Archive for the King of the Cage Category

Legere claims KOTC gold; Joker, Kryptonite retain at “Distorted”

Posted in King of the Cage, Live Event Reports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2009 by jaytan716

With three high-profile, incredibly competitive title matches and several exciting finishes in the undercard matches, “KOTC: Distorted” proved to be very much on point.

The event, which took place at the San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino, also featured an all-star “Bully Beatdown” cast of fighters from the first and second season, such as Rick Legere, Ben Lagman, Quinn Mulhern, Nick Gaston, and KOTC double champion Tony “Kryptonite” Lopez, whose episode, ironically enough, premiered that very same night.

“The title fights – the main event, were exactly what we wanted.  Exactly what we expected.  Both rematches, for the title fight – one got to redeem himself. . . Rick Legere came out victorious.  It was a great night of fights,” beamed matchmaker Shingo Kashiwagi.

“Especially here at San Manuel Casino, we like to make it a big show, so we do real big main events.  Big names. . . And then we try to stick with the younger, up-and-coming guys.  It’s good exposure for the hungry guys who have wanted to fight for us,” he explained.

Equally as noteworthy was the return of Mike “The Joker” Guymon, in his first title defense since his highly-publicized suicide attempt almost two months back.  Joker, who defended against fast-rising Jiu-Jitsu star Quinn Mulhern, was hospitalized for observation in August after an incident in which the reigning champion tried to coax police officers into shooting him.

“I’m really proud of that fight, moreso than any of the other ones that I’ve done.  Just because of all the adversities that I went through.  Seven weeks prior to that. . . I wanted to end everything.  The world was too hard for me, and I was too stressed out.  And it made [me] mentally tougher.  All the therapy and all the stuff I’ve gone through . . .” Joker reflected.

The following is a match-by-match report on the night’s fights:

Heavyweight (265 lbs.) – Mike “Rhino” Bourke (Mollenkramer Fight Academy / C-Quence Jiu-Jitsu) vs. Liron “The Icon” Wilson (Millennia)

Despite towering height difference in Wilson’s favor, Bourke outweighed his opponent by 36 pounds.  This was Bourke’s first KOTC appearance since May 2008, a Super Heavyweight title fight against Chance “King of the Streets” Williams, which itself ended in a no contest after Bourke could not continue after taking strikes to the back of the head.

Wilson threw jabs and an array of kicks, while Bourke, feeling his opponent out, did not engage for the first 30 seconds.  Bourke finally tied up, but fell to the ground, pulling Wilson into half guard.  Wilson threw some body shots and worked a keylock.  Bourke was initially composed, but finally tapped out at 2:12 of the first round.

Middleweight (185 lbs.) – Uber “Bulletproof” Gallegos (Training Zone) vs. Ben “Bad News” Lagman (MASH Fight Team / Martial Arts Unlimited)

Both men actively engaged from the get-go.  Gallegos shot for a single, but left his head hanging.  Lagman was quick to sink in a guillotine choke, bringing it to the ground.  Seconds later, Gallegos tapped out, giving Lagman the win at 0:28 of the first round.

Even Lagman was surprised at his brief work shift, noting “I was in condition to go the whole time.  I thought it was gonna go a lot longer.  [Uber’s] fights usually go for awhile. . . He gave me the neck, so I took it.”

The night featured several Detroit imports representing Team MASH, including teammate Brandon Hunt.  On being the outsider, Lagman commented “we get excited to come out here and get these opportunities.  There’s no show in Michigan like this.  Terry’s cool enough to fly us out across the damn country to come . . . we come out here, we come to fight.”

Middleweight (185 lbs.) – Brandon Hunt (MASH Fight Team) vs. Joe Crilly (United Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu)

Crilly brought Lake Elsinore out with him, as he received one of the bigger crowd pops of the night.  Flying in from Detroit, MI, Hunt was the outsider, and as a former KOTC middleweight champion, he was working on climbing back up the ladder to a title shot.  The winner of this match would become the new #1 contender for Brad Burrick’s KOTC middleweight championship.

Crilly & Hunt clearly came to drop bombs, as both men fired hard jabs early.  Crilly attacked with a flurry which Hunt muted by clinching him against the cage and changing levels for a double-leg takedown that Crilly shoved off with confidence.  At one point, Crilly had Hunt on all fours and was looking for the KO shot, but couldn’t draw a bead on it before Hunt rolled away and escaped.  Once on his feet, Hunt dropped Crilly with a stiff headshot, but Crilly was able to recover.  Hunt circled the cage, as Crilly patiently followed, throwing combos to Hunt’s head.  Crilly looked in control and landed more, but Hunt likely scored with that knockdown.

Crilly continued to stalk Hunt in round two, coming in straight with combos to the head.  It went to the ground, where Crilly proceeded to pound on Hunt’s head, but failed to capitalize on being in control.  Hunt pushed in with a flurry, but to no avail.  As Crilly pushed straight in with headshots, Hunt clichéd up and tried to drop levels for a takedown, but Crilly caught him.  As they broke apart, Hunt tagged Crilly with a sharp combo to the head.  Hunt threw a high kick as the round ended.  Crilly had Hunt on the ground briefly, but Hunt looked better in the ensuing aftermath.

Early in the third round, Crilly walked into a jab and went down.  To his credit, he rallied to stay in the game, escaping to his feet and bouncing off the cage, but Hunt caught him again with a jab and right straight, the latter of which dropped Crilly for good.  Hunt kept going until referee Herb Dean pulled him away.  Hunt was awarded the KO victory at 0:24 of the third round.

Crilly’s reputation as a balls-to-the-wall juggernaut brawler, did not escape Hunt, who said “I was aware of it. . . I let him get off first a little bit, but I knew that if I just stayed there like that all night, he was gonna win.  Just had to use my speed and my power and my angles and just defeat him.  But I did know about the reputation.”

After the event, matchmaker Kashiwagi noted how strong both men fought, saying “he looked like the best ever.  Joe came in there, he showed some tremendous heart.  He was never gonna back down until he gets knocked out.  That’s his fighting style, and I respect the heck out of him.”

Hunt will next challenge fellow statesman Brad Burrick for his KOTC middleweight title.

Heavyweight (265 lbs.) – Nick “Afrozilla” Gaston (8 + 8 Striking Systems) vs. Boban Simic (Flo MMA.com)

Gaston vs. Simic was a battle of young out-of-towners, as Gaston comes from Columbus, OH, while Simic is a former heavyweight champion in the Chicago-based XFO.  It’s also the scrap of the scalps, as Gaston (aka “Gorillas in the Mist”) sports an afro that would make Angela Davis jealous.  Simic is tied up in cornrows that would make Allan Iverson jealous.

Like the Bourke-Wilson fight, the extreme size and shape difference was the story to this match.  Gaston, who is 6’4”, towered over the 5’10” Simic.  That said, Simic kept the pressure on Gaston throughout the match.  Gaston opened with a left kick before they clinched up and jockeyed against the cage for position.  Gaston fired a few Muay Thai knees, which, given the size difference between them, risked landing in the groin, which would have caused a foul against him.  They traded leather furiously, and Gaston kept using the knees, but Simic no-sold any damage they might have done.  As the round ended, Gaston attempted a hip toss, but Simic kept his balance and let Gaston hit the ground first before falling into top position.

Simic set round two off by charging from afar twice; the second time, Gaston dropped him with a front kick, and followed up with a flying knee.  Gaston trapped Simic with a modified overhook whizzer clinch and was able to fire off some lefts before Simic muted the shots with a clinch.  Gaston slipped in an elbow, which may have cut Simic open.

Simic was swinging more wildly in the third round, Gaston caught him and spun him into the cage the first time, but upon second attack, Gaston tagged him with the flying knee.  None of this stopped Simic from continuing the assault.  Gaston’s bread and butter was the whizzer, but he didn’t pound much with the free hand.  Gaston landed another vocal front kick and low kick before the match ended.

Judges awarded Gaston the win by unanimous decision with scores of 30-27

In his post-fight interview, Gaston commended Simic, who he knew was going to be no easy test: “He took the fight on two weeks’ notice.  He’s a bad motherfucker, man.  He got my eye swollen up a little bit. . . If you watch the fight, the first round, I almost had him gone. . . I was like ‘ooo, I’ma knock him out.’  He’s so fuckin’ tough, I couldn’t take him out.  Every round, I was hittin’ him, hittin’ him.  Elbows, knees.  And he wouldn’t drop,” said the self-proclaimed “Big Floppy Donkey Dick.”

KOTC Junior Welterweight (160 lbs.) Championship – Waachiim “The Native Warrior” Spiritwolf (Spiritwolf MMA) vs. Rick “The I.E. Bad Boy” Legere (Team Wildman)

This was a rematch from their December 2008 meeting, when Spiritwolf KO’ed Legere early in the second round, ending the I.E. Bad Boy’s unblemished six–fight win streak.  With Victor “Joe Boxer” Valenzuela recently deciding to drop down to 145 lbs., Legere and Spiritwolf were the perfect match to fill the championship slot.   Spiritwolf is a WFC and Cage of Fire welterweight champion.

Legere took the center of the ring while Spiritwolf circled the perimeter, landing a hard low kick.  Legere looked like he might have been playing mind games, as he unconventionally threw no more than three or four jabs in the air in the first 30 seconds, when the fans started to get rowdy.  Spiritwolf charged in with a jab, but Legere deftly tripped him up, sending Spiritwolf sliding to the ground across the cage.  Back to circling again, fans were really starting to get restless here.  Finally, Spiritwolf charged Legere, who fell to the ground, but trapped a leg and worked to set up a heel hook.  Eventually, he took Spiritwolf’s back standing, but couldn’t capitalize before breaking apart.  Both men looked to be loading up, but neither pulled the trigger on their strikes.  Spiritwolf tried shooting in again from afar, but Legere sidestepped him with matador-like grace, and then clinched Spiritwolf up against the cage for a few body shots before the round ended.

Round two saw a bit more engaging.  Legere took Spiritwolf to the ground and pounded on him, blocking his escape attempts with a full-nelson, of all things.  He worked for a rear naked choke from the back, but it was continued ground-and-pound that caused referee Herb Dean to stop the match at 2:25 of the second round.

Rick Legere wins by TKO at 2:25 of R2, making him the new KOTC Junior Welterweight champion.

KOTC Welterweight (170 lbs.) Championship – Quinn Mulhern (Santa Fe BJJ) vs. Mike “The Joker” Guymon (Joker’s Wild Fighting Academy)

This was Guymon’s second title defense after capturing the belt from Anthony “The Recipe” Lapsley in December of 2008.  Mulhern was coming off a first round submission upset over MMA pioneer and Jiu-Jitsu black belt Chris “The Westside Strangler” Brennan.

