Sunday, April 13, 2008

YAMMA Pit Fighting – It’s Got Electrolytes!

by Jason Tiefel, Editor

The much-anticipated inaugural event for YAMMA Pit fighting, brainchild of (in)famous MMA pioneer Bob Meyrowitz, was held in Atlantic City, NJ this weekend. When I say much-anticipated I mean for all of the wrong reasons. Many hardcore MMA fans were practically salivating at the potential hilarity that might ensue once this mysterious new fighting arena was unleashed on the world. Would this event rival be the ironically hysterical three ring circus that was K-1 Dynamite! USA? Would Butterbean roll down the incline of the YAMMA like a gravy-filled egg? Would Pat Smith say he’s been working on his ground game “just a little bit” in his post fight interview? The possibility for schadenfreude-tastic ridicule seemed limitless.

What transpired was actually the worst-case scenario for Meyrowitz: YAMMA was neither relevant to the MMA landscape nor was it ridiculous enough to entertain. What fans received was an 8 man heavyweight tournament with very little action of note and a few “Masters Series” bouts that failed to garner even the slightest bit of nostalgia in this longtime fan’s heart. To the fans that have discovered the sport in the last 5 years or so, this card was a veritable “Who’s That?” of mixed martial arts, featuring relatively unknown fighters comingled with once-great fighters like Mark Kerr and Ricco Rodriguez. It was an odd collection to say the least.

The ultimate irony of this experiment is the YAMMA itself: the event and the fighting area were designed to force exciting fights by eliminating clinching and pinning against the cage. The incline of the YAMMA, coupled with the absurd single 5 minute round bout structure, ultimately favored wrestlers that take opponents down and control from top position. Once fighters clinched and approached the incline, the elevation of the opponent’s legs made takedowns much easier. In the heavyweight tournament, the short bout time allowed Travis Wiuff to repeatedly take his opponents down and simply control for 5 minutes. Unsurprisingly, Wiuff won all of his fights by decision.

In an interview with, Meyrowitz stated that they plan on their next event in June and that it will take several events to figure out the riddle of the YAMMA. With their first event in the bag the questions still linger as to how viable this promotion is and if it has a place in the current MMA landscape. The marketing and production was certainly an attempt at a throwback to the early days of MMA as spectacle, but this event fell far short of inspiring anything other than a desire to know who they think their audience is.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

TDLR Rule Change too costly for amateur MMA in Texas?

by Jason Tiefel, Editor

Effective March 1, 2008 the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation passed an administrative rule change that requires amateur MMA organizations to provide increased medical coverage and death benefits to fighters. The previous requirements of $20,000 medical coverage and $50,000 death benefit are now raised to $50,000 and $100,000, respectively. While it would seem that a more robust program for medical coverage would only benefit the safety of the fighters and foster the growth of the sport, it comes at a cost that leaves some promoters questioning the viability of amateur MMA in Texas.

This motion, proposed in October of 2007, was initially tabled largely due to objections from Texas Amateur Mixed Martial Arts Association president Chip Thornsburg. “My original argument was that this measure was prohibitively expensive for amateur organizations,” states Thornsburg. “The increase in operating cost is going to be around $2000 or more. When you’re talking about $20 tickets for an amateur event, that’s another 100 people you have to get just to cover the increased cost. When some amateur events average around 500 people attending, that is a significant gap to cover.” This sentiment was echoed by some on the TXMMA.COM message board in a topic titled “Amateur MMA on life support in TX.”

While promoters are often maligned wholesale by hardcore MMA fans as merely profit seeking off of the blood and sweat of fighters, there are economic realities that are brought to bear anytime an event is put together. Amateur organizations like TAMMA are typically non-profit groups that are essential to the vitality and growth of MMA. A promoter having the ability to manage costs and hold events gives fighters the avenues for displaying their skills and developing as athletes. According to Thornsburg, TAMMA events have produced bottom lines that range from $3400 profit to $2700 losses. Given these erratic figures, a 200-300% increase in operating costs is an understandable concern.

