Sunday, March 28, 2010

They came, they saw, they conquered

Shogun Fights held their second event last night at the First Mariner Arena in Baltimore. There was definitely excitement in the air and while I couldn't provide an exact number of attendees, I'd say it easily matched the more than 5,000 people who attended their first show last year.

There were 11 fights on the card and just about every bout was very well-contested. Here are my thoughts on each contest:

Fight 1 (Bantamweight): Rick Desper (3-3) def. Steven Baker (0-3) by submission

This fight ended quickly after Desper locked in an armbar submission and forced Baker to tap at 1:55 in Round 1. Baker appeared to be the aggressor early on as he landed some stiff shots and scored a couple takedowns. That's the thing about submissions; they can come out of anywhere at anytime. Though it was short it wasn't a bad fight to kick off the card.

Fight 2 (Lightweight): Brian Van Hoven (5-0) def. Cole Pressley (1-2) by unanimous decision

This would have been a better fight to start the show as it went the distance and both guys displayed excellent skills. Pressley appeared to win the first round from my viewpoint, as he spent most of the round winning the grappling war with Van Hoven and even spent some time playing piggyback.

The second round looked to belong to Van Hoven, as he scored a couple takedowns and landed some strikes. He also inadvertently dropped Pressley on his neck though Pressley did not appear affected. I'm always surprised that more neck injuries don't happen in MMA though.

Van Hoven continued his assault in the third round and won the unanimous decision. While Pressley seemed to want to grapple more, Van Hoven made good use of both his strikes and takedowns.

Fight 3 (Catchweight): Justin Hickey (3-1) def. Brett Thomas by TKO

Hickey was a last-minute replacement for Ryan Mackin, who did not compete for unknown reasons. This fight also did not surpass the first round and while the two tried a couple takedowns at first, Hickey ended the fight with some bombs that rocked Thomas, to borrow a phrase from Joe Rogan. Hickey scored the TKO at 4:21 in the first round.

Hickey said after the fight that he received a call about competing at Shogun Fights at 7:30 Friday morning and was able to drop 10 pounds in one day. I really want to know how someone can do that because that just sounds extraordinary. Did he just sit in a sauna all day?

Fight 4 (Heavyweight): Johnny Curtis (2-0) def. Joe Stripling (2-3) by unanimous decision

Curtis also replaced another fighter in this bout, Chris Sydnor. Stripling was aggressive throughout the fight, trying to land various submissions and landing some punches but Curtis landed more blows and takedowns. A very competitive bout where both guys left it all in the ring.

Curtis was mingling with the crowd after his fight and I saw him dabbing at his nose with a towel. I heard he broke his nose and definitely seemed woozy afterwards. Curtis is also 39 years old, which defies the general belief that MMA is only a young man's game.

Fight 5 (Bantamweight): Jason Hillicker (1-1) def. Bobby Huron (2-1) by submission

Another short bout that was stopped by the official after Hillicker locked in an armbar at 2:13 in the first round. Both guys attempted kicks and exchanged some strikes before Huron scored a takedown but unfortunately got caught in the submission.

After the fight Hillicker described the armbar as his "bread and butter" and said he wanted to "take that armbar home with me". The guy definitely seems to love his armbars.

Fight 6 (Welterweight): Chris Conner (4-2) def. Elijah Harshbarger (3-1) by unanimous decision

A fight that started off with some good displays of wrestling and grappling but by the time the third fight rolled around, it began to slow down and some fans began to voice their displeasure.

It was a fight that stuck to the ground for the most part and a fight that was mostly dominated by Conner. He mounted Harshbarger several times and Harshbarger just appeared to have no answer for Conner's ground game, though Harshbarger did try a few guillotine chokes.

I'm not sure if the boos heard during this fight were warranted, but the action definitely became plodding once or twice. I think the official could have been a little quicker to realize that and make the guys stand up and fight.

But I do need to point out that Harshbarger came to the ring to the tune of Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again", which was pretty much the greatest thing ever. But there was no Tawny Kitaen, for which I was disappointed.

Fight 7 (Welterweight): Quinton McCottrell (4-5) def. Mike Paschall (1-1) by submission

Paschall got the first real loud reaction of the night, since he fights out of Ground Control Baltimore and its head trainer, John Rallo, is the brains behind the Shogun Fights operation.

