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.