Sunday, November 22, 2015

A little Q&A about MMA

Seldom do you hear from the local, regional fighter who's just starting to make his way into the sport. How has their journey started? What are their goals? What made them want to do this? I decided to shine a light on some fighters from Evolve Academy in Gaithersburg, who are each competing on a card in Virginia next month. What follows is a Q&A I had with Garrett Kline, John Thorpe and Josh Jackson, and their respective answers.

How did you become interested in MMA?

Garrett Kline: I actually wrestled in high school. I remember how bad I was; I was 1-21 with my only win coming by forfeit. I was discouraged with not being able to defend myself, so I looked into some martial arts. I fell in love with it because it shaped me into an entirely different person.

John Thorpe: I was always interested in MMA. I grew up in a small town in Vermont where "The Ultimate Fighter" competitor Thomas Murphy is from. I can remember him giving a motivational speech at my work's company party when I was 16, and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. Due to instability in my life and military service, I didn't end up chasing this dream until I was about 27 years of age.

Josh Jackson: My teammate Brent [Walter] actually got me into MMA. We both ended up playing football for the same college and we clicked pretty quick. We started talking about UFC, one thing lead to another and he got me to go to his gym to try Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I loved it and it all snowballed from there.

What is your overall win/loss record? What was the result of your last fight? How would you rate your performance?

Kline: I'm making my cage debut on Dec. 12!

Thorpe: My overall record is 1-1 in the 185-pound division. My last fight was against Leonard Poe; he was a tough opponent who showed a lot of heart and weathered my storm for the first and most of the second round, but brilliantly capitalized on my fatigue in the last 10 seconds of the second resulting in a loss via TKO.

I will never say I was satisfied with my performance, win or lose, because there is always room for improvement. I do truly feel I lost that fight mentally to myself. It has been one of my biggest and most humbling learning experiences to date. The growth lessons I learned that day were priceless.

Jackson: Right now my record is 2-0. I won my last fight with a guillotine in the second round. I wasn't happy with my performance because I feel like there was a lot I could have done better, but didn't capitalize on.

Where do you think you stand overall as a fighter at this juncture in your career? Are you as far along as you would like? What do you think are your strengths/weaknesses currently as a fighter?

Kline: Overall, I feel pretty good. It's been a little over a year and I have my first fight scheduled, I've done a Thai smoker and a lot of jiu jitsu tournaments, and competed in a lot of wrestling. I'm not as far along as I want to be because there's a lot of room for improvement, but that only comes with time.

I think my strengths are my heart and attitude, because you'll never see me mad at the gym no matter how many black eyes or how much my nose hurts. I'm always smiling - I don't believe in giving up. My weakness is definitely my jiu jitsu. Only because I'm still fresh to the game.

Thorpe: I believe I am very competitive for being so young in my career. Both of my matches have been with far more experienced fighters with more fights and backgrounds in another combat sport, which I don't have. I'm definitely not as far along as I would like, but that is due to a lot of canceled bouts where my opponents couldn't uphold their commitments for one reason or another.

My strength is definitely my team at Evolve Academy. We have a wealth of pro knowledge, and Master Mike Moses genuinely cares about our success. I always try to remain open to criticism and willing to implement what my coaches say. My weakness lies in inexperience, especially when it comes to managing the fight.

Jackson: Right now I'm at a good place in my career. I have great coaches and a team that will do anything to help out and we are always working. I'm right where I need to be as far as the fights go, but I always want to be better and progress in training. Luckily I have the tools to help me do that. My strength is my balance; I took to Brazilian jiu-jitsu and striking very well and my wrestling surprises a lot of people.

Talk about your next opponent. How do you view him? What will be your strategy going into this fight?

Kline: My next opponent is a good gmatchup. He's been talking trash about me trying to hype himself, but he's pretty good technical-wise. I think it's going to be a awesome fight. I don't believe in trash talk because I know the sacrifices him and I both made to be able to compete, and I really appreciate his effort for it. My plan is to keep my head on right and show at the event what I'm about.

Thorpe: My next opponent is Anthony Wilson at 205 pounds. This move up in divisions has allowed me to be less concerned about dieting and more focused on conditioning and technique. My strategy is to stay calm and let my work speak for itself. He is atough guy who doesn't understand the meaning of quit. That trait in of itself is dangerous. Hopefully I will be the more cerebral fighter on that night.

Jackson: I don't know him so I cant say too much about him. My strategy is to be relaxed and do what I do every day in the gym - that's staying balanced.

What are your plans going forward for your MMA career? Do you expect to continue competing as a fighter? Full-time or part-time?

Kline: My ultimate goal is to help run a SoldierFit program in a few years with the MMA program. I want to ride this train until it wrecks. Hopefully you'll look back and remember me answering these questions when I'm making my UFC debut!

Thorpe: I am a full-time physician assistant student at Howard University and have been able to train and maintain expectations for the Honors Society. I do see myself pursuing MMA full time and the goal is always to increase to the next level of opponent. I truly believe one can successfully accomplish multiple things, but they need to have an extreme level of focus and discipline.

Jackson: My plans are to take it as far as I can. It's become a big part of my life and I don't plan on that changing. I'm always going to be chasing a title and I want to go pro when my camp feels I'm ready to take that step.

Kline, Thorpe and Jackson are all scheduled to compete at Cagezilla Fighting Championship on Saturday, Dec. 12, in Ashburn, Virginia.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Shogun Fights 13: A lucky night for Isata and Terrill

The 13th edition of Shogun Fights at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore on Saturday, Oct. 24, was a lucky one for one fighter seeking redemption in the main event, while another longtime Baltimore fighter came up short in his bid for gold.

This edition of Shogun Fights originally boasted three title fights. However, the lightweight title bout between Dan Root and Rob Watley was postponed after Watley suffered a foot injury. The two will tentatively matchup again at the next edition of Shogun Fights, scheduled to take place in April of next year.

But there were two other title fights on Saturday’s card. In the co-main event, Francisco Isata squared off against local mainstay Binky Jones for the inaugural featherweight title. Isata took Jones down early in the first round, but Jones’ jiu-jitsu and attempts at submissions prevented Isata from capitalizing.

However, Isata was able to capitalize on his wrestling and jiu-jitsu in the second round, taking Jones down early again and smothering him throughout most of the round, before a late stand-up by the referee allowed Isata to land a stiff jab to Jones.

That jab may have woken Jones up for the third round, as he knocked Isata to the ground early and nearly finished the fight with strikes and attempts at submissions, including a guillotine and rear-naked choke. But Isata scored another takedown late in the round and finished the fight in top position, which seemed to be enough for the judges to award him a unanimous decision victory and the title of Shogun Fights’ first featherweight champion.

The main event did not need to take as long to crown a champion, frankly. Micah Terrill sought to atone in his bid to become welterweight champion, and he did just that. After a brief feeling-out period with his opponent, Jeremy Carper, Terrill swarmed Carper with a barrage of strikes that caused Carper to turtle up and referee Dan Miragliotta to stop the fight and award Terrill the welterweight title after just 46 seconds.

Following the event, Carper announced his retirement from mixed martial arts on social media. The 11-fight Shogun Fights card saw only two bouts go to a decision, and only one bout reach the third round. It was another exciting event that engaged the crowd throughout, perhaps even too much prior to the co-main event when a couple fans got into a brawl. WWE Hall of Famer Nikolai Volkoff and UFC lightweight Joe Lauzon were both in attendance, so it was another star-studded night that bodes well for Shogun Fights' future.

Full Results

Nic Nicholas def. Stephen Speck by submission (kimura). Round 1, 0:29
Hopeton Stewart def. Dameron Kirby knockout (head kick). Round 2, 0:10
Jesse Stirn def. Josh Trainor by submission (guillotine). Round 1, 1:25
Angelo DePasquale def. Albert Birckhead by submission (kimura). Round 1, 3:30
Greg Fisher def. Tim Wade by submission (rear-naked choke). Round 1, 3:36
Alvin Mercer def. Tucker Lutz by TKO (punches). Round 3, 2:08
Patrick Rivera def. Mahmoud Rashid by TKO (punches). Round 2, 3:04
D.J. Jackson def. Piankhi Zimmerman by unanimous decision (30-27 x 3)
Jon Delbrugge def. Willie Floyd by submission (arm triangle). Round 2, 3:17
Francisco Isata def. Binky Jones by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27) – for featherweight title
Micah Terrill def. Jeremy Carper by TKO (punches). Round 1, 0:46 – for welterweight title

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Shogun Fights 13: A lucky card in Charm City?

