Friday, November 4, 2016

History (the bad kind) repeats itself

You can’t blame Rob Sullivan if he’s felt a bit of déjà vu lately.

After all, he found himself in a familiar situation in his last fight on Oct. 15. It was Shogun Fights 15 in Baltimore. Sullivan had an arena full of fans cheering for him, as it seemed rather obvious to everyone in attendance that he grinded out another victory over Shaun Spath. But something unexpected happened to Sullivan, for the second time in a row.

Sullivan lost to Spath via split decision – the second consecutive Shogun Fights bout Sullivan lost in that fashion. He lost to Myron Baker at Shogun Fights 14 last year in the same fashion, and when Spath’s hand was raised in front of an arena full of shocked and unhappy fans, Sullivan’s reaction wasn’t that different from everyone in attendance that night.

“Hands down, I won that fight,” Sullivan said. “It was a massive disappointment and I was astonished. I was like, ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’”

Sullivan had the understandable reaction of a fighter who felt he was clearly robbed of a victory; he left the cage immediately and went straight to the back of the arena, where he still had to go through the post-fight process while still trying to process his defeat.

“I didn’t want to talk to anyone,” Sullivan said. “I saw the doctor after the fight and he had that look on his face like he thought I won the fight and he knew I was mad. He brought me my paperwork in the hallway, and I had to see Shaun again. It rubbed me the wrong way, like rubbing salt in the wound.”

While Sullivan described his fight with Baker at Shogun Fights 14 as a “close fight that could have gone either way,” he didn’t feel that way about his performance against Spath.

“I watched it again, and he didn’t do anything,” Sullivan said. “His shots didn’t land or didn’t hurt. I did all my scoring with takedowns and strikes and he turned his back and ran from me, which I thought was disrespectful and should have been scored negatively. I think he was doing it because he was tired and didn’t want to fight, and I felt like the groin shot is what lost me the second round. As if the judges forgot what was going on during the other 3-plus minutes of the round.”

While Sullivan felt better going into his fight with Spath than he had in previous fights – he had no nagging injuries and said he felt “very confident” – his bout with Spath did not turn out how he expected, even before the judges’ scorecards were announced.

“I was thrown off a little because he was the aggressor in his other fights, but not this one,” Sullivan said. “I walked him down a lot because he ran from me. I also have a tendency to control myself too much or get too relaxed. I don’t worry enough.”

So why has Sullivan been on the wrong end of the scorecards for two consecutive fights? If you ask him, it’s a problem that other fighters have expressed across mixed martial arts: The judges don’t understand basic grappling or when a fighter is defending and attacking.

“I always reacted, and [Spath] didn’t,” Sullivan said. “The judges don’t understand dominant position. I hate the comparison that MMA is like street fighting, and they don’t understand grappling and control. Hitting and running or just running is not the same as trying to score points. That’s not a fight.”

Sullivan added that he’d like to see judges participate in jiu-jitsu and grappling to gain a great understanding of what goes into a MMA fight.

“A lot of these guys are boxing judges who watch MMA, but don’t understand the sport,” Sullivan said. “Some boxing judges may see the kicks and think those are harder than punches.”

While Sullivan makes it clear he wants to keep fighting, he will take some time to address lingering injuries and rehabilitate his body. Sullivan plans to fight again in the spring – he’s just not sure it will be for Shogun Fights, unless he receives a rematch with Spath.

“But it has nothing to do with Shogun Fights – they’re great,” Sullivan said. “Shaun knows he lost that fight. The judges Maryland hires are inept. I saw the scorecards and it reinforce what I’ve said; only one judge checked all the right boxes.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Shogun Fights: From The Fighters’ Perspective

Note: An edited version of this article also appears on Combat Press.

Before John Rallo helped to sanction mixed martial arts in the state of Maryland in 2009, any fighter who called the Free State home had to travel far and wide to apply his or her wares in the fight game. But Rallo did much more than just help to sanction events; he created one of his own. The first Shogun Fights card took place in Baltimore, Maryland, in 2009 and it has called “Charm City” home ever since.

As Rallo prepares to present the 15th edition of Shogun Fights on Saturday, Oct. 15, Maryland-based fighters Dan Root, Jon Delbrugge, James “Binky” Jones, Micah Terrill, Rob Sullivan and Francisco Isata shared some thoughts on their experiences with the only Maryland-based MMA organization.

When did you first hear about Shogun Fights? What was your reaction?

Dan Root: “I heard it through my former coach. I had a lot of mutual friends with John Rallo, but I had not started training at Ground Control [Baltimore, where Rallo is head trainer] yet. I talked to him, and he put me on the first card. I thought it was great that it was happening – I always traveled to fight before.”

James “Binky” Jones: “I’ve been with John [Rallo] most of my career. We were in Russia in 2009 and it was late at night, and John was typing away at his computer. I asked him what he was doing and he said ‘I’m trying to legalize MMA in Maryland.’ I was excited about it – I’ve fought all over the place but thought that this was the perfect opportunity.”

Micah Terrill: “I heard it through the grapevine. I’m excited that it started, and I bought a scalped ticket to an event and people asked when I would fight on it. I’m not sure it was my dream to fight for Shogun, but it’s beyond anything I ever dreamed.”

Rob Sullivan: “I heard before I started fighting that the bill to legalize it was passed. I knew John was involved, but I was pretty preoccupied with my band and training jiu-jitsu at the time. But I had it in my head that it was happening that I would fight on there.”

