MMA: Shogun Fight puts battling women in cage in Baltimore

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Blood trickles from the nose of female fighter Rosanna Garcia. (Anthony C. Hayes)

Seeing furious women duke it out on a balmy Saturday night is not an uncommon occurrence in Baltimore.  But watching two highly-trained professional fighters of the fairer sex square off in a cage is a new phenomenon.

The rousing event which drew the daring damsels to a cage at The First Mariner Arena was Shogun Fights VIII.  Held on April 13, the mixed martial arts competition (MMA) featured the very first professional female MMA fight in Maryland sports history.

Craig Hight and Dameron Kirby square off in the second bout. (Anthony C. Hayes)
Craig Hight and Dameron Kirby square off in the second bout. (Anthony C. Hayes)

Featherweights Roseanna Garcia and Gabby Holloway were joined on the eleven bout card by twenty male fighters representing teams from across the mid-Atlantic area.

MMA has a devoted following in a number of countries around the world, but bringing the sport to Maryland was no easy feat.  Once branded as “human cockfighting” by Senator John McCain, Shogun Fights promoter John Rallo faced his own uphill battle in Annapolis.

The concern among legislators was primarily for the safety of the fighters.  Rallo argued that since boxing, kickboxing and wrestling were already sanctioned in Maryland, it made sense to allow a sport which incorporates all three.  After reviewing a Johns Hopkins study on mixed martial arts injuries and hearing testimony by athletic officials from neighboring New Jersey, the legislature approved a bill in 2009 which finally made the sport legal.

Appreciative MMA fans get a warm smile from beautiful ring girl Crystal. (Anthony C. Hayes)
Appreciative MMA fans get a warm smile from beautiful ring girl Crystal. (Anthony C. Hayes)

There are three different ways to win an MMA fight: Knockout, Submission, or by Decision.  Unlike traditional boxing, where a fighter may knock his opponent down for a count, there is no standing 8/10-second rule in MMA.  If a fighter is unable to defend himself, the fight is stopped by the referee.  Experts say this is actually safer than boxing where a pugilist can be out for 6 seconds, get back up and continue to fight.  Alternately, a fighter may grapple his opponent into a position where his foe willingly submits.  Or he may win on competitive points as scored by the judges.

The fights are closely watched by a referee; even so, The Marquess of Queensberry would be appalled!

Fights may be stopped for something as simple as a lost mouthpiece, though knees to the stomach and elbows to the forehead are routine.  A kick in the groin will cost a fighter points and stop the bout long enough to give the injured party a chance to regroup and adjust his equipment.

Blogging at the event for MMA in the War Room was site co-host Thomas Comeau, who served in the Marines.  Comeau first became interested in MMA while stationed in Japan.  Noting the dynamic contrast between a Japanese and American audience, Comeau said, “What is interesting is the difference in appreciation that the Japanese have, particularly for the ground fighting aspect of MMA.  American crowds are typically pretty raucous and boo when the fight goes to the ground.  In Japan the crowd is silent but will applaud when a fighter is able to improve his position with even the most subtle of strategic moves that could easily go unnoticed here in the U.S.”

Another difference Comeau observed was the size of the audience.  While the crowd at the arena was a respectable six thousand plus, Comeau said Japan’s Pride Fighting Championship set the live MMA attendance record in 2002 with over 70,000 people at the Tokyo National Olympic Stadium.

An enthusiastic crowd cheers on its favorite fighter. (Anthony C. Hayes)
An enthusiastic crowd cheers on its favorite fighter. (Anthony C. Hayes)

Entire sections of the First Mariner arena were filled with fans loudly screaming their heroes’ names.  Not surprisingly, the fighters did all they could to pump up the crowd.

There is plenty of showmanship with these fighters.  To a man (and to a woman) each entered the ring with his game face on.  Several teams trailed their comrades down the walkway waving banners and wearing club colors.

Smyrna, Delaware’s Cheron Gregory, entered the arena for the fourth bout accompanied by a pre-recorded scripture-filled soliloquy worthy of a Tarantino film.  Unfortunately, the epic monologue was not enough to help Gregory in the ring as he was (ironically) knocked out by a fighter with an Old Testament moniker – Micah Terrill.

Ring girl Leah gives the crowd a wave. (Anthony C. Hayes)
Ring girl Leah gives the crowd a wave. (Anthony C. Hayes)

Some of the fighters appeared more comfortable standing and striking.  Others preferred pinning and punching the opponents on the mat.  Regardless of the style, it was obvious that the fighters have a tremendous amount of respect for each other.

Craig Hight, who won the second bout by a close decision, said of his opponent Dameron Kirby, “He is like fighting a frigging Mack truck.”  All the winners in their post fight comments echoed similar sentiments.

The action in the cage was fierce and not for the faint of heart.  The fifth fight ended with what appeared to be a serious injury to Berlin, Maryland’s Rubin Martinez.  In the seventh, Greg Saumenig from Ocean City made short work of Glen Burnie native Nelson Moody.  And a guillotine choke in the ninth bout by Christian Leonard of Virginia abruptly ended Marylander Nate Grebb’s night.

Between rounds, two bikini clad beauties circled the stage holding numbered placards aloft, while a clean-up crew entered the ring to mop up the sweat and blood.

Gabby Holloway and Rosanna Garcia take it to the mat. (Anthony C. Hayes)
Gabby Holloway and Rosanna Garcia take it to the mat. (Anthony C. Hayes)

The highlight of the evening for most fans was the tenth round bout between Roseanna Garcia and Gabby Holloway.  Garcia and Holloway had met before in an amateur fight where Holloway prevailed.

Rob Sullivan of Baltimore wasn't joking when he was pulling Umaer Haq's leg. (Anthony C. Hayes)
Rob Sullivan of Baltimore wasn’t joking when he was pulling Umaer Haq’s leg. (Anthony C. Hayes)

Shouts of “Gabby, Gabby” rocked the arena anytime Holloway gained an advantage.  It was evident the crowd favored the Culpepper, Virgina native over her Gaithersburg, Maryland opponent.  The bout went the distance, with Holloway winning in a unanimous decision.  After the fight, the victorious Holloway exclaimed, “I usually don’t like to punch, but it felt great to punch tonight.”

As the evening ended, both winners and losers were left to contemplate their latest bout.  Williamsport, Pennsylvania resident Lewis Rumsey, a veteran of 32 fights, told The Baltimore Post-Examiner he has been fighting professionally for about six years.  At 5’10” and 205 lbs, Rumsey presented a formidable challenge to his opponent, Baltimore’s Dave Daniecki.  Ultimately, Daniecki triumphed in a close decision, but the loss only seems to have spurred Rumsey on.

“I’m 7-4 now in my last 11 fights,” said the undeterred Pennsylvanian.  “I’m just gonna go back to the gym and work that much harder.”

Shogun VIII was this reporter’s first foray into the world of mixed marshal arts.  The atmosphere  was fun and friendly; the competition top notch.  I’ll go back sometime if for no other reason than to see those ring girls.








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