ferraro slapped on an armbar from the bottom that ended things at 2:18 into the fight. But the most thrilling submission of the night was definitely the one in the Fran Evans/Gary Galperine flyweight fight. R & B Boxing’s Evans came out daring his opponent to hit him on the chin, and Modern Martial Arts’ Galperine did better: he took him down and threw a ton of subs at him, finally nailing him with an armbar at 1:19 of the first round.

Despite the shin pads and standard MMA gloves the competitors had to wear, and even though there was no punching to face allowed on the ground, there was still plenty of weapons available for the fighters to wage all-out war. Thaisport lightweight Al Laquinta battered New York SanDa’s Greg Lachaga for the unanimous decision, while Lachaga’s teammate, welterweight John Salgado, punished Daddis Fight Camp’s Jackson Galka for three rounds to get the decision himself. But the closest battle at the USKBA-sanctioned event was the melee between Gracie Philadelphia’s Michael Groves and Spartan Athlima’s Michael Wright. These middleweights traded leglock attempts and strikes in a contest between jiu-jitsu versus Pankration, and Pankration garnered the split decision.

Vadha Kempo, Morris Martial Arts, Core Martial Arts - the winners hailed from a variety of schools and represented a myriad of styles. But the common denominator was the roar of the crowd, which at times, was at a fevered pitch in the packed venue. That, more than anything else, made Rumble in Rahway a success.

Ace Grapplers Battle at “Body Count”

*originally published in May ' 05 on*

It was an all-out war between two ace grapplers that highlighted the latest edition of New York City’s only MMA show. On April 17th, at an undisclosed location, Machado Jiu-Jitsu purple belt Rene Driefuss took on Grapplers’ Quest champ Glenn Ortiz, and the 150-plus fight fans in attendance were treated to a fast and furious battle. Dubbed “Body Count”, the fifth edition of this ‘underground’ event also featured the usual ‘style versus style’ action – Greco-Roman against Wing Chun, judo versus streetfighting – but it was the nonstop submission melee that thrilled the crowd, and put Driefuss on the map as a serious threat in the local lightweight ranks.

On paper, the 158-pound Driefuss seemed to have all the tools necessary to be successful in mixed martial arts. Hailing from Marcos Santos’ school here in the Big Apple, and with striking skills courtesy of Gleason’s Gym and B-Warriors Kickboxing Academy, he most certainly had trained for all aspects of the game. But could he use them in the ring against a quality opponent? Enter: Wrestling Plus’ Glenn Ortiz. Sporting a resume that included bouts dating back to the old BAMA FightNights, and with a ton of experience in the local grappling tournaments, the game 148-pound Ortiz was certainly a quality opponent.

“I had no idea who he was,” said Driefuss afterwards. “I only heard at the last minute that he was a good wrestler.” But knowing little about Ortiz didn’t seem to make a difference, as Driefuss countered almost every takedown and submission attempt, and kept up his own onslaught of close subs mixed liberally with punches. At 4:43, Driefuss had a mounted triangle on Ortiz and was raining down elbows, and the ref was forced call a halt to the bout. Said the Machado fighter: “In the end I decided to play a highly-aggressive striking-based game in order to secure a convincing win.”

In the other bouts on the card, 320-pound wrestler Brian Vetell wasted no time taking 237-pound Wing Chun stylist Chidozie “Shawn” Obasi to the mat. Scoring a throw off of the tie-up, Vetell immediately had Obasi out of his element – and the tapout via kimura came at a mere 36 seconds. This was a good win for the Woodhaven Mixed Martial Arts rep, whose last venture into the ring ended in a loss. Squaring off against a streetfighter, Combined Martial Art’s 157-pound Rob Guarino also wasted no time getting his win. Taking out 160-pound streetfighter Felix Rodriguez with a quick flurry, Guarino ended his bout at 36 seconds as well (though this one was via knockout). The other streetfighter on the card fared no better, as the 165-pound Tommy Diaz fell prey to judoka Peter Storm’s armbar at 1:14 into the bout. Coming out strong only to get thrown and mounted, Diaz was unable to get the 173-pound Storm off of him, and had no recourse but to tap once the submission was on. Rounding out the card was the only shootfighting-style bout of the night. With only open-handed strikes on the feet and no striking allowed on the ground, 180-pound Planet Jiu-Jitsu rep Matt Fischer and Team Endgame’s 199-pound Sean Bermudez both traded sub attempts for positional dominance. Fischer ended up with the better end of the deal, nailing the heelhook at 2:25.

With the next NYC MMA event slated for July, promoters Peter Storm and Jerry Mendez have scheduled a grappling-only event for the end of May. What’s next for the impressive Driefuss? Says the up-and-coming warrior: “I’m very, very interested in fighting anywhere!”

