Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Shogun Also Rises

Saturday, Nov. 15, was a huge day in mixed martial arts. UFC had a pay-per-view featuring a main event for the interim heavyweight title. Bellator continued its rise with a free card on Spike TV with a main event of two UFC legends - Tito Ortiz vs. Stephan Bonnar. And World Series of Fighting continued to distinguish itself with a free card on TV featuring two title fights of its own.

But it wasn't just a huge day nationally for MMA. Locally, Shogun Fights held its 11th installment in front of yet another enthusiastic and lively crowd at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore, Md. Only two of the 12 fights on the card went to the judges, and what follows is a recap of the night's events:

David Pope vs. Ahmet "The Turk" Kayretli (Bantamweight - 135 lbs.)

I had the pleasure of taking in Shogun Fights once again with Mike Gilman, a talented writer for Assault MMA Radio. Gilman sometimes trains in MMA and told me he once sparred with Pope, and Gilman confirmed my belief that Pope had the look of someone to be reckoned with. Coupled with memories of Kayretli's previous Shogun Fights appearance, a better opening bout could not have been made.

Pope and Kayretli delivered, following up a feeling-out process with exciting action. Kayretli threw kicks early and often, including a spinning back kick that found its target. Another kick attempt resulted in a powerful takedown by Pope that brought the crowd to its feet as the first round ended.

Kayretli let his hands go in Round 2, and a powerful overhand right immediately dropped Pope and led the referee to give Kayretli a knockout victory. Pope protested the decision, but it was clear that he fell like a ton of bricks when Kayretli landed his blow, with a smack of the head on the canvas for good measure.

Winner: Kayretli by second round KO

Mike Young vs. Ratioender Melo (Featherweight - 145 lbs.)

Neither guy wasted time exchanging strikes, but it also wasn't long until Melo asserted himself by landing numerous punches and kicks before connecting with a flying knee that almost ended the fight before Young was saved by the horn.

In the second round, Melo picked up where he left off and ended up severely hobbling Young by checking one of his leg kicks. Young ended up not being able to put any more weight on his leg and the referee was forced to stop the bout.

Winner: Melo by second round ref stoppage

"The" Rob Watley vs. Spencer "Bam Bam" Strube (Lightweight - 155 lbs.)

Watley almost ended the night early, dropping Strube with a right hand in Round 1 that almost resulted in a TKO finish, then an attempt at a rear-naked choke by Watley. He continued his dominance in the second round before fending off a miraculous rear-naked choke attempt by Strube. He almost attempted an armbar in Round 3 before Watley finally went for the finish with vicious ground and pound and a TKO victory.

Winner: Watley by fourth round TKO

Najim "The Afghan Rock" Wali vs. Gary Sheppard (Light Heavyweight - 205 lbs.)

Sheppard was a last-minute replacement opponent, and he looked like it as he was completely overwhelmed by Wali. He handled Sheppard like a rag doll and rained down punches from the top position for a first round victory.

Winner: Wali by first round TKO

Jay Haas vs. Stacy "The Human Highlight Reel" Anderson (Catchweight - 143 lbs.)

Haas weathered an early barrage by Anderson to take him to the mat and display excellent ground and pound and submission grappling. Haas eventually locked in a rear-naked choke for another quick victory.

Winner: Haas by first round submission

Tacuma "The Rock" Robinson vs. Greg Fischer (Flyweight - 125 lbs.)

Robinson and Fischer traded strikes early before Fischer takes down Robinson multiple during the course of the bout. Robinson managed to avoid Fischer's multiple attempts at a rear-naked choke, but Fischer's dominance on the ground was on display throughout the fight. Inexplicably, one judge scored the fight for Robinson. But it wasn't enough.

Winner: Fischer by split decision

Trevor Thompson vs. Tony Dabbondanza (Lightweight - 155 lbs.)

I was told by Gilman that Dabbondanza was also a fighter to keep my eye on, and he looked the part as he wasted little time putting Thompson on his back and unleashing strikes that forced Thompson to verbally tap.

Winner: Dabbondanza by first round TKO

Jonathan "Jonboy" Vinyard vs. Darnell "Strong Soul" Murphy (Bantamweight - 135 lbs.

A few stiff jabs and takedowns gave Vinyard the first round before Murphy came on strong in the second round with an onslaught of punches that crumpled Vinyard to the mat and gave Murphy a TKO victory.

Winner: Murphy by second round TKO

James (Binky) "Father Time" Jones vs. Neil Johnson (Catchweight - 150 lbs.)

Baltimore's favorite son Binky Jones competed in what was rumored to be his last fight. If it was, he wasted little time getting it over with by dropping Johnson with a right cross in the first round and earning a TKO. The rumor was he would retire after this edition of Shogun Fights, but after soliciting feedback from the crowd at Royal Farms Arena, Jones told a gleeful crowd that he's planning on competing again next year.

Winner: Jones by first round TKO

Tim "The Problem" Wade vs. "Wreck-It" Robert Sullivan (Catchweight - 140 lbs.)

The quick finishes continued, as Sullivan snatched a quick takedown of Wade and wasted no time locking in a rear-naked choke for the victory barely a minute into the first round.