Francisco Isata: “I was around on the amateur circuit and I cornered someone at Shogun Fights before, so I saw how big the stage was, so I had a better understanding of it when I fought on it for the first time.”

Describe the atmosphere at your first Shogun Fights card. How was it?

Root: “The best thing about it is the production value – it’s so good and second only to the UFC, in my opinion. Everything goes smoothly and it’s the best I’ve seen. But it was odd for me to see close to 6,000 people – I was used to fighting in front of a few hundred people. But I was so nervous the first time I fought for Shogun that when I walked down the ramp, I grabbed a box and puked in it and thought “Holy fuck, there are a lot of people.” I was one of the first to be a part of something and part of pro MMA in Maryland, so that was pretty cool.”

Jon Delbrugge: “I was super impressed by the first show I fought on. It’s amazing just to be there, and to see a lot of guys who fight on the card being able to make it their career.”

Jones: “I was a little nervous. I was ready to rock in the back, and I was carrying the Maryland flag when I walked out and the place just exploded. I just froze; I never had that feeling before. I went back to being a little kid and watching LL Cool J perform in that same arena. People thought I was just taking a picture, but I zoned in on my opponent in the cage and we had an awesome fight. It was an amazing, awesome feeling.”

Terrill: “It was nerve-racking, but it was also awesome. The hair was standing up on the back of my neck. It was definitely a pretty big deal to be in front of thousands of people.”

Sullivan: “The one thing I remember is missing weight by half-a-pound. I took off my underwear and the scale said I was one pound off because it was a piece of shit; but they changed the scale because I complained. It was a little intimidating stepping into that cage for the first time, because it’s a white canvas and a large arena, all you see is the referee and the person you’re fighting. You don’t pay attention to what’s around you. It’s a little different than fighting in a small casino or a 1,000-person hall, and I was super green, so my wrestling just took over.

I also remember one year, there was going to be a Disney on Ice event the following weekend. The arena floor was already iced, and they put planks of wood over it and you had to walk across the plywood to get to the cage. It was cold as shit, and I remember having to stand there for 15 minutes and I was freezing.”

Isata: “Coming from amateur fights in Virginia, this show was a lot bigger and there were cameras and interviews. I had so many emotions and it was my first weight cut to 145 pounds, and I had a tough opponent for my first fight. So I was more focused than anything else on just fighting.”

How have you seen Shogun Fights evolve over its first 15 cards?

Root: “The talent. People have fought on big shows or gone to big shows. Adding championships was genius, and it’s been built up correctly. We have an educated fan base too; you never hear people boo when the fight goes to the ground, unlike in the UFC. They create videos of the guys who fight and you develop a personal attachment to them. I’ve been on other shows that are a complete clusterfuck, but Shogun has built up championship contenders like me, Micah [Terrill], Rob Watley, Cole Presley. Fans have seen us for years and can develop a personal attachment and grow with us. People can build their career here.”

Delbrugge: “Shogun is the best venue I’ve ever competed in and my favorite to fight for. It’s most like the UFC that I’ve ever seen and the only show I fight on that takes place in an arena. Shogun looks like the UFC with its production; it’s fantastic and it’s good to do it twice a year. It doesn’t water down the talent, and it definitely gets you ready for the UFC. If you can fight in Shogun Fights’ atmosphere, that’s exactly how it is in the UFC.”

Jones: “The Sheffield Institute continue to improve with the production. It’s just the beginning; they do an amazing job doing what they love. John Rallo and his staff treat you like pros, and other shows don’t have that. Each card has amazing fights and the competition goes uphill, not downhill.”

Sullivan: “There’s definitely more promotion now. It’s definitely gotten bigger with the titles, and the guys at the top of the card are getting closer to the UFC. Shogun is making a nice, steady progression with a lot more television promos. I’m getting texts from people saying that I’m in it, and that they see it on Comedy Central and HGTV.”

Isata: “The production is getting better, and the promotion, posters and ads are a lot better. I’ve fought for World Series of Fighting before, and Shogun Fights is actually a little better. They make fans feel like they’re watching a legit card.”

What do you enjoy most about Shogun Fights?

Root: “I enjoy the fans the most. There’s no greater feeling than several thousand people chanting your name. For them to cheer for you, you’ll never have that feeling anywhere else, ever. It’s like a drug – I’m hooked on it. Baltimore has adopted me as one of their own, and the fan support, love and appreciation is one of the best feelings you’ll ever have.”

Delbrugge: “Everyone knows Shogun. People ask me if I fight there, and when I go to the doctor, people ask if I fight MMA. Radio stations call me about it, and when I’m old, this will definitely be a milestone in my career. It really means a lot and if I can be a champion, it’s cool that it resonates with everyone.”

Jones: “I enjoy sharing my journey with everyone and reaching out to the kids in Maryland. They walk out to the cage with me, and I’m happy to share my dream with them and watch them do boxing or jiu-jitsu. Hearing the fans say my name and give me respect whether I win or lose and never stop showing me love? I just love the fans, and Shogun Fights always has legends of the sport come to an event, like Matt Serra and Cowboy Cerrone.”

Terrill: “I really enjoyed my fight with Cole Presley, and my win against Jeremy Carper and knocking him out with a knee. Getting your hand raised? You can’t beat that feeling.”

Sullivan: “Just getting that respect from everyone in Baltimore, and it’s good to be in the locker room with a bunch of your friends and having that camaraderie. It’s pretty fun, and I’m pretty excited to be on this next card.”

