Monday, December 3, 2012

"ChoirBoy" does good

In my quest to get back to doing this regularly, I came across this news release. Ron "ChoirBoy" Stallings, who trains with Team Lloyd Irvin in Camp Springs, became the first mixed martial arts champion from Harford County, MD, after winning the Ring of Combat middleweight title last month.

Stallings path to the belt wasn't easy, as he was matched up against Mike Massenzio, a veteran of the UFC who has fought guys like Brian Stann, C.B. Dollaway, Steve Cantwell and Rousimar Palhares, so you know he's no slouch. Especially if he was matched up against someone as dangerous as Palhares.

Stallings won the belt via first-round TKO with a sick knee to the body, which caused Massenzio to crumple to the mat. Lost in the fact that many fighters always try to land the devastating KO via a punch or kick to the chin, sometimes a good body shot is all you need. And a fun fact: Stallings is also owner and operator of Top Flight MMA in Aberdeen.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The triumphant return

It's been a long time since I've written on here. Over a month has gone by since my last entry and I've really been out of the loop not only with mixed martial arts in Maryland, but MMA in general. I'm not really sure why. I still love the sport and I still try to watch as much of it as I can.

Unfortunately my absence means I've missed events like the latest Shogun Fights and the opportunity to see several local fighters I'm somewhat familiar with, including Dan Root, Ryan Mackin and Marshall Thompson. I'm sure I've missed other local events too.

Going forward, I will make a concentrated effort to renew my desire to keep up-to-date on the latest MMA news, both local and national. I will better search for events to cover and get back to the sport I love.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

For VIPs Only

It's no secret that training in mixed martial arts is a grind. Day in and day out fighters beat each other senseless and push their bodies to the limit in order to be as prepared as they can. If they manage to avoid physical injury during training, they still suffer mental wear and tear from the monotonous nature that MMA training can become.

However, Team Lloyd Irvin in Camp Springs is doing its part to help make training a little more bearable. Lloyd Irvin gave a tour of his facility's "Medal Chasers Lounge", which includes several amenities to help fighters unwind from grueling training sessions, including pool tables and video games.

But the facility still has the tools necessary for fighters to hone their skills, including mats and areas for fighters to work on their Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills. Irvin was quick to point out that his gym predominantly caters to those who just want to use MMA to get in shape, but he is still known as one of the pre-eminent trainers of MMA fighters around the world.

MMA definitely requires a full commitment, to the point where fighters really can't afford to be doing much else in their lives. But like anyone else, they also need time to unwind and escape from the grind.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Bits and pieces

This post gets to combine two of my favorite things: MMA and football.

College football kicked off this past weekend and the NFL officially gets underway on Wednesday evening. But high school football started a couple weeks ago, and players from Our Lady of Good Counsel (whose coach used to be the coach at my high school and was once my algebra teacher), were paid a visit from Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin.

Good Counsel was out in Las Vegas to play a nationally televised game against a school out there and the opposing team's coach set up a meeting with the UFC stars. Good Counsel's Coach Milloy wasn't aware who Chuck and Forrest were, which answers the question of if he follows MMA.

One of the perks of playing on a team that travels nationwide for games is you're afforded opportunities most other teams don't get. Both college and NFL players are big MMA fans and are fixtures at events, so it's nice to see high school kids get the same opportunities.

Speaking of football players at events, if you know of any football players (or are one yourself) and you're not busy on Oct. 20, check out the latest installment of Shogun Fights at First Mariner Arena in Baltimore.

Monday, August 13, 2012

What offseason?

This is one of my favorite times of the year, not only because my birthday is at the end of the month but also because the preseason has started in football, which means a new season is right around the corner. I LOVE football.

But unlike other sports, mixed martial arts has no offseason. There are events all year round and fighters, especially amateurs, are expected to fight multiple times a year. In fact, Evolve Academy had several of its fighters compete late last month at an Operation Ocatgon card in Virginia.

Evolve fighters compete at numerous events per year throughout Maryland and in other surrounding states. The gym saw its fighters achieve a split on the card, with two fighters coming out on top while two unfortunately came up short.

Kwame Yiadom won his fight with a first-round TKO, landing a devastating leg kick to his opponent's body that enabled Yiadom to finish the fight, according to Melissa Snider, Evolve's program director who is a constant presence at both the gym and at the fighters' events. Jon Faltz also won by first-round TKO, capitalizing on his opponent's overaggressive nature and finding an opening and connecting on a blow that rocked his opponent's senses and led to the early finish, Snider said.

