Since the last installment, there have been a whopping 14 MMA events within the Five Boroughs and on Long Island. Yeah, that's a lot of fights, and a lot of fighters getting opportunities to prove themselves in the cage (or ring, if your MMA event was held at Madison Square Garden).
Before we get into the naming of names, first come the usual caveats:
- This list is not in order. It can't be, because it spans the various weight classes and includes a female.
- This list is purely subjective, and based on fights I saw in person or on video. In some instances where neither was the case, I took into account the unbiased reporting of people I trust (yes, those people do exist).
- People who've made it clear their next fight will be as a professional are not on this list.
Okay, without further ado, here are the best of the Big Apple:
- Katalina Morales - She's Aggressive Combat Championship's reigning female champ, and when "Kat" swam in the waters of Victory Combat Sports, she devoured Victoria Makarova like a shark eating a goldfish. You can credit talent and an explosive submission game reminiscent of Carlos Newton in his prime for that, but no matter what is making her a win machine, the bottom line is she's the best female fighter in the Five Boroughs - BY FAR.
- Marcus Surin - Surin earned and defended the VCS lightweight title, and with a style that blends the intensity of a stud wrestler with the technique of a jiu-jitsu ace, it's going to be a tough for any contender to dethrone him.
- Rob Ovalle - The great thing about an amateur fight circuit that's relatively new is that there are a ton of talented up-and-comers out there who are just waiting to make their debut in the cage. No one exemplifies this more than Ovalle, who appeared from the wilds of Brooklyn to take on Golden MMA champ Bernie Cano for the VCS welterweight title, and who gave Cano hell before claiming the belt for himself. Ovalle's all about a ground game resembling a pressure cooker, so he'll be tough to beat by anyone who doesn't have a ton of grappling skill on their side.
- Hugh McKenna - Not a lot was known about McKenna prior to his debut, but he trains out of a killer gym in Long Island MMA and took out New York Fight Exchange's welterweight king Jerome Mickle with a near-flawless ground game, so it's hard to see anyone else in the organization being able to handle what McKenna brings to bear in a fight.
- Rob Scotti - He possesses featherweight gold in NYFE and is skilled as hell, but he very nearly lost the crown to challenger Hillel Dombroff in a title defense in September. A questionable referee standup helped Scotti greatly - although you can't deny that the champ's huge heart and ability to dig deep with only seconds left in the bout are factors as well. Bottom line: he's tough.
- Hillel Dombroff - Dombroff would be a 145-pound champ if not for outside factors, so he deserves to be on this list as much as anyone. And if he continues to be the guy who fights fast and furious in the cage, it won't be long before he's wearing a championship belt somewhere.
- Eric Ott - A Long Island MMA product, Ott is NYFE's middleweight title holder and resident 185-pound killer who can take as much punishment as he dishes out. How long will he reign? Until someone in the promotion can match his durability and never-ending intensity on the ground, so probably a long while.
- Paul Grant - Grant was spawned from the warrior crucible of the Jungle Gym, so of course he put forth a fierce and technical performance to snatch the NYFE bantamweight belt from then-champ Mike Kuhn. Thanks to his tight jits and unbreakable spirit, it will take a pretty elite fighter to get Grant to give up his spot at the top.
- Rashad Clarke - Clarke was fighting in underground fights long before the State Attorney General admitted that amateur MMA events were okay, so he's a true veteran of the New York scene. That experience, plus the ability to stand and bang and find submissions when a fight hits the mat, is why Clarke is Take It To The Top's middleweight champ.
- Jonathan Velez - He's been around the underground scene for years fighting people much heavier in an organization that doesn't use weight classes, so Velez has learned how to kick ass in an extremely efficient manner. In his last outing, he won a four-man tournament to become a UCL champ, and with his explosive striking and smooth grappling, he'd stack up well against any New York City organization's best.
- Sam Watford - To be the man you have to beat the man, and after a lot of wrestling, Watford used a brilliant uppercut to put Adrian Czmielewski to sleep at the last NYFE show. That win earned him a lightweight belt, and because Czmielewski had just taken out a couple of tough guys himself, Watford gets to stand at the top looking down at a bunch of hungry challengers.
- Josh Mayville - Mayville's stomping grounds are Gladius Fights in Upstate New York, but he ventured down to our part of the woods to compete in the Fighters Source tournament, and man did he impress. In fact, his wrestling and heavy-hitting style was so effective, FS took him to the UK, where he crushed a local there. Fear this dude - he's the real deal.
- Chike Obi - He may not hold a belt like most of the people on this list, but that doesn't mean Obi hasn't established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the Big Apple's 185-pound weight class. He's fought in the UCL, Aggressive Combat Championship, and most recently Victory VII at MSG - where he scored a thrilling knockout over a Muay Thai stud - and thanks to a dangerous combination of explosiveness and power, the Brooklynite has yet to taste defeat. If anyone has earned a title shot in the various New York City promotions, it's him.
Honorable mentions: Mike Kuhn, who was NYFE's top 135-pound fighter and could be again; Eric Taylor, who sports a very impressive grappling game and used it to take out Bernie Cano at the last Victory show; Anthony Pipola, a New York Combat Sambo exponent and human juggernaut; and, Jerome Mickle, who was NYFE's resident alpha dog at welterweight until he met McKenna.
(Note: Updated to add Chike Obi to the list.)