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2010 was a rough year for local mixed martial arts, when really, it should have been the boom times. 

At the start of ’10, everything seemed to be coming up roses. Vancouver City Council had approved a two-year ‘test period’ for professional MMA events. The Ultimate Fighting Championship was set to come to Vancouver’s GM Place for a pay-per-view show. MMA gyms were exploding across the lower mainland while local promoters were putting on amateur shows every other week, featuring top line local fight talent. And you couldn’t turn on your TV without bumping into a UFC card or a Strikeforce event or a WEC show.

Fast forward a year, and the situation is a little grim. So grim in fact that, to be honest, I kind of gave up on the sport from a professional standpoint.

The UFC has killed off the WEC and just this weekend bought Strikeforce (which means that group will be consumed within two years), while an increasing number of their events are shown on obscure network stations and bottom of the dial cable channels (or on Rogers Sportsnet East but not Pacific) as a legitimate network TV presence is pursued. Steroids raised their ugly head at the UFC level, and the standard of trashtalk descended into racist, homophobic stupidity (thanks Chael Sonnen and Michael Bisping).

Locally, Vancouver city hasn’t been able to differentiate its a–hole from its elbow in terms of actually figuring out how to handle its entirely self-fabricated liability issue, and when the UFC came to town with a great event (having guaranteed some $12m worth of insurance coverage for the city – an entirely unnecessary world first), Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson promptly showed up at, shook hands, danced in the aisles, and then never mentioned MMA again. 

There’s a host of local promoters who have come and gone – some belly up, others have paused until the city works its game out, and others still have just set up shop in other places, where the local government actually wants to build revenue and give citizens an opportunity to engage in (or profit from) sport.

City arenas are off-limits to local MMA (this despite the council specifically stating that they should be open to such events), and city arenas are about the only place an MMA event can happen if you want more than 300 people to be able to attend. That wouldn’t suck nearly as much if those same arenas (PNE Forum, for example) weren’t empty 95% of the year.

Local fighters on the cusp of professionalism have left town or are in the process of leaving. Rory McDonald, one of the next big things in the UFC, now plies his trade in Montreal, where so many elite fighters are now setting up shop, it’s actually becoming a legitimate source of local revenue to house and train Americans.

That’s not to say MMA is dead in Vancouver. Far from it. It’s alive, kicking, and not going anywhere. 

The active proof of that came to me in the form of Battlefield Fight League’s sixth amateur event this Saturday, the latest fight card from the Vancouver-based promotion that has built from the grassroots up in little over a year, and evolved into a high-production value minor league of MMA that could serve as a model of how to bring the amateur sport to a new level of professionalism anywhere in h North America.

At a Battlefield event, there are few corners cut (at least from where I sit). The refs are bona fide, the cornermen watched like hawks by the now ever-present BCMMA officials, the judging is solid, the security efficient, the audio visuals crisp and pro-standard, and the arena (in Saturday’s case, Edgewater Casino’s Stadium Club) clean and polished.

But it’s the fights that set the standard. BFL fights are legendary among the local fight community, so legendary that, after not being able to make the last few BFL cards, I decided I just couldn’t miss another one Saturday.

This was a damn fine decision.

The undercard at BFL6 was a cavalcade of early stoppages, so much so that the event organizers had to make a decision – do we have a long intermission, or get the televised portion of the party started early?

We did not wait long for the big boys to roll forth.

But let’s take it from the top, giving the newbies their due, as every fight on the BFL card either showcased the high level skillsets of one fighter (with a quick finish) or both (with back and forth brutality that had to be seen to be believed).

First up was the female fight of the night, between Team Bad Boy Outreach kickboxer Mattie Parent and Team Denarius slugger Nicola Cottrell.

The first round saw both fighters hit the clinch and exchange knees, but the stronger fighter was clearly Parent, who worked the cage, applied a series of kneelifts (several to the junk, but not intentionally so), worked a nice leg trip, took full mount, and wailed the heavy hits (including a Moondog Spot double ax handle!) until the ref pulled her off and assigned the win.