Evolve's Trevor Thompson and Greg Lyman suffered losses at Operation Octagon, Thompson by unanimous decision and Lyman by a first-round KO. You can't win them all in MMA, but every loss is a learning experience and it all depends on how the fighters respond. Knowing Evolve and the quality trainers they have there, I have no doubt Thompson and Lyman will emerge from these temporary setbacks.

Evolve has more fighters competing at future events over the next few weeks, so since there is no offseason in MMA, there is no rest for the wary.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Video killed the radio star?

One of the good things about being in an area that strongly supports mixed martial arts is all the opportunities you have to promote the sport. It's no secret that since Shogun Fights is based in Baltimore, that the city strongly supports them and both the fighters and the head promoter, John Rallo, are fixtures in and around Baltimore as they continue to get the word out and increase MMA's popularity in both the city and the state.

Rallo has a good relationship with the Baltimore rock radio station 98 Rock, which also has its own television station. Dan Root, a fighter from Rallo's gym Ground Control Baltimore, recently appeared on 98 Rock's TV station and we learned a little more about his background and how he got into MMA.

One of the big reveals from Root's interview is that he is trying out for an upcoming season of the UFC's "The Ultimate Fighter" that will feature lightweights and welterweights, the latter of which is Root's weight class. Given Root's recent string of victories at Shogun Fights and his victory at a card in West Virginia earlier this month, I'd say Root could be considered one of the favorites to be added to that season's cast, especially since he boasts an impressive ground game and submission skills.

Root would follow in the footsteps of Zach Davis from Evolve Academy in Gaithersburg if he were to make it on the show, which would be nothing but a coup and a big boost for MMA in the state.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Amateur night

Not too long ago I had the pleasure of attending an amateur mixed martial arts event, Maryland Cage Combat, in Millersville, Md. I provided a full recap of the event for the website U.S. Combat Sports, a site I've written for before, and you can read the recap here.

Amateur MMA is slightly different from professional MMA that we see every day in organizations like the UFC and Strikeforce. Among the different rules that I saw applied at the Maryland Cage Combat event was that all the fighters had to wear shin pads. Usually those are only used in sparring during training sessions, but in amateur MMA it's required during actual fights. The fighters were also forbidden from using elbows or attempting kicks to the head.

I think the fact this event was an amateur card and these rules were in effect were a benefit to the fighters. Almost all of the fighters appeared to be around my age (27) or younger, so many had probably not been training in MMA for very long. I think a slow transition into MMA through amateur rules is a good way to go for fighters just starting out.

Even despite the extra padding and rules, it was still an entertaining event to watch. It was easy to see that each fighter left it all in the cage and wanted to make a good impression because they were reaching their goal of competing professionally in front of an audience. It's easy to become jaded or cynical in a sport as unforgiving and relentless as MMA, but when you see young fighters laying it all on the line in what was basically a recreation center in front of a modest but enthusiastic crowd, you're reminded of why this sport has such a loyal and passionate following.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Practice makes perfect

One of the many things I'm sure I've stressed during the time I've written this blog is that for mixed martial artists, the training never stops. No matter how long they've been competing, no matter how many fights they've had, no matter how many hours upon hours upon hours they spend in the gym, they're always looking to improve in all the different disciplines that make up MMA.

If they wanted to learn more about Muay Thai, they might watch something or take part in something similar to this, courtesy of Columbia Maryland Mixed Martial Arts, where they learn the finer points of striking and find out what sets a style of striking like Muay Thai apart from traditional boxing.

Submission defense is also key, so a video like this would come in handy, courtesy of Garfield BJJ in Arnold. A fighter can put their opponent in a submission at any time, especially if they're well-versed in the ground game as all of the great submission specialists tend to be.

Combining styles like Muay Thai and submission grappling would make any MMA fighter truly dangerous. But no matter what style a fighter specializes in, the key is to be the best in all areas if they want to be the best overall. The ability to avoid resting on one's laurels is what separates the contenders from the pretenders.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Keeping it in-house

Since there isn't always an actual event card for local mixed martial arts gyms to have their fighters compete on, many times they will hold their own competitions in-house in an effort to not only improve their fighters' skills, but also continue to foster the sense of community that is so prevalent at many gyms.

Once such recent example was a tournament held earlier this month by Team Lloyd Irvin in Camp Springs. The gym invited several of its affiliate gyms to compete in an in-house Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournament, with a recap of the event available here.

One of the gyms that competed during the event was Wrightson BJJ in Towson. The school posted a couple videos of its students competing in the tournament, which can be seen here and here. While the first video shows a match that seemed to be over quickly, the two students who competed in the second video seemed to truly engage in the chess match that BJJ is known for. The student in the yellow shirt was constantly in his guard and seemed to want to lock his opponent into a submission. Luckily the other student appears to use his side advantage to his benefit and prevent that from happening.