Isata: “I’ve fought everyone tough in Shogun Fights and I feel like it legitimizes me to have pretty dope competition. I’ve fought in New Jersey, Texas, Pennsylvania and Virginia, but now I get to have 100-150 fans at Shogun Fights to support me. They don’t have to travel to see me.”

Monday, October 10, 2016

Shogun Fights’ John Rallo takes nothing for granted

Note: A version of this interview also appears on the website Combat Press.

John Rallo was confident that when he helped to sanction mixed martial arts events in Maryland in 2009 and then put on the first-ever MMA event in the state, that he would make it to 15 editions of his biannual fight card, Shogun Fights. He just wasn’t always sure of the location.

“I didn’t think the arena would work, because it was too big,” said Rallo, the founder of the Baltimore-based promotion. The fight cards take place at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore, which can hold up to 14,000 people.

“I turned them down three or four times, but the general manager of the arena just made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Rallo told me recently. “They modified the arena for us, and no other regional show pulls the number of fans that we do.”

Shogun Fights averages about 5,000 fans at its shows, which includes accounting for comp tickets. Rallo would like to see that number increase to 6-7,000 fans, but notes that the fan base is growing, which he attributes to the passion of the fans and the following of its mainly Maryland-based fighters who compete at the event.

“The casual fan doesn’t come out for a regional show,” Rallo said. “I have other promoters ask me about putting on the type of show that we do, and the Shogun Fights guys are starting to become household names. We have guys with a following who bring in fans and family members, and I tell them ‘I’ll bust my ass for you, so you have to hustle for me.’”

Rallo compares Shogun Fights to other regional promotions who put on shows in the mid-Atlantic, including Ring of Combat and Cage Fury Fighting Championships. “Other promoters visit my show and tell me it’s better than their show,” Rallo said. “I take that as a compliment.”

But putting on a fight card twice a year doesn’t come without its challenges, including one that many promoters deal with – injuries. Shogun Fights 15, which takes place on Saturday, Oct. 15, features a super heavyweight bout with Maryland fighter Ryan McGowan, who’s currently on his fourth different opponent for the event.

“It’s not like the UFC, when one guy gets hurt and it makes headlines,” Rallo said. “When late changes happen, I can’t sell those tickets for that fighter and I’m losing money and sponsorships.”

However, Shogun Fights is also taped and televised on local sports channels in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. area, which can help fighters on the card land bigger sponsors. It can also help fighters gain exposure that they can’t get at other regional shows.

“Guys tell me that other cards have half the number of fans that we do,” Rallo said. He added that some fighters who have previously competed on Shogun Fights cards have appeared in the UFC, including Jimy Hettes, Dustin Pague and Zach Davis, who appeared on season 13 of The Ultimate Fighter. The two fighters competing for the Shogun Fights lightweight title on the Oct. 15 card, Rob Watley and Cole Presley, are also getting a lot of attention from larger organizations, according to Rallo.

“The longer we’re around, the more opportunities there will be,” Rallo said. “I’m doing my best to find fighters from the DMV and develop our guys and our talent. Ring of Combat has sent more than 100 guys to the UFC, and I want to be a consistent feeder to them as well.”

Rallo added, “It takes time to develop talent, and other guys come to our show and tell me they want to join up. I want to help these guys by giving them opportunities that I never had.”

A black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Rallo started competing in the sport after an ankle injury ended his athletic career in baseball and football. Rallo described getting MMA events sanctioned in Maryland as a “challenge,” but also said working with the state of Maryland has been “great.”

“I’m the first person they call when they need input on putting on cards and they’re willing to learn,” Rallo said. “Pat [Pannella, executive director of the Maryland State Athletic Commission] doesn’t act like a know-it-all and has an open mind. If we disagree on something, then we talk it out and he hears another opinion.”

Going forward, Rallo plans to work to boost Shogun Fights attendance by offering more prize giveaways and bringing in more “special guests” that are familiar to MMA fans. Previous Shogun Fights events boasted special guest stars like current and former UFC fighters Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, James Vick, Dennis Bermudez, Leonard Garcia, Matt Serra and Renzo Gracie.

“I’m always looking to make the fan experience better with our visuals and HD technology,” Rallo said. “Our production crew is always looking to improve, and we also welcome other companies like Harley Davidson. I want every card to be an event, not just a fight. I’m all about everyone coming and having fun and making it an entire event.”

Rallo also plans to introduce title belts for the flyweight and bantamweight classes, joining titles that already exist at Shogun Fights for featherweight, lightweight and welterweight. Rallo was hoping to put on three to five Shogun Fights cards when he started this endeavor in 2009 and said he’s hopeful that when the event is more established, he can explore holding events in other locations beyond Baltimore.

“I take nothing for granted,” Rallo said. “I keep plugging along and keep it business as usual, while always looking to make it bigger and better as our fan base grows and I try to keep bringing in bigger names. I believe we put out a great product and I don’t stress as much about paying the bills. I worry more about the health of our fighters.”

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Jon Delbrugge is finding his voice

A phrase I’ve become fond of is “a closed mouth doesn’t get fed.” After all, how will anyone know what you're striving for and what your goal is if you don't tell them? Maryland fighter Jon Delbrugge definitely looks like he is adopting that philosophy for himself, in his own way. Delbrugge recently spoke with me and admitted “it’s time to get a voice for myself.”