On the heels of probably the best card in their existence, Shogun Fights returns ... today, actually, from Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore, Md. The 13th installment of Shogun Fights promises to hopefully be the luckiest yet, with three title fights scheduled for the first time in the card’s history.

This preview will look at each of the title fights a little more in depth and predict who takes home each piece of gold, followed by picks of the remaining nine fights on the card.

Binky Jones (14-13) vs. Francisco Isata (6-2) (Featherweight Title – 145 lbs.)

Jones is a mixed martial arts mainstay, having made his amateur debut in 2001. He is also a local MMA legend and Baltimore institution, having competed at the first Shogun Fights in 2009 and on eight total editions of the card. He’s currently on a four-fight win streak, all by finishes and all at Shogun Fights. Jones’ game is well-rounded, as he boasts wins by both submissions and knockouts. He generally tries for the knockout but has developed a nice submission game as a complement.

However, Isata is no pushover. He is also on a four-fight win streak and has won his last two bouts at Shogun Fights. He will look to push Jones and make him go the full length of the fight. The role of spoiler is nothing new to Isata, as his last fight included emerging victorious against another hometown hero. But there always seem to be a different atmosphere in Royal Farms Arena when Jones makes his way to the cage.

Whether it’s the hometown crowd behind him, the large entourage of students from his martial arts classes that accompany him to the cage or some other unexplainable phenomena, I think Jones has one last run at the top in him.

Prediction: Jones by third-round TKO

Micah Terrill (5-5) vs. Jeremy Carper (6-6) (Welterweight Title – 170 lbs.)

Terrill competed in what was probably the greatest fight in Shogun Fights history at the organization’s previous card in April. He suffered a submission loss to Cole Presley, which was also for the welterweight title. However, Terrill was in control for most of the bout and even managed to break Presley’s nose with the very first punch he threw.

While it wasn’t enough to put Presley away, Terrill gets another shot at the title after Presley decided to drop to lightweight. In Carper, Terrill will face a fighter known for his Muay Thai and kickboxing. I expect another stand-up battle for these two that should bring the crowd to its feet yet again.

Both fighters have a lot of mileage on them in their careers and are known to leave it all in the cage. This fight is my pick to be the best one of the card, and the one I’m most looking forward to. Terrill is as game as they come, but I like the 36-year-old Carper to finally add a piece of gold to his repertoire.

Prediction: Carper by unanimous decision

Dan Root (10-2) vs. Rob Watley (4-1) (Lightweight Title – 155 lbs.)

Root is a late replacement for Presley, who had to withdraw from this fight because of injury. Although he is late to the title picture, Root is also a veteran of nine bouts at Shogun Fights, with eight victories.

Root is a submission specialist, which can be attributed to his background as a wrestler. He is among the more popular fighters who compete at Shogun Fights and his early finishes always excite the crowd. However, Watley has competed multiple times at Shogun Fights himself and has a submission win on his resume. Watley is certainly not lacking in confidence for this fight, and prides himself on being a student of the game.

I think Watley’s athleticism and well-rounded game will keep him in the fight. But eventually, the veteran savvy and ground game of Root will take over. I like Root to add yet another submission victory to his already impressive resume.

Prediction: Root by second-round submission

As far as who else I think will emerge victorious at Shogun Fights 13? Check out the rest of my picks:

Nic Nicholas vs. Stephen Speck
Winner: Speck

Dameron Kirby vs. Hopeton Stewart
Winner: Kirby

Jesse Stirn vs. Josh Trainer
Winner: Stirn

Angelo DePasquale vs. Albert Birckhead
Winner: DePasquale

Greg Fisher vs. Tim Wade
Winner: Wade

Tucker Lutz vs. Alvin Mercer
Winner: Mercer

Mahmoud Rashid vs. Pat Rivera
Winner: Rashid

Piankhi Zimmerman vs. D.J. Jackson
Winner: Jackson

Rob Watley rolls with the punches

If you want to make it as a mixed martial artist, you have to be willing to adapt. That means you could spend your entire training camp preparing to face one fighter, only to have it change at the last minute because of an injury or some other reason.

That’s what happened to Rob Watley. He was originally supposed to face Cole Presley at Shogun Fights 13 in Baltimore on Oct. 24 for the promotion’s inaugural lightweight title. But Presley had to withdraw from the bout due to injury, so Watley will now face Shogun Fights veteran Dan Root for the belt. But Watley’s not worried.

“Honestly, my training doesn't really change,” Watley told Combat Press. “I tweak a few things here and there, but I don't cater my camp to my opponents. I work on bettering myself in each aspect of the sport and then maybe add in a few techniques that my coaches and I believe will help me frustrate and hurt my opponent.”

Watley originally requested to fight Root, but was told Root could not make the 155-pound weight limit at that time. Watley is excited that Root was able to make weight and accepted the fight, and Watley is “looking forward to doing battle with a war-tested veteran,” he said.

Watley was a multi-sport athlete growing up, first competing in Tae kwon do. He wanted to partake in other sports, but his parents required that he achieve a black belt before moving on. Having done just that, Watley moved on to playing football in college at Southeast Missouri State.

But it was then he watched “The Ultimate Fighter” with friends that Watley decided to give MMA a try. “I thought I could do that, and I wanted to try my hand at it,” he said.

Watley trains at Royal Martial Arts in Waldorf, Md., and also trains at Conquest BJJ in Crofton, Md., which is home to his teammate Micah Terrill – a fellow title contender at Shogun Fights 13 who faces Jeremy Carper for the welterweight title.

“I love competing and putting everything on the line,” said Watley, who was 3-2 as an amateur before turning pro last year, where he has compiled a 4-1 record. “Every day I humble myself to be a student of the game and a more well-rounded mixed martial artist.”

Watley is also a veteran of Shogun Fights, having competed for the organization three times – most recently at Shogun Fights 12 earlier this year, where Watley secured a first-round submission victory.

“I feel the love at Shogun Fights,” Watley said. “They’re adding some world-class athletes to the sport, and I love to compete in front of friends and family, and people that support me.”

While Watley has his sights set on eventually competing in UFC, he also has loftier goals for his fighting career – he wants to use his talents to build toward creating a union for fighters.

“MMA doesn’t have a union, so fighters are getting screwed,” Watley said. “I look at all fighters as my brothers. I want to help make it better for them by being the best.”

Dan Root seizes an opportunity at Shogun Fights

When Dan Root showed up for a recent training session at his gym, Ground Control Baltimore, he probably wasn’t expecting to be offered a title shot. But that’s exactly what happened.

John Rallo – founder of Shogun Fights, head trainer at Ground Control and Root’s coach – offered Root a lightweight title fight against Rob Watley at Shogun Fights 13 in Baltimore after Watley’s original opponent, Cole Presley, had to withdraw because of injury.

“I haven’t had the chance to fight for a title yet, so I thought it would be great,” Root said. “If you’re not in this to be the best, then why are you here?”

A New York native who currently resides in Baltimore, Root has a unique approach to his fights, which is why he’s not too concerned about stepping up as a late replacement to fight Watley.

“No offense to any of my opponents, but I don’t study any of them,” Root said. “I only focus on what I can control – I’m a proactive fighter, not reactive. If someone beats you at their best, then they’re the better man.”

That approach seems to work for Root, as he sports a record of 10-2 as a professional after going 3-3 as an amateur. Root has fought nine times for Shogun Fights, going 8-1 with six of those victories coming by submission.

Root believes his evolution from an amateur fighter to a pro comes down to confidence. “I put in the work, and all the sweat and the work has prepared me,” he said.

Root attributes his proclivity for submissions to his background as a wrestler, which he did from age 5 all the way through college. He started training in jiu-jitsu not long after deciding that making a living as a teacher wasn’t for him, and soon thereafter made his mixed martial arts debut.

“I’m good at getting people to the ground,” Root said of his submission skills. “There’s a lot of skill for knockouts – a lot of angles and sometimes, it’s just pure, blind luck. But you actually beat someone into submission; aggressively controlling the fight plays to my strengths and my pace.”