The story of this match was Joker’s superior wrestling as the advantage in keeping top position, while Mulhern used everything in his jiu-jitsu arsenal to escape, transition, or catch the champ in a compromising position.  However, Joker kept the pressure on Mulhern with body shots, hooks, and elbows from above.  Within seconds of the round one bell, Mulhern shot in for a single-leg, clinching Joker against the cage. But Joker switched positions and tripped Mulhern to the ground, where most of the match took place.  Mulhern did get to his feet, but Joker swept the leg and took it to the ground again just as the round ended.  Mulhern tried to keep it standing in the second, circling on the outside and throwing combos to the face, but Joker pushed in, clinched, and returned the fight to the ground.  Round three’s intro saw the two trade headshots before Mulhern threw several kicks to set up for a double-leg takedown attempt.  Joker stuffed the shot and spun around to get back control, but Mulhern rolled through to end up with joker in his guard.  Mulhern went for an armbar, but to no avail, and then was on his feet again before Joker took him down again.  Early in the fourth round, Joker caught Mulhern’s leg off a high kick and threw him to the ground with authority.  Another takedown later, Joker had Mulhern on the ground and continued with hard rights to the body.  Finally, Joker got full mount, then, receiving Mulhern’s back, pounded away until Mulhern tapped out at 4:32 due to strikes.

“I’ve been really open about everything, because my whole life, I’ve been an open book. . . And I just thank everybody that supported me. . . Fighters, friends, family.  Even people that were in my weight class, that are contending, were like ‘hey, man, talk to me.  Here’s my number.’  I’ve been talking to Rick Legere, Spiritwolf.  Just all those guys.  I can’t say enough about everybody in general. . . Jim Amormino and my wife were there.  Those two, if it wasn’t for her and Jim, I wouldn’t be here, man. . . Zach Smith.  He’s a personal friend of mine, and just he hated seeing me go through such a bad thing, and he just wanted to be there for me. . . He’s passionate about his beliefs and his friends and I love him to death.”

“The match itself – I went in and I played my game plan like I wanted to. . . First of all, I didn’t think he was gonna shoot in on me right off the bat.  I thought he was gonna try and stand. . . I was intending to dirty box him up against the fence, and he actually played into my game, where I felt his shot, I got him in clinch, and then I just started wearing him out up against the fence. . .”

Of Joker and Mulhern’s performances, Kashiwagi reflected “Quinn did phenomenal.   Joker was on top throughout the whole fight, but that’s how jiu-jitsu guys are. . . First two rounds, even though Joker was on top the whole time, from my point of view, it was a chess match.  Because a simple mistake. . A little bit of space that Joker gives, Quinn was getting ready.”

“Everything’s all clicking now, and I just can’t believe that I went from seven weeks ago, wanting to not be here anymore, to just absolutely wanting to hug life.  It’s been an interesting ride,” said Joker.  “I just thank everybody that supported me. . . Fighters, friends, family.  Even people that were in my weight class, that are contending, were like ‘hey, man, talk to me.  Here’s my number.’  I’ve been talking to Rick Legere, Spiritwolf. . . Jim Amormino and my wife were there.  Those two, if it wasn’t for her and Jim, I wouldn’t be here, man. . . Zach Smith.  He’s a personal friend of mine, and just he hated seeing me go through such a bad thing. . . He’s passionate about his beliefs and his friends and I love him to death.”

KOTC Heavyweight (265 lbs.) Championship – Joey “The Mexicutioner” Beltran (Alliance MMA) vs. Tony “Kryptonite” Lopez (Team Oyama)

This was the second of two rematches from 2008.  In their previous outing, Lopez successfully defended his heavyweight crown against Beltran with a highlight reel kimura armlock that many thought would end Beltran’s career.  However, the Mexicutioner was back in the cage less than five months later, and rode a five-match win streak into this match, including a regional heavyweight title win in Oklahoma.

Beltran engaged from the onset, and Lopez was quick to mute the attack with overhooks.  They jockeyed for position, with Beltran throwing headshots on occasion.  Lopez remained composed, forcing his own switch and putting Beltran against the cage.  The crowd was surprisingly quiet for this start, aside from the occasional call for action and “fuck him up.”  Beltran dropped Lopez and tried to follow up, but Lopez escaped to his feet.  Beltran caught a leg from one of Lopez’ high kicks, but couldn’t trip him down.  It was here where Lopez started to employ his signature kicks and Muay Thai clinch and knees, which apparently woke the fans up.  Beltran replied with wilder shots to the body and head, and even went forward with a Muay Thai clinch of his own.  Lopez had a bad habit of turning away when breaking apart, which gave Beltran a blinded moment to chase and push him against the fence.  Beltran found his second wind just before the round ended.

Beltran continued with the wild style striking in round two.  They traded clinch positions against the cage, then kicks for headshots, respectively, for several minutes.  Every time Lopez came close to a Muay Thai clinch, Beltran woke up and retaliated with wild headshots.  Lopez was busted open from either the mouth or nose.  Beltran got Lopez to the ground briefly in the third round, but Lopez immediately got up almost as fast.  The battle for position and dirty boxing went on for the rest of the third and fourth round, as both men slipped knees and punches to the legs and body until referee Herb Dean finally broke them apart.  Beltran turned up the pressure with furious lefts and rights on Lopez, who grabbed his left leg and scooped Beltran to the floor.  Lopez got Beltran’s back and sat back for a rear naked choke, but Beltran fought to side control.  After another stand-up, Beltran was noticeably opened over the left eye or side of his cheek.  This round likely went to Lopez for ground punishment.  The final round saw Lopez switch up and try to take Beltran down several times, but the challenger stayed on his feet and circled away from the cage.  Both men were pounding on each other from the collar-and-arm tie-up.  Lopez’ long limbs allowed him to whizzer Beltran, but Beltran got the better of the situation, tagging Lopez in the face several times.  Lopez tried for another takedown, to no avail.  Whenever there was a break in the action, Beltran dug deep and came up with a barrage of shots to the head, to which Lopez would turn away and defend with side and back kicks.

Lopez was awarded the win by unanimous decision (scores unannounced), which the crowd vociferously booed.  It appeared like they saw Beltran as the underdog who gave it his all, and Lopez, as champion, doing enough to win the fight.  Each round was very close, which made the final verdict contestable among fans.

King of the Cage returns to the San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino on December 17th, 2009, for its final show of the year.

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Fighters’ Weights on Point for KOTC: Distorted

Posted in King of the Cage, Live Event Reports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2009 by jaytan716
King of the Cage: Distorted takes place on October 1st, at the San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino in Highland, CA.

King of the Cage: Distorted takes place on October 1st, at the San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino in Highland, CA.

All 14 fighters weighed in and were cleared to fight this evening at the San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino, in anticipation for “King of the Cage: Distorted,” which takes place on Thursday, October 1st and features three KOTC title fights.

Only two fighters, Waachiim Spiritwolf and Uber Gallegos, did not make weight on their first attempts.  Spiritwolf, who challenges Rick “The I.E. Bad Boy” Legere for the vacant KOTC junior welterweight (160 lbs.) title, had to make the designated weight, since the bout was a title fight, according to California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) rules.  He was given two hours to weigh in again, and came back at 159.2 lbs.

The vacant junior welterweight title was last held by Victor “Joe Boxer” Valenzuela, who recently relinquished the belt to shift down to the bantamweight (145 lbs) division.  Valenzuela had defended the 160 lb. belt twice this year.

Gallegos weighed in at 187.4, almost 2.5 lbs. over the 185 lb. limit.  However, Gallegos’ opponent, Ben “Bad News” Lagman (Team MASH), opted to take the fight at an adjusted 190 lb. catchweight, accepting Gallegos’ initial weigh-in.

In the main event, KOTC double champion Tony “Kryptonite” Lopez (Team Oyama) defends the heavyweight title against Joey “The Mexicutioner” Beltran, in a rematch from their May 2008 clash over the Lopez’ light heavyweight title.  In their original meeting, Lopez caught Beltran with a highlight reel standing kimura armbar, which many people thought would be the end of The Mexicutioner’s fight career.  Instead, Beltran recovered and has since built up a five-match win streak, most recently training with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Brandon Vera’s Alliance MMA team.  In a recent interview last week on the King of the Cage Network (http://www.ustream.tv/channel/king-of-the-cage-channel), Beltran discussed the war of words between he and Lopez, which developed after their match, and Beltran’s own burning desire for revenge.

“I’ve been on a samurai mission to get back to that fight,” said Beltran.

In addition to the heavyweight and junior welterweight titles, KOTC welterweight champion Mike “Joker” Guymon (Joker’s Wild Fighting Academy) puts his gold on the line against Quinn Mulhern (Santa Fe BJJ), a jiu-jitsu specialist with an unblemished 8-0 record.  In his last appearance, Mulhern shocked fans by beating MMA pioneer Chris “The Westside Strangler” Brennan with a first round omoplata submission.  Guymon is coming off his last title defense, a second-round submission win against Kyacey Uscola, at that same show.

Also on the card is Lake Elsinore’s favorite son, Joe Crilly, facing his toughest test to date, former KOTC middleweight champion Brandon Hunt, and Mike “Rhino” Bourke, who takes on newcomer Liron Wilson.

Final weigh-in results are as follows:

Joey Beltran – 237 lbs.

Tony “Kryptonite” Lopez – 217 lbs.

Quinn Mulhern – 169.6 lbs.

Mike “Joker” Guymon – 169.2 lbs.

Waachiim Spiritwolf – 159.2 lbs. (second attempt)

Rick “The IE Bad Boy” Legere – 159.2 lbs.

Nick Gaston – 260.8 lbs.

Boban Simic – 237.8 lbs.

Brandon Hunt – 181.8 lbs.

Joe Crilly – 181.2 lbs.

Uber Gallegos – 187.4 (match weight was adjusted to 190 lb. catchweight)

Ben “Bad News” Lagman – 181.6 lbs.

Mike “Rhino” Bourke – 264 lbs.

Liron Wilson – 229 lbs.

“King of the Cage: Distorted” takes place on October 1st at the San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino in Highland, CA.  Tickets are still available at the box office, by phone at (888) 777-7404, or at www.Ticketmaster.com.  Doors open at 6:30 and the show begins at 7:30pm.

Mulhern upsets Brennan’s comeback; Hervey, Guymon emerge victorious at “KOTC: Militia”

Posted in King of the Cage, Live Event Reports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2009 by jaytan716

“I’d rather lose an exciting fight, than win a boring one.”  Those words emblazon the official Chris Brennan website.

They’re also words to stand by, as the three-time King of the Cage middleweight champion’s return to KOTC action was iced by jiu-jitsu young gun Quinn Mulhern, with an exciting but brief first-round submission stoppage at last week’s King of the Cage: Militia event at the San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino in Highland, CA.

Brennan, who held the middleweight title when the division was at 170 lbs., came out of a 21-month MMA hiatus and a seven-year departure from King of the Cage.

“I never really did [retire].  I needed to take some time off.  My body was beat up and I started training a bunch of kids . . . I was so busy doing all the other stuff that I was doing that I didn’t have time to train for myself.  I didn’t want to take a fight without being fully prepared. . . A year or two years before that, I fought almost, I think, nine times in a year.  So I was just kinda burned out and wanted a little break,” he explained.