Tournaments like this are a great way for different gyms to come together and teach its students the nuances of a sport as disciplined as BJJ and MMA.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Not the only game in town

A few weeks ago I posted a recap of the Shogun Fights VI card that took place last month at First Mariner Arena in Baltimore. While the eyes of the local MMA scene were fixed on Baltimore that night, another MMA card was taking place that same night not too far away that also featured fighters from another Maryland gym.

The event was held in Millersville, MD and featured several fighters from Baltimore Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Essex. Rob Sullivan, who leads the gym's MMA team, reached out to me and shared how those fighters fared at the event.

Carlo Elter of Baltimore BJJ locked in a rear-naked choke on his opponent for a submission victory in the first round, Sullivan said. Robin Paguia was victorious via TKO in the third round after the referee stepped in to stop Paguia from inflicting further damage on his visibly woozy opponent, according to Sullivan.

"[Paguia] pretty much rocked the kid with punches throughout the fight ... and in the third he rocked him hard with a right. [Paguia's opponent] stumbled and the ref stepped in," Sullivan said.

Baltimore BJJ's secured himself a title victory in the first two minutes of his fight via guillotine choke, Sullivan said. The gym's lone loss came in a hard-fought flyweight featuring the school's Jordan Jones, who lost by decision, he added.

Baltimore BJJ has been in the area since the mid-2000s when it started in Overlea, according to Sullivan. In addition to the fighters already mentioned, the gym's most active fighter has been Craig Machado, who has a 5-3 amateur record but has spent the spring training in Thailand, Sullivan told me in an e-mail.

Machado's Thai excursion has given Sullivan the duties of being the school's MMA coach, and he has coached other fighters to a 1-1 combined record, he said.

"Our team is more like a family," Sullivan said. "We have great BJJ players at the gym as well as some good strikers to work with. We all contribute when someone has a fight."

It was pretty neat to get this kind of feedback from someone in the Maryland MMA scene. If you'd like to share the story of your gym or one of your fighters, please send me an e-mail at chrismmamaryland.gmail.com

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

We don't need no stinkin' judges

Shogun Fights VI was held this past Saturday and if you like your fights to have a finish instead of being left to the judges, then you need to check out this event and check it out soon.

Only one fight on the card went the distance, as every other fight was finished by either a KO, TKO or submission. This has been the norm at previous Shogun events I've attended, with fighters who compete at the event either succumbing to nerves or chomping at the bit to make sure their fight isn't left to a judge's scorecard. Or both.

I covered the event for U.S. Combat Sports, but I was hardly the only media representative providing coverage of the sixth installment of Shogun. Recaps of the event can also be found here and here.

A lot of the same players were on this card as previous cards, including multiple fighters from Team Ground Control in Baltimore and Evolve Academy in Gaithersburg. Both gyms also saw their fighters perform a clean sweep of their bouts, with each of them coming out on top.

The crowd at Shogun Fights VI appeared to be on par with previous crowds, with the number in the few thousands I'd say. I'd like to think the attendance hasn't become stagnant, but hopefully as more cards are held and more people learn about Shogun Fights, I'm confident future crowds will continue to grow.

The knockout of the night far and away belonged to Brent Hess, a Virginia featherweight who landed a devastating blow to his opponent Steven Baker. Baker hit the mat immediately and was knocked unconscious, unfortunately requiring a stretcher in order to be taken from the cage.

Submissions were popular at Shogun Fights as well, with local favorite and Ground Control fighter Dan Root clinching yet another submission victory with an arm triangle choke early in Round 1, which I considered the most impressive of the night. Root has won his last three four bouts at Shogun Fights and should be only a matter of time before he's given a closer look from someone at a bigger organization, whether it be Bellator Fighting Championships or the UFC.

All in all I yet again I enjoyed my time covering Shogun Fights. Seeing fights end with a decisive finish instead of a judge's decision is always a welcome sight. Well it's good to see local mixed martial arts represented at these events through teams like Ground Control and Evolve, hopefully we can start seeing more fighters from other states find their way onto the Shogun card, which would be a great way to chart the growth of MMA in Maryland.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Enter the Shogun

I'm finally back with a new post after what seems like ages, and I couldn't have picked a better time to write something. I guess you could say I took my own version of Spring Break since mixed martial arts as a whole seemed to, but this weekend is the de facto kickoff for a busy remainder of spring in MMA.