Not all promoters of amateur events are predicting ill effects from this change. Steve Armstrong, President of TAMI Amateur Combative Sports Promotion, Inc. remains positive. “Truthfully, $2000 is a lot of money to come up with for amateur organizations, but this will separate the men from the boys. There are a lot of promoters out there that don’t do right by the fighters. You’ll have to be even more committed now to put on an event. Guys like Chip and me have been doing this for awhile and we’ll find a way to adapt and move on with this.”

This measure puts Texas in a unique position when it comes to insurance requirements. The Nevada State Athletic Commission, considered to be one of the most well established and robust regulatory entities for combative sports, has a similar requirement of $50,000 medical coverage but requires no death benefit (NAC 467.149). Taking this kind of step leaves one to wonder as to the timing and reasoning behind this decision. Part of Thornsburg’s argument against the measure centered on the subtle but important differences in TAMMA’s rule set, namely the use of heavier gloves and the prohibiting of elbows and reinforced knees to the head. These factors should reduce the amount of injuries sustained in competition, so some see this step as perhaps a bit premature given the infancy of the sport.

At first glance one could speculate that the tragic passing of Sam Vasquez last year has created an overly reactionary climate in our state regulatory commission. Greg Alvarez, program manager for the TDLR’s combative sports program, dismisses any connection between increased insurance requirements and the death of Sam Vasquez. “The beginnings of this rule amendment date back to August of 2007, well before Sam Vasquez’s tragic passing. At the TDLR our primary concern is the health and safety of the fighters, and we strive for consistency in how events are regulated. This change puts the numbers for amateur events in line with those of the professional organizations.”

When asked about the objections of TAMMA and the effects of this measure on an amateur organization’s ability to put on shows, Alvarez is optimistic. “There are several companies that will offer $100K death benefits, and the TDLR has set no minimum requirements for the deductibles. An organization looking to keep operating cost down has the ability to choose a plan with higher deductibles, which will significantly reduce the cost of the insurance policy. The deductible is the biggest factor in policy cost, and we have not set restrictions on that.”

As fans and participants of combative sports, we all face the challenge of finding the right balance between what is best for the fighters’ health and safety and what is economically feasible. It would be difficult to find anyone that would disagree with giving fighters the best coverage money can buy, but this is a “perfect world” scenario. Real world constraints require that promoters manage cost and turn profit on their events to be able to continue giving fighters the opportunity to develop. No doubt Texas has taken an important step in developing a more robust program to protect fighters, and only time will tell if there will be any tangential effects that hinder the growth of amateur MMA in Texas.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Shalorus Captures King of Kombat Welterweight Title

By Jason Tiefel, Editor

Austin, TX, April 5 – World Class Cage Fighting hosted their third fight card, one that was full of action and first round finishes.

In the main event, Kamal Shalorus captured the King of Kombat welterweight title in a quick domination of Oklahoma’s Jeff Davis. The difference in strength and explosiveness was clear from the outset, as Relson Gracie student Shalorus backed Davis up with several quick combinations. A missed kick from Team Elite’s Davis gave Shalorus the opportunity to take the fight to the ground, where he proceeded to drop several punishing shots from top position. The referee decided to save Davis from further punishment and called a stop to the bout at 1:06 in the first.

In the only heavyweight bout of the night (or superheavyweight, as the WCCF prefers to call it) Austin’s Mathew Thompson lost a plodding split decision to Amarillo’s experienced Chris Guillen. Rounds 1 and 2 played out in a similar fashion, with Guillen putting Thompson on his back early while the South Austin Gym fighter worked for submissions from the bottom. Thompson was able to take round 3 by taking Guillen’s back, landing some strikes, and eventually rolling for a heel hook/kneebar. Time ran out on the Austin fighter and Guillen was awarded a 29-28 victory on two of the judges’ score cards.

In somewhat of an upset, veteran fighter Brandon McDowell succumbed to strikes from Grappler’s Lair fighter Patrick Miller at 4:13 in the first round. McDowell scored a takedown early in the round but was reversed by Miller, who was able to maintain top position throughout the fight. Miller, a US Army soldier who just returned from Iraq, landed several hard shots to the left side of McDowell’s head, forcing him to tapout. As McDowell rose, the source of his demise became clear: his left ear, exhibiting the typical cauliflower effect found in many fighters, had swollen to 2-3 times its normal size.