Root describes Watley as a “young, athletic fighter.”

“He has a good team, and he fights the same style as me,” Root said.

Root has had a front-row seat to the growth of Shogun Fights over the organization’s first 13 fight cards, and he credits Rallo with bringing in great talent for each event.

“Each event is bigger and bigger, and I think we draw more knowledgeable fans,” Root said. “The fans understand the nuances of fighting and aren’t just screaming for blood. I’ve been to some other regional shows and they’re not as well run. As more people will get involved, I think [Shogun] will continue to grow.”

While Root’s short-term goal in MMA is to win the lightweight title at Shogun Fights 13, in the long term he would like to fight at least once in UFC.

“I want to know I could fight with the best in the world,” he said.

Jeremy Carper looks to leave a legacy

For many fighters, mixed martial arts isn’t a full-time job. They still need to pay the bills with a day job and in some cases, raise a family. For Jeremy Carper, it’s all of the above.

Carper, 36, works as an electrician during the day to supplement his fighting career and take care of his three children. Carper aims to create sparks of his own and take home the gold as he steps in the cage against Micah Terrill for the welterweight title at Shogun Fights 13 in Baltimore, Md., on Oct. 24.

Carper’s journey into MMA began the same way it does for many fighters – as a child, doing karate and watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Carper first tried kickboxing after watching Dutch kickboxer Ernesto Hoost, then became hooked on MMA after watching the very first UFC card.

Hoost was a favorite of Carper because “he’s a masterful technician,” Carper said. “I saw how smooth he was and how much fun he was having.”
Carper trained in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and competed in kickboxing and Muay Thai before transitioning to MMA, achieving high rankings in both sports.

His amateur MMA career began in 2007 and lasted for two years, where he compiled a 7-4 record competing on cards across the Shenandoah Valley, mostly in Virginia, before turning pro in 2009.

Carper boasts a victory over Shogun Fights veteran James “Binky” Jones in his pro career, but lost in his only appearance for Shogun Fights – a submission defeat at the hands of J.C. Cuffee at Shogun Fights VI in 2012. Carper also competed twice against another Shogun Fights veteran as an amateur and pro – former welterweight champion Cole Presley, who decided to drop to lightweight after winning the belt over Terrill earlier this year.

Carper has an overall pro record of 6-6 and said he loves MMA because “I’m a competitor. MMA is basically the purest form of sport.”

Carper formed the Coalition Fight Team in Martinsburg, West Virginia, 10 years ago and said while he originally vowed to only fight once when he started his fighting career, he now takes things “one fight at a time,” since he also holds down a full-time job.

“It’s a pretty crazy life,” Carper said. “I don’t know how I do it sometimes. But I do my best, and I have a great support group behind me. I want to leave a legacy behind for my kids to be proud of.”

Carper’s oldest son has taken an interest in fighting and said while we won’t push his children to follow in his footsteps, “I would be all for my kids trying fighting,” he said.

Shogun Fights 13 will be Carper’s second appearance for the organization, and he touts how Shogun Fights founder John Rallo “puts fighters first,” Carper said. “It’s a lot of exposure, and to fight for a title at this stage in my career? I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Carper described Terrill as a “banger” and added “he’s very athletic, and he moves well.”

“This is my kind of fight,” Carper said. “If he wants to stand up and bang, then it’s going to be fireworks.”

Micah Terrill seeks redemption

Note: I fell behind with posting my interviews with fighters competing for title at Shogun Fights today - sorry about that. But hey, you can check them all out right now over at Combat Press. Or you could stay here and read them. Better yet, stay here. Like I said, I need the clicks.

The first round of Micah Terrill’s last fight went pretty much as he expected.

Usually when a fighter throws his first punch in a fight, it’s meant to feel his opponent out – get an idea for how his opponent will react to being hit, or how he might approach the fight. For Terrill, the very first punch he threw couldn’t have had a much better result.

Terrill’s first punch broke the nose of his opponent, Cole Presley. So it didn’t take long for the white mat of Shogun Fights to begin being spotted with red drops of blood from Presley’s nose. The second round was a little closer, but Terrill still thought he came out on top. Unfortunately, the white Shogun Fights mat began turning a healthy shade of pink as the blood continued to flow from Presley’s nose, and it started to affect Terrill’s footing.

“With all the blood, I started slipping and couldn’t move, so I stayed still,” Terrill said.

Unfortunately for Terrill, in addition to the slippery footing, Presley just wouldn’t go away. Presley’s comeback was complete in the third round, as he finished Terrill with a guillotine choke and won the inaugural Shogun Fights welterweight title, with the 5,000 or so fans in attendance going insane (including me. It was the best mixed martial arts fight I’ve ever seen, at any level – amateur, professional, UFC, Bellator or World Series of Fighting).

“When he started hitting me, he showed me a lot about myself,” Terrill said. “He kept coming forward – I don’t think the dude is human. I tip my hat to him, but the second time we would fight would be different.”

The loss to Presley was Terrill’s second in a row following a 3-fight win streak. With an overall record of 5-5, Terrill isn’t getting a rematch with Presley at Shogun Fights 13 on Oct. 24 in Baltimore, Maryland, but he is getting another shot at the welterweight title. Following Presley’s decision to drop to lightweight, Terrill will face Jeremy Carper in one of three title fights on the card.

Shogun Fights actually offered a rematch to Terrill and Presley, which Terrill accepted but Presley then decided to drop a weight class. When that happened, Terrill didn’t think he would get another shot at the title.

“I’m hard on myself – I don’t think I deserved another title shot, but I’ll take it,” Terrill said. “It’s what the crowd wants, and I want to give them a show and prove why I got this shot.”

Terrill trains at Conquest BJJ in Crofton, Maryland, and worked with a new striking coach every day for the last six months for his fight against Carper, he said. Terrill added that he also worked on improving his strength and conditioning.

“I can finish this fight anywhere I go,” he said. In his 10-fight career, Terrill has only been to a decision once, and he’s confident his fight with Carper will not result in a second decision.

“I’ve heard his chin is suspect,” Terrill said. “He’s been beaten by Cole twice, and I’m bigger, faster and stronger than he is.”

While Terrill still has the goal of fighting in UFC or Bellator, he’s already preparing for a life after fighting by working on opening his own gym. But his focus is still 100 percent on his fight against Carper, and on another chance to become champion.

“Shogun Fights is my second home,” said Terrill, with seven fights already under his belt with the promotion. “I’ll have the hometown crowd behind me, and it’s going to be my night.”

Friday, October 2, 2015

Isata is no pushover

Note: This is the second in an ongoing series of articles on fighters competing for titles at Shogun Fights on Oct. 24. Check back here for more!

The underdog. It’s a role that’s nothing new to Francisco Isata. He’s used to being looked at as fodder for the hometown guy on any card he competes on. That’s why he relishes his title opportunity with Shogun Fights on Oct. 24 in Baltimore.

Isata will compete for the inaugural Shogun Fights featherweight strap against Baltimore native James “Binky” Jones. Isata is a Maryland native and resident himself, which is one reason why he enjoys competing for Shogun Fights.

His fight against Jones will mark Isata’s fifth appearance with the organization. He’s compiled a 6-2 professional record after starting his mixed martial arts career as an amateur in 2010. Isata competed on the last Shogun Fights card in April and scored a unanimous decision victory over Mahmoud Mohagheghrashid.

“It’s home for me,” Isata said of Shogun Fights. “No disrespect to other organizations, but Shogun Fights always gives me a fair shake. Other organizations tend to bring you in to showcase their hometown guys.”

Isata lifted weights and played basketball growing up. It was a recommendation from a fellow employee when the two worked at a moving company that set Isata on the road to becoming an MMA fighter.

Isata trained with Team Pedro Sauer, which was founded by the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu legend and has multiple locations in Maryland and Virginia. Isata recently opened his own gym, Team Black Print, in Silver Spring, Md., and also trains at Disciple MMA in Sterling, Va.

Isata’s last fight, which took place in Atlantic City, N.J., in July, ended with a unanimous decision victory for Isata over Lester Caslow. Jones will be a heavy hometown favorite when he faces Isata at Shogun Fights 13, but Isata is perfectly fine with that. While five of his six victories have come via decision, Isata will be looking for the finish against the local legend Jones, no matter how it comes.