I’ve been critical of Team Denarius coach Marcus Hicks for throwing fighters into events earlier than he should several times in the past, and though hindsight is obviously 20-20, it was pretty clear that Cottrell was just out of her element, especially on the ground. Once mounted, she went into turtle mode and basically absorbed blows until it was clear she had no interest in taking part any more.

Obviously that happens to the best fighters sometimes, but it would happen to another Denarius fighter later in the night, leaving observers to wonder if lessons about not throwing a fighter in too deep before they know how to swim have been learned.

Which is not to take anything away from Parent at all. She was a different class – she banged hard, showed supreme confidence, and is worthy of a next level opponent next time out. 

Team Denarius took their second loss of the night when Universal MMA’s Zach Koch faced off against Renfred Besarra. 

To be honest, Besarra looked the goods early, scoring with a takedown but finding his head caught in a guillotine near his coach’s corner. Besarra listened to Hicks’ instructions and fulfilled them to the letter to get out of the hold, then working his opponent back towards the cage. But a hip escape saw Koch get back to feet, and that’s when ‘kickageddon’ began. 

The first sign that Besarra may have bitten off more than he could chew came with a resounding ‘crack’ to his outside thigh, then another crack to his head as Koch went into “enough of this crap” mode. Besarra went for a panic takedown to avoid more boots to the moosh, but found himself reversed, then mounted, and then pounded on for a while. 

Besarra should have bucked and bridged and rolled – done anything he could to get out of the position. But he didn’t – like Cottrell, he turned turtle and waited for the ref to turn off the contest, which happened at 2:29 of the first round.

It’s true that steel is forged in fire, and that you can’t really become used to the heat of battle without going into it a few times, but something’s clearly missing in the process at Denarius. Either they need to institute some hard sparring before letting fighters graduate to the cage, or they need to spend more time working on defensive groundwork, but the results of the last six Denarius fights I’ve seen have always ended the same way – ref stoppage (strikes) – and that’s indicative of a problem.

Between these fights, something happened in front of press row that gave me pause – the cutman for the event, while carefully putting vaseline on the eyebrows of one of the fighters, then patted them on the shoulder when he was done… which left a noticeable *** of vaso across the left shoulderblade of one fighter.

This wasn’t picked up at first, but the second time it happened, the BCMMA officials descended on the cutman, explaining what he was doing wrong, toweling off the fighters, and watching him like a hawk for the remainder of the show. 

And that’s why any promoter who doesn’t bring B.C.’s amateur MMA oversight body into the fold is seriously risking the welfare of his fighters, and the public perception of his event. Even the best promoter can see everything turn to heck if just one employee or contractor does the wrong thing, and the BCMMA boys have the guidelines and experience to make sure, if that happens, it’s rectified quickly.

This was demonstrated later once again when the BCMMA officials noted that some fighters were bringing too many cornermen out. A quick conference at cageside between BCMA boss Bill Mahood and some of his staff, and that situation was rectified for the remainder of the night, with cornermen (and ridicu-breasted girlfriends) being consistently chased off if they tried their luck.

Back in the cage, the action was fast and furious, and never more so than in the 8-second contest between Alfred Leslie from Team Huge, and Gravity Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’s Alex Green. 

In short (and how else could it be when it took eight seconds), Leslie met Green at centre ring with a big right uppercut, causing Green to faceplant. The third subsequent hit to the side of his head woke him up just as the ref was stopping the fight, which had Green doing the “Why’d you stop it? I’m fine!” routine, but his protests were to no avail – as the team from Fatlip Radio said on press row, if you break your fall with your forehead, it’s a good stoppage.

The next fight was an interesting matchup, on a sociological level if nothing else. Former Honour Combat Championships marketing man Trevor Dueck (who I’ve heard referred to as the nicest guy in the MMA scene by more than a few people) decided that, if he was going to be involved in the MMA scene as a radio guy, he should learn what they go through – so he put himself through months of full time training with West Coast Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’s Don Whitfield, got himself tied in knots several times a day, cut weight from 205 lbs to 142.2, and came out for his cage debut against independent fighter Tony Hnuyeh. 