In perhaps the most competitive bout of the night, Grappler’s Domain fighter Duece King defeated Death Row MMA’s Lane Yarbrough via unanimous decision. Yarbrough came out strong in the first, attempting a flying knee that missed and quickly taking Deuce’s back. Duece then grabbed his opponent’s head and flipped him to the mat. After several minutes of groundwork, the fighters returned to the feet where Duece landed the better of the strikes. Yarbrough was able to rally late in the round, slamming his opponent to the mat and taking his back. He worked for a rear naked choke that never came as the first stanza came to a close.

Round 2 belonged to Duece as he landed heavy strikes that kept his opponent on the defensive. He landed a stiff left jab that dropped Yarbrough, but after a sloppy armbar attempt by Duece his opponent was able to recover. Yarbrough began to look gassed as he continued to take punishment on the feet for the duration of the second.

Yarbrough regrouped and was more methodical in round 3, where he picked his shots and landed several high kicks and solid body shots, but it was too little too late. Duece did not offer much in this round, but had already pulled far enough ahead on the judges’ scorecards to be granted a 29-28 unanimous decision.

Duece’s post-fight interview setup a future bout with well-established local fighter Nick “the Ghost” Gonzalez. There has been trash talking back and forth between these two for a while and Gonzalez took the opportunity to enter the cage and challenge Duece. This fight is currently scheduled for the June King of Kombat show and should be a barn-burner.

Relson Gracie Academy’s Ryan Larson needed only 1:03 to dispatch his opponent, the tough Maxwell Smith out of Denver. Smith tossed Larson to the canvas only to find himself on the business end of a well-executed triangle choke. Larson improves his record to 4-0 and establishes himself as a solid local prospect.

Oklahoma’s Jared Hess may be a talented wrestler, but he showcased some solid striking skills in his defeat of Chief Flores. These two came to bang and threw some heavy leather at the starting bell. Hess landed a stiff left jab and some solid knees from the clinch before taking his opponent to the mat. The ref stepped in at the sight of blood and halted the bout to give the doctor a chance to evaluate Flores. The bout continued but Flores again found himself on the bottom of Hess, who delivered enough damage from the top for the ref to stop the fight at 1:52 in the first.

If there was a theme to tonight’s card, it was that Relson Gracie students know how to apply a triangle choke. The academy’s Randy Vera submitted San Antonio’s Adrian Sanchez by applying a very quick triangle that forced his opponent to tap at 1:58 in the first.

Corpus Christi’s Conan Cano submitted his opponent Ryan Carranza by armbar in just 42 seconds, giving the Austin crowd yet another quick finish. Carranza, fighting out of Solidarity MMA in San Marcos, was a late replacement for Chidi Njokunani (whose name was still on the event schedules handed out at the event).

No fight card is complete without some controversy, and tonight’s came courtesy of Dallas’ Ralph Calvillo. His opponent, Selma’s Chris Kuntschik, came out swinging and attempted a double leg takedown that was stuffed by Calvillo. The Dallas fighter applied a standing guillotine choke and Kuntschik dropped to guard, which only served to make the choke tighter. He was able to weather the storm and regain the standing position, but a heated exchange resulted in an accidental thumb in the eye that sent him doubled over against the cage. The ref did not see the infraction and Calvillo swarmed his opponent with punches until the bout was stopped at 1:49 in the first. In response to his opponent’s protests, Calvillo (the self proclaimed “most hated man in Texas MMA”) called for a rematch, so look for these two to meet again in upcoming events.

Grappler’s Domain fighter Garrette Bennette kicked the night off with a dominating performance over Waco’s Louis Sims Jr. Sims’ only moment came with an early right hand that did not seem to faze Bennette as he took his opponent down with a transition from a single to a double leg takedown. Bennette’s attempt at a kimura from half guard did not result in a submission, but he was able to use it to transition to mount. From there he landed enough strikes to force his opponent to tap at 2:51 of round one.

With this event, WCCF is quickly establishing a reputation for putting on quality fight cards. The show had solid production values, a good turnout and all of the athletes were impressive in both victory and defeat. No doubt the Relson Gracie Academy made the strongest showing, with all three of their fighters ending their bouts quickly. New champions were crowned and fans got to experience how great the local MMA scene in Texas has become.