The match itself was a rapid ground scrap which saw Mulhern keep pace with Brennan, trapping him in two uma platas before a rib injury forced Brennan to concede at the two minute mark of the first round.

“Knowing he was trying to set up a triangle, I ducked my head out of the triangle . . . because I knew I wasn’t going to get caught with that, and rolled out.  And then my plan was to do the same thing the second time, but when I was trying to roll was when [the rib injury] happened, and I was like ‘oh fuck!’ . . . The referee asked if I wanted out, and I said ‘no, but my ribs are out.’ And then I tried to yank my arm to twist a little bit and throw a punch, and I couldn’t even move.  I said ‘oh, well, I guess so.’  It wasn’t the uma plata that finished the fight.  I hurt myself.”

Brennan, dubbed “The Westside Strangler,” for his history of famous chokeout victories, owns several “Next Generation Jiu-Jitsu” schools in North America and Europe.  Mulhern, a young protégé of BJJ expert Alberto Crane (who also fought on the same card), has a Grappler’s Quest championship under his brown belt, and went into the Brennan match with an unblemished 7-0 record.

In other KOTC action, reigning welterweight champion Mike “Joker” Guymon beat Kasey “Ice Cold” Uscola with a second round TKO of a non-title defense that was set at a 175 lb. catchweight.  Guymon fought back from a challenging first round which saw Uscola take the welterweight king down twice, working ground-and-pound in each instance.

Tony Hervey had the shortest shift of the night, knocking out Alberto Crane in 12 seconds of the first round.  “It was weird.  But as soon as he jumped guard, he jumped to my wrists.   He didn’t even have my arm hooked.  So I’m still standing, planted, and the first – as soon as I made first hit, his eyes were [rolled back] like that. . . I don’t know how many landed, but I just know two for a fact – lights out,” Hervey explained after the match.

The following is a match-by-match report on the night’s fights:

Middleweight (185 lbs.) Estephan Jiminez (Team Execution) vs. Armondo “Chino” Montoya (Team Wildman)

Jiminez got the takedown early in the first round, pushing Montoya into the ground and throwing big bombs standing.  Montoya tried to minimize the damage with a high / butterfly guard.  Jiminez actually was able to step back and work for a kimura while nearly in Montoya’s butterfly guard.  In round two, Montoya came out as a house of fire, tagging Jiminez and getting top position on the ground.  He worked for a guillotine, to a rear naked choke, back to a guillotine from bottom position, before Jiminez tapped out at 1:23 of round two.

Welterweight (170 lbs.) George Sanchez (Empire Training Center) vs. Joe “Jo” Lewis (Unbreakable Gym)

Sanchez was originally scheduled to fight another opponent on the May KOTC: Storm show at Lake Elsinore, CA, but the match was pulled after his opponent failed to make weight.

Lewis got Sanchez to the ground in round one with a big, crowd-pleasing slam, but Sanchez retaliated by almost catching Lewis with an armbar.  After referee Larry Landless, making a comeback to cage regulation, ordered a stand-up, the combatants traded solid kicks.  Sanchez tagged Lewis with a low right kick that was hard enough that Lewis gave him a dap for it.  For his part, Lewis threw some nice kicks that kept Sanchez at bay.

Round two imitate the beginning of round one, in that Lewis got Sanchez to the ground and took top position while Sanchez threatened him with submissions.  Sanchez finally swept and got full mount.  When Lewis gave up his back and Sanchez went for the choke, the crowd erupted.  This was one of the most appreciative crowds at San Manuel since KOTC’s debut here last year.  They could sense when a submission was close and were rooting for it.  Sanchez made a second attempt to get the choke, but to no avail.

In round three, they traded some shots against the cage before Sanchez shot for a double-leg takedown.  Lewis wisely pulled back and continued to ground-and-pound, but inadvertently got caught in another armbar.  He broke free and fired lefts and rights from side mount while Sanchez was on all fours.  Lewis continued the ground and pound to the end of the bell.

Judges awarded Joe Lewis the victory by split decision on scores of 29-28.  Sanchez likely won the second round, while Lewis took the first and third.

Bantamweight (135 lbs.) Jose “Berto” Morales (Subfighter) vs. Jon ”The Clone” Sasson (HB Ultimate Training Center / Team Rampage)

Sasson scored a big slam takedown early in round one, but Morales quickly regained control with lefts on the ground before standing up.  Sasson tried to pull guard just before the bell rang, but Morales simply dropped punches from inside the guard.  Morales opened up round two with a high kick and takedown, but they were stood up, where Sasson engaged more than previously.  Sasson ended up standing over Morales and going for an ankle lock from above, much to the fans’ amazement.  Morales briefly got Sasson in an armbar before the bell rang.  In the third chapter of the match, both men traded hard lefts and rights before Morales scored another takedown and ground-and-pounded away.  Morales would get two more takedowns, successfully throwing elbows inside Sasson’s closed guard without getting caught in a triangle choke.

Judges awarded the victory to Jose “Berto” Morales by unanimous decision.  Morales likely won rounds one and two.

Lightweight (155 lbs.) Evan “Mr. Nice Guy” Thompson (Team Execution) vs. Corey “Savage” Grant (Team Quest)

Grant had the Team Quest All-Stars out in full force, including Dan Henderson, Cyrille Diabate, and Krzysztof Soszynski.  He’s also being cornered by Henderson’s TUF assistant coach, Heath Sims, and Richie Hightower of this season’s TUF U.S. team.

Grant immediately engaged Thompson, leading to both men jockeying for position in the clinch all over the cage, literally going from post to post trying to score a takedown.  After a rapid exchange of combinations, Grant shot for a double-leg and took Thompson to the ground.  Thompson was able to push him off once, but Grant jumped back into his guard and continued with right punches.

Grant continued the takedown campaign in the second round, scoring three with no problem.  Thompson tried for a high guard, but Grant kept driving into him too much.  After the second takedown, as Grant stepped back, Thompson inadvertently landed a kick to the groin for a brief break in action.  Immediately thereafter, Grant landed his third takedown.  Thompson was trying for an uma plata as the round ended.

Grant opened the third round with a flying knee, then took the fight to the ground again.  Thompson worked for a triangle, to no avail.  Thompson was bleeding from the ear, but the match continued.  Thompson escaped from another takedown and worked some dirty boxing, but couldn’t keep the clinch.  Grant scored another takedown and fired rights from side mount before the round ended.

Judges award the victory to Corey Grant by unanimous decision.

After the match, Grant commented on his fan following: “You talk about being nervous. . . I found out about an hour before they got here.  So that’s when the nerves set in.  You want to perform [when] guys like that are at your gym. . . . I’m not a mushy guy when I see stars and stuff, but it made me feel pretty good when they showed up for this event.  It was great.”

Light Heavyweight (205 lbs.) Uber “Bulletproof” Gallegos (Training Zone / Joker’s Wild Fight Academy) vs. David Vessup (Brian Warren’s Unbreakable Gym)

Vessup’s last San Manuel appearance was a second round submission win at KOTC: Immortal in February.  Gallegos was looking to redeem himself from a February loss at KOTC: Hurricane in Florida.

Vessup threw knees and lefts before Gallegos forced the takedown in the corner and got side mount.  Vessup swept by walking the cage, throwing lefts and finally sitting back for a leglock.  But Gallegos stood up out of it and threw shots.  Vessup threw a flying knee and swung for the fences, but Gallegos muted the attack with a clinch against the cage, finally securing a single leg takedown.  Gallegos was in mount as the round ended.  Round two opened with Vessup charging in, but Gallegos again took him down in spectacular textbook fashion.  Vessup was busy from the bottom, working for a triangle while Gallegos punished him with lefts.  Gallegos eventually got full mount and threw punches without a problem, but little was getting through.  Going into round three, Vessup fired more combos, a high kick that popped the crowd, and another flying knee.  But Gallegos took him down again and threw knees from side mount.  Gallegos would score another takedown and ground-and-pound from the side mount to the bell.

Much to the fans’ chagrin, the judges awarded David Vessup the split decision, by scores of 29-28 for Vessup and one score of 30-27 for Gallegos.  The crowd was very disapprovingly vocal for this decision.

When asked his thoughts on the controversial decision, Gallegos felt he had the moral victory, which would be enough for him:  “I know who won.  Terry [Trebilcock] knows who won. . . Everybody was congratulating me.  Buying me drinks, because I won.  Saying I won.  I got paid like I won. . . It’s not his fault, so I’m not gonna blame him.  It’s the judging.  I just came out and did my best.”

Welterweight (170 lbs.) Mike “The Warrior” Robles (Millennium Jiu-Jitsu) vs. Rick “The I.E. Bad Boy” Legere (Team Wildman)

Legere, having turned around two losses in a row with a first round KO at KOTC: Storm one month prior, looked much more relaxed, while Robles looked like he was trying to make a lasting impression.  Robles was active with combinations.  At one point, Legere tagged him with a hard jab, but Robles blew it off.  To which Legere gave Robles a high-five.  Now that’s sportsmanship!  The two continued working for the opening, either circling around or clinching against the cage.  In round two, Robles continued to stick-and-move with combos, and Legere continued to high-five Robles’ attacks.  Legere has to be the most respectful MMA fighter this side of the Atlantic.  Legere finally took Robles down and threw lefts from side mount.  Robles scrambled to escape, but Legere ended the round with ground-and-pound from the back.  Round three saw Legere intercepting Robles as he circled around.  Finally, he knocked Robles down with a right straight, then lefts as Robles turned away.  The referee finally stopped the match at 2:12 of the third round, giving Rick Legere the win via TKO.

175 lbs. Catchweight Kasey “Ice Cold” Uscola (Team Alpha Male / Ultimate Fitness MMA Training Center) vs. Mike “Joker” Guymon (Joker’s Wild Fighting Academy)

Guymon is the KOTC welterweight champion, but after two title defense opponents fell through for this show, matchmaker Shingo Kashiwagi paired him with Uscola at a catchweight.  Uscola dropped 15 pounds in 30 hours for this match.  Joker, for his part, got sponsorship from Wienerschnitzel hot dogs.  No joke.

Uscola scored a hip toss takedown on Guymon early in round one, dropping elbows from side mount. After a referee stand-up, Guymon charged in with combinations, but Uscola kept him at bay with hard shots.  Uscola caught Guymon’s leg off a kick and pushed for another takedown, holding the champ on the ground to the end of the round.  Guymon came out swinging in round two.  Uscola landed a hard left, but to no effect.  Guymon nailed a wicked right body kick that likely broke Uscola’s rib, followed by elbows and hammerfists from side mount until the referee stopped the action at 1:12 of the second round due to TKO.  In trademark fashion, Guymon was emotionally overwhelmed, crying on his knees after the fight.

Junior Welterweight (160 lbs.) Alberto Crane (Legacy MMA / Santa Fe BJJ) vs. Tony “Lion Heart” Hervey (MASH Team)

Crane was originally scheduled to fight Thomas “Wildman” Denny at 170 lbs., but after that match fell through, matchmaker Kashiwagi paired Crane up with Hervey, who trains out of Detroit, MI with former KOTC Light Heavyweight champ James Lee.  Crane weighed in heavy, and decided to take the 20% pay penalty.