Dueck, nicknaming himself Bedtime Bear and clutching a Care Bear on his way to the cage, looked quietly confident, and for the first 40 or so seconds of his fight, he seemed to have Hnuyeh on his heels. But when Dueck pushed for a double leg takedown, he failed to get in tight enough and high enough to get leverage. Dueck may have been better served to let the double leg go, but he pushed Hnuyeh hard to the cage and continued the head down, bum up grinding in an effort to wear him out. 

It wasn’t to be. Hnuyeh pushed Dueck back and he stumbled to the floor, taking juuust long enough to get back to his feet so as to send an “I’m tired” message to his opponent.

Hnuyeh got the message and acted on it accordingly, pouncing with a hard flurry. Dueck found himself being shoved up against the cage and smacked around, so he shot in for a desperation takedown, but Hnuyeh stuffed it well and pushed Dueck to the floor, face down, taking a front facelock and working it back to feet where he turned it into a standing guillotine. 

Tap after 15 secs. 1:40 secs 1st.

“I gave it a shot,” said Dueck after the show. “I found out what these guys go through, which is what I intended to do. No intention of doing it again, though. I think I’m looking forward to getting my life back.”

The next contest was a welterweight contest between 5’9″ 170lb Rami Kadi the Wolfe’s Den in North Vancouver and Jeremy Peever – a 5’10″ 170.5lbs fighter from Team Huge with a 0-2 record.

Based on win-loss, you’d have to call Kadi a favourite, and his thick-chested physique looked a big threat to the gangly independent.

After a long feel out process, the fighters engaged, Kadi was caught with a shot and as happens with so many fighters at this level when tagged, he shot in for a desperation takedown attempt. And as happens when you shoot without timing it properly, Kadi struggled with it, tried to power through it, but ended up in a front facelock that Peever eventually muscled to ground. 

In the second round, it seemed Kadi took stock of the situation and realized something terrible – he was gassed. Throwing long slow punches, breathing through an open mouth, Kadi looked unsure of himself and ill-prepared to engage. Once Peever realized his opponent was struggling physically, he began to circle, looking for his chance to pummel. 

Peever hit Kadi with a light shot but the Wolfe’s Den fighter stumbled back to the fence, giving Peever his opening to pounce on his opponent. Soon, Kadi would drop to the floor – more out of exhaustion than anything else – and give up the back of his head. The official result was a ref stoppage due to strikes, but you could replace ‘strikes’ with ‘cardio’ and be more accurate. Peever was breathing heavily at the finish too, but that might have been down to freak-out energy drain at winning his first fight.

Up next was one of the best examples of the beauty of jiu jitsu I’ve seen in some time when West Coast BJJ’s Jesse “The Scorpion” Bird went hard at the Island Warriors trained Jordon Howes.

Much laughter at ringside over “The Scorpion”‘s nickname (Really? You couldn’t do something cool with Bird as your last name?) but as soon as the fight started, the nickname rang true.

Howes, sizing his opponent up as a total gumby, came out blasting with hands whirring like a freestyle swimmer, but a stumbling Bird quickly wrapped him up, dropped to the ground, and then began shooting ridiculous long limbs out from under Howes that just extended around him like was spinning a cocoon. 

Howes quickly went from a position of ground domination into one of utter terror as Bird’s legs just wrapped around him and tied him up from angles that shouldn’t be possible. Soon there was a rear naked choke going on, then a body triangle, then a tap.

Welterweights Ben Cote (5’10″ 170lb 0-1) and American fighter Chris Burnett (5’10″ 172lb 1-0) from Legacy MMA of Post Falls Idaho squared off in the next contest in what was, at least at that stage, the best fight of the night.

Cote, a product of the Carlson Gracie school in Maple Ridge took some huge hits early, being absolutely monstered by Burnett. In what appeared to be a one-sided fight headed to a certain early finish, Cote shot in a takedown attempt but was thrown sideways like a ginger-headed stepchild.

A quick break in the action saw Cote reel backwards, take a big ‘WTF’ breath, smile at Burnett as if to say “okay, I guess you’ve got me,” and then sizzled an unexpected headkick by the American’s ears that woke the crowd up and announced this one was a long way from done.  

