The Ohio MMA faithful gathered Friday in the state capital of Columbus for a night of closely contested bouts that were a testament to the prowess of Ultimate Victory Challenge matchmakerTyler Wooten, who assembled one of the best cards of the year. It was the marquis Professional talent of some of The Buckeye State’s biggest guns that put the sparkle on a card stacked top to bottom, anchored by solid performances from some of the best Amateur talent from the area. The result was a night of fights that more than made up for a lack of flashy KO victories by pitting evenly matched opponents head to head, producing some of the more stylish and robust ground-fighting in recent memory.
Four spirited amateur contests kicked off the action, setting the stage for six pro bouts that eventually delivered fireworks culminating in stellar performances by the city’s native sons, Dan Spohn and Luke Zachrich in the co-main event and main events of the evening. MMA enthusiast Loper from 99.7 The Blitz’ “Loper and Randi in the Morning” served as emcee, riling up fans with his contagious mixture of intensity and love for the fight game, well matched by the styling’s of colorful ring announcer George Phillips. Add to it a patently fight and fan-friendly venue in the vibrant and well-appointed Aladdin Shrine Center, and more than a thousand rabid MMA fans of all shapes, sizes and colors, and UVC 23 – Invasion was a smashing success and the place to be last night.
DiSabattoMMA’s Jordan Schembri and LAMMA product Austin Durbinkicked off the action with a agonizing 2 minute, 10 second affair throughout which Durbin struggled for a single-leg takedown like his life depended on it, absorbing punishing strikes from Schembri all the while. When he finally let go the leg, Durbin quickly found himself on the wrong end of a powerful North/South choke, tapping out at 2:10 of the very first round.
Toward the end of a back and forth Round 1 featuring transitions and submission attempts from both fighters, Skrap House amateur journeyman Ronnie Shoemaker gained an advantage over LAMMA’sJeff Dotsonand went on to dominate Round 2, taking Dotson’s back and sinking in an unforgiving rear-naked choke to earn the tap at 1:38 of the second stanza.
The next two amateur bouts would both last the duration with undefeated local standouts Corey Dulaney and Robert McPherson pitting their perfect records against each other in a UVC Champion Series Lightweight Semi-final and amateur champ Aaron Hughes ending a 19-month layoff versus veteran Donny Korbel in a non-title icebreaker.
Dulaney v. McPherson heated up gradually with McPherson sporting superior technical chops in finally executing a sweep minutes into the first round and cinching up a neat triangle choke which a determined and physically dominant Dulaney rode out until the bell at the end of Round 1 brought merciful relief. The formidable athleticism and grinding pressure of Dulaney was gradually brought to bear when in the midst of Round 2 he executed a thunderous scoop and slam which seemed to be the tipping point. From there on, Dulaney out-muscled his opponent en route to a unanimous decision victory on the strength of his explosive power and superior control. The victory established Dulaney’s status as the number one contender at lightweight.
Ring rust may have been a factor in the return of Aaron “Livewire” Hughes in spite of what was an admirable performance in which he landed takedowns in multiple rounds and held top-control much of the bout. Still, it was the diverse attack of Donny “The Destroyer” Korbel that was the story of this one, the Team Chaos product showcasing a balanced arsenal of both striking and grappling. On the feet, Korbel used his rangy limbs with precision, mixing up leg-kicks with his hands, doing excellent body work and landing a heavy kick to the body before hurting Hughes with a straight-right to the breadbasket and finishing Round 1 in top position. Round 2 was a slugfest with some calculated brawling at the outset before Hughes sensed he was fighting to his opponent’s strengths and again took it to the mat. Here Hughes mounted his greatest real threat of the fight coming close with a guillotine choke before the bell. Hughes quickly got the takedown and established dominant position from the outset of Round 3. He did little damage, however, thus it was again the more treacherous triangle choke/armbar with which Korbel nearly submitted and eventually swept Hughes that was the offensive highlight of the round for me. While he did spend much of the fight on his back, Korbel scored big fan points on my unofficial card for his stylish ground game, which allowed him to create reversals and submission attempts while sustaining very little damage.