Combat at the Capitale: Global Conflict

*originally published Feb '05 on*

(February 11th, New York City) It was a night of action and a night of thrills here in Manhattan, as fight fans packed into the Chinatown nightclub ‘Capitale’ to see some of the area’s best kickboxers do battle. With two championship belts up for grabs, competition flown in from Japan and a berth in the prestigious K-1 tournament at stake, it truly was a global conflict. Highlights of the night included:

  • “Evil” Joe Diable’s dominant performance, which culminated in a storm of bout-ending knees and a crowd-pleasing win for the Serra/Longo fighter.
  • Derek Riddick’s non-stop aggression, which propelled the Watts Gym warrior to victory over his Japanese opponent.
  • Team Tiger Schulmann’s Shennen Maceo war with Susumu Daiguji. After five rounds of back-and-forth flurries and intense combat, Maceo earned the unanimous decision - and a spot in Japan’s famous K-1 tournament.


Amateur American Kickboxing Rules
Alexus Caban (USAKKA-185lbs) vs. Jake Schaper (Eternal Martial Arts-181lbs)

Caban via TKO at 1:42 of Round One.

Steve Castelli (Shaolin Self-Defense) vs. Nick Molta (Garguilo’s Kickboxing)

Molta via unanimous decision.

Chris Suder (Eternal Martial Arts-161lbs) vs. Carl Beams (Garguilo’s Kickboxing-162lbs)

Beams via TKO at 1:08 of Round Two.

Adina Lopez (USAKKA-126lbs) vs. Michele Buzan (Cormack Kickboxing-123lbs)

Buzan via TKO (opponent was unable to answer the bell for the second round).

Amateur Muay Thai Rules

Gizely Andread (Sitan Gym-120lbs) vs. Chi Yoon Chung (NY Sanda-122lbs)

Andread via unanimous decision.

Mohamed Ahmed (Sitan Gym-150lbs) vs. Andrew Wilson (Watts Gym-147.5lbs)

Ahmed via split decision.

Mike Saracino (Sitan Gym) vs. “Evil” Joe Diable (Serra/Longo Competition Team-158lbs)

Diable via KO (knees to the midsection) at 1:13 or Round One.

Andrea DeAngelo (Zarko Academy-129lbs) vs. Sophia Gegovic (Team Tiger Schulmann-128lbs)

Gegovic via unanimous decision.

Alan Myrthil (Zarko Academy-210lbs) vs. Kent Martin (Serra/Longo Competition Team-208lbs)

Martin via majority decision.

Marcos Antebi (Five Points Fitness-147lbs) vs. Luke Lang (Watts Gym-146.5lbs)

Antebi via doctor stoppage (broken nose) at 1:24 of Round 3.

Dimitry Shirganov (Borodin’s Gym-164lbs) vs. Corey Miller (Team Tiger Schulmann-162lbs)

Shirganov via unanimous decision.

Professional Muay Thai Rules

Alex “Thundercat” Xaver (Cortland Gym-174lbs) vs. Luke Cummo (Serra/Longo Competition Team-174lbs)

Cummo via TKO at 1:52 of Round 3.

Muay Thai Championship Bout

Naoki Samukawa (Japan/Bungering Bay Gym-169lbs) vs. Derek Riddick (Watts Gym-175lbs)

Riddick via unanimous decision.

Muay Thai Championship Bout - K-1 Rules

Susumu Daiguji (Japan/Silverwolf Gym-137.5lbs) vs. Shennen Maceo (Team Tiger Schulmann-139lbs)

Maceo via unanimous decision - Maceo is K-1 bound!

“Martial Law” Keeps MMA Alive in the Big Apple

*originally published in Jan '05 issue of Full Contact Fighter*

It was the kind of match-up seen in the UFCs of old, the kind of “David-versus-Goliath” spectacle that thrills thousands in Japan’s Pride FC. On December 19th, at an undisclosed location in Queens, New York, 200-pound warrior Kaream Ellington took on 335-pound wrestler Bryan Vetell - and after almost seven grueling minutes of punishment, David reversed Goliath to hammer out the come-from-behind win.

The event, dubbed “Martial Law”, was the fourth installment of NYC’s only amateur NHB promotion, and though the production was less than smooth (too many kids rapping) and the card was a mere three MMA bouts, one shootfight-style bout, and one grappling match (whittled down due to last-minute fighter drop-outs), there was enough action to bring the close to 150 cheering spectators to their feet.

“Patience, perseverance and respect for your opponent,” said South Bronx Fight Team’s Ellington on what it took to secure victory against Carmine Zocchi Jiu-jitsu rep Vetell, who, though making his MMA debut, was a former state Greco-Roman champ. Ellington, a pro fighter who’s been competing in Muay Thai of late, spent the vast majority of the bout side-mounted and fending off armlock and keylock attempts. Said the now 7-3 veteran: “I just had to be patient and wait for the right opportunity. But I was properly prepared and did my thing.”