Delbrugge's (9-2) strongest talk to date has come courtesy of his fists and with the work he puts in the cage, and it's served him well so far. His most recent bout at Shogun Fights 14 in Baltimore in April is a prime example of that. Delbrugge choked out the defending Shogun Fights welterweight champion Micah Terrill in the second round and took the belt home for himself. It was an outcome that Delbrugge had zero doubt about achieving.

“Any knowledgeable person would have known that,” Delbrugge told me recently. “MMA math is fuzzy, but I was 8-2 coming into that fight, and [Terrill] is now 6-6 or something like that. He basically would have to go undefeated for 15 fights to get into the UFC.”

Delbrugge was quick to acknowledge that Terrill is a tough fighter and that Delbrugge had to be careful when facing him. “He could have knocked me out, but I knew that wouldn’t happen,” Delbrugge said. “I don’t know why people picked against me in that fight.”

(Full disclosure: This writer picked Terrill to defeat Delbrugge, a faux pas I’m still trying to live down. I admitted to Delbrugge that I was so impressed with Terrill’s previous two performances, when he won the Shogun Fights welterweight title from Jeremy Carper in just 36 seconds and when he put on one of the best fights I’ve ever seen against Cole Presley at Shogun Fights 12 last year.)

Delbrugge is enjoying his reign as Shogun Fights welterweight champion, but at 30 years old and having trained and fought MMA full-time for roughly the last nine years, Delbrugge knows his window to make it on the big stage is starting to close, which is spurring his desire to make his presence more known.

“I don’t want to fight on regional cards forever,” Delbrugge said. “I’ve been staying busy hoping for a call from the UFC.”

Part of staying busy for Delbrugge means continuing to compete, as he is scheduled to do for Cage Fury Fighting Championships (CFFC) next month. Delbrugge is scheduled to face Michael Wilkins (6-2) in a lightweight bout. Delbrugge competes at both welterweight and lightweight, but considers lightweight his preferred weight class should he get the call from the UFC.

“I’m fighting a tough wrestler from Pennsylvania, but I feel really good and I have great talent around me,” Delbrugge said. He trains with Team Lloyd Irvin in Camp Springs, which he feels helps to give him an edge in preparation of his bout with Wilkins.

“I have great talent around me there,” Delbrugge said of Team Lloyd Irvin. “I’m just a guy on the mat there. I haven’t fought anyone like my training partners, and I knew 170 pounds wasn’t a permanent home for me. My coaches and manager don’t put me in a bad position, and I’m around people that know what they’re doing. I’m getting as far as I can, and I’m ready to fight whoever, wherever and whenever. I don’t care anymore.”

Delbrugge described Wilkins as having a “capable” stand-up game and “some, nice reactive takedowns. He’s a southpaw, but I train with a really good southpaw who fights for Titan FC. I’m looking forward to fighting a tough guy – I know he won’t just let me take him down and choke him out.”

While competing in the UFC is still Delbrugge’s ultimate goal, he is learning from his coach, Lloyd Irvin, and others to prepare for a life after fighting. In addition to his fighting career, Delbrugge is the owner at Vivid Salon & Spa, a family-owned business in Columbia. But don’t expect Delbrugge to trade in his gloves for a cushy desk chair quite yet.

“I have a good support system and I’ve been delegating everything,” Delbrugge said. “Both sides of my family help me out, since I have to be proactive if I want to get into the UFC. An entry-level fighter for the UFC makes triple what I make, and I feel I’m a pretty good fighter and my style suits the UFC well.”

Thursday, June 9, 2016

‘Wreck-It’ Rob on the rebound

It’s hard to live life with regrets. But no matter how hard we try at something, there’s always something we can do a little better with the benefit of hindsight. There was much that “Wreck-It” Rob Sullivan would like to have back from his last fight.

Sullivan (6-4) came up on the short end of a split decision to Myron Baker at Shogun Fights 14 in April. The fight was Sullivan’s first since suffering a knee injury last year. Sullivan dealt with soreness in his knee leading up to the fight, and said he may have come back a little sooner than many expected.

“Leading up to the fight, I felt fine,” Sullivan told me recently. “I’m not making any excuses at all. I was a little injured, but that didn’t stop me. I tore a ligament in my ankle, so I didn’t do any running, but did a lot of biking and swimming instead.”

It appeared during Sullivan’s fight with Baker at Shogun Fights that he was getting hit constantly. But according to Sullivan, many of Baker’s strikes weren’t really landing. Sullivan said his biggest regret was not pushing the pace more in the third round, and that he understands how the judges scored the fight and doesn’t think he was robbed.

However, Sullivan wouldn’t mind seeing the judges’ scorecards for himself.

“I was convinced Round 2 went my way,” Sullivan said. “I heard one judge gave him Round 2 because of ‘effective striking.’ Needless to say, I didn’t take it very well. He spent four minutes on his back.”

While Sullivan would take a rematch with Baker “in a second,” he’s moving on to his next fight July 9 for Cage Fury Fighting Championships (CFFC) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Sullivan will face Anthony Terrell (5-2), and he acknowledges he’s facing a “dangerous and more explosive” fighter, he said.

“But he doesn’t like being on the ground, and there’s no secret to my game,” Sullivan added. “If I see a takedown, I’m going to take it. He gets dropped a lot and gets into these little wars – I’m sure we’ve shared some sparring partners in the past.”