The Judges Harry Heil and Darryl Wise scored the fight 29-28 in favor of Korbel while judge Jeannie McGinnis scored it 29-28 for Hughes. It was perhaps the most intellectually provocative fight of the evening for me in that it highlighted what are nagging frustrations with the scoring of MMA bouts. I would venture to guess that all 3 judges gave Round 2 to Korbel on the basis of his dominance in the striking in a round contested largely on the feet. And yet it was in Round 2 that Hughes came closest to ending the fight with a guillotine choke cut short by the bell. In Rounds 1 and 3, Hughes clearly held a preponderance of time in the top (dominant?) position, but did little damage due to Korbel’soffensive guard which produced both sweeps leading to full-mount and a near submission by triangle choke then armbar. In fact, the only time at which Korbel looked unstable was when Hughes rattled Korbel’sscrobles with a kick to the marbles before the fight hardly got started, which still must’ve smarted. But seriously, there is something to be said for offense that threatens to end a fight versus “dominance” which merely stagnates a fight by limiting the time that the “dominant” fighter is in immediate danger from a superior striker or submission grappler. And although a majority of judges (in my opinion), got the winner right, it’s probably reasonable to assume that one judge gave Hughes both Rounds 1 and 3, but not 2, and the other two gave Hughes only Round 1 or 3. So if coming close to ending the fight counts for more than merely staying out of danger by controlling position, even the judges that got the score right most likely did so for the wrong reason. I would argue for a score of 30-27 in favor of Korbel as the damage inflicted with his strikes outweighed the near submission attempt in Round 2. Live action is fast and furious and distractions cageside are many, so I reserve the right to change my mind upon viewing the televised rebroadcast, a luxury the judges do not enjoy. Suffice to say that imperfect though they sometimes may be, I do not envy their job in adjudicating closely fought decisions under an inherently flawed scoring system with ambiguous judging criteria. It’s a wonder they can sleep at night.
Matt Anderson v. JeramyKarshner was a vigorous back-and-forth grappling match featuring some nice clinch work by Anderson and a skillful takedown by Karshner in Round 1. Anderson dazed Karshner with a flying-knee to open the second frame, but was unable to finish him as Karshner regained his wits and gutted out another nice takedown only to be stood up for inaction. Anderson again landed an effective kick, this time to the head of Karshner who powered through yet again, scoring another gutsy takedown. A perhaps still-dazed Karshner quickly found himself in a triangle choke from which Anderson neatly transitioned into a slick armbar, forcing the tap at 4:50 of Round 2 with just 10 seconds remaining in the round.
Corey “Koko” Simmons v. Cornelius Godfrey was a fight that promised fireworks on paper but delivered an uninspiring clinch-war long on posturing and short on striking. Godfrey manhandled Simmons against the cage but landed only a handful of significant strikes in the fight, preferring instead to out-leverage his opponent to little consequence. Round 2 yielded an eventual takedown for Godfrey but Simmons struggled to his feet quickly, eating a few decent knees for his efforts but ultimately sustaining little damage. A second takedown near the end of the round was little cause for excitement, but served to further establish the dominance of Godfrey. Although Simmons eventually managed a takedown of his own, Round 3 was more of the same, Godfrey rag-dolling his opponent in an impressive yet lackluster display of strength and leverage, earning another 2 takedowns but nothing for the highlight reel. Simmons worked hard at landing a liver punch, his only effective weapon in the fight, although by then one sensed he was in desperation mode, hoping for a big punch that never came. In spite of a conservative approach, Godfrey notched another mark in the win column, all three judges scoring the bout 29-28 in his favor. He should not, however, be criticized for what was a strategic if not flashy performance, especially against a last-minute opponent and dangerous striker, and I look for this talented young fighter to dazzle crowds when he finds himself in a more favorable stylistic matchup.The striking of Simmons holds similar promise when he is not at the mercy of a longer fighter more adept in the subtleties of Greco style grappling than himself.
Tyson Triplett v. Marc Cofer was a little short on excitement, as well, perhaps as Cofer dominated all 3 rounds with superior takedowns and positional grappling. Despite some spirited striking exchanges that Triplett mostly got the better of, including some good elbows from bottom position, Cofer’s wrestling was simply too much, earning him a unanimous decision on the scorecard. All in all, it was a convincing victory for the formidable wrestler as well as an admirable display of sportsmanship and mutual respect from two seemingly amiable fellows who clearly enjoy their shared craft.