“I like Binky. We’ve fought on the same cards before,” Isata said. “But when that cage door locks, it’s just [him] and me. I think I’m better than everyone everywhere, so I’ll just fight him wherever it goes.”

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Reborn and Ready for Gold

Note: This first appeared on Combat Press, another MMA site I write for. It's part of an ongoing series I'm putting together featuring fighters who are competing for titles at Shogun Fights in a few weeks. But read it here; I need the clicks!

First came a TKO loss. Then another. Then there was a knockout. Then a submission. You could call it a very bad year. James “Binky” Jones opted to call it the end of his career.

After suffering four straight losses from 2011-12, Jones was ready to retire from mixed martial arts. He was ready to settle into a comfortable life as an instructor.

“I wasn’t in love with the sport anymore,” said Jones, 45, who trains at Team Ground Control in Baltimore.

Sometimes, taking a step back can do a world of good. Jones started to focus on teaching martial arts to children and teenagers at his gym. It was enough to reignite the love of the sport within Jones.

“Being around those young minds gave me something,” Jones said.

He returned to active competition in MMA. It was his turn to bring the finishes. First came a knockout. Then a TKO. Then another, this time in the first round. Then a first-round submission. It was a significant turnaround, the longest winning streak of the Baltimore fighter’s lengthy career.

He will carry that streak into his next fight, which takes place at Shogun Fights 13 on Oct. 24 at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore. Jones will compete for the inaugural Shogun Fights featherweight title against fellow Maryland fighter Francisco Isata.

Winning titles is nothing new to Jones. He’s won multiple belts in other regional promotions, including winning an eight-man tournament where he upset a member of the famed Team Quest in the finals.

“I was an underdog who wasn’t even supposed to get out of the first round,” Jones recalled.

Instead, it was his opponent, Ian Loveland, who didn’t make it out of the first round. Jones submitted the “Barn Owl” via armbar in a little over three minutes of the opening frame.

Although Jones has competed all over the place in MMA, fighting in Baltimore for Shogun Fights holds a special place in his heart.

“This city stuck by me the whole time,” Jones said. “I won the main event on the very first Shogun Fights card, and I feel it’s my responsibility to help make MMA in Maryland great.”

Jones credits Shogun Fights founder John Rallo for working with Maryland politicians to have MMA events sanctioned in the state. He also points out Maryland fighters Ron Stallings and Mike Easton, who made it to the UFC. Jones also draws inspiration from a former student, a teenager named Rick Snyder who died after a battle with cancer.

“He told me to never give up,” Jones said.

Jones described his upcoming opponent, Isata, as a “tough guy” and “well-rounded” opponent, but said he plans to be in “amazing shape” when he and Isata step into the cage on Oct. 24.

“I can handle anything he can bring to me,” Jones said. “I’m going to push him, and I hope he pushes me.”

Winning titles is nice, but Jones has a different goal. He wants to help bring up the Baltimore youth he mentors “the right way.”

“I’m showing the next generation how to be better than me,” he said.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Fighting his way back

Rob Sullivan was riding high in his mixed martial arts career earlier this year. He was victorious in his most recent bout at Shogun Fights in April, and was slated to fight again in mid-July for Cage Fury Fighting Championships. Unfortunately, he never got there.

While training for his next fight, as cruel fate would have it, and on the very day he was going to sign the contract to make his next fight for CFFC official, "my training partner and I were just going at 75 percent with our takedown finish and defense off the cage," Sullivan said. "He went for a back trip and I defended by going for a switch. My feet didn't slide out of the way and we were both pretty much off balance. Next thing I know, his weight drove forward into my knee."

A pair of loud pops immediately caused Sullivan to scream out in pain. He received a MRI and the awful news at the end of that day: He completely tore his ACL, partially tore his MCL and suffered additional bruising, contusions and sprains in his knee.

Sullivan underwent five weeks of pre-rehabilitation before his surgery on July 2. He started his offical rehab soon thereafter and according to his physical therapist and doctor, "I seem to be ahead of the curve," Sullivan said. "The first few weeks was just getting the fluid down, getting my ability to straighten my leg back and muscle control. Now I am doing light jumping movements, riding my bike, things like that."

Sullivan expects to complete his rehab in December and expects some kind of after effects, especially mentally.

"All injuries affect you if you are any sort of athlete," Sullivan said. "However, I have been through way worse and bounced back in life. I am not that worried about how it affects my fighting career."

In a way, Sullivan sees his injury as a blessing in disguise.

"It's given me a chance to rehab other injuries I have had for a very long time," he said. "Maybe in a way, my body needed the break."

Despite his trials and tribulations, Sullivan has no plans to hang up his gloves. He should be back to full-time MMA training by spring 2016, if not earlier, and is even considering competing in a boxing match this winter.

"I can tell you I haven't thought of ending my fighting career," he said. "Nothing makes me happier. I start light drilling in September, as well as pad work and teaching classes again in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I plan to make the best of a bad situation by the time I return - just soak in more knowledge and get sharper."

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Tao of Rallo

It's been a while since I've written here, admittedly. I've been wrapped up with my other mixed martial arts blogging duties (you can check me out on Combat Press, among other places), but it's high time I put my focus back on this. And I found the perfect item to feature.

John Rallo from Shogun Fights was a guest recently on the Travis Thomas Experience, a podcast by CBS Baltimore's Travis Thomas. Here are just a few highlights from what was a very informative interview:

- Rallo was going to audition for the second season of "The Ultimate Fighter" before tearing his ACL.

- Rallo hopes former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones can overcome his inner demons and an obvious problem with drugs and alcohol. "He comes from a good family," Rallo said of Jones. "He was just scraping the surface and was still evolving as a fighter."

This was where the interview got really interesting, in my opinion. Rallo shared that he is a proponent of regulated use of anabolic steroids in professional and contributed other thoughts on the issue of performance-enhancing drugs:

- Rallo believes 3-year penalty for first-time drug offense is "ridiculous", while still crediting UFC for addressing the issue. However, Rallo believes a first-time offender should perhaps be subject to some kind of counseling instead of a 3-year ban. "That could end guys' careers," Rallo said.

- "Steroids aren't bad for you," Rallo said, noting a HBO "Real Sports" segment that discussed the death of former professional football player Lyle Alzado and how he didn't appear to die from steroid use, as was originally reported.

- Rallo is quick to point out that steroids are dangerous to women and children, but that adult males who receive proper guidance from a doctor on anabolic steroid use can enhance their quality of life. "Your pay in sports is based on how you can perform," Rallo said. "You should have your own ability to decide if you want to do it. You should be able to see a doctor to make sure you don't have any pre-existing conditions. Do blood work every 3-4 months. Used properly, I really don't see the problem. People do not want to see ordinary when they watch pro sports."

- Rallo believed that Conor McGregor, while entertaining in his own right, talked his way into a title fight against UFC featherweight champion. Rallo believed a wrestler like Chan Mendes or Frankie Edgar would neutralize McGregor's effectiveness.

If you want to hear more of Rallo's thoughts on MMA, check out the podcast here.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Sullivan is encouraged after ‘TUF’ audition

Although “The Ultimate Fighter” is currently in its 21st season, the state of Maryland has been woefully underrepresented on the show. Only one fighter from the Free State has actually made it on the show – Zach Davis, from Evolve Academy in Gaithersburg. Davis looked to be one of the early favorites on the show’s 13th season before an unfortunate eye injury forced his withdrawal from the competition.

However, another Maryland fighter tried his hand at fulfilling his dream of fighting in the UFC – Robert Sullivan, from Baltimore BJJ and Method MMA and a veteran of multiple Shogun Fights events. Sullivan recently auditioned for an upcoming season of TUF that will feature lightweight fighters.

Sullivan typically fights at bantamweight, but considers featherweight “the best weight class for me,” he told me during a recent interview. Sullivan flew to Las Vegas, Nevada, with his Method MMA coach Eddie Abney and had his audition in a casino banquet hall.

“The first day, you’re seeing fighters eyeing each other up,” Sullivan said. “But I was laughing about it.”

After weighing in, lightweight and welterweight fighters engaged in a basic grappling competition to give the evaluators in attendance an idea of their skill set. Sullivan was part of the second group that competed and described that part of the audition as “like a jiu-jitsu tournament – you’re just waiting for your number to be called,” he said.