Sullivan, who trains with Baltimore BJJ, is excited to make his debut with CFFC on July 9, after being originally scheduled to make his debut there prior to his injury. Having fought for regional organizations like Shogun Fights and CES MMA in the Northeast, and his upcoming fight with CFFC, has given Sullivan a unique perspective on regional mixed martial arts.

“There’s a deeper talent pool, and it’s harder to get fights to pad your record against mediocre fighters,” he said. “CFFC and CES have good guys, and they end up going to the UFC.”

While Sullivan would jump at the chance to fight in the UFC, as would any fighter, he also said he would be perfectly happy returning to Bellator MMA (where he picked up a unanimous decision victory in 2013) or competing for World Series of Fighting or even ONE FC in Asia, adding that he has a “deep fascination” with ONE FC.

“The UFC seems pretty hellbent on just building their brand,” Sullivan said. “I like controlling who I am, and I don’t think the UFC wants that.”

Sullivan has no plans to quit fighting anytime soon, saying that he “wants to fights until my body tells me I can’t anymore. I want to continue in this sport, keep winning and match the fighter I want to be with the fighter I am. That’s my quest.”

But at 32 years old, Sullivan already has ideas for what his post-fighting career might look like.

“I don’t want to fight into my mid-40s,” Sullivan said. “I still want to remember my name and remember my girlfriend’s name. My end goal is to give back – either open a gym and coach fighters or help push guys to that next level. I promoted music shows before I started fighting, and I would even love to start my own promotion.”

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Observations from Shogun Fights 14

After having some time to digest Shogun Fights 14 on April 16, there are a few things that stood out to me that I'm going to share with you.

- It was another great crowd who showed up to watch. Easily around 4-5,000 fans were there once again and they were loud and passionate all night long, particularly when there was a controversial decision in the fight between Myron Baker and Rob Sullivan. Maryland mixed martial arts fans are passionate about the sport, and it shows every time Shogun Fights comes around. The UFC came to Baltimore once before, in 2014, and hopefully they'll do so again. It would be nice if Bellator and World Series of Fighting decide to hold cards in our state before long, too.

- Speaking of WSOF, its CEO Carlos Silva was in attendance on Saturday night. I interviewed him for Combat Press and went over and introduced myself. I told him to get some Maryland guys on upcoming WSOF cards, and hopefully he listens. WSOF is a great breeding ground for young fighters wanting to make a name for themselves - just look at WSOF champions like Justin Gaethje and Marlon Moraes. WSOF shares similarities with Shogun Fights that way, just on a more national scale. Hopefully Silva and Shogun Fights founder John Rallo connected and discussed giving some guys a shot at the next level.

- And speaking of the next level, Jon Delbrugge defeated Micah Terrill in the co-main event for the Shogun Fights welterweight title. I also interviewed him for Combat Press, and he told me that he's been in contact with the UFC regarding a possible opportunity. After his victory Saturday night, Delbrugge asked the fans to follow UFC President Dana White on Facebook and ask that the UFC sign him ASAP. I just found it interesting that Delbrugge asked for that, when the CEO of another national MMA organization was in attendance. WSOF is not on UFC's level yet, but it would be interesting if they tried to reach out to Delbrugge.

- For the second card in a row, it seems like many of the fights on Shogun Fights resulted in a first or second-round finish. Saturday night's card had 13 fights, and 10 of them ended early. The sickest finish was in a featherweight bout between Mike Otwell and Darnell Murphy. Otwell knocked Murphy with a head kick in 10 SECONDS. Easily one of the best knockouts I've ever seen, at any level. I guess you can look at all these early finishes one of two ways; either the card is chock full of exciting fighters who look to finish the fight as quickly as possible, or the card consists of many fighters who just don't have enough experience yet to sustain a fight. I personally think it's a combination of both.

- While we're talking about finishes, Baltimore MMA legend James "Binky" Jones had his fight against Dan Ige stopped by the doctor in Round 1 after sustaining a nasty eye cut. At 46 years old, there are few athletes in Baltimore or all of Maryland more respected and revered than Binky. He has such a positive effect in his local community with also serving as a teacher at Team Ground Control in Baltimore. But he has many miles on him over his 29-fight career, and just had his record drop below .500 with his loss to Ige. I'm sure Binky cares little about his record, and he seemed in good spirits when he came back out following his fight after showering and getting dressed. It won't surprise me if I see Binky listed on the next Shogun Fights card later this year. But it won't surprise me if I don't, either.

- As I mentioned above, there was a controversial decision in the fight between Myron Baker and Rob Sullivan. Baker was awarded a split decision victory when most everyone thought Sullivan was the clear winner. Sullivan landed several big takedowns in the fight, while Baker mainly used his striking and range to keep Sullivan at bay. I thought the fight was very close, and I did score it myself for Baker. But I wouldn't have disagreed if they gave Sullivan the win. The crowd showered Baker with heavy boos after he was announced the winner, when their venom should have been reserved for the judges of that fight.

- It was a very good night for Team Lloyd Irvin of Camp Springs, as their fighters who appeared on Saturday night's card pulled a clean sweep, including Delbrugge's victory for the welterweight title. I've already received a little good-natured ribbing from its head trainer and coach, Master Lloyd Irvin, about picking against some of his fighters. To which I can only say: You were right Master Lloyd. Mea culpa. I'll wear this one, and I look forward to seeing more Team Lloyd Irvin fighters compete in the future.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Shogun Fights’ Jon Delbrugge: From the ice to the cage

On the surface, it seems that many hockey players would make good mixed martial arts fighters. In fact, Donald Brashear parlayed his playing career in the National Hockey League into a MMA career in 2011, with a first-round TKO victory in his first fight to boot.