Winner: Sullivan by first round submission

Francisco Isata vs. Jon Peters (Featherweight - 145 lbs.)

Peters by far had the most memorable entrance of the night, being accompanied to the cage by a Scottish bagpipe trio. Unfortunately, it would not propel him to victory in a closely contested bout. Isata's strikes knocked Peters to the mat in the first round, and despite a lackluster second round by both fighters and a third round that saw Peters almost pull off a rear-naked choke victory, Isata was viewed as the clear winner by all three judges.

Winner: Isata by unanimous decision

Micah "See Me" Terrill vs. Willie Floyd III (Welterweight - 170 lbs.)

Terrill prides himself on being a showman and giving the fans their money's worth, and he waited until the last possible second of the first round to do so. Terrill landed a devastation Superman punch as the first round wound down, and the resulting strikes gave Terrill a TKO victory with one second to spare.

Winner: Terrill by first round TKO

All in all, it was another quality showing by Shogun Fights. I've seen the event grow from a fight card that was still finding its way with sideshow main events and fights featuring competitors who seemed somewhat skittish about going for the finish, resulting in long events with multiple fights going to a judge's decision. The fighters who make up the cards now are hungry. They leave nothing to chance and go for the finish constantly, which results in a much higher quality of fights.

Now, some individual awards:

Fight of the Night: Pope/Kayretli. If these two fought again, it would be just as exciting and hard-hitting as it was tonight. Both of these guys have a bright future.

Knockout of the Night: Ahmet Kayretli. Pope protested the KO, but it was clear that Kayretli turned his lights out with that devastating overhand right.

Submission of the Night: Robert Sullivan. He barely fends off Jay Haas for quickest submission.

Best Entrance: Jon Peters. His Scottish bagpipe trio provided a nice respite from the constant barrage of rap music entrances that each had so much bass it caused my eardrums to vibrate.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

'It's What Makes Me Happy'

One of the reasons why I love mixed martial arts is the psychological aspect. It definitely takes a certain mindset to willingly step into a cage with another human being, where the intent is to beat each other up. What drives fighters to do this? Are they working through some inner turmoil or channeling their anger? Do they really need money? Or is it simply a love of sport and competing?

For Robert Sullivan, it's definitely that last one.

"I fight because I enjoy it," Sullivan told me during a recent Facebook conversation. "I don't have some sob story of my struggle and how this is all I know. I'm a trained carpenter and tend to wear a lot of other hats. This is what makes me happy."

Sullivan is a fighter with Method MMA and Baltimore BJJ and will compete at Shogun Fights this weekend in Baltimore. Sullivan started fighting in 2011 after growing up wrestling, and waited until the age of 26 to start practicing Brazilian jiu-jitsu. "My age was a big reason I went pro so early," Sullivan said.

Sullivan traveled to Holland after his first fight (a 12-second TKO victory) to train in kickboxing, which confirmed his belief to make fighting his full-time gig after taking gigs of a different sort.

"The years before fighting I played in a band, so I always came home from tour and did BJJ or just wrestled at different gyms," Sullivan said. "I never stepped that far away from it, but I had a few years where being in a band was my only focus. The band called it quits in 2010, so my focus has been all fighting ever since."

Sullivan is also an instructor and manager for Baltimore BJJ and coaches wrestling at a local high school. But he makes it clear that fighting is his passion, and he will do it until he can't physically do it anymore.

"My ultimate goal is to do this until my body decides I'm done," Sullivan said. "I love the grind of this lifestyle. I've never liked the idea of a typical 9 to 5, so after being in a band this seemed right up my alley."

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

With apologies to Bruce Buffer.........

IT'S ... TIME!!!!!!!!! I'm surprised it's taken me this long to steal that from him.

But yes, it's that time again. The 11th installment of Shogun Fights is coming to Baltimore on Nov. 15. It's really hard to believe that there have been 11 fight cards. It still seems like yesterday I saw one of the very first ones, and genuinely wondered how long it would stick around. Not because I doubted the appetite for mixed martial arts from my fellow Marylanders, but because well, frankly, putting on shows are expensive and requires a ton of commitment from all sides. But since it's endured for 11 installments, I think those questions have been answered.

Now then, looking at the fight card for this latest edition, we yet again some familiar faces. Binky Jones. Micah Terrill, Rob Sullivan, Myron Baker. And some of the usual suspects of MMA gyms are also well represented. Evolve Academy. Conquest BJJ. Clinch Academy. And of course, Ground Control Baltimore.

Also when looking at the card, there's only one fight contested at the light heavyweight level (205 lbs.). Besides that, every fight ranges from flyweight (125 lbs.) to one fight at welterweight (170 lbs.). Could Shogun Fights be marketing itself as a developer of talent in the lighter weight classes, much like how World Extreme Cagefighting carved its niche prior to being bought by UFC?

During the first few Shogun Fights, the main event was always a super heavyweight fight, featuring fighters who routinely weighed 300 pounds or more. I personally find such fights to be a sideshow. But I guess it helped set Shogun Fights in the early stages.

I'm hoping to get some comments from one of the competitors competing on this card, so stay tuned. In the meantime, if you haven't had the chance to experience Shogun Fights in person, I highly recommend it.