Crane charged Hervey and tried to pull guard, but Hervey kept his ground and KO’ed Crane from standing position until the ref stopped the round at the 0:12 mark.  Hervey, ever the crowd-pleaser, proceeded to war stance like “Street Fighter’s” E. Honda and hit about 5-6 breakdance windmill spins, his trademark move.

The post-fight proved to be as eventful as the match itself.  The crowd chanted “replay,” which never happened.  Crane was on the ground for about three minutes before being carried out on a stretcher.  In his post-fight interview, Tony Hervey called out Joe Boxer for his 160 lb. belt, as well as Angelo Sanchez for the 155 lb. belt.

“Angelo Sanchez is not a champ, and I’ll say it to his face.  I’ve already been sayin’ that . . . he thinks he is because he won by a fluke.  It took them 20 minutes before they could decide if it was a draw or a win. . . Since Valenzuela is the next in line, I don’t say no.  Anybody that wants to come, I will adhere to that,” declared Hervey after the show.

Promoter Terry Trebilcock announced that Tony Hervey will challenge Joe Boxer for the vacant KOTC lightweight (155 lb.) title at the next KOTC San Manuel event, “Superstars,” on August 13th.

In the Cheap Pop for the Night moment, Big Poppa Schnake announced that the Los Angeles Lakers had won Game three of the NBA Championship finals.  Of course, he got a good reaction for that.

Welterweight (170 lbs.) Chris “The Westside Strangler” Brennan (Next Generation / TRI Center MMA) vs. Quinn Mulhern (Santa Fe BJJ)

In this era of MMA, Brennan is one of the lesser-celebrated, but equally as deserving, “old school” fighters from the 90’s.  He’s a veteran of UFC, PRIDE, Shooto, and a former champion in Extreme Challenge and King of the Cage.  Mulhern is the KOTC #1 contender for the welterweight title, with an unblemished 7-0 record.

Brennan scored a takedown right from jump street.  But Mulhern had a significant size advantage and was able to sit up with Brennan holding his waist.  Mulhern pulled rubber guard.  Brennan at first was nonplussed, circling around and getting back into Mulhern’s guard, but Mulhern pulled rubber guard again, getting the veteran in a deep uma plata.  Brennan stayed with it and tried to spin around, but Mulhern blocked it and kept the uma until getting the tapout at 2:01 of the first round.

King of the Cage returns to San Manuel Casino on August 13th.

Dawna Gonzales contributed to this report.

Crilly returns, Lopez retains title as KOTC sails into Lake Elsinore

Posted in King of the Cage, Live Event Reports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2009 by jaytan716

Redemption was the theme for the three headlining matches at King of the Cage’s debut show, “Storm,” which took place on Saturday the 16th at The Diamond, home to minor league baseball team the Lake Elsinore Storm.

“After the first fight, I didn’t like how he ended off with the tapping of his face, showboating, basically.  I think it was real disrespectful, so I wanted this fight, and more just to earn his respect.  And I think I did that in this fight. I earned a lot of people’s respect,” explained Gonzalez in a post-match interview.

Lopez acknowledged the threat that Gonzalez posed in this rematch, noting “it was pretty close. . . [Gonzalez} was landing some heavy hits at the beginning of the fight. Towards the end, I had to finish.  I couldn’t let it go to decision, because it could have gone either way.”

Fan favorites Rick Legere and Joe Crilly returned to their winning ways with decisive finishes that both needed to turn their career momentum around.  Legere, having lost his past two matches, the only losses of his pro MMA career, emerged victorious after a second round knockout.  His excitement level was so high that, immediately following the referee’s stoppage, Legere leaped over the cage fence and ran into the crowd to his girlfriend.  Legere quickly returned to the cage for the victory announcement, and then made his girlfriend his fiancée, proposing to her in his post-fight interview.

“She’s got my little girl, so I was hoping she would say yes,” Legere joked, referring to their newborn daughter.

Not one to be outdone, hometown hero Joe Crilly had the shortest, but perhaps the most electrifying, match on the card, scoring a KO over Ruben Tagle in 11 seconds of the first round.  Crilly, who had the most fan support of any fighter that night, has been hampered with injuries and personal complications since his last fight, in 2004.  For Crilly, this match represented not just a highlight reel victory in front of friends and family, but also a long-overdue rebirth into the fight game.

“Five years in the waiting. . . I’m 27 and it feels like tonight was the first time I’ve ever fought.  Those other fights feel like they never happened.  Tonight was my first fight, and I’m gonna build off that,” he declared at the afterparty.

The card, originally slated for 11 matches, lost two bouts the previous day at weigh-ins.  Bantamweight Chad Walters was forced to withdraw from his match against Reuben Duran due to injury, while weight complications sabotaged a lightweight fight between George Sanchez and David Gomez.  According to matchmaker Shingo Kashiwagi, after Gomez weighed in almost three pounds over the 156-pound limit (155 pounds with one pound leeway), it was proposed that Gomez weigh-in at noon the next day at 163 pounds, Sanchez’ typical walkaround weight.  Sanchez would accept a second weigh-in, but Gomez, wanting to rehydrate and replenish, declined it, at which point negotiations fell apart and the match was scrapped.

Other KOTC action that night included:

Lightweight (155 lbs.) – Bryan “The Badger” Colebrook (Griffin MMA / Real Deal Boxing with Ed Mendiville) vs. Victor “El Valiente” Rodarte (The Jungle)

Judges award Victor Rodarte the match by unanimous decision.

Welterweight (170 lbs.) – Nikko Medina (San Jacinto Grappling) vs. Marcos “The Reaper” Gonzalez (The Shark Tank)

Both men started out slow and very cautious to strike.  Medina, who somewhat resembles WWE’s Batista, looks explosive.  Medina attacked, but got caught in a front headlock, taking it to the ground briefly.  Gonzalez kept his sprawl until being forced against the cage, at which point referee Herb Dean broke them apart.  Gonzalez connected with a nice combination, but Medina also rocked himwith an overhand right.  Medina had Gonzalez up against the cage as the round ended.  In round two, Gonzalez charged on Medina with combos, getting another front headlock.  Medina tried to take Gonzalez down, but was blocked for his efforts.  Gonzalez later scored another takedown, trapping Medina’s hand in half-guard.  After some ground-and-pound, Gonzalez dropped back for an ankle lock.  Medina briefly claimed a front headlock, but Gonzalez eventually regained side mount and top position, dropping bombs from half mount.  The third round opened up with very cautious footwork, which then exploded into a heavy trade of leather.  Gonzalez once again took Medina down, transitioning positions and dropping big bombs on him.  The two hugged and spoke at length at the end of the match.

Judges awarded the match to Marcos Gonzalez via unanimous decision.

Bantamweight (135 lbs.) – “Smooth” Greg Guzman (San Jacinto Grappling) vs. Kiko Lopez (Team Quest / Bob Chaney Muay Thai)

Guzman and Lopez wasted no time, trading fast shots.  Guzman quickly claimed a takedown, eventually getting Lopez’ back, where he would stay for most of the rest of the match.  Lopez got to his feet, but couldn’t shake Guzman, who kept his hooks in and fired shots from behind for the next several minutes.  To his credit, Lopez fired back.  He finally fell to all fours by the end of the round, but staved off the choke in an ongoing theme for the match.  Lopez shot for a takedown early in round two, but Guzman used his high guard to sweep and take the back, locking in a body triangle.  Lopez continued to roll over to lose Guzman, but to no avail.  Lopez opened the third round by charging and clinching Guzman against the cage, but Guzman took Lopez’ leg and scored a takedown.  After standing, both men traded kicks for combos, with Lopez landing a left hook.  Lopez also landed a solid Muay Thai knee, allowing him to get a front headlock, but Guzman picked Lopez up and slammed him to break the hold.  Lopez kept Guzman in high guard, but Guzman was able to stand up.  Lopez scored a takedown in the waning seconds of the match.

Judges award the match to Greg Guzman by unanimous decision.

“I knew for sure that I was going to go in there and have a war, because he was 4-0.  I’d done all my research on him, and he was dropping everybody in the first minute and thirty seconds.  Three of his fights were unanimous decision. . . I knew that I had to not let him capitalize on any little mistakes and to stay on him,” Guzman reflected.

Flyweight (125 lbs.) – Thomas “El Chihuahua” Casarez (Riverside Submission / Joe Camacho MMA) vs. Javi Alanis (Quence Jiu-Jitsu)

Alanis set things off with a running flying kick, failing to nail it on the button.  Casarez jumped on the opening and slapped on a guillotine choke, but Alanis calmly carried him back to Alanis’ corner and slammed him hard.  Casarez kept the choke, and then transitioned to an armbar, getting the submission at 0:51 of the first round.  Casarez was elated, doing a cartwheel and throwing his T-shirt into the crowd.  Judge Cecil People’s noted Casarez won his previous match, just two weeks prior, in the same fashion.

Featherweight (145 lbs.) – Junior Kling (San Jacinto Grappling) vs. Aaron “The Blood Spiller” Miller (Blood Bank MMA / Sparta MMA / OC Boxing)

Miller and Kling were both chomping at the bit to attack, and the action didn’t belie their demeanors at all.  In the first round, Miller and Kling imposed their will on each other against the cage with knees and combos before Miller slipped in a trip takedown.  Miller threw body shots from the mount until Kling swept him, at which point Miller tried to set up a triangle from bottom.  Back to standing, Kling almost got an armbar off Miller’s clinch, but they went to the ground and traded top position once more before the end of the round.  In the second stanza, Kling slipped on a high kick, but was able to recover and work for an ankle lock.  Miller eventually twisted out of it and the two exchanged sweeps on the ground, scrambling like pit bulls for the upper hand.  At one point, Miller had a body clinch from behind on Kling, who used his momentum and position to slip in a kimura, driving Miller to the ground.  They scrapped more against the cage, tradition positions before the end of the round.  Kling’s face between the second and third round was a crimson mask, reinforcing Miller’s claim as “the Blood Spiller.”  Going into the final round, the two trade kicks for combos.  Kling escaped a first takedown, but Miller forced another, and then dropped elbows from side control.  Miller jumped on Kling standing and slapped on a rear naked choke, but Kling escaped out the back door and tried to work a kimura from side mount.  Standing, Miller landed a high knee to Kling’s face against the cage.  Kling fired a head kick.  Miller invited more, to which Kling responded with several more kicks and a combination as the match ended.

Judges award the match to Aaron Miller by unanimous decision.

Miller was another victorious fighter who echoed the redemption theme, commenting “my last King of the Cage showing was pretty poor and I just had a really bad attitude since then.  I wanted to change up my habits and be more in attack-mode and keep going.  I train with some of the best guys around and I just said “I’m not gonna stop until this fight’s over.  One of us is going to be knocked out, bloody, tap out.  It doesn’t matter how it’s gonna end. It’s just gonna end with my hand raised.”