Jon Delbrugge spent the first 16 years of his life being “pretty serious” about hockey, he said. However, at the time the now-30-year-old fighter was forced to choose between continuing his hockey career or pursuing something else. Delbrugge chose football and wrestling during his senior year of high school, where he accumulated a 27-7 record on the mat and ended up playing Division II college football at West Liberty University in West Virginia.

From there, Delbrugge began the journey that many college wrestlers undertake to MMA, which has led him to his welterweight title fight against champion Micah Terrill at Shogun Fights 14 on April 16 at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore.

“MMA was getting real big during college and the guys who wrestled did amateur MMA in their free time,” Delbrugge said. “I told my brother about MMA and that I wanted to do it.”

Despite no formal jiu-jitsu training, Delbrugge won in the beginners division of his first North American Grappling Association tournament in Richmond, Virginia. It was then that Delbrugge decided to drop out of school to embark on a full-time fighting career.

Delbrugge connected with an old classmate who invited him to train at Crazy 88 Mixed Martial Arts in Elkridge. Now a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Delbrugge boasts a MMA record of 8-2 and is coming off back-to-back submission victories.

“I’ve done jiu-jitsu all over the world and placed at the Brazilian nationals and at tournaments in Europe and the U.S.,” Delbrugge said. “I’ve put in a long grind and developed real skills after spending six to seven years traveling the world and doing tournaments.”

Delbrugge also trains with Julius Clark and Team Lloyd Irvin in Maryland and worked on his striking in Thailand. Delbrugge’s success in jiu-jitsu tournaments and MMA has drawn the attention of the UFC, he said, including conversations with UFC President Dana White.

“I talked to Dana before and after my last fight,” Delbrugge said, adding that White was in attendance to film his reality show “Looking for a Fight.”

Delbrugge has been a fixture on the East Coast regional MMA circuit, including multiple fights in Shogun Fights, Cage Fury Fighting Championships and Ring of Combat. His experience in MMA and jiu-jitsu gives him a unique experience that he’s eager to share with his fellow fighters.

“You have to get in at the right time,” Delbrugge said. “I’ve seen guys who are 22-23 years old with no combat experience who want to do this, and it’s very hard for them to have a career and pay a car note or pay a mortgage.”

Nothing that “there’s no money to be made” unless fighters make it to the UFC, Delbrugge stresses to up-and-coming fighters that regional MMA should just be a springboard to a bigger career.

“You need to have a good record to get into the UFC,” he said. “You need to build your brand and have a good coach and good manager. Fighters need to build themselves up, and you have to love to fight.”

But while Delbrugge has designs on fighting under the bright lights of the Octagon and eventually transitioning into a post-fight career of providing commentary on MMA. However, Delbrugge is not looking past Terrill or his title opportunity at Shogun Fights.

A former lightweight, Delbrugge chose to move up to 170 pounds for his fight against Terrill “because it’s a good matchup and opportunity,” he said.

“Micah is battle-tested and has things I have to respect and prepare for,” Delbrugge said. “I feel with my sparring that I’m ready for all his threats, but anything can happen and I feel very confident.”

Delbrugge acknowledges Terrill’s height advantage and said “he does some things well, and some things not so well. I’m sure he says the same thing about me. But he’s going to face the best version of myself, and I feel like a caged lion.”

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Shogun Fights: Micah Terrill wants to make it real

They say a champion isn’t truly a champion, regardless of the sport, until he defends his crown. Shogun Fights welterweight champion Micah Terrill adheres to that philosophy, which is why his first title defense can’t come fast enough.

Terrill will defend his belt against Jon Delbrugge at Shogun Fights 14 in Baltimore on Saturday, April 16. Terrill was crowned champion after defeating Jeremy Carper in just 46 seconds at Shogun Fights 13 last year. His victory also included a bit of redemption, as Terrill came up short in his bid to win the belt the first time at Shogun Fights 12.

“It feels good, but it doesn’t feel real,” Terrill said of his title as champion. “I’m hard on myself, so I have to defend the belt. But once I beat Jon, it’ll feel real.”

Terrill said he “felt great” going into his title fight against Carper, and it showed with his dominant performance.

“I knew Jeremy was a stand-up guy, but Muay Thai guys tend to cover up when they get hit,” Terrill said. “I hit like a freight train, so I knew Jeremy wouldn’t uncover and the ref had to stop the fight.”

Terrill hired a new coach and recruited new fighters to help him train for his title defense against Delbrugge, and Terrill described his training as similar to that of a “Division I baseball team.”

“The whole team came in, and I’ve been in the gym constantly,” he said. Terrill also helps run programs at his gym, Conquest BJJ in Crofton, and participated in some cross-training in advance of his next fight.

“I feel I am much more mature,” Terrill said, which he attributes to being a husband and a father to his 18-month-old son. “I’ve made some mistakes but once I win, I’ll be back to where I need to be.”

Terrill requested this fight against Delbrugge and said while Delbrugge has great jiu-jitsu, Terrill plans to take advantage of his reach and “I’m just going to punch him in the face,” Terrill said.

“This isn’t a grappling match or wrestling match or a Brazilian jiu-jitsu match,” he added. “He will not take me down. I’ve fought a wrestler before and I knocked him out, so I know what to expect. I’ve trained nothing but takedown defense.”