The fighters were advised not to go too hard with their grappling and Sullivan went against his opponent for one 90-second round.

“I had a lot anxiety,” Sullivan said. “My head and heart weren’t on the level. It was definitely a weird experience, but not bad.”

Following the jiu-jitsu portion of the tryouts, fighters displayed their pad work for evaluators before being selected for an interview. Oddly enough, the fighter Sullivan defeated in jiu-jitsu was chosen for an interview over Sullivan, letting him know that he was eliminated from the tryouts.

“Some guys get cut because they know you think you’re too good for this,” Sullivan said. “But there were some guys who blew my mind that they weren’t chosen.”

Despite feeling that he is just as good and well-rounded as fighters that were chosen to continue the audition, Sullivan harbors no hard feelings and considered his TUF tryout as a positive experience.

“I’m definitely happy I did it,” he said. “I know what I’m getting into if I try it again. If they do a featherweight season, I would try it one more time.”

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Shogun Fights 12: A Champion Is Crowned

Charm City was host to a charmed edition of Shogun Fights on Saturday, April 18. The 12th incarnation of the Baltimore-based mixed martial arts event saw its first champion crowned in a brutal, bloody affair where the victor rose to the occasion through a miraculous comeback.

Micah Terrill vs. Cole Presley (Welterweight Title – 170 lbs.)

The crowd was hot all night long, but its exuberance grew over the course of Shogun Fights’ first-ever title fight. The bout began with Terrill peppering Presley with shots, with it being revealed after the fight that Terrill’s very first punch broke Presley’s nose and caused his blood to flow. Terrill basically picked his shots in the first round, and a late takedown by Terrill solidified the first round in his favor.

Presley fared slightly better in the second round, unleashing a barrage of his own before suffering more precision strikes from Terrill. At this point, the white Shogun Fights canvas turned a shade of pink as Presley’s blood continued to run. Presley found himself down two rounds, with a broken nose for his troubles.

However, Presley emerged in the third round as a house of fire, hammering away on Terrill and causing him to stumble before Terrill managed another takedown. But it was for naught as Presley reversed position, locked in a guillotine choke and scored a submission victory at 3:10 of the final round.

The crowd exploded at Presley’s incredible comeback victory and becoming Shogun Fight’s first titleholder. This was far and away the best fight I’ve ever seen at Shogun Fights, and one of the best fights I’ve ever seen in my six years of watching MMA.

Result: Cole Presley def. Micah Terrill by submission (guillotine choke; 3:10 of Round 3)

Vaja Iormashvilli vs. Jon Delbrugge (Lightweight – 155 lbs.)

The co-main event started with both fighters trading fists before they went to the mat and Delbrugge landed more punches. The second round saw the fight turn into a wrestling match, as another takedown by Delbrugge kept the fight on the ground and resulted in a kimura attempt by Delbrugge. Somehow, Iormashvilli escaped and made it to the third and final round.

The fight returned to the mat in the final round, with both guys attempting submissions and going for the finish. However, Delbrugge secured the unanimous decision victory. It’s possible that Delbrugge had extra motivation for this fight, as he revealed to the thousands in attendance at Royal Farms Arena after the fight that he is going to be a father.

Result: Jon Delbrugge def. Vaja Iormashvilli by unanimous decision (30-27 x 3)

Robert Sullivan vs. Jon Vinyard (Bantamweight – 135 lbs.)

Sullivan was dominant from the onset of this fight, landing a series of takedowns on Vinyard in the first round and controlling from the top position while unleashing some vicious ground-and-pound. Sullivan continued his dominance in the second round, returning to top position and landing more shots before finishing Vinyard off in the third round with – you guessed it – a big takedown and even more ground-and-pound for a resounding victory. Sullivan probably had extra motivation of his own for the fight, as he let the crowd know after the fight that he will audition for the next season of “The Ultimate Fighter.”

Result: Robert Sullivan def. Jon Vinyard by unanimous decision (30-27 x 3)

Francisco Isata vs. Mahmoud Rashid (Featherweight – 145 lbs.)

This fight drew the ire of the crowd early, as both fighters were reluctant to engage and spent the majority of the first round circling each other, before Isata landed a few shots and late takedown. Their reluctance to engage continued on the mat in the second round, where despite fighting on the ground they were stood up by the referee and spent the rest of the round circling each other. At this point, the crowd began booing them lustily.

The third round began with an awkward hug between the fighters before they engaged in little to no action for the remainder of the fight, continuing to circle each other and putting forth very little attempts to engage. Isata was declared the victor and acknowledged the boos after the fight, but was somewhat defiant about his performance. It was a strange reaction by a fighter who just finished one of the worst performances in Shogun Fights history.

Result: Francisco Isata def. Mahmoud Rashid by unanimous decision (30-27 x 3)

Greg Fisher vs. Alejandro Zea (Flyweight – 125 lbs.)

Fisher and Zea went to the mat early in their fight, where Zea displayed some excellent jiu-jitsu skills. However, Fisher was able to reverse his position and locked in a guillotine choke for a quick submission victory.

Result: Greg Fisher def. Alejandro Zea by submission (guillotine choke; 2:10 of Round 1)

Binky Jones vs. Chris Cain (Lightweight – 155 lbs.)

The hometown hero Jones brought the crowd to its feet following intermission with his relentless grappling skills. He took Cain down in the first round and attempted multiple submissions, including a rear-naked choke and eventual kimura that gave him his fifth consecutive victory at Shogun Fights.

Result: Binky Jones def. Chris Cain by submission (kimura; 3:05 of Round 1)

Dan Root vs. Kenny Gaudreau (Welterweight – 170 lbs.)

Another local favorite in Root made his Shogun Fights return after a lengthy layoff. He wasted no time engaging in his bread and butter, as he put on a Brazilian jiu-jitsu clinic in the first round. He landed multiple takedowns on Gaudreau and was unyielding in his submission attempts. Root seemed to have victory in hand when he locked in a rear-naked choke several times on Gaudreau, who somehow escaped and even attempted a rear-naked choke of his own as the first round ended.

More grappling was in store in Round 2, as Gaudreau looked to be the dominant fighter with trying another rear-naked choke. However, Root reversed his position, took Gaudreau’s back once again, and this time made it count as he secured a submission victory.

Result: Dan Root def. Kenny Gaudreau by submission (rear-naked choke; 2:26 of Round 2)

Rob Watley vs. Daniel Chacon (Featherweight – 145 lbs.)

Watley’s wrestling skills were on display early in this fight, as he took Chacon down and wasted no time locking in a rear-naked choke of his own to land a swift submission.

Result: Rob Watley def. Daniel Chacon by submission (rear-naked choke; 3:28 of Round 1)

Mike Otwell vs. Trevor Thompson (Catchweight – 150 lbs.)

Submissions were in plentiful supply at Shogun Fights 12, including in this fight. Otwell displayed his wrestling skills by taking Thompson to the mat and taking his back. When Thompson made the fatal error of looking up and exposing his neck, Otwell locked in a rear-naked choke for yet another first round victory.

Result: Mike Otwell def. Trevor Thompson by submission (rear-naked choke; 3:44 of Round 1)

Ratioender Melo vs. Alvin Mercer (Featherweight – 145 lbs.)

Melo looked like he caught Mercer with a stiff left hook early in this fight, but an unfortunate groin shot to Mercer halted Melo’s momentum. When Mercer recovered, he stuffed a takedown attempt by Melo and traded shots with him as the round ended.

The two fighters continued to exchange shots in Round 2, with Melo landing a few leg kicks for good measure. In the third and final around, Mercer stuffed more of Melo’s takedown attempts and outstruck Melo on his way to a majority decision victory.

Result: Alvin Mercer def. Ratioender Melo by majority decision

Josh Trainor vs. Kevin Chung (Bantamweight – 135 lbs.)

Both fighters wasted no time getting to it in Round 1, as Chung landed a pair of takedowns and traded position with Trainor on the mat. This was an extremely difficult round to score, as both fighters were extremely active and relentless.

They returned to the mat in Round 2, and Chung tried some leg submissions on Trainor before taking position on his back and locking in a rear-naked choke for the duke.