But Miller’s road to redemption is not quite over, as he looked to the past for a fight in the future: “I want Casey Olsen back.  That’s Chuck Liddell’s guy.  We fought in Fresno.  Bring him down to King of the Cage. . . because I have some built-up frustration from that fight.  I’d love to see him again.”

Light Heavyweight (205 lbs.) – “Tall” Paul Karski (American Jiu-Jitsu) vs. Dave Cryer (Millennia MMA)

Karski weighed-in heavy the day before, and was unable to make weight after a second attempt.  As such, the match was allowed to occur, and Karski had to forfeit 10% of his purse to Cryer.

Most of the match was fought in the clinch against the cage, as both men used knees, including to the face, to gain control.  Cryer pushed Karski to the ground off a knee, proceeding with side mount and an assault off lefts and rights as Karski held on.  Karski trapped Cryer’s left leg, but it was Cryer who continued with rights to Karski’s head and body.  After Cryer steps back, referee Herzog forced Karski to stand up.  Both men fired shots, with Cryer’s left hook dropping Karski.  Cryer pounced and fired off ground-and-pound until referee Herzog called for an end to the match.  Cryer takes the KO victory at 4:17 of the first round.

190 lb. catch weight – Rubin Tagle vs. Joe Crilly (Lake Elsinore Fight Crew / United Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu)

Both men typically fight at 185 lbs., but with Crilly coming off a five-year hiatus, both sides agreed to fight at 190 lbs.  Crilly was the clear cut big draw, as the crowd erupted for his walk-out.  Tagle was cornered by KOTC Superheavyweight champion Neil Cooke of Pinnacle Jiu-Jitsu.  Crilly wasted no time in overpowering Tagle with a barrage of lefts and rights.  After several combinations against the cage, Tagle went down.  Crilly fired off several more rights on a prone Tagle before referee Herb Dean could pull him off.  Crilly was awarded the KO at 0:11 of the first round.  The crowd was going nuts for several minutes after the fight.

Looking forward, Crilly said he was hungry for more competition: ““What I want next is to stay in shape.  It’s been five years out of shape. . . I want a fight lined up in the next month, two months.  And then I want another one after that, and then I want a title.”

Welterweight (170 lbs.) – Eric “E-Train” Meaders (Ring of Fire Monrovia) vs. Rick “I.E. Bad Boy” Legere (Team Wildman)

Legere might have been a fan of Bret Hart as a kid, as he sports the Hitman’s trademark pink-and-black colors as his own.  Legere kept the center of the cage and held Meaders at bay with low kicks as Meaders circled around the outside, changing levels sporadically.  Meaders got Legere to the ground with a textbook double-leg takedown, but Legere transitioned to an uma plata.  Meaders escaped to his back as Legere stood up, but Legere eventually passed guard, took the back, and tenderized Meaders with left hooks.  Meaders actually stood up and carried Legere piggyback, using hand control to ward off the rear naked choke, to the end of the round.  Meaders put together more combos in round two, but Legere dropped him with a low kick.  Meaders tried to transition for a takedown, but Legere took side mount, trapping Meaders’ arm.  Meaders freed his arm and worked for a kimura as Legere stood up.  Legere connected with three hard rights, causing Meaders to turn his back.  Legere pounced on Meaders and threw rights until referee Jason Herzog stopped the action at 2:20 of the second round.

When asked about what made the difference tonight from his previous two matches, Legere explained “I learned a lot.  Definitely want to keep your hands up all the time, because it only takes one punch.  And don’t go out there rushing things. Relax, stay calm.  You’ve got three five-minute rounds. . . If you need to use your 15 minutes, use your 15 minutes.”

KOTC Light Heavyweight Championship (205 lbs.) “The Menifee Maniac” Fernando Gonzales (Team Quest) / Bob Chaney’s Muay Thai) vs. Tony “Kryptonite” Lopez (Team Oyama)

While being a former Gladiator Challenge Light Heavyweight champion, Gonzales has more recently fought at middleweight (185 lbs.).  He was also a last-minute replacement for Tony Valarde, who had to bow out due to injury.

Gonzales initiated the offense in the first round, charging Lopez into the cage with a clinch.  From southpaw stance, he dropped Lopez with an overhand left, but wasn’t able to capitalize before the champ recovered.  This seemed to give Gonzales confidence for the rest of the match, because he continued to land the punch throughout.  Lopez mixed up some combos with his trademark head kicks and a back kicks, including firing three head kicks in a row (which Gonzales took with seemingly little effect).  Gonzales forced a takedown and shot lefts to the head as the bell rang.

In round two, Gonzales continued with his stick-and-move circling around the cage, which clearly frustrated the champ.  Lopez continued to switch stances throughout, but Gonzales was able to catch some kicks and land strikes over the top, including a hard left body kick that was audible in the bleachers.  Round three saw Gonzales catch a left low kick and force a trip takedown, pushing Lopez into the cage.  Gonzales had Lopez’ left arm trapped behind his own back, working a kimura, while keeping the clinch from the side.  Lopez climbed to his feet and escaped.  By this point, the crowd was at a fever pitch.  Lopez continued to chase Gonzales around the cage, firing kicks at will.

In the “Holy Shit!” moment of the match, Gonzales had Lopez in a body lock clinch on the cage, and as Lopez tried to break the hold to set up for an armbar, Gonzales actually German-suplexed him over his head, following up by passing guard and throwing a knee to the back (which got a warning from referee Herb Dean).  Lopez was able to escape out the back door to standing position, but Gonzales, perhaps smelling blood, charged with lefts and rights.  Lopez landed a high knee and sunk in a rear naked choke that almost ended the match, but Gonzales managed to survive.  Lopez was in full mount and fired rights on Gonzales’ face as the round ended.  Going into the fourth round, Gonzales was clearly hurt, but he had a big smile on his face.  The two traded kicks and left fists as loud “Fernando” chants emanated from the crowd.  Gonzales continued to charge in with overhand lefts and combinations to Lopez’ body.  Lopez worked to clinch Gonzales up against the cage, and perhaps smelling blood, chased after him with a series of low kicks, but Gonzales fired back with another left body kick.  Both men were visibly spent by this point.  Lopez dropped Gonzales with a harsh right knee and fired shots as the bell ended round four.

By the last round, the crowd was bonkers for these two combatants.  Between rounds, Gonzales had a look on his face that suggested he wasn’t going to come out, but he did, and after the bell rang, his face changed to say “this one’s for all the marbles and I know it.”  He charged with an overhand left and shot in for a single-leg.  Lopez was able to turn it around and mount Gonzales on the ground, setting up a rear naked choke once Gonzales went to all fours.  As Lopez stood up and kneed the ribs, Gonzales actually grabbed Lopez leg and dragged him to the ground again.  But Lopez had the composure to wrap his arms around for the rear naked choke and roll back, until referee Dean finally stopped the fight at 1:48 of the fifth and final round.

Although Lopez retained his Light Heavyweight title, Gonzales spoke positively about his performance, saying “I’m not down on myself at all.  I gave everything I could in that fight.  I just wasn’t ready for a five-round fight yet. . . I got heart, and I just tried to push as much as I could.  I almost didn’t come out that fifth round, I was so done. . . .My stand-up coach told me ‘look, you don’t come out, you’re never gonna let yourself live this down.’  And he’s right.  I would have been down on myself a lot worse if I didn’t come out.  I’m happy that I did.”

As for future prospects, Gonzales announced “I’m going back down to 185.  Trying to work my way down to 170 if I can. . . Everybody knows I should be fighting at a lower weight class.  [But] I wanted this rematch. . . so I stuck around the weight.  I got what I wanted. . . but now it’s time for me to move down and start working at those lower weight classes.”

After the match, Lopez admitted to underestimating his opponent: “Last time that I fought him, I was sick.  And I came out with the win early in the fight.  So this time I came in like ‘okay, you know what?  I’m just gonna have my way with him and stuff and that’s it.’  Well, he didn’t think the same thing. . . I gotta go back to my old way of thinking: that everybody’s a pro, and I can’t take no fight lightly.  That’s where I’m at right now,” said Lopez.

Also worthy of note was the announced return of former KOTC lightweight champion Chris “The Westside Strangler” Brennan, an MMA pioneer who returns to action on June 11th at the San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino in Highland, CA.  Brennan’s fight career dates back to 1996, and had already consisted of a 6-3-1 record before the very first KOTC event in 1999.  During the in-ring interview with ring announcer Big Poppa Schnake, Brennan discussed his plans to move up to welterweight and win the KOTC title from reigning champion Mike “Joker” Guymon.   Ironically enough, Guymon is a former student of Brennan’s.

King of the Cage’s next event in the Southern California area will be June 6th, at the Quechan Casino & Resort in Winterhaven, CA, as well as June 11th in Highland.  No official announcement has been made for King of the Cage’s return to Lake Elsinore, but updates and news on events, matches, and fighters can be found at www.KingoftheCage.com.

Lopez, Boxer Defend Titles, “Chaos” Reigns Supreme At KOTC: Immortal

Posted in King of the Cage with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2009 by jaytan716

The gods shined brightly on Neil “Chaos” Cooke, as he claimed the King of the Cage Super Heavyweight title amid one of three championship matches at KOTC: Immortal, which took place on February 26, 2009 at the San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino in Highland, CA.

Defending their championship gold was then-reigning champion Chance Williams at super heavyweight (265+ lbs.), Tony Lopez at light heavyweight (205 lbs.), and Victor “Joe Boxer” Valenzuela at junior welterweight (160 lbs.).

In fact, a unification bout at bantamweight (145 lbs.) between reigning champion Lazar Stojadinovic and interim champion Angelo Sanchez was also scheduled, but had to be pulled from the show due to casino age restrictions.  When Stojadinovic was unable to defend his title in December 2008 due to injury, Sanchez and Tony Hervey squared off for an interim title, which Sanchez won by close split decision.  KOTC matchmakers were hopeful to reschedule the Stojadinovic -Sanchez fight for the March 7th show, KOTC: New Breed, in New Mexico.

Other KOTC action that night included:

Light Heavyweight (205 lbs.) – Josh “The Shark” Iuli vs. David Vessup

Fans were ready for some fight action with this first match, and Vessup and Iuli did not disappoint.  Iuli set things off with a hard right, then connecting with more straights as he charged in, but Vessup used his sizable reach advantage to throw high kicks and Muay Thai knees.  Vessup eventually  got the takedown, but after stalemating in the corner for some time, referee Doc Hamilton ordered the stand-up.  In round two, Vessup fired a push kick-left punch combo that dropped Iuli.  Vessup followed that up with ground-and-pound, eventually taking the back and getting the tapout by rear naked choke at 0:30 seconds of the second round.

Lightweight (155 lbs.) – John “Johnny B. Goode” Ulloa vs. Bobby “King” Green

Green, who suspiciously resembles a younger “Krazy Horse” Bennett, opened up with a low kick that Ulloa countered.  Green fired more low kick-overhand right combinations, scoring a takedown and claiming full mount.  Ulloa scrambled out and got a body clinch on Green’s side, but Green escaped, ending up on side mount.  From full mount,  Green cinched in a left armbar.  Ulloa tried to roll through with it, but Green held on and claimed the tapout 2:11 of the 1st round.

