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2/27/09 2:47 PM
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Member Since: 11/30/06
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The Marriage of Martial and Art: The GFL Brings MMA to the Capitol Center
By: Richard M Hubbard

A quiet little revolution is going on all over the country. In the light of the success of the UFC, the face of martial arts, and with it, many of our preconceptions about what constitutes both sport and art, are permanently changing. In big cities and small towns; in large, national venues and small, local clubs; in virtually every gym and dojo in the country, mixed martial arts (MMA) is thriving. That fact was very apparent last Saturday night at the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord, New Hampshire, where the Global Fight League (GFL), a local MMA promotion, staged its second show: “Blood, Sweat, and Cheers.” In so doing, the GFL provided a smoothly running, quality event in an outstanding venue with several exciting fights. The success of the event also highlighted the evolving conceptions that many people have about the sport that John McCain once denounced as “human cockfighting,” as well as an important and increasingly nebulous line between the “martial” aspect and the “art” of Mixed Martial Arts.

The Capitol Center for the Arts is an elegantly simple 1,300 seat theatre that is also the largest and most successful performing arts center in the state. Originally built in the 1920’s, it functioned as a Vaudeville venue for most of its life. Rebuilt in the early 1900’s, it is now the stereotypical New England theatre; hosting every type of event from Broadway shows, world class dance companies, and top flight comedians, to events such as weddings and corporate conferences. Anyone who has been to the Capital Center and its surrounding city understands what the term “Quintessential New England Charm” means.
It is primarily for this reason that holding a local Mixed Martial Arts event at the Capitol Center seems, at first glance, to be an incongruity. As both a long time fan of MMA as well as a classically trained actor, I can personally say that there was something immediately discomfiting about the sight of the giant, hexagonal cage set up on the same stage where professionals in suit and tie would come to see Brighton Beach Memoirs or enthusiastic wives would drag reluctant husbands to see Paula Poundstone or MoMix. After all…Cage Fighting in a quaint New England theatre? For many people, something just seems, well...wrong with that. However, after speaking with Ric Waldman, the Director of Programming and Audience Development, a concise and refreshingly open-minded philosophy behind the theatre became immediately apparent. “At first, there was a lot of concern and a great deal of trepidation,” He said. “We had a meeting with the Board of Directors to seek approval, which is unusual. However, as I looked deeper into what MMA was and began to understand the art forms better…to see that the people competing at the highest levels are world class athletes, I actually became excited about having the event at the Center.”

When asked about a sense of appropriateness or the general public’s reaction to such an event, Waldman was very clear. “The Theatre is a non-profit organization which has a mission to serve the needs of the community and provide a venue for artistic expression for that community.” He pointed out that: “We all understand the subjectivity of art. We are not here to determine what is or is not ‘art’…we are here to serve the needs of the community. We realized that there was an entire section of the community that would rarely come to this theater for an event. We saw this as both a financial as well as an artistic opportunity to bring those people in and provide them with the type of event that they enjoy while also providing an opportunity for those regularly involved in the theater who would normally not go to an MMA event to be able to come and educate themselves about Mixed Martial Arts as well.”

Scott Millette, a co-owner of the GFL, also offered a refreshing take on the business end of creating and promoting MMA fights. In the seemingly unavoidable fracas of strong feelings about the sport, what can often be overlooked is how much work goes into the business and how much associated commerce Mixed Martial Arts produces. There is an entire industry behind the events themselves. From gyms and schools which train fighters and clothing and equipment companies that make everything from T-shirts to groin protectors, to the company that rents out, sets up, and breaks down the cages, there is a steadily growing and increasingly healthy stream of business revenue and activity associated with MMA.

As a business, the GFL prides itself on taking the best care of its employees that it possibly can. “We are here to take care of the fighters, both physically and financially,” Millette categorically states. “In the little ways as well as the big ways. For example, the fighters get paid first. We, as the promoters, get our money last. We also provide little perks, like masseurs for the fighters on fight night…It’s all about the fighters and giving them opportunities to improve their skills and their financial situation.” Observing the layout behind the scenes and the obvious enthusiasm of the fighters and trainers, one can see that the GFL is doing its best to live up to that philosophy. With ticket prices between $45 and $85, 11 fights, monitors on either side of the cage, and a high class venue, the GFL is serving up a high-end product; a sort of local “Gourmet MMA.” The location of the cage on the stage was excellent, as many of the visibility problems that plague local venues were not present here. With the cage up on a raised dais, and large screens giving constant views from varying angles, every seat in the house had excellent visibility.