Result: Kevin Chung def. Josh Trainor by submission (rear-naked choke; 3:58 of Round 1)

Jesse Stirn vs. Adken Torchia (Bantamweight – 135 lbs.)

The kickoff to Shogun Fights 12 was also Stirn’s professional debut. He weathered a series of spinning back kicks from Torchia early before both fighters were tied up against the cage. Stirn took advantage of a slip by Torchia when attempting another kick, and he used Torchia’s mistake to achieve top position and hammer Torchia with elbows and punches that left Torchia bloodied and gave Stirn the evening’s only TKO victory.

Result: Jesse Stirn def. Adken Torchia by TKO (punches; 2:50 of Round 1)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Keeping it close to the vest

Many mixed martial arts fighters would be a bag of nerves before making their pro debut. But it sure doesn’t seem that way with Sijara Eubanks.

Eubanks, who fights with Team Lloyd Irvin in Camp Springs, will make her pro debut at flyweight at Invicta FC 12 on April 24 against Roma Pawelek. Although this is Eubanks’ first professional MMA bout, she’s tailoring her preparation like that of a savvy veteran.

“I'm preparing for her just like I'd prepare for any other opponent,” Eubanks said. “I'm working on all aspects of the game, fine tuning my game plan, keeping my conditioning high. I know she's a grappler, so I'm definitely prepared if the fight goes to the ground.”

Eubanks is also changing up her training, having two to three sessions daily, Monday through Friday, and once daily on Saturday and Sunday. Beyond working on multiple parts of her repertoire and keeping her conditioning up, Eubanks isn’t giving much away.

“I don't want to give away too much of my game plan, so everyone will have to tune into UFC Fight Pass on April 24 to see,” she said.

Despite her reluctance to divulge her strategy, Eubanks is very confident in one area of her skills.

“She's a grappler, I'm a grappler, so I feel like this fight is going to end up on the ground,” she said. “I'm very confident that I'm the better grappler.”
Overall, Eubanks is more eager than anything else to make her pro debut, describing her mindset as “pure excitement.”

“It's crazy; I've been waiting a long time to fight, so I'm pumped,” she said. “Plus, it's my pro debut! So this is really a chance for me to show the world what I'm capable of.”

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Shogun Fights XII: The Inauguration

Although we’re still a year-and-a-half away from the next presidential election, Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore will hold an inauguration of its own this Saturday, April 18.

The 12th edition of Shogun Fights will feature the biannual fight card’s first-ever title fight. Shogun’s first welterweight champion will be crowned when Micah Terrill takes on Cole Presley. That fight will main event this Saturday’s card, and who do I think takes home that belt and the victory in the 11 other fights? Let’s find out.

Jesse Stirn vs. Adken Torchia (Bantamweight – 135 lbs.)

Stirn is 4-1 and hasn’t fought since 2013 thanks to his last scheduled bout in 2014 being cancelled. Torchia’s last fight suffered similar unusual circumstances when it was ruled a no-contest. Both guys are unknowns on the Shogun Fights, and I like the Ground Control Baltimore fighter to capitalize on his homefield advantage.

Prediction: Jesse Stirn via first-round TKO

Josh Trainor vs. Kevin Chung (Bantamweight – 135 lbs.)

Chung enjoyed a unanimous decision victory in his lone MMA fight, while Trainor is a former champion fighting out of Pennsylvania. I think the experience of Trainor will prevail over the eager newcomer.

Prediction: John Trainor via second-round submission

Ratioender Melo vs. Alvin Mercer (Featherweight – 145 lbs.)

Besides sporting one of the coolest first names ever, Melo also sports a 2-fight win streak in Shogun Fights, most recently at Shogun Fights XI last year when he scored a TKO victory. This will be Mercer’s Shogun Fights debut, but he boasts a 3-fight win streak of his own. This should be a fast-paced, exciting featherweight matchup and I think Mercer will score his fourth consecutive knockout.

Prediction: Alvin Mercer via second-round TKO

Mike Otwell vs. Trevor Thompson (Catchweight – 150 lbs.)

This will be both fighters’ second professional bout, with Otwell coming off a victory and Thompson a loss. Thompson lost his first fight by a first-round submission, and I think he will unfortunately suffer a similar fate here.

Prediction: Mike Otwell via first-round submission

Rob Watley vs. Daniel Chacon (Featherweight – 145 lbs.)

Watley is enjoying two consecutive wins, including a TKO victory at Shogun Fights XI last year. I like him to make it three in a row in an environment he is all too familiar with.

Prediction: Rob Watley via second-round TKO

Dan Root vs. Elder Ramos (Welterweight – 170 lbs.)

Root is a cult favorite at Shogun Fights, due to his multiple submission victories for Team Ground Control in Baltimore. Ramos is as tough as they come, having fought six times in 2014. Unfortunately, I think that mileage catches up with him and Root notches another submission victory on his belt.

Prediction: Dan Root via first-round submission

James “Binky” Jones vs. Chris Cain (Catchweight – 150 lbs.)

Jones is a local legend in the Maryland mixed martial arts scene; a Baltimore native and a mentor to local youth. Jones hemmed and hawed about coming back to Shogun Fights following his victory there last year, but after soliciting the opinion of those in attendance, he decided to give it one more shot. If this is Jones’ last fight, I like him to go out on top.

Prediction: James “Binky” Jones via first-round TKO

Gregory Fischer vs. Alejandro Zea (Flyweight – 125 lbs.)

Fischer won his MMA debut at Shogun Fights last year by unanimous decision, while Zea is reeling from back-to-back losses after also winning his MMA debut at Shogun Fights 9. Zea has won or lost all of his fight by submission, so it tells me his grappling game might be suspect. I think Fischer will capitalize on that to deal Zea another submission loss.

Prediction: Gregory Fischer via second-round submission

Francisco Isata vs. Mahmoud Rashid (Catchweight – 150 lbs.)

Isata won his last fight at Shogun Fights XI, and even boasts an appearance on World Series of Fighting. The armbar is his preferred method of submission, and I think he will use it here to pick up his fifth victory.

Prediction: Francisco Isata via first-round submission

Robert Sullivan vs. Jon Vinyard (Bantamweight – 135 lbs.)

Sullivan is riding a two-fight win streak and previously secured a victory in Bellator in 2013. Vinyard suffered a TKO loss in his second MMA fight at Shogun Fights XI last year, and I like the rough and tumble Sullivan to make that two in a row for Vinyard.

Prediction: Robert Sullivan via second-round TKO

Vaja Iormaghvili vs. Jon Delbrugge (Lightweight – 155 lbs.)

Iormaghvili is a Shogun Fights veteran, having fought on the card three times. Unfortunately, he’s lost twice. Delbrugge is a regional MMA veteran, having fought six times in the last two years. He is tough and savvy, with all of his victories coming via finish. I think the same will happen here.

Prediction: Jon Delbrugge by third-round TKO

Micah Terrill vs. Cole Presley (Welterweight Title – 170 lbs.)

A pair of Shogun Fights veterans square off for the promotion’s first title belt. Terrill and Presley have a combined 10 appearances at Shogun Fights and are well-known by local MMA fans. Both guys love to scrap, rarely letting their fights go to a decision. Fans should expect a fast-paced, entertaining bout that will go into the championship rounds. Presley rides a 2-fight win streak into this title bout, but I think Terrill’s striking will be the difference. An entertaining brawl will commence, with both guys leaving nothing to chance. But Terrill will come out on top.

Prediction: Micah Terrill by unanimous decision

I realize the main event is the only one I'm picking to go to a decision. Shogun Fights has been on a good roll lately with its cards where hardly any of the fights go the distance. But I feel that given the stakes, it's possible Terrill and Presley will implement safe game plans and not expose themselves to unnecessary risks. Of course, it's just as likely they'll come out swinging at each other and this fight will end in two minutes.

I'll be in Baltimore Saturday night, so you guys can look forward to a recap here then. And hey, if you're in the area, come on out and enjoy some fights!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Rallo brings MMA to the Maryland masses

They say in show business that it’s not what you know, but who you know. That belief can also apply to mixed martial arts, at least in the case of John Rallo. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and former MMA fighter, Rallo is also the founder of Shogun Fights, a biannual fight card at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore. The 12th edition of Shogun Fights is scheduled to take place April 18.