Terrill is excited to once again perform in front of the Shogun Fights crowd, and he credits founder John Rallo for continuing to raise the organization’s profile in Maryland beyond.

“It’s eye-opening to see how much it’s evolved,” Terrill said. “It’s sport in its purest form – we’re not trying to kill each other. It’s a great thing for the state and for people to see MMA in a different light.”

Monday, April 11, 2016

Shogun Fights: Rob Watley's second chance

Note: A version of this article is also available at Combat Press.

The stage was set for Rob Watley. He was coming into his first professional title fight in mixed martial arts on a 4-fight win streak. He was facing one of the more popular fighters around. Combining those factors with his confidence spelled a possible big night for the man they call “Ares.”

Unfortunately, it just didn’t happen.

Right before Watley (4-1) was going to face Dan Root (10-2) for the inaugural Shogun Fights lightweight title last year, his foot become badly swollen and bloated and he was forced to withdraw from the bout. The worst part was, Watley wasn’t exactly sure how the injury happened.

“I can’t pinpoint a specific time, it was so bizarre,” Watley said. “I had a bone bruise and torn ligaments. I was probably training harder than I should have, and when I woke up my foot was swollen and I had trouble walking.”

Watley’s withdrawal from his fight against Root was his first as a fighter. He attributes his injury to possibly having to switch his training from having to defend more kicks to focusing more on his takedown defense.

“Nothing was broken, but I had to take time and not do anything,” Watley said, adding that he underwent physical therapy for his foot. “I fight so often that I became like a kid who loves candy – I was getting it all the time and I was losing appreciation for it.”

Watley took advantage of his forced sabbatical from fighting, as it forced him to reassess his entire approach to his MMA career. Spurred by his desire to have a long-term MMA career, Watley improved his sleeping habits and switched to an organic diet, among other changes.

“I went back to the drawing board,” Watley said. “I improved my nutrition and my sleeping and started treating myself like a pro. Before, I was only getting 3 to 4 hours of sleep a night and I was getting colds and sinus infections.”

“It really stunk because I wanted to fight,” Watley added when talking about his canceled bout last year against Root. “”But it was a blessing in disguise. It now gives the fight some build-up.”

Although Watley had plenty of time to re-evaluate his approach to his fight career while rehabbing his foot injury, he chose not to take the time to create a specific game plan for his fight against Root. He opted instead to make sure he is as well-rounded as possible for his title opportunity on Saturday, April 16.

“I want to keep him guessing, because if you’re guessing during a fight, then you’re playing catch-up,” Watley said. His fight with Root will be Watley’s fourth with Shogun Fights, and he really enjoys the opportunity for himself and his fellow fighters to showcase themselves for the Baltimore fans.

“John sacrifices a lot to make this happen,” Watley said of John Rallo, founder of Shogun Fights. “This is one of the bigger shows on the East Coast. I’m still learning a lot myself, but Shogun Fights is doing some big things.”

Watley previously expressed a desire to help his fellow fighters by possibly helping to create a fighters union in the future. Watley hopes Shogun Fights can show fighters how to be professionals, so that they can put themselves in the best position to succeed when they hit the open market and not restrict themselves to one deal with just one organization.

“We have to do what’s best for us, and there has to be competition,” Watley said. “I’m so excited to be a part of that process. It’s an exciting time in MMA.”

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Shogun Fights’ Dan Root swims with the sharks

Note: A version of this article is also available at Combat Press.

Dan Root could see the light at the end of the tunnel. He put in a grueling camp to prepare for his first professional title fight. He was on his way to cut the last little bit of weight needed to make his fight official.

But then he got the news that every fighter dreads: His opponent was injured and had to pull out of the fight.

“I didn’t think it was possible,” Root said of his scheduled lightweight title fight against Rob Watley at Shogun Fights 13 last year. The two were going to fight to be crowned the organization’s first lightweight champion. However, the fight was postponed after Watley suffered a foot injury.

“[Shogun Fights founder] John Rallo is usually a texting guy, so when he called me the day before the fight, I knew it was bad,” Root said. “There was a little disbelief, but in this sport, anything can happen.”

So did Root take some time off and let himself pack on a few pounds? No. He did what he knew best – he went back to the gym the very next day to train for his rescheduled bout with Watley at Shogun Fights 14 on April 16.

“I pride myself on my work ethic,” Root said. “No work is really wasted. My team and coaches – we train hard. Iron sharpens iron.”

Root is a member of Team Ground Control in Baltimore, which is home to several fighters past and present who boast experience competing for Shogun Fights, including Dave Daniecki, Jesse Stirn and James “Binky” Jones.

“When you have guys like that beating on you every day, eventually you’re going to get better,” Root said. We also focus on the micro-disciplines, so we’re always getting better. Why do this if you’re not going to be the best?”

Root currently boasts a 10-2 overall record, and is on a 9-fight winning streak. Root attributes his success to the culmination of time he’s spent to be the best at anything he does and to being surrounded by the talent at Ground Control Baltimore.

“They’re good guys to beat the crap out of you,” Root said. “If you want to be good, you have to get the shit [sic] kicked out of you. You don’t get better by being a big fish in a small pond – you have to be a shark and swim with the other sharks.”

He added that he doesn’t anticipate changing his strategy much from his first planned fight with Watley, and while his ultimate goal is to take his career to the highest level, Root is not looking past his next opponent.