Light Heavyweight (205 lbs.) – Dave Cryer vs. Lucas Taber

The first round was largely a feeling out period, as Cryer circled the cage around Taber in the middle, occasionally landing combinations that largely went unanswered.  Cryer fired off an outside right kick that even the fans in back could hear.  And another one.  Taber eventually got his rhythm, engaging more and shooting in under a right mid-kick, but Cryer ended up getting the better of it, doing damage from side mount to the end of the round.  In round two, Cryer continued to keep Taber guessing, launching another right kick with bad intentions.  Taber tried to capitalize on Cryer’s slip off of a combination, but to little avail.  Towards the end of round two, he came to life with a charging combination that was enough trouble that Cryer avoided by clinching up.  By round three, Taber knew he had to do something.  A loud  “DAVE” chant broke out, which then turned into a “FIGHT” chant.  Go figure.  Taber shot for another takedown, which Cryer stuffed effortlessly.  At the 10 second mark, Cryer turned up the heat and tried to finish the match.  Regardless, the judges gave Dave Cryer the unanimous decision.

Featherweight (145 lbs.) – Aaron “The Bloodspiller”Miller vs. Roberto Vargas

Vargas was a house of fire, coming in with combinations that stunned Miller.  Going to one knee, Miller gave up his head and neck, allowing Vargas the chance to slip in a standing guillotine choke at 0:12 of the first round.

KOTC Super Heavyweight (265+ lbs.) Championship – Neil “Chaos” Cooke vs. Chance “King of the Streets” Williams

Williams was anointed the Super Heavyweight title in December when his opponent, Mike Bourke, was unable to compete.  Cooke, coincidentally a teammate of Bourke’s, traditionally fights at heavyweight, but is moving up to challenge the self-proclaimed “King of the Streets” for his title.

Cooke came out firing a right straight, which gave Williams his opening to score a takedown.  Williams bulled Cooke up to the corner.  Cooke was able to get up briefly, but Williams threw him to the ground, taking the back.  Cooke again scrambled to his feet.  They broke apart and threw simultaneous lefts, both landing solidly.  Any normal man would be out by that point.  Williams tried for another takedown, but stepped back to engage.  As he did, Cooke worked some dirty boxing, firing combinations as Williams pulled away.  Williams stopped the assault by grabbing a clinch and pushing Cooke against the cage.  Cooke pulled Williams to the ground and fired rights from behind as referee Herb Dean finally stopped the match at 2:21 of the first round, making Neil “Chaos” Cooke the new King of the Cage Super Heavyweight champion.

Heavyweight (265 lbs.) – Travis Browne vs. Michael Westbrook

Westbrook is a former Washington Redskins wide receiver who’s been studying jiu-jitsu since 1995. Browne set things off with a high left kick.  Westbrook switched between clinching Brown against the cage and throwing overhand rights from afar.  Brown fired a left shin kick which was hard enough that Westbrook turned away.  Browne tried to finish, but Westbrook regained composure and ended up in the top position on the ground.  Westbrook almost got caught  in an armbar / triangle as he tried to pass guard.   Browne continued his right low kick assault in round two.  Several times, Westbrook pushed Brown up against the cage, leaving himself open for a choke.   By round three, Westbrook finally started to counter Browne’s right low kicks, but not the body kicks that came after it. Shortly thereafter, Westbrook fell to the ground, forcing referee Cecil Peoples to call the match at 1:22 of the third round, giving the TKO victory to Michael Brown, due to Westbrook being unable to continue.

KOTC Light Heavyweight (205 lbs.) Championship – Keith “KO Kid” Berry vs. Tony “Kryptonite” Lopez

In an interesting juxtaposition, Tony Lopez dropped down from heavyweight to win the light heavyweight title at KOTC: Misconduct, in October.  Keith Berry is two-time former KOTC middleweight (185 lbs.) champion, moving up to light heavyweight to challenge Lopez for the title.

The name of the game here was a kicking strategy vs. combinations right up the middle, as “Kryptonite” Lopez used high, low, and even side kicks to gauge “The KO Kid.”  For his part, Berry took his time, circling about and measuring Lopez up, firing straight combinations down the pipe.  Berry got stunned by a right head kick in the middle of the first round, giving Lopez the opening to pounce on him with brutal right punches, but Berry amazingly survived, shrimping out from under and getting to his feet.   By this point, the crowd roared their approval for this match.  Berry returned the favor with a combination that almost looked to be Kryptonite’s kryptonite.

Berry opened up the second round with straight punches from jump street.  Several times, Lopez would turn away, at which point Berry charged for the kill with rights from behind.  Engaging face-to-face, Berry used a lot of head movement to avoid Lopez’ shots.  Just at the end of the round, Lopez dropped Berry, who worked from bottom for a triangle choke.  By round three, both men were visibly exhausted.  Lopez was content to steadily chop the Berry tree down with his kicks.  Pun intended.  Right around the four-minute mark, Berry turned on the steam, but Lopez knocked Berry down with a punch combination, following up with more rights until referee Doc Hamilton called the end of the match at 4:29 of the third round.  Lots of cheers and booing.  Both men were well represented outside the cage, as they likewise represented inside the cage also.

KOTC Junior Welterweight (160 lbs.) Championship – Donald Sanchez vs. Victor “Joe Boxer” Valenzuela

This proved to be a classic striking clinic, as “Joe Boxer” lived up to his name and stuck to his strategy of keeping the fight standing, attacking with combinations to the face and body at will.  Conversely, Sanchez utilized a kicking arsenal, shooting in for a takedown whenever Boxer threatened a knockout.  Towards the end of round one, Boxer caught a high right kick, pushing Sanchez to the ground, then letting him stand back up.  This happened again in round three.  Sanchez scored a trip takedown in the second round.  Boxer worked for a kimura from bottom before referee Herb Dean stood them up again.  By round three, Sanchez’ nose was visibly broken and leaking blood over both fighters.  Again, Sanchez scored a takedown, which Boxer used to work a submission from the bottom.  The fourth and fifth rounds were more of the same, with Sanchez shooting in for takedowns as Boxer chose his shots.  In the waning seconds of the match, Sanchez caught a very close armbar, but Boxer rolled with it and ended up in Sanchez’ mount as the bell rang.

Judges award the match to reigning champion Victor “Joe Boxer” Valenzuela by unanimous decision.

King of the Cage returns to the San Manuel Indian  Bingo & Casino in April.  Go to www.KingoftheCage.com for further details.

Verbal Sparring: Neil “Chaos” Cooke (King of the Cage)

Posted in Interviews, King of the Cage with tags , , , , on February 13, 2009 by jaytan716

With only three matches and less than two minutes of total fight time under his belt, the career of Neil “Chaos” Cooke is just getting under way, but there’s already a wealth of knowledge and wisdom behind it.  At six-foot-four and 260 pounds, the man they call “Chaos” is a towering powerhouse even in his own 265 pound neighborhood.  And although lesser fighters might rely on those physical attributes to get by and power their way to victory, Cooke knows better.

He continues to compete in Jiu-Jitsu tournaments.  He’ll travel to spar and roll with fresh faces, but he believes in sticking with his original trainers.  He relishes the challenge of pushing himself to the limit, if only to see where it is.  Because he thinks he can push it a bit farther.

In this interview, we sparred over the benefits of training under a healthy lifestyle, the role of being part of an MMA team, and the relief of life outside of the fast lane.

JT:  Let’s start out with the basics and discuss your background.  Where did you grow up?

NC:  Generally, I lived in Mission Villejo, which is a real upscale area.  Kinda yuppity-yup.  My parents split, and I kinda stayed there, but I really wasn’t finding the right path.  Just kinda rebellious and stuff.  I bounced between my two parents, in and out of trouble.

That’s what made me shoot over to Santa Ana, which is like a major inner city right now.  That was like a big change.  You [go from seeing] people that have everything to people that are striving with nothing.  It’s a big shocker, but it kinda gave me equal sides.  I ended up graduating out of Santa Ana.

JT:  When you say Santa Ana, it doesn’t have that ring of Compton or something.

NC:  I wouldn’t say it’s like a Compton, but it was pretty rough.  We had metal detectors on campus.  We had cops on campus.  The year I went, there were two homicides on campus, a couple of stabbings.  But that’s just the lifestyle there.  A lot of gang population.  There’s like five different street gangs in a one-block radius.

It’s too bad.  You grow up and you see things different.  It’s kind of a wasted life.  There’s a lot of good people and a lot of different ways.  But it’s just real weird what gang life will do to some people.  The value of life is very little, you know?

JT:  Tell me about your background getting into MMA.

NC:  Santa Ana had a real good wrestling team, so all my friends – all they did was wrestle, fight, and mess around with each other.  I just did it because I enjoyed it, but I really didn’t train in it or anything like that.

Some of my old buddies were training.  Like my buddy, Jake LaRoche, my best friend from high school, he was around Rob McCullough and a lot of those guys from HB Ultimate Training Center. . . John Lober, one of the old guys from MMA, and a lot of other people.  I used to see them all the time and they’d always say “come in,” because they always thought “hey, this guy could be pretty good,” but I never really focused on it.  I was always really athletic, but I was too busy partying, man.  Hanging out with guys that thought they were tough guys, you know what I mean?

And then, later on, I moved out into Corona, which is right near Norco.  I had a son and just wanted to stay away from the environment and stuff I used to be around.  And that’s when I met up with John Munoz [with Pinnacle Jiu-Jitsu].  I started training there, and I actually started getting serious into it.

JT:  Is it what you envisioned four years ago?  Where your career is now, and / or what the training was like?

NC:  I don’t know.  The training is pretty rigorous.  I’m a pretty humble guy, but I always knew I was pretty tough.  And I always knew I was pretty strong for my size.  But I didn’t know how far it would take me until John started pushing it on me.  And I didn’t know how much it would really take, because I started winning jiu-jitsu tournaments at intermediate, with less than a year’s experience.  I’d never wrestled a day in my life, and I was like 42-3 before I blinked.

I didn’t really train that hard, and then when I started to lose. . . I’m one of those people who hate to lose.  So that’s when I said “dude, you can actually do this. You need to shape up.  You’re looking like a sack of shit out here.  You could actually push yourself to do something better.”  Pretty much quit drinking.  Cut it down to where it’s very, very rare when I drink.  And now the training is a lot harder, and it’s a lot more of a mental game to keep the body going, as far as being sore and tired.  As opposed to being hung over and being exhausted from partying and trying to go to work.

JT:  The sore and tired is typically a little bit easier than hungover and having a headache.

NC:  For sure, because you don’t wake up and say “what happened?”  You don’t wake up and have to figure out who’d you get in a fight with, or what girl were you with.  It’s a lot more of a stable way of living, which you can actually relate to a normal human, instead of being like a zombie that’s just like drunk all the time.