Rallo competed in multiple Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournaments in his career, often traveling to other states like New Jersey and California. Rallo is also the head instructor at Ground Control Baltimore, which has locations near Baltimore and in Columbia, Owings Mills and Bel Air. An ankle injury derailed Rallo’s career in baseball and football, but he took up Brazilian jiu-jitsu at the age of 29, training with Rickson and Renzo Gracie and winning several competitions on his way to becoming a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt.

Until Rallo worked with local legislators to pass a bill sanctioning MMA events in Maryland in 2008, local fighters had to travel out of state to compete.

“It’s a pain in the ass that every time you compete, you had to travel out of state,” Rallo said. “That’s money leaving the state. Sometimes your fans can’t see you fight, and sometimes you want to fight in front of your friends.”

Rallo received guidance from colleagues at the New Jersey Athletic Control Board on how to produce the first Shogun Fights card in 2009, which he originally wanted to call Bushido – or “The Way of the Warrior.”

“I have a good relationship with the UFC and I contacted them to ask permission to use that name,” Rallo said. “Their trademark for the name ‘Bushido’ had expired, but they still sold merchandise with that name. So I went with Shogun Fights.”

Rallo received further inspiration for how to present Shogun Fights after attending a MMA card in Pittsburgh, Pa. He credits his event crew for Shogun Fights’ success, with attendance averaging between 4,000-5,000 fans. Shogun Fights boasts higher live attendance than fight cards put on by Bellator Fighting Championship or World Series of Fighting, according to Rallo.

“Everyone knows their responsibilities and knows what they need to do,” Rallo said of his event crew. “I wouldn’t be successful without them.”

Fighters routinely reach out to Rallo on social media to be featured on a Shogun Fights card, and Rallo attends regional MMA events and talks to local coaches to scour talent. A fighter who knows how to promote himself is important, Rallo said, as is having an exciting style and having a similar record to his opponent.

“The show sells itself,” Rallo said of Shogun Fights. “Who wouldn’t want to fight in front of 5,000 people?”

Rallo estimates he spends up to $30,000 to advertise Shogun Fights, receiving sponsorships from several Baltimore-area businesses. Bigger companies like Comcast take advantage of the Shogun Fights experience, routinely treating prospective business partners to a day of fights and entertainment to help solidify new deals.

Shogun Fights also attracts local athletes like members of the Baltimore Ravens, and even current and former UFC fighters like Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, Matt Serra and Renzo Gracie, who trained extensively with Rallo on Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

“We’ve created a really cool event,” Rallo said. “It’s not just fights – it’s a whole day of entertainment.”

While Shogun Fights is recorded and broadcast on local television following the event, Rallo prefers to focus on providing an optimal live experience instead of investing in a live television broadcast. The increased production costs with a live broadcast would adversely affect the self-funded Shogun Fights, “and a live broadcast would greatly diminish the crowd – they would just stay home and watch,” Rallo said.

However, Rallo credits the rebroadcast of Shogun Fights for helping educate fans on MMA and increasing the show’s efficiency and improving the quality of fighter who competes on the card.

Rallo works with event production staff who also work on UFC events, and they and others say the production of Shogun Fights is on par with that of the UFC, Rallo said. He would like to increase the frequency of Shogun Fights and is interested in bringing the event to the Washington, D.C. area and northern Virginia.

“I try to look at the show as a fighter, a coach and as a fan,” Rallo said.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Terrill undergoes some "BMF" training

Note: This is the second part of a two-part series on the fighters involved in Shogun Fights' first-ever title fight. To read about Cole Presley, click here.

One of the hallmarks of mixed martial arts is that fighters not only train with their own team, but they travel the country or the world and soak up as much knowledge and experience as possible in order to become the most well-rounded fighter they can.

For Micah Terrill, his training for his first title fight at Shogun Fights next month against Cole Presley isn’t just making him well-rounded. It’s also making him – pardon my French – a bad motherfucker.

Terrill is splitting his time training with UFC lightweight Donald Cerrone and other fighters at Cerrone’s “BMF Ranch” and with Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn in New Mexico. Terrill calls Conquest BJJ in Crofton his home base.

“Being the first title fight [in Shogun Fights] is a great opportunity and honor,” Terrill told me recently. “This should be a great fight for me to showcase my skills. Cole is an amazing guy and even better fighter. I have a lot of respect for him, and can't wait to see him in the cage.”

Terrill played baseball and football in high school, and wrestled. After a journey into professional baseball fell through, he returned to Maryland and started his MMA training, and soon thereafter devoted himself to the sport full-time. Terrill sports a MMA record of 5-4 and while he came up short in his last bout, he was victorious in his last appearance for Shogun Fights in November 2014.

“I have a family who supports me to the fullest extent,” Terrill said. “I couldn't do it without my girlfriend and our 5-month-old son behind me. I'm a God-fearing man and he's blessed me with everything I have.”

Shogun Fights XII takes place on Saturday, April 18, at the Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Presley finds balance in inaugural title chase

When it comes to mixed martial arts, Maryland welterweight fighter Cole Presley couldn’t have picked a much better fighter to emulate than former UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre.

“I once heard GSP say ‘in racing you need a good driver and a good car. If you have a very good car but a bad driver, you’re not going to win the race. If you have a very good driver and a bad car, you’re not going to win either. So I have a good car and a good driver, which is even more important,’” said Presley, who fights with Clinch Academy in Frederick and is fighting for the inaugural Shogun Fights welterweight title on April 18 in Baltimore.

“This quote couldn’t be truer and speaks volumes on the philosophy of conditioning in MMA,” Presley said. “I am a full time union pipe fitter, so I must balance my career and my MMA training carefully or else it can wear on me mentally.”

Presley squares off against Micah Terrill for the Shogun Fights welterweight title after previously competing as a lightweight. He believes a step up in weight class will work to his advantage.

“I have put on some extra muscle, but I am trying to be careful about it so my athleticism carries over to the welterweight division,” Presley said. “I have always been a big lightweight being that I am 6’1 and usually cut from 175 pounds.”

Presley has been a martial arts fan since childhood and was introduced to MMA after ordering the UFC 36 pay-per-view (without his mother’s permission). He first competed in judo and kempo kickboxing, and started his amateur MMA career in 2007. Presley’s mother isn’t the only member of his family to agonize over his decision to embrace MMA.

“My family hates the fact that I fight, but unfortunately for them it is my passion,” Presley said. “My dad’s favorite sport is golf, so that gives you an idea of how different our sports worlds are.”

Presley is very confident leading into his fight against Terrill, which he attributes to his training camp. “Training has been going great,” he said. “I am injury free and I have been doing conditioning and strength training for a steady six weeks now. I have done limited sparring, which has been optional, but I plan on picking up the pace with live sparring within the next few weeks.

“I have also started my sprinting routine this week and have begun focusing on technique training,” Presley added. “This next month is where it all comes together and I plan on peaking the week of the fight, which is a very relaxed week leading up to weigh-ins and the fight itself.”

Presley plans to take full advantage of the opportunities provided to him by Shogun Fights, especially since he’s giving himself a limited window in MMA.

“I am 28 years old and I have no plans on fighting past 35, so I plan on making the most of the several years I have left,” he said.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

From watching it to living it

People pursue martial arts for different reasons. They may not have much interest in organized team sports like football or basketball. They may have stress that they want to work off in a healthy way. For some, martial arts represent a way to boost yourself.

Sijara Eubanks, a flyweight fighter from Team Lloyd Irvin in Camp Springs, started in martial arts as a child, but it was her progression as an adult from kickboxing to Brazilian jiu-jitsu that led her to a contract with Invicta FC. A Springfield, Mass. native, Eubanks was first introduced to mixed martial arts and the UFC as many (including myself) have – by multiple viewings of UFC programming. In this case, UFC Unleashed.

“I thought it was the coolest thing on TV,” Eubanks told me via email. “I would watch hours and hours at a time. So when I started training I never thought I’d compete professionally, but I fell so in love with the sport so I quit my job and started to pursue MMA and jiu-jitsu full time.”

MMA helped Eubanks overcome depression, and she has compiled a 2-0 record as an amateur fighter. While the date of her Invicta debut is still up in the air, her goal is the same as any other fighter – to be world champion. Eubanks credits her management team at SuckerPunch Entertainment for facilitating her deal with Invicta.