Tomorrow night is the sixth installment of Shogun Fights at First Mariner Arena in Baltimore. We will once see again see some of the finest fighters the region has to offer, as well as some familiar faces from previous Shogun Fights cards and some fresh faces looking to make an impact. The full fight card can be found here.

Two fights on tomorrow's card that I'm looking forward to the most are Dan Root vs. Jeremy Boardwine and Cole Pressley vs. Vaja Iormaghvili. Both Root and Pressley train with Team Ground Control in Baltimore and while I'm not familiar with Boardwine, who hails from southern Virginia, Iormaghvili had a second-round submission victory at last year's Shogun Fights V.

Both Root and Pressley are fixtures at Shogun Fights, with Root winning his last two fights at the event. And as usual, Maryland gyms will be well-represented tomorrow, with the usual suspects Team Ground Control, Evolve Academy and Clinch Academy being joined by other Maryland gyms such as Shaddock MMA in Sykesville and Conquest BJJ in Crofton.

I will also be covering Shogun Fights for U.S. Combat Sports and will post a recap here as well sometime over the weekend. So come out and enjoy a night of entertaining live fights.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A reminder of sorts

Since things appear to have slowed down a bit in the world of mixed martial arts, I thought it would be a good time to remind you of some upcoming local fight cards that will feature a number of Maryland fighters.

As I've written about before, several fighters from Maryland gyms, including Evolve Academy, Team Lloyd Irvin and Clinch Academy will be competing at Operation Octagon on March 31 in Virginia and at the next installment of Shogun Fights in April.

The fight card for Shogun Fights has been finalized and looking at the lineup, a few fights in particular stand out to me. The first one is Dan Root vs. Elijah Harshbarger, which promises to be an exciting welterweight contest. I've watched both fighters compete on previous Shogun Fights cards and both have put on tremendous performances. I expect that one to go the full three rounds, as both guys are tough as nails and leave it all in the cage.

Another fight that has the potential to steal the show is Cole Pressley vs. Vaja Iormaghvili. Both guys have tasted success on the Shogun Fights stage and since this will be a lightweight bout, it promises to deliver the action we've come to expect by watching lightweights in organizations both local and national.

As we dive full-on into spring, these two events should help spring local MMA further into the national mindset.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Upcoming attractions

As I mentioned in my last post, spring is coming and with it the apparent increase of mixed martial arts events in the area. I briefly mentioned in that post the latest installment of Shogun Fights that is taking place in Baltimore in April with its usual slew of fighters from local gyms.

Word is starting to get around, with Ocean City among the localities beginning to promote the event. While the fight card for the next Shogun Fights appears to be still shrouded in secrecy, based on my past experiences at the event, I have no doubt that a very entertaining and competitive card is taking shape.

In addition to local events, local fighters continue to make a name for themselves on the national MMA stage. It was recently announced that Mike "The Hulk" Easton, a fighter from Team Lloyd Irvin in Camp Springs, will get another chance to compete on the local stage when he takes on Yves Jabouin at the UFC's next live event in the D.C. area May 15 in Fairfax, Va.

I have seen both of Easton's fights in the UFC, both live and in person, and he is a talented fighter with an apparent mean streak who's not afraid to really mix it up with his opponent. He won his first UFC bout with a stoppage and won a unanimous decision in his second fight, which was more a product of his opponent being extremely game and willing to stand in there and bang. If Easton gets past Jabouin in May we may see him step up and begin fighting the higher echelon of fighters in the UFC's bantamweight division.

Spring is generally seen as a time for rebirth or emerging, and MMA in Maryland is no exception. There are some exciting things coming down the pike.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Keeping busy

With spring right around the corner, or if you live in the mid-Atlantic like I do, it seems like the weather went straight from fall to spring and totally passed over winter, there tends to be an uptick in events from all different areas and mixed martial arts is no exception. It seems that more events are scheduled as the weather gets warmer and people emerge from their winter hibernation.

A pair of upcoming events in the area lead the way and Evolve Academy in Gaithersburg is taking advantage by sending several of their fighters to compete at both Operation Octagon in Virginia in March and the well-known Shogun Fights in Baltimore in April, according to the school's recent e-newsletter.

Operation Octagon will feature Rosanna Garcia, one of Evolve's female fighters, while Shogun Fights will feature several Evolve fighters, including Jason "JMo" Morris. Evolve is part of the Team Lloyd Irvin camp in Camp Springs, which as I've said before, is one of the premier fight camps in MMA and has fighters competing on cards worldwide.