Almost as impressive as Ellington’s star performance was the brawl between 230-pound wing chun-stylist Sean Obasi and 235-pound wrestler and Combined Martial Arts representative Dave Richards. Yes, this fight was over when it hit the ground, but with all the fast and furious leather thrown, it was a ton of fun getting there. Rounding out the MMA portion of the night, 165-pound Mike Richardson of Combined Martial Arts out-strike a game 155-pound Francis Perolta from ThaiSport, unloading with a string of unanswered knees from the clinch that had Perolta on the ropes - and had the ref stepping in. In the shootfighting-style match (no striking on the ground, no closed-fist punches on the feet), 160-pound Combined Martial Arts fighter Rob Guarino traded kicks with 155-pound Richie Torres of the South Bronx Fight Team. The tapout came when Torres dropped to guard and Guarino dropped back into a leglock, but it was a fast-paced affair throughout. And in the grappling match, a smooth and technical 135-pounder from ThaiSport named Tommie Goodrich wasted no time in slapping the triangle choke on Guarino to get the submission.

“I thought it was a great show,” said co-promoter Peter Storm, who usually dons his blue judo gi and black belt and gets into the ring, but sat this one out with an injury. “I wish we had more fights, but as always, we get fighters back out at the last minute.” He mentions the next show, “Body Count”, which will be on February 13th - this time in the Bronx. With four events in the books now, the potential match-ups of returning fighters sounds intriguing: Vetell against a 345-pound judo green belt, Obasi and his wing chun against a Five-Animal kung fu instructor, Ellington against anyone bold enough to get into the ring with him. If this promotion keeps growing the way it has - and can iron out its wrinkles - it will go a long way to keeping MMA alive in the Big Apple.

How Soon Until History Repeats Itself in New York?

*originally published in Oct ’04 issue of Full Contact Fighter*

Part I

The talk of establishing [prize fighting] in America, under an orderly supervision, is simply nonsense… At present its patrons seem to be men who seek not to encourage a perfect development of physical strength and beauty, and an occasional good-tempered contest for mastery, but who only desire to gamble on the result of a fight between two fine animals.” The New York Tribune, October 22nd, 1858

They fought in barns and in back rooms at pubs, pioneers of a sport that was heralded as brutal and barbaric by fans and detractors alike. They risked arrest and prosecution, these limited-rules pugilists, battling it out in a combative endeavor that had taken a young nation by storm. It was known only as “bare-knuckle prize fighting” then, this contest we’ve come to know as boxing, and it was the morally reprehensible yet irresistible attraction of the day.

Newspapers like the Tribune denounced prize fighting. Lawmakers decried it as criminal. Still, men fought, and hundreds, sometimes thousands, gathered to watch. In May of 1881, John Sullivan and John Flood squared off on a barge on the Hudson River, just out of reach of the New York City police. This was but one event out of many designed to skirt the law while satisfying the public’s interest, and it was the promotion of events like these that led to the sport’s eventual legalization. Who was at the forefront of this sanctioning movement? Who became the first to accept the realities - and revenues - of prize fighting? The State of New York.

Today, some fans cross the river into New Jersey to get their MMA fix at events like the UFC, Ring of Combat and Reality Fighting, while others gather at small amateur events in New York City. How soon will it be until history repeats itself?

* * *

It’s Sunday, September 26th, 2004, and in lieu of braving the Hudson to watch fisticuffs aboard a barge, people have gathered around a mat at a martial arts school in midtown Manhattan. They’re here to see a Machado purple belt take on a freestyle fighter, a Greco-Roman wrestler take on a jiu-jitsu man, and a judoka take on a kung fu instructor. They’re here for the third installment from promoters Peter Storm and Jerry Mendez, a show dubbed “Manhunt” that exploits the loophole in the law banning professional “combative sports”. Like those fans a century and a half before, the nearly 250 spectators (five times more than the last show) are here to see action.

Storm, a 180-pound judo black belt, takes the mat to face Abraham Garcia, a 185-pound freestyle fighter. As Mendez - also the referee - signals them to begin, and as an independent film crew films everything for a documentary, the two warriors engage. The scrappy Garcia really takes it to Storm, controlling the judoka on the ground and punishing him with strikes. Storm takes over when fatigue sets in, landing with a slew of bare-knuckle punches to Garcia’s face before slipping his forearm over his opponent’s throat, forcing Garcia to tap out nine minutes and fifteen seconds into the bout.