JT:  Do you still compete in jiu-jitsu tournaments or are you straight MMA now?

NC:  I’ll compete in any tournament I can.  I think competition’s the way of life.  Win or lose, I think to remain steady and tough, you should compete.  I think a lot of these guys that are winning MMA fights; they’re like “I’m a badass MMA fighter now. I’m not gonna compete.”  But I think differently.  I think constantly competing just gives you that edge.  You’ve got your Monsons, your BJ Penns.  These guys are winning Mundials.

JT:  That actually leads into another question I had about your approach or philosophy behind training.  It sounds like part of it is to always stay on point, test your skills, and to push yourself.

NC:  Totally.  For me, I’ve been blessed by God or something.  Because in four years, two years of real hard training, I’m actually doing pretty good for right now.  I’ve been to numerous camps; I’ve trained with the best guys in the world, and am constantly trying to stay the best I can be.

A lot of people don’t push the limits, and if you’re not pushing or striving to do something that other people aren’t doing, you’re just going to end up happy where you’re at.

I think a lot of the people that say “I can’t do that” or “I couldn’t do this” – honestly, I think it’s their fear of losing.  You really can’t have fear.  You can have anxiousness.  Get your God or something, but you can’t really think like that.  You have to think “hey, I’m going to do my thing.  And whatever happens happens.  I’m putting it on the line.” You’ve got my respect just for putting it on the line in general now.  Win or lose.  I hate to lose, but I’m down to put it on the line.

JT:  What’s the toughest part of fighting for you?

NC:  That’s a tough question.  For me, it’s mental.  It’s just saying “hey, let’s do it.”  I think I possess some things that have gotten me pretty far.  Because out in the street, you fight, boom, it’s on.  But in [the cage], it’s the game plan, it’s the thinking, it’s the control and the nerves.  You’ve prepared for this and you know what’s going to happen and it’s inevitable, but you have to stay hungry.  You gotta stay focused, you know what I mean?  The training is way harder than the fight.

JT:  It seems like the mental challenge is that you want to peak at that moment in the cage, as opposed to days before that or hours before your match.

NC:  Exactly.  And I leave that in the hands of my trainer.  I trust him.  I see a lot of people who think they’re getting stagnant.  They think “oh man, I’m not doing as well as this” or “I’m not getting money like this guy, and he’s with this guy” or “my hands aren’t getting as good.”  They jump around and get lost, instead of staying with one camp and focusing.

You gotta find where you’re weak at and you gotta talk to your trainer / manager.  Once in awhile, get out of the box.  Meet other bodies.  That’s what tournaments are for.  You got to other gyms; that’s what sparring is for.  But a lot of people jump around and forget who’s taking care of them, and who’s preparing them to get them on that schedule.  And when they jump around, they get lost.  And I think that’s why they lose, or they try to go too fast too far.  And they get caught, and they get beat up real bad or they’re not ready for what they’re going into, or they’re getting knocked out.

JT:  It really makes you realize in what way this is such a team sport and how important it is to have a support network for you.

NC:  Totally.  The loyalty to everything – to the organization you’re fighting for, to the team, to your manager, to your friends.  Everybody loves you when you’re on top.  But somebody knocks you out, where are all your friends at?

JT:  And sometimes it’s hard to stick with that – when you’ve taken a knock and you’re on your way down, it’s gotta be hard to give that trust.  To remember who really does care about you and who’s in it for the long term.

NC:  That’s for damn sure, and I don’t want to be that guy.  I don’t want to be that clown, just saying “I’m knocking your head off.  I’m gonna kill you, this and that.”  And then I’m on the highlight reel with that guy knocking me out.  Anybody can have their day, you know?

JT:  Now in December, you were supposed to fight Tim Williams, but his wife went into labor the night before.  Are you getting a rematch?

NC:  I asked for a rematch, but I think he went and fought somewhere else.  I don’t know what exactly happened with that.  The fallout from there, I just know something happened with his wife, which is understandable.  But if he wants a rematch, no problem, man.

JT:  Switching gears for a moment, as a fan of MMA, who are some of your favorite fighters, or favorite matches to watch?

NC:  Guys that really impress me are guys that put it out on the line every time.  Somebody comes to fight and you know “man, this is gonna be a bad fight” [not bad meaning bad but bad meaning good], that’s somebody you want to watch.  Wanderlei Silva.  The guy keeps his style.  He gets knocked out, and he does the same thing.  BJ Penn’s a phenom.  St-Pierre’s an incredible athlete.  Rampage is cool to watch.  Fedor.  He can be getting beat, and then he throws just one bomb, and that fight just changed.

JT:  Who would you like to fight in the future?

NC:  I guess that’s up to the organization that I fight for, and John [Munoz].  I just love the sport.  Whoever the fans want to see me fight [laughs].  Whoever has the belt in my weight class.

JT:  Right now it’s Tony Lopez.  Have you watched him much?

NC:  Yeah, I’ve trained with him.  Yeah, I’ll fight Tony, no problem.  Let him know that [laughs]. . . Actually, right now, the answer to that question is the guy I’m fighting on the 26th.  One fight at a time, man [laughs].  I’ve got a long way to go.  I want to fight the guy in front of me next.  After that, whatever they want me to do, I’ll do.  I feel that my skills are gonna do the talking and hopefully I’ll get to where I need to be, as opposed to another way.

JT:  How far away would you say you are from being ready for a title shot?

NC:  Well, I’m a fighter, you know?  Personally, if you ask me, I think I can win the title right now in the first round.  But the question is “do I think I’m ready right now?”  I’d like to get some more fights under my belt.  But am I down to fight?  Hell yeah, you know what I mean?

It’s kinda like a catch-22, because you ask a fighter that, and a lot of them are going to say this, say that.  But then again, when you’re the champion, you got that bull’s-eye on your chest, you know what I mean?  So it all changes.  And I give Tony a lot of respect.  He fights with a lot of heart.  He’s been in some wars.  I haven’t had that chance.  But as far as my ability and my mind?  I could fight right now for the title.

JT:  That’s a self-aware answer.  I think you need to have that kind of mentality, to feel like you could do it anytime and every time.  And then you have your coaches and trainers to guide you with a more realistic voice.

NC:  People come and go, but I’m pretty tight with the guys and I keep cool with everybody.  I try to be positive.  Try to be there for them. . . You’re never too big for an organization, or for the people you’re around.  Your team, or the people who help you.  I think the guys who are the best have proven that.  Georges, BJ, Fedor.  They stay tight to their guys, man.

JT:  What’s your downtime like?  What do you like to do to unwind?

NC:  I spend time with my son and hang out with my buddies.  Just cruising.  I go down to the beach a lot with my buddy.  I’m a pretty simple person.  I’m not around the violence and the partying anymore.  I really like the mellowness.  You forget about that stuff, when you’re living fast.  You forget how it is to just to chill and cruise, you know?

JT:  What about your sponsors?  Who should the fans know about and why?

NC:  I got Iron Fist Manufacturing.  My buddy Mako Mike’s from there.  He does a lot of board shorts for fighters.  I got Shameless Ink Clothing, with Vic Morris, out of Riverside.  They’re coming up in some big stores, and make some cool stuff.  And my buddy Dave is with a company called Hotskins, who are out of Riverside as well.  They do jerseys, and life-size posters and banners.  Rick from Nutrishop Corona sets me up with all my supplements monthly.  That guy’s been a blessing.  He’s also with Big Game Hunters, who are a group of cops who put together a clothing line of shirts, hats, jackets, and beanies.

A lot of these guys I got a hold of are because they heard of me through word of mouth through guys around.  Or there are some of them at the gym I train, or just from hanging out one day.  I kinda got blessed.

JT:  It seems that you place a lot of value on making sure there’s integrity among the team and support network you have contributing to your fight career.

NC:  I think that’s how everybody should live.  I’m real big on karma and loyalty.  This is a game where talking trash is cool, and don’t get me wrong, you wanna start it, I’ll finish it.  But a lot of our talk is gonna happen when that bell rings.  And there’s no reason to be too cocky, no reason to think you’re a superhero and no reason to do people wrong.  I mean, it’s all gonna come out in the wash, man.

Editor’s Update:  Neil Cooke challenges Chance “King of the Streets” Williams for the King of the Cage Super Heavyweight title at King of the Cage: Immortal, on February 26th, at the San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino in Highlands, CA.

Verbal Sparring: “Bad News” Ben Lagman (King of the Cage)

Posted in Interviews, King of the Cage with tags , , , , , , , on February 5, 2009 by jaytan716

“Youth is wasted on the young.” Although that saying applies to many, Ben Lagman is one of the exceptions. For the man they call ‘Bad News,’ “carpe diem” is more apropos. At 22 years of age, Lagman is wasting no time in learning the MMA ropes firsthand. Having recently made the jump from amateur to professional MMA fighter, Lagman has also established himself as a referee for amateur fights.

In this round of Verbal Sparring, “Bad News” spoke out about MMA in unregulated states, the lifestyle balance of partying and training, and his strategy to build a career he hopes to look back on.

JT: Tell us a bit about where you’re from and how you got into MMA.

BL: I’m from McCull, MI, and I didn’t wrestle in high school. I was just someone who loved watching fights. I liked watching boxing, or anything. Even professional wrestling. One day, a buddy of mine asked me if I wanted to learn how to do it. He took me to a gym called Martial Arts Unlimited, and I met Chris Malgari, who pretty much changed my life.

Before I saw it, I was a knucklehead, man. I was getting in trouble. I used to smoke cigarettes and drink all the time and things like that. I started doing MMA and my first day of grappling was my first day of striking. So I just started training with Chris for awhile and I started noticing that I was advancing much faster than anybody around. So my trainer Chris got me an amateur fight in Northern Michigan and I think it lasted about 28 seconds before I rear naked choked him.

I never started this gig thinking that I was going to be a professional fighter. I was working full-time when I started training. I did MMA as a hobby that I just kinda started getting a lot better at.

Towards the end of the amateur career, I was working in residential construction. I had a pretty good job, but when the housing market crumbled, they couldn’t keep me around anymore. So I just decided “fuck it, I’m going for it.” So I’ve just been trying to pay my bills through fighting, training people, and refereeing these amateur fights in Michigan. Basically, any way that I can get paid through martial arts.

JT: How did you get into refereeing?

BL: I fought in a couple different local amateur organizations, and just became networked through them. I basically just asked them if I could do it. And I did, and everybody seemed happy with the job I’ve been doing. And it just kinda flowed from one organization to the next. I pretty much referee for five or six of these local amateur organizations that they have around here.

JT: Have you ever faced conflict of interests or a scenario where you’ve had to referee one of your students?

BL: I haven’t refereed any students of mine, but I’m the type of guy that gets along with everybody. I train with some of these local fighters, so I’ve had to referee my buddies, you know? To be honest with you, I don’t think I’ve ever been booed by the crowd. I see a lot of referees get booed about their stoppages and things like that.

JT: It’s definitely one of the more thankless jobs.