A clinch gave Cote a chance to work some uppercuts in, and he worked the cage well, driving in some knees as round came to a close and, in the second, the fighters engaged in a clinch that saw Cote take Burnett in a front face lock, then drive it down until Burnett was head on the floor, bum in the air. Eventually the American would muscle out of a rear naked choke, reverse it handily and take his place on top, and as he looked to mount, he was soon wrapped up by Cote, who rolled him over using the cage for leverage, got on top, and dropped some big shots, only for Burnett to rolls it over again, and for that roll to be reversed by Cote. Great round.

The third saw another high kick from Cote early, and Burnett taking big heavy breaths. He windmilled a few punches, but when Cote looked for a double leg, it quickly showed that he was gassed too. Burnett was hitting hard with lots of uppercuts, but when he connected and Cote dropped, Burnett just didn’t have the wind left to follow him in. Ultimately, Cote gave them both the breather they needed by kicking Burnett in the junk (or at least near enough to it to warrant a time out). 

The two minutes didn’t do them much good, and once they fight resumed, they both tossed the occasional Phil Baroni wild slow hook as the fight sputtered to a finish. Judges called it 29-28 for Burnett, which was about right.

Next up was Revolution MMA’s Ash ‘Smash’ Mashreghi, a 3-1 kickboxer whose only loss was a recent Battlefield title shot. His opponent, a 5-4 Wolfe’s Den fighter in Andrew Valiquette, was never really in the game.

Mashreghi basically speedbagged him from the opening bell, dropping him quickly with shots that were felt. Valiquette gamely worked back to his feet by grabbing a foot and hanging on for dear life, but he ate some solid shots in doing so. Realistically, the only chance Valiquette had for survival was to go to the clinch and try to give some punishment back, but every Mashreghi shot seemed to land double hard. 

Valiquette soldiered on, got tossed to the ground, and completely manhandled as Mashreghi took an arm, applied a keylock, and just drove through it. You don’t see many keylock submissions in MMA, but rack this up as one at 1:02 of the first round. 

‘Smash’ duly goes into a 4-man welterweight title tourney with Battlefield and, when interviewed after he fight, gave a shout out to his team, saying, “Revolution MMA, you saved my life.”

The penultimate fight of the night took Team Havok Kelowna fighter Chris Day (5’10″ 147lbs 6-3) vs West Coast BJJ’s Jeremy Kennedy (5’10″ 4-1).

Kennedy almost took a sprint stance at the opening bell, loking like he was going to chase, but a kick from Day rocked his leg early. A double leg bodyslam takedown put Kennedy into the box seat, but a nice sweep from Day reversed that, and he stood up with a flurry of punches and another big kick. 

Kennedy’s no slouch, however, and quickly snuck around back, driving Day into the cage and angling for position. A judo throw from Day looked like it was going to be a highlight of the night, but Kennedy seemed to almost reverse the throw and ended up into half mount. 

Day worked for a kimura from the bottom, but Kennedy tucked his arm in behind his knee as the pair literally rolled around like a game of Twister gone horribly wrong. Day worked into a near crucifix, allowing him to drop some bombs, and he was still working for that kimura as the bell went for the end of the round.

A huge shot from Kennedy in the second sent Day back to the cage, and as the WCBJJ fighter pounced and unloaded some action movie-style punches on his prey, Day took a foot out of desperation and dragged his opponent to ground. From there, it got… well, freakin’ awesome.

Kennedy slapped on a rear naked choke of sorts, but that was turned by Day, who then worked for a kimura despite being upside down and having Kennedy roll over top of him. 

Kennedy fought off the submission, rolling to get back on top and punching out of the hold, but Day’s legs grabbed him in again and worked towards another sub, then a triangle but he juuuuust couldn’t get his foot in to lock it as the bell rang to end the round.

Holy snikies!

In the third, both fighters took their foot off the gas, feeling out the level of their opponents gassedness, and feeling slightly gassed themselves. Kennedy shot for a takedown but Day stuffed it, and then rolled on top, working a neck crank of sorts. He used it to get position and worked for several submissions, but Day seemed unable to focus on working towards a single fight-ender, rather than all of them.