The crowd cheers. A lot of them are here due to word of mouth, but many have come to see their friends do battle. The friends of national-level Greco-Roman competitor Eric Uresk make their presence known with fervor when he steps onto the mat. At 169 pounds, he’s a specimen compared to his adversary, the 179-pound jiu-jitsu fighter Sergio Murillo. As predicted, Uresk dominates from the outset, firing off a kick and then scoring with a high-amplitude double-leg takedown. Letting loosing with a barrage of knee strikes that Murillo seems to have no answer for, the Greco-Roman powerhouse leaves the ref with no other choice but to step in and halt the bout at 2:14. The crowd grows even louder. Later, in what was to be the final bracket of a four-man middleweight tournament, Uresk finds himself in a straight submission grappling match against audience member Steven Lorenzo, who steps in to replace the injured Storm. The wrestler receives accolades for his decision-win there as well.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

How Soon Until History Repeats Itself in New York?

*originally published in Oct ’04 issue of Full Contact Fighter*

Part II

In the modern MMA world, true “style versus style” match-ups are hard to come by now that most cross-train. The bout between the 315-pound judo green belt “Puchy” Landor and 230-pound Five Animal Kung Fu sifu David Sanchez is one of those rare ones. The two trade some heavy, heavy punches - Sanchez utilizing unconventional hand techniques against Puchy’s looping hooks. But it’s all over once Puchy takes it to the ground, as Sanchez seems to have no clue about grappling and can do nothing to counter the heavier man’s armbar. Sanchez taps out at 1:08 into the bout.

When the 151-pound Rene Dreifuss squares off against Richie Torres, the 155-pound freestyle fighter, the crowd once more is raucous. Dreifuss is a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, and seems to have a huge contingent of friends and supporters for his MMA debut. He makes the most of it. Displaying a smooth and technical ground game, wastes no time taking Torres down and securing side control. A string of knees, a transition to back mount and a flurry of punches to his opponent’s head, and it’s all over. Torres, though clearly game and unwilling to give up, can do nothing to defend himself; the ref steps in at 58 seconds into the match. Dreifuss is victorious.

Of course, in a show stocked with amateurs, not all of the bouts are as technical or competitive. A 150-pound boxer from Gleason’s gym, Lump “Wolf” Rasheen, is supposed to fight, but his trainer is there and won’t permit him to face anyone who might pose a real threat. This is where the 137-pouund Tae Kwon Do-practitioner nicknamed “Iron Will” enters the picture. In what looks more like a mugging than a fight, it takes Wolf just 46 seconds to make Iron Will verbally submit from punches. It is the only blemish on an otherwise entertaining card.

* * *

Bare fists. Knees to the head on the ground. How can limited-rules combat such as this be legal? By pitting amateurs against amateurs, the prohibition against pro fights in New York is circumvented, and events like Manhunt go on without harassment. But the real strides will be made when the fighters can get paid for their efforts.

With a shift in political winds now seeing the sport legalized in California and Illinois, the return of pro MMA to the Empire State might suddenly seem less a flight of fancy and more of a possibility. But what needs to transpire for this to happen? To put it simply, the law banning professional combative sports in New York must be amended or repealed. This task, though daunting, is not an impossible one.

For those who slept through Social Studies class in high school: a bill must be introduced in either the State Assembly or Senate, meet approval in both, and then must be signed by the governor to become law. During this often-tedious journey, bills can be sent to various committees for further evaluation, or they can die on the floor of the Capitol - victims of vigorous debate, or lack thereof. To put things in perspective, during the height of the “human cockfighting” hysteria of 1997, politics saw the bill banning professional MMA passed easily and in nearly record time. But in the age of sell-out shows and record-breaking gate sales in Las Vegas, New Jersey and Connecticut, would a bill lifting the ban face that many obstacles? Considering the revenue opportunities a repeal would open up for New York State, it might not.

So whom do New York MMA fans need to talk to in order to get the ball rolling? In 2004, eight State Assemblymen sponsored bills pertaining to boxing, wrestling or martial arts. They were: Joseph Morelle, representing Rochester county; Clarence Norman Jr, of Brooklyn; James Tedisco of the counties of Saratoga and Schenectady; Anthony Seminerio, of Queens; Steven Sanders, of Manhattan; Frank Seddio, of Brooklyn; Ronald Tocci, of Westchester; and Robert Straniere, of Richmond. Given their recent legislative history, approaching them would be a logical first step. (Note: none of these legislators were available for comment at the time this article went to press.)

Not yet convinced that it might be worth the effort of a phone call to your New York Sate legislator? Then keep this in mind: the model used today in regulating boxing is the Walker Law, a product of the tireless State Senator James Walker. In 1920 he saw the potential for revenue boxing would generate. Boxing is legal due in no small part to him.

* * *