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.