I have no doubt that as we go forward into spring and summer, we will see more Maryland fighters from schools across the state stepping up to the plate and making their mark in the fight game. In addition to the beautiful weather, spring and summer is an exciting time to be a MMA fan.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A bump in the road

I know I've made much of how the sport of mixed martial arts is growing in Maryland through gyms such as Team Lloyd Irvin and events such as Shogun Fights. And while it is true that the sport seems to be growing every single day in our state, there are always going to be growing pains or bumps in the road.

In this case, the bumps come from local fighters who while climbing the ladder to gain more recognition for themselves and those they train with, unfortunately suffer a loss that while not particularly crippling to their potential careers, is still something no fighter wants to see.

Popular local fighter Binky Jones, who has trained with well-known local gyms such as Team Ground Control, suffered a second-round knockout loss at a recent card in Pennsylvania. Joey Kirwan, brother of Frederick-based fighter Jacob Kirwan, also came out on the short end of the stick at that event, suffering a third-round submission loss.

It is always discouraging for any fighter to suffer a loss. But while I don't know these fighters personally, having read and witnessed how fighters here in Maryland compete, I have no doubt they will both bounce back. It's been said that you can learn more about yourself from a loss than a win and I'm sure these fighters will go back to the drawing board and emerge better competitors.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Hulk smash

The old line with Bruce Banner before he transforms into The Incredible Hulk is "Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry." In the case of Mike "The Hulk" Easton, a local fighter from Team Lloyd Irvin in Camp Springs, I'm not sure if Easton is angry when he walks to the Octagon, but he sure has a lot of energy.

Easton, also a D.C. native, ran his UFC record to 2-0 after beating Jared Papazian in a three-round bantamweight war at the UFC's inaugural event on cable channel FX last week. Easton and Papazian went at it nonstop for three rounds, with Easton taking home a unanimous decision victory.

Easton made the rounds prior to his fight against Papazian, including here and here. Easton was aggressive from start to finish and frequently had Papazian on his heels.

Easton is another example of Lloyd Irvin churning out fighters who are ready to compete on the big stage in the UFC, joining fellow UFC fighters like Brandon Vera and the UFC's bantamweight Champion, Dominick Cruz. I tweeted after Easton's fight that Maryland is a fertile breeding ground for fighters who I think can perform under the bright lights of the UFC. While Easton is from our nation's capital and I did not discover him myself, I feel that Easton can become a threat in the 135-pound division.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Brothers in arms

There are many well known families in mixed martial arts, which can include brothers who both fight. The most well-known is the legendary Gracie family, considered by just about everyone as the forefathers of MMA. But there are other well-known brothers in the sport, ranging from the Shamrocks to the Millers to probably the most well-known tandem in MMA right now, the Diaz brothers.

In Maryland, among the most well-known fighters is Jacob Kirwan, who trains with his brother Joey at Clinch Academy in Frederick. Jacob has fought on cards in Maryland, including the annual Shogun Fights card in Baltimore. But both Jacob and Joey both got their opportunities lately to compete on a more national stage when they fought in Bellator Fighting Championship, the de facto "competitor" to the UFC.

Jacob, a lightweight, fought Rene Nazare on a recent Bellator card while Joey fought at middleweight against Lewis Rumsey. Jacob's bout with Nazare went the full three rounds and neither competitor had much use for the stand-up game, going to the ground early and often in their fight where Jacob's mat skills earned him a unanimous decision victory.

Joey's fight didn't last nearly as long, as he escaped from a guillotine choke attempt by Rumsey to lock in a guillotine of his own and score a first-round submission victory.

It remains to be seen whether the Kirwans can achieve the kind of success enjoyed by the Diaz brothers, or even further down the line, the Gracies. But both guys appear poised to carry the flag for Maryland MMA for quite some time.

Monday, January 2, 2012

New ways to learn

In mixed martial arts, there's always something new to learn or some new way to learn. Just when you think you've grasped a specific form of MMA, whether it be striking, wrestling, or jiu-jitsu, something new comes along that turns everything around. If you don't have a willingness to constantly learn new things, chances are MMA isn't for you.

One such local student shares his thoughts on training for an upcoming Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournament in Baltimore. The student trains at Bowie MMA and talks about being able to train with different instructors, including those with a military background like himself.

I've talked at length about how many MMA fighters journey to different locations/schools when training for a bout. Some do it to avoid complacency, others do it because they want to absorb as much knowledge as they can from the very best. I've also mentioned how MMA is catching on with members of the military and I should ask my friend who is a member of the Marines if he or any of his fellow Marines have received any kind of training in BJJ or some other form of MMA.

Participants in submission/BJJ tournaments are the very best at what they do. If you want to be able to compete on their level, it helps to get the best training available to hopefully teach you something new.