“My only goal is to win the title,” he said. “I want to show people that I am that good, because I bust my ass and I’m driven to succeed.”

Root has had a front-row seat to the growth of Shogun Fights as the organization embarks on its 14th card. Root notes the support of local fans with Shogun Fights’ popularity, with each card drawing more than 5,000 fans – outpacing that of Bellator MMA or World Series of Fighting.

“We’re also right behind the UFC in terms of production,” Root said. “We put on good fights, and John [Rallo] does a great job of attracting educated fans who don’t boo when fighters go to the ground.”

Shogun Fights 14 takes place on Saturday, April 16, at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The painful road back

Getting injured is not good for any athlete. Knee injuries are particularly worrisome, especially for an athlete trying to strive for greatness. But Rob Sullivan did his best to make rehabbing his knee injury fun.

Sullivan, 32, suffered multiple tears and other injuries to his knee while training for a fight last summer. Before he underwent surgery, he performed rehabilitation two days a week for five weeks to make sure his muscles didn’t totally fail.

“I was actually able to do some lifting toward the end,” Sullivan said of his pre-surgery rehab. However, following his surgery, all of Sullivan’s strength in his knee was completely gone.

“I had to get everything back,” he said. Sullivan began rehab five days after his surgery, which included body squats and riding a bike. He also jumped rope and performed an exercise that included standing on one foot.

“That was the most fun thing,” Sullivan said. “Everything else was boring and monotonous.”

Prior to his injury, Sullivan was able to make a living as a professional fighter. However, during his rehab he had to return to his previous career working as a carpenter and in construction. It was there that Sullivan experienced another close call that could have been catastrophic.

“I was the superintendent on a construction project and while the work got done, I couldn’t help for the first month,” Sullivan said. “One day I had to climb a ladder to fix something and my knee brace got stuck. I fell to the ground, face-first.”

It wasn’t long afterward that Sullivan returned to his mixed martial arts training at Baltimore BJJ, where he found wrestling to be the toughest obstacle at first. Sullivan resumed boxing two-and-a-half months after his surgery, which also required re-learning proper footwork.

“My coach would see me step weird and tell me to stop,” Sullivan said. In addition to getting into a groove with his training, Sullivan also had to lose weight – he reached 189 pounds prior to his surgery.

“I lost that weight real fast,” Sullivan said. “I lost 20 pounds in one month, and now I can do everything I did pre-injury.”

That includes fighting, and Sullivan is scheduled to compete at Shogun Fights 14 in Baltimore on April 16. Sullivan started his camp last week and plans to fight at featherweight after spending most his career at bantamweight.

“I feel great,” Sullivan said. “There’s always going to be numbness in part of my leg but the strength and mobility is there. The strength is better than it was before.”

As Sullivan embarks on his first fight in a year, he’s looking to change things up to become a better fighter.

“I’m thinking how I can learn new things and be better at kickboxing, wrestling, boxing and with my timing,” Sullivan said. “I don’t want what happened with my knee to happen again.”

Prior to his injury, Sullivan’s goal was to fight five times in one year. He had three fights in 2015 before his injury, but has set his sights on a new goal – to secure a long-term contract with a MMA organization like Bellator, World Series of Fighting or with a regional promotion like Cage Fury Fighting Championships or CES MMA.

“If the UFC called, you would have to be an idiot not to take that,” Sullivan said. “But I don’t think I would be a good fit in the UFC right now; they lump everyone together. I like to be my own person and control my image.”

Sunday, January 10, 2016

A little Q&A about MMA, Part II

Last month, I spoke to a few fighters from Evolve Academy in Gaithersburg about their upcoming fights at a Cagezilla Fighting Championship event in Virginia. While one of the fighters I spoke to had to withdraw from his fight, the other two still competed and followed up with me about their experience.

- How did your fight unfold?

Garrett Kline: It went. We started off touching gloves and my opponent I could see was moving in a traditional tae kwon do stance. I realized right then my game plan needed to be executed. So I threw a left hook and cut off the cage, and he was shocked. So I went for a takedown assuming I'd be able to get it and work my ground and pound. Well, I left my neck exposed and he capitalized.

John Thorpe: I won my last fight via a unanimous decision. I wasn't impressed at all with my striking, and still have yet to evaluate the actual cage footage.

- Were you victorious?

Kline: No, I didn't get my hand raised. But in my mind I was the winner because I had the nerve to go out and compete. So I already accomplished my major goal just by making it.

- How would you evaluate your performance?

Kline: Good, honestly. It was quick, but for anyone who hasn't fought it's easy to talk about what to do. But when you're in the situation, things go worse then expected. But I loved it.

Thorpe: I have already grown from this fight not only as a fighter, but as a person. I have never been into the third round, and that for me was always a concern. My mentality leading up to stepping in was no matter what I won't quit, I won't get frustrated, and I will stay calm, which I successfully executed. Anthony Wilson, an awesome guy by the way, really surprised me with his boxing. I realized fast this isn't a guy who will be easy to knock out.

- How will you use this fight to grow and evolve as a fighter?

Kline: I will train harder and make sure I don't expose as many openings.

- When would you like to fight again?

Kline: Sign me up for next weekend. I want to be in there more than any one else. We are fighters. When we suffer defeat, we go back, polish our armour and stand toe-to-toe once again.

Thorpe: Right now I'm enjoying my family, but the cage is calling. I'm looking forward to stepping back in as soon as possible, but there are a couple of guys whom I'd be willing to wait a bit longer to compete against!