BL: To me, when I’m in a fight, I’m not really concerned about the other man’s well-being. Because it’s my job to take ‘em out. Yet, if I’m a referee and somebody gets hurt, it’s on me. I’m there for the fighters’ best interest. To keep them safe. Especially in these amateur organizations where, to be honest with you, a lot of these fighters shouldn’t even be in there.

JT: Did you have to go through any licensing for Wisconsin or any of the states?

BL: Wisconsin is unregulated. I’m all about getting licensed, but really, there’s no way to do it in this state. I’d have to go down to Ohio to do their thing, and that’s actually something that we were talking about doing. I’d have to shadow the other referees one time. And then I’d have to go through a little bit of a process and get myself licensed. And I plan on doing that, definitely.

JT: Talk about your team and training partners.

BL: James Lee is my manager and one of my trainers. MASH, which is his gym, is my fight team. But I’m still with my first trainer, Chris Malguiri. Because I’m a loyal person and I’m not just going to leave somebody who helped me get on top as soon as I’m getting there. He corners me in all my fights and I train with him a couple of times a week. He and James get along real well.

As far as Michigan goes, MASH is the premiere fight team around. We have the majority of professional fighters in the metro Detroit area. The King of the Cage Middleweight Champion, Brandon Hunt, is my training partner. So I’m training every day with the champion of my division. And I do just fine against him.

JT: That’s access to some good insider information on the champ.

BL: I would never fight him. He’s a good friend of mine and I don’t want to steal any of his glory. That’s all for him, and I’m happy for him. The King of the Cage belt is definitely something I want to see down the road. If anybody beats him, I want first crack at whoever beats him.

JT: Who are some of the guys in your stable that we should be watching for?

BL: You’ve got Don Richard, who is basically James’ first guy who started MASH. He’s a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and a pro fighter who’s helped me out a lot. Tony Hervey, a 145’er, should be fighting for the belt real soon. Myles Jury, who is an absolute stud at 170. Undefeated pro, undefeated amateur. All-around sick athlete. Daron Cruickshank, who’s an amateur still, but the kid’s got unlimited potential with his wrestling pedigree and his striking abilities. John Tolth is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu purple belt under Saolo Riviero, who trains at MASH. He just won the Grapplers’ Quest a couple months ago. He’s not an MMA fighter, but he’s a great grappling partner for me.

JT: Do you have a certain approach or philosophy behind your training?

BL: Yeah, train hard, win easy. I think that’s shown so far in my professional career. That means being disciplined. It means not going out with the boys. I’m 22-years old. You can only imagine the distractions, from friends and things. When my friends are all smoking weed and going out all night . . . shit, I’d like to go out with them all too, man, but I just can’t. I’ve got bigger fish to fry in my life, and I feel like if I let this opportunity go, I’ll never forgive myself. And I’ll always be wondering “what if I didn’t party so hard.”

Don’t get me wrong, after my fights, I love to go out and have a good time, but then get right back to it.

And training hard means being disciplined and not just sparring hard. You have to train smart. You have to listen to your body. If you’re too sore to spar, do some cardio. Or roll. Do other things. And that goes with eating right, the right supplementation of vitamins, and just proper preparation fully. Physically and mentally.

Because this sport is hugely mental, which people can’t even contemplate. They think it’s just a big physical thing. But I think a positive mindset breeds positive outcomes. I don’t ever walk into a fight thinking I’m going to lose. There’s been times where I’m in a good fight and I’m thinking “holy shit, this guy might actually get me” but you should never walk into a fight thinking you’re going to lose. Why even show up?

JT: Being at the age you are, with all those distractions, what was it that triggered you to develop that kind of dedication?

BL: I would say Chris Malgari has had a lot to do with all that. He just showed me a better way to live. The priorities of my friends are not my priorities. I have two sets of friends – I have my friends from, I guess I could call it, my previous life, right? Of high school, and growing up. And then I have my friends through MMA. And the priorities of my friends in my other life, they’re just not conducive with being a professional athlete.

It takes somebody to show you that. He really made me believe that I have an opportunity to be really great in my life. And I didn’t really have anything going for me in the sense of being that I could be great. Schooling wasn’t for me. I was working these blue collar jobs ever since I graduated. Not really going anywhere. This is my opportunity to do something great with my life. And to be remembered as somebody who was a stand-up guy, a brave, honorable man. And I think all the bullshit is not worth taking that from me.

JT: Are your friends from your previous life supportive of you as a fighter?

BL: Aawww, hugely supportive. When I have fights in Michigan, I have a crowd. And they’re all hugely supportive and they all understand, when I tell them “yeah, fellas, you’re not gonna be hearing from me for about three weeks. I got a fight coming up.” They’re all “alright man, we’ll see you when it’s all over.” Then, after the fight, call ‘em up. We meet up, go out to the bar, have a good time, do all that. Then, next week, we’re back to business.

JT: It’s good to have that balance, to have those guys, even if they’re not walking down the same road as you, they all support and understand it.

BL: They’re all real proud of me, because I’m doing something positive with my life. I think at one point, some of them thought I wasn’t going to be doing anything positive with my life. There have been times where I’ve gotten into a lot of trouble. I’ve been arrested a couple of times. A couple of years ago, man, people probably wouldn’t expect to see me doing big things.

JT: What’s the toughest part about fighting for you?

BL: The hardest part about fighting, to me, is definitely the dedication involved with being excellent, and the repetition off doing these things day-in and day-out. It’s not a hobby. It’s a lifestyle you have to live. It’s an everyday thing. I have to go into the gym and get punched in my face every day. And get choked, or choke somebody, or hit something. It’s very demanding, physically and mentally.

But I have such a passion for this . . . it’s like my mom told me when I was younger. She said “if you find a job that you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” And that’s kinda where I’m at right now. It’s exciting. To me, the benefits far outweigh the negatives.

JT: Even if you’re able to do it and make a living at this sport, MMA is still one of those things that’s very much a labor of love.

BL: If you’re getting into MMA for the money, you’re in for a rude awakening. And anybody who tells me “yeah, I wanna get in it to make the money” and that. . . I tell them “what money? What money are you talking about?” Unless you are the minority, which is the guys in the UFC, or the guys who are lucky enough to fight in Japan, you’re not getting paid dick-squat!

JT: As a fan of MMA, who are some of your favorite fighters?

BL: To be honest with you, I don’t have a favorite fighter. There’s guys that I respect, and each part of their game, I try to model mine after. Guys like Randy Couture, for the fact of all his accomplishments and things he’s done. I think Georges St-Pierre is a great role model for up-and-coming fighters like myself. I try to knee like Anderson Silva, I try to do takedowns like Couture. Just try to model myself off a little piece of each one of them.

JT: What would you say are your best and worst memories in your MMA career?

BL: I would say my best memory would be going out to California, training at Team Quest for two weeks, and fighting and winning at San Manuel Casino. I’d never been to California before, and for me, to cross the whole country to go fight – it was my pro debut, so it was big for me.

My worst memory – I fought in an amateur show, down here in Michigan, in a tournament. I got to the finals of a tournament, and I fought this named Eddie Sanchez. Not the one from the UFC, but another one. Within 40 seconds, I dropped him with a head kick, and I started bouncing his head off the mat with right hands. One of the guys on the outside of the cage blew the horn, meaning the fight’s over. I pull off him, hop on top of the cage, and I’m the new middleweight champ for such-and-such organization. Well, I guess the referee is not the one who stopped the fight. He said he was the only one who could stop the fight. They restart the fight after I clearly booted this guy in the head.

I continued to kick this guy’s ass. I mean I beat his ass hard. For two solid rounds. The third round, I come out; man, I’m gassed. It wasn’t even a physical – I mean emotionally. The emotions that are involved in a fight are crazy. The highs, the lows, the nervousness, the excitement. So there were a lot of chemicals being released in my body. It was crazy. I’ve been exhausted physically through training. It was a feeling I’d never felt before. And I ended up getting choked unconscious.

I did a little bit of research on this guy the next day. Turns out he’s been a professional for like 10 years. He’s fought Dave Menne and all kinds of guys.

JT: And they allowed him onto an amateur show?

BL: This was this promoter’s first show. He didn’t do proper background checks on people. I don’t know why Eddie did that. . . I was supposed to fight him in the last King of the Cage, but he dropped out of the fight. And this was my fifth amateur fight. Fighting a guy who’d been a pro for like 10 years. And I still kicked his ass.

That was my worst experience, but at the same time, I learned so much from the whole thing. It was the worst physical feeling ever; waking up, puking, your face is in shambles. It was a bad feeling that night, but in life, I think it made me a lot better of a fighter; I learned so much from it.

JT: A lot of fighters take pride in embracing the bad experiences. They follow the credo of “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

BL: And I really believe that, too.

JT: What’s your downtime like? What do you do to take a mental break from training?

BL: I’ve got a girlfriend that I hang out with all the time. She’s very supportive of the whole thing. I spend a lot of time with her. It’s my life, so my downtime – even if I’m not training for a fight, I’m still at the gym and teaching my class . . .

JT: Let me rephrase it: what does your girlfriend make you do, when you’re away from the gym?

BL: She makes me work on having sex with her constantly. I don’t know if that’s downtime or if you want to call that “uptime”. . . .

JT: It’s a good time, for sure.

BL: For sure. But we go to the movies, hang out or whatever. When it’s nice out, I like to go out to the park and do a lot of outdoor activities. Or go out on the lake and go fishing, or go out on the boat. I like doing all of that.

JT: Talk a little bit about your sponsors. Who are some of the guys that support you, and why should the fans know about them?

BL: Booyaa is really my only sponsor. They hook me up with gear, and put me in all the programs, and they give me great exposure. All those guys – Romero, the Godfather . . . We all hang out and have a good time at all the fights.

The problem is that around here, professional MMA is unregulated. So what kind of exposure can I get these companies? So I see where they’re coming from too.

JT: With Michigan being unregulated, it’s bad all around. You’ve got promoters, fighters, and managers who get away with bending the rules. And subsequently, you can’t draw real sponsors because you don’t have real promotions working up there.

BL: Any kind of sponsorship or any kind of promise that’s . . . talk is cheap. I’ve heard a lot of shit from a lot of people, but nothing’s ever come through. People have made me a lot of promises, but haven’t come through.

JT: What are some of your goals, within fighting and outside of fighting?

BL: My goal in life is to live my life how I want to live it, and not be dictated from other people how to live it. To be able to make my own agenda. I wake up when I want to wake up. I set my own schedule. To be able to set my own schedule and have to clock in and answer to some dickhead supervisor. I would probably want to kick their ass after a year anyways. Just to live my life how I want to live it.

As far as fighting goes, if I can make a life out of being a professional athlete, and I’m not even just talking about the money – the perks of being a professional athlete – being in great shape throughout life, and setting my own schedule. That’s my biggest goal.

I want to fight in Japan. I’m gonna fight in the UFC one day. I truly believe in all those things, but my goal on top of all that is to be able to make a decent living and live my life how I want to live it.

Ben Lagman fights Uber Gallegos at King of the Cage: Hurricane, on February 21st, at the War Memorial Auditorium in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.