“It seems like not that long ago I was just a chubby kid from Springfield, and now I’m signed with the world’s premier women’s MMA promotion,” Eubanks said. “I’m so pumped up about this contract and I cannot wait to make my Invicta debut. I’m going to bring some intense, entertaining fights to the flyweight division.”

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Shipping up to Providence

With the last name Sullivan, you would think Method MMA and Baltimore BJJ's Robert Sullivan would be popular with a certain sect of people. And you would be right.

Sullivan fought for the third time late last month for CES MMA, an organization based out of Providence, R.I. He notched his second win in the organization via unanimous decision and seems to have built a small following up there, if you ask Sullivan.

"Being it's in Providence, they seem to like the Irish quite a bit," Sullivan told me on Facebook recently. "My first time up there last year I beat a hometown hero, so I think that won me some respect. I got offered to come up there probably to be meat the first time. Now I'm 2-1 with the organization."

Sullivan focused a lot on boxing during his training camp, by virtue of his opponent being a strong striker. Sullivan's training camp was also a bit more arduous this time around.

"Training and coaching wrestling all day just had me a little overworked," Sullivan said. "Also, some of my training partners coach wrestling at other schools so we were making what we could work."

While Sullivan has also fought for organizations like Bellator, he found that promotion in mixed martial arts is pretty uniform.

"You sit around for a long time at weigh-ins - they are never ever on time," Sullivan said. "You do all the doctor crap, make weight, fill back up, get some rest and fight."

When it finally came time to fight, Sullivan felt the tone of the fight early, and hard.

"I got nailed early on with the hardest punch I've ever felt in a fight," he said. "I was happy I ate it, but it messed my nose up pretty bad."

Sullivan recovered to dominate the rest of the fight, despite feeling his gas tank empty toward the end.

"The last minute or so, I burned out," he said. "My one regret from my last camp was not getting in the proper amount of running. So needless to say, that final round between my busted nose and lack of running, I was digging deep. I was happy with my performance overall, but i always want to improve on things. I never try to feel satisfied."

Sullivan plans to fight again in April at Shogun Fights in Baltimore.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A tough break

In my last blog, I mentioned Ron Stallings from Team Lloyd Irvin getting his big break and stepping up on short notice to fight Uriah Hall at the UFC Fight Night card in Boston last weekend. Unfortunately, Stallings' night ended before it really had a chance to get started.

Stallings and Hall spent most of the first round feeling each other out, with Stallings landing a couple shots. Hall knocked Stallings to the mat and unleashed a barrage of punches, but Stallings survived the onslaught that might have finished other fighters. After Hall and Stallings were stood up, a stiff jab by Hall opened up a deep gash over Stallings' left eye. The referee halted the fight and after an inspection by the cageside doctor, the fight was waved off despite Stallings' protests.

"I didn't believe the cut would impair my vision at all," Stallings told me on Twitter after the fight. "The cut wasn't as bad in the fight as the photo that is being passed around. We took that photo after the doctor had put his fingers inside of the cut opening it to see what needed to be stitched. It wasn't that open during the fight."

It was Stallings' goal to turn the fight into a brawl anyway. "I wanted a bloody, Forrest Griffin vs Stephan Bonnar type of fight," he said.

Despite the early stoppage, Stallings was assured the UFC would give him another fight in the Octagon. Which I think is only fair. Stallings stepped up on only a few days notice to take a fight against a dangerous fighter like Hall, with proven knockout power. And when the UFC comes calling, you don't turn it down, whether it's on one-day notice or one year.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Enter the 'Choirboy'

Mixed martial arts is a funny thing. Some people who compete in it can become instant stars after one fight. All they need is one opportunity to show what they can do. For Maryland MMA fighter Ron "Choirboy" Stallings, that opportunity may come Sunday night at UFC's Fight Night card in Boston.

Stallings, who trains with Team Lloyd Irvin in Camp Springs, agreed to step in on a week's notice to face Uriah Hall on Sunday night's card. Hall is a veteran of season 18 of "The Ultimate Fighter" and was known for highlight reel knockouts, particularly this one.

Stallings carries a record of 12-6 into his fight with Hall and has competed in multiple regional organizations and on Strikeforce's Challenger series. He is, however, coming off an unanimous decision loss for his fight on Sunday night. But when the UFC comes calling with an opportunity, it doesn't matter if you've won or lost. You take full advantage of it.

Multiple media outlets have mentioned Stallings stepping in to face Hall, including MMA Fighting and FOX Sports. I reached out to Stallings personally to see if he could contribute a few thoughts on his first UFC appearance. If I get a response, I'll post them to this blog.

UPDATE: Stallings shared some thoughts with me via Twitter though one of his teammates, who is handling his social media accounts.

"The experience has been great so far and the UFC has treated me very well," Stallings said. Stallings' coach, Master Lloyd Irvin, learned that Hall's previous opponent dropped out and contacted Sucker Punch Entertainment, who facilitated Stallings stepping in to face Hall.

"This opportunity is really a dream come true for me, my team and my family. I really look forward to fighting Sunday," Stallings said.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

'I never really liked talking things out'

Like some mixed martial artists, the fighting nature is born out of wanting to overcome hardship that they grew up with. A father working long hours in construction and bartending and a mother overcoming breast cancer but still dealing with health problems means Vince Mosca is sticking with his family.

Mosca still lives in the same house he grew up in in the Hamilton part of Baltimore. "Not because I'm afraid to 'branch out and be on my own,' but more because it's always been us," he told me in a recent email conversation. Mosca graduated from Perry Hall High School and worked a series of odd jobs, including waiting tables, retail "and any other stupid job you could imagine for someone my age," he said.

Mosca's love of MMA also started like many others started, by watching the sport's first true rivalry between Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz. "I was just drawn to it," Mosca said. "I wanted to be like those guys. I watched pro wrestling and boxing like most kids did when I was younger too, but it always interested me."

MMA also gave Mosca an outlet for his anger. "I sure was an angry-ass kid though," he said. "From when I was little, all throughout high school, I never really liked talking things out, or walking away. I always felt that if there was a problem or that if someone was messing with me, fight them. That's usually what I did."

Fortunately Mosca started channeling his anger in more healthy ways in MMA, which also provided him a rude awakening when he signed up for his first Muay Thai class when he was 15. "I realized that I totally sucked and had no business fighting a trained adult, and I totally fell in love with it," Mosca said.

Mosca is also a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and trains under fellow Maryland fighter Rob Sullivan, who I've also profiled. Mosca currently sports a record of 1-1, and is coming off a unanimous decision loss in Aug. 2014.

"There's nothing 'pretty' about my style," he said. "When I punch, I'm punching to kill you. When I kick, I'm trying to cut through you. I'm fast for my size and can string together combinations well. I think I'm a tough out for anyone, especially when the fight is standing."

But the road to MMA hasn't always been easy, and Mosca recognizes that he still has areas where he can improve, particularly on the ground. "I've picked up a lot of bad habits in my earlier training, especially on the ground," he said. "Every single day I'm making improvements though. It's a process and that's pretty much what the amateurs are for, but I know I haven't performed to even a fraction of what I know I'm capable of - yet."

Mosca trains at Baltimore BJJ with Sullivan and others, and Mosca credits Sullivan for setting him on the right path in MMA.

"Rob Sullivan has been great for me," Mosca said. "He gave me a lot of confidence early on, and has taken a genuine interest in my path and how I do things while handling his own fight career. He's figured out what works for me - striking and on the ground - and drilled it into my head until it's become second nature."

"We butt head sometimes, but I idolize his work ethic and outlook on things," he added. "It got rough over the summer due to lack of MMA training partners, but interest is picking back up and it's awesome to see. I couldn't ask for a better group of dudes to train with between there and my friends at Method MMA in Bel Air."

Mosca has set his goals high in MMA, from winning the World Kickboxing Association's North American Kickboxing Championship in March to avenging his loss and winning a title belt in MMA later this year.

"If all goes well, I'd like to turn pro this upcoming fall," Mosca said. "I've yet to fully commit and make this my life, but I will. I'm nowhere near where I want to be yet, but I know what I'm capable of."

"I'm 21 years old," he said. "I feel like I'd be wasting my time completely if my goal wasn't to be one of the top fighters in the world at some point, which I 100 percent believe is going to happen."