Augusta Tindall v. Joe Heiland brought an abrupt close to any perceived lack of violence, risk-taking and heroicism with a whirlwind of frenzied action that went the distance in a visceral display of brutality and determination. Tindall took the part of fearsome striker with lightning in his hands and acrobatic takedown defense to match. “Gus” struggled valiantly to maintain striking distance against a relentless onslaught of pressure and takedown attempts from a very aggressive, iron-jawed opponent in Heiland who ate several bombs while delivering a few of his own. “Smokin Joe” fought to close the distance with dogged determination, landing several monstrous takedowns only to see Tindall repeatedly scramble back to his feet to deliver more punishing blows. Relentlessly closing the distance again, Heiland came near to securing a standing arm triangle for a tense period that seemed like an eternity before making good on yet another takedown attempt at the end of the first round. Cleveland’s Heilandwas a fitting embodiment of the venerable Strong Style name, continuing with his takedowns and clinch work, nearly taking the back of his opponent several times, but unable to hold the position. A well-timed knee to the face of his opponent sent Tindall’smouthpieceflying across the cage. Gusturned the tides late in Round 2 landing consecutive clean shots after referee Mark Matheny broke the fighters to replace the lost mouthpiece during an appropriate paused in the action. Tindall had Heiland hurt during the barrage of strikes that followed but Heiland was somehow able to compose himself again, elevating and slamming Tindallin epic fashion. Round 3 belonged to Tindallwho still had devastating hand speed and power enough to rock his opponent savagely, unleashing a menacing variety of combinations at a staggered Heiland. Several glancing blowsalmost finished him butHeiland’s iron jaw and iron will refused to quit. For an eternity it seemed Tindall was one clean shot away from a devastating KO, the audience collectively breathless as if watching a confused animal crossing an interstate, waiting for the worst. But Heiland whether consciously or by the grace of some other power miraculously evaded the now just slightly slowed assault of punches and somehow found it in himself to score a final takedown which must have sealed the deal in the eyes of the judges. He won a split decision. Although I’m convinced that it was Tindall who inflicted the greater damage and came closer to ending the fight, it is impossible to find anything unsatisfactory about such an amazing performance by both fighters. A truly great fight by two incredibly tough fighters.
The co-main event of the evening featured local hero Dan “The Dragon” Spohn in a matchup against a physical menace of a man in Aaron Mays of Clinton, Missouri. At 5’11”, Mays looked 50 pounds of solid muscle heavier than 205, massive even next to a physical specimen such as Spohn who routinely cuts in excess of 25 pounds and packs a cattle truck’s worth of lipid-free musculature on his 6’4” frame. Mays immediately scored a thunderous takedown and commenced to dishing out some of the most sickening ground and pound I’ve ever witnessed. Spohn was able to effectively protect his head, but his body took punches the mere sound of which was nauseating. A single punch from Mays would crush the rib cage of the average mortal, but mortal or not, there is nothing average about Dan Spohn. In what is submission grappling’s equivalent of a “flash” knockout, Spohn went from punching bag to executioner in an eye blink, expertly setting up and flawlessly executing a belly-down “Russian” arm bar that would make Fedor jealous. “Panic will make you lose and get hurt,” said Spohn to the crowd following his big win. “What’s the point?” Point well taken, but I for one, felt panic. Spohn by armbar, 2:41 of Round 1.
And finally, The Ultimate Fighter reality show alumnus, Columbus’ own Luke Zachrich put on a clinic, entertaining, amusing, and dazzling the hometown crowd with an at times almost light-hearted spectacle of Mixed Martial Artistry. After a feeling out process on the feet during which I believe Zachrich determined to his satisfaction that he held a considerable edge in striking skill, he began to mix it up with a virtual survey of MMA techniques, mixing up leg-kicks and boxing followed by an effortless initial takedown. Zachrich quickly demonstrated his creative grappling employing an unusually active, unorthodox and dynamic top-game, fearlessly and deftly turning his back on opponent Marcus Finch one moment and pivoting back into his half guard the next, all the while dishing out punishing ground and pound and seemingly looking for a novel submission. After some goading from Finch’s corner to the effect that Zachrich“just wants to wrestle,” Luke seemed determined to demonstrate his striking prowess and did so with equal aplomb. After some stiff jabs and a few sharp straight-rights he took control of the striking as well and seemed almost playful in attempting to execute something half-way between a scissors takedown and a flying heel-hook. Finch never gave up and worked hard looking for the big punch, but he was simply outclassed by a more skillful fighter.
All in all, it was a night of fights and fun the Buckeye State will not soon forget.