I couldn’t tell for sure, but I think there was a D’arce choke in there, and while Kennedy shifted in circles to nullify it, he freed himself up to take full mount, locking in a body triangle and wailing from the top until the bell. The judges’ decision: 29-28 across the board for Kennedy. 

Kennedy took a second honour on the night, earning his blue belt from his coach Don Whitfield as the win was announced.

The victory was Kennedy’s third in a row, and sets him up for a title shot against Legacy MMA’s Tristan Storrs for the featherweight title vacated by the newly pro Gary Mangat. 

“I’m just gonna keep my head straight and go for it,” said Storrs after the fight.

The final fight of the night was every bit as good as the previous one, as 6’4″ Team Havok mauler Matt Dwyer faced off with West Coast BJJ’s similarly sized 176lb brute, Micah Brakefield.

The first round started slowly with Brakefield working an extended clinch against the fence, looking to grind Dwyer down. Brakefield would eventually apply a leg trip and end up on top, smacking Dwyer’s head into the mat with his shoulder. This prompted someone in the crowd to yell, “Yeah Micah, he’ll be the first man to ever get knocked out with a shoulder,” which wasn’t bad heckle form considering how much booze had been sold to this point. 

Things began to warm up considerably as Brakefield went for a leg but got rolled backwards by Dwyer who ended up in full mount. Brakefield quickly gave up his back as Dwyer latched on a body triangle and worked some high level ground and pound until the end of round.

In the second, Brakefield again pushed Dwyer to the fence and engaged in more clinchrolling, got the leg trip, took a front face lock, but in an odd move let go as if he was gunning for a leg lock. That split second was Dwyer needed to get back to feet, but Brakefield muscled him down again and the two rolled a series of sweeps and reversals until the pair were just this side of exhausted.

Uppercuts from Dwyer met the opening bell of the third, with Micah once again doing the clinchdrive to the cage. Big knees were traded, and as Brakefield again went for the front face lock, Dwyer picked him up for a double leg takedown. 

Not to be outdone, Brakefield maintained the hold on the ground, but Dwyer’s tough as nails and soon squeezed his head out, only for Brakefield to sweep. Dwyer countered with an armbar, but Micah  turned it to safety, so Dwyer took him into a crucifix. 

With Brakefield trying desperately to roll, he came ever so close but was stuffed, and before you knew it, Dwyer was in full mount. 

With the fight nearing and end and Brakefield likely needing a finish to win it, he gave up his back in a desperate bid to escape, only for Dwyer to maintain back control and tie Micah down. 

The crowd expected a rear naked choke attempt, but Dwyer was in no rush, preferring to dent Brakefield’s temple some and soften him up for the big finish.

You half expected Brakefield would find a way to turn things around with seconds to go, since it had been that kind of fight and that kind of night, but not against someone of the calibre of Dwyer: He flattened Micah out, locked in the RNC, and the tap came with seconds to spare. 

Afterwards it was announced that this would be Dwyer’s last amateur fight, as he’ll be going pro at the upcoming Battlefield Nanaimo show, though he was so exhausted he needed help to keep standing as he was interviewed. 

“I want to thank my boss, Tony Alamonte of Alamonte’s Paint and Stucco,” said Dwyer after the fight. “We et the job done with a quality finish, brother.”

Quality finish indeed.

It was an epic finish to an epic night of fights, but the night was tinged with a little sadness with the knowledge that the next BFL event won’t be in Vancouver, or anywhere on the lower mainland. It’ll be in Nanaimo, where the company can put on a professional fight card without having to wait two years for the city to get its act together.

Vancouver’s loss is Nanaimo’s gain, but for local fight fans, the decision now becomes do I take up my weekend making a trip to Nanaimo to watch Denis Kang fight Bastien Huveneers, with ferry fees and hotel room expenses, or do I stay back and watch the UFC pay-per-view that night?

If not for Vancouver council dropping the ball and refusing to pick it up, that decision would be moot – we’d be watching Kang and Bastien throw down at the PNE, with a full house, fighters paid, sponsors aplenty, press all over, and a perfect setting for Battlefield’s always awesome fight card.

Instead… anyone wanna carpool?

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