Unfortunately, the enthusiasm for Paschall ended rather abruptly as Quinton slapped on a choke for the submission victory at 2:21 in the first round. I watched a video interview Paschall did with The Baltimore Sun prior to the event and his enthusiasm for the fight really did come through. I did feel badly for the guy that his planned triumphant homecoming did not go as planned. Though he was at least victorious at the first Shogun Fights event.

Fight 8 (Featherweight): Jacob Kirwan (6-1) def. Steve DeAngelis by unanimous decision

This was another fight that did not appear to satisfy the crowd, as more boos descended on the ring and the official did stand both guys up on two occasions.

The fight seemed mostly one-sided as well, as Kirwan landed more takedowns and both kicks and punches during the fight. Though DeAngelis landed some good elbows towards the end of the fight as well.

Fight 9 (Middleweight): Germiyale Adkins def. Dave Daniecki (2-1) by split decision

This was probably the best fight of the night complete with a controversial decision. Daniecky appeared to win the first round afte scoring a takedown, attempting an armbar and grasping Adkins with a Muay Thai clinch. The second round seemed even to me as although Daniecki scored another takedown, Adkins did land a series of blows.

Both guys went all out in the third round. Daniecki landed a head kick while Adkins landed more punches. However, Daniecki ended the round with a takedown and had Adkins' back and the crowd seemed convinced Daniecki had won the fight and gave the bout a standing ovation.

However, their enthusiasm quickly turned to scorn as Adkins was announced the winner. I personally though Daniecki had the fight won as well. I thought his takedowns and wrestling were enough to overcome Adkins' strikes.

Adkins was presented a trophy for winning the fight by Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, who was in attendance. Though it appeared that Phelps really didn't want to be there or had just hit the bong again, as he had a green hat and hood pulled over his face and didn't seem to want to be recognized.

Adkins was a good sport when he spoke after the fight. He acknowledged the crowd's booing but said "I'm just trying to put on a show baby". I think he handled it very well and with a lot of class. But both Adkins and Daniecki should have been proud of putting on a tremendous fight.

Fight 10 (Featherweight): Jim Hettes (5-0) def. Binky Jones (8-9) by submission

Before the main event I would have said Binky (that's not his actual name, I'm pretty sure it's James) got the loudest reaction of the night. He was accompanied by who I'm guessing were his children as well his corner staff. One kid was carrying an American flag while another was carrying the Maryland flag. Binky was sporting the Baltimore tights complete with the color of the Orioles and was really the hometown hero. He even goes by the nickname the "Baltimore Submission Machine".

Which made the fight all that more disappointing for the crowd. Hettes got Binky into a rear-naked choke 28 seconds into the fight. To say the crowd was shocked would be a huge understatement.

Fight 11 (Super Heavyweight): Ryan McGowan (1-0) def. Deon West (1-2) by TKO

This was McGowan's first fight and I'd say his reaction surpassed Binky Jones'. McGowan even had his own cheering section. Both guys tipped the scales at over 300 pounds, which piqued my interest because I wanted to see how two such heavy guys would maneuver in a sport as disciplined and technical as MMA.

My curiousity wasn't really satisfied though, as McGowan floored West with punches and forced the official to stop the fight a minute and a half in the first round. However I heard later that West was dealing with some major personal issues, so he deserves kudos for going on with the fight anyway.

If I had to pick a "Fight of the Night", I would probably choose Daniecki/Adkins by a hair over Pressley/Van Hoven. Both were excellent fights but Daniecki and Adkins just gave it their all and held nothing back. Plus the energy by the crowd for that fight was off the charts.

If I had to pick the best individual performance, I think Justin Hickey deserves recognition for finishing his fight early after agreeing to compete in it 24 hours beforehand. That is not something that is easy to do in a sport like MMA, where fighters regularly train months in advance of a fight.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my first live MMA experience. Shogun Fights had the enthusiasm and competition you find in the national organizations like UFC but it also had the local appeal and energy you can only find in localized events. Shogun Fights appears to be well on its way to being Maryland's top MMA promotion and I am very much looking forward to the next event.

Much thanks to John Rallo and First Mariner Arena for giving me the opportunity to cover the event as well as to Erin Morgan, a wonderful person who I met while waiting for the show to begin and who I was fortunate enough to spend the event hanging out with. She was fun to talk to and her assistance was greatly appreciated.

Also thanks to Kevin Richardson from The Baltimore Sun and John Meyer, who is going to be generous enough to share some photos he shot of the event with me.

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