In New Hampshire, several schools are regulars on the competitive MMA circuit, training and fielding amateur and professional fighters who compete throughout New England. Some are the “traditional” martial arts schools which have made the transition from teaching Karate or Kung Fu to offering MMA programs as well. Others cater exclusively to the competitive MMA athlete. Team Burgess (based in Manchester), Team Renzo Gracie (in Derry), Dragon Warrior (Woburn, MA) and Seacoast MMA (out of Portsmouth) are just a few of the regular staples of the New Hampshire competitive MMA circuit who brought fighters to compete last Saturday.

The card itself offered a little bit of everything for the fan of MMA; a little striking, a little grappling, a little wrestling, a little Jiu-Jitsu. It consisted of 1 amateur and 10 professional fights and featured 1 big knockout, 5 submissions, 2 decisions, and 3 TKOs due to referee stoppage...one of which was controversial, but justified.

2/27/09 2:48 PM
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The Marriage of Martial and Art: The GFL Brings MMA to the Capitol CenterBy: Richard M HubbardContinued....

What was very apparent as well as supremely encouraging was the decorum of the athletes and the manner in which they conducted themselves. All of the competitors and their teams brought outstanding sportsmanship, mutual respect, and a great work ethic to their performances. It was a wonderful sight to see the fighters, both winners and losers, relaxing after the event, chatting with fans and friends, and having just as much fun as the spectators. They are all to be applauded for their efforts.

Detailed fight results follow:

The Main Event of the evening was a beautiful showing by Denis Olson of Triumph BJJ, a Gracie-Barra affiliated school, as he submitted Mike Littlefield of Boneyard MMA. Olsen started by setting up leg kicks early and when a straight kick was nearly caught, Littlefield shot in and immediately fell into an arm-in Guillotine choke. Olsen pulled guard with one butterfly hook and cinched the choke to secure the win by submission in less than a minute.

In what was undoubtedly the most exciting as well as the most hyped fight of the night, Scotty Nichols of Dragon Warrior won a unanimous decision over Chris Fissette of Saabs East Coast MMA. On the feet, Fissette scored slightly more with his low kicks than did Nichols, who repeatedly threw high. However, Nichols established his superior wrestling early, and his superior conditioning as the fight continued. Despite having an active guard and repeatedly attempting submissions from the bottom, Fissette just could not control Nichols, who continually took him down and took his back. From that position, he rarely attempted to play the Jiu-Jitsu game and put the hooks in, but rather chose to simply control Fissette with superior wrestling. He kept active with strikes on the ground while continually looking to improve his position and put pressure on his opponent. Fissette did score late in the fight when he reversed Nichols into a full mount. However, he was unable to keep the position and Nichols escaped. Nichols earned all three judges 30-27 in an excellent performance against a game opponent.

In an exciting 145 pound match up, Team Burgess continued its winning ways as Bill Jones submitted the very experienced and super strong Eddie Felix of Dragon Warrior in a spirited and exciting technical grappling match by both competitors. After shooting in for a double leg, Felix gained half guard but was unable to pass. Jones gained his feet, and Felix again went for the double leg, and pulled Jones into his guard. Felix nicely threw up an armbar, but was unsuccessful and allowed Jones to pass into half guard. Felix regained full guard, and immediately threw up an armbar and transitioned into a triangle. Despite having the choke in deep, Jones was able to pass his head out and move into north south position as Felix transitioned to a single leg and pressed Jones against the cage. Overextending the takedown, Jones turned Felix over and took the mount, and transitioned quickly to his back as Felix tried to roll. Felix tried to shrug Jones off, and for a moment it seemed as though Jones was too high and going to lose his position, but he hung on and transitioned into full back mount to get the win by Rear Naked Choke in the first round.

At 205 pounds Ben Hudson of Haverhill MMA needed only 15 seconds to dispatch Matt Narey of Dragon Warrior. Both fighters came out very aggressive and ready to exchange. Pressing forward, they quickly traded strikes with Narey landing some excellent straight punches. However, Hudson came right over the top with a huge left hook that floored Narey and left no doubt about the KO victory.

In the first professional fight of the evening, Roberto Conception of Team Dragon Warrior fought a very evenly matched opponent in Joe Kavey of Wasteland MMA. While Kavey appeared to get the better of the exchanges on the feet, he could not stop Conception from repeatedly taking him down. Once on the ground, both fighters repeatedly exchanged positions, looked for submissions, and scrambled for the advantage. However, Conception steadily used his superior positioning skills to wear Kavey down, pass into side control, and secure the crucifix position. From there, Kavey could not stop the strikes from the top, and Conception won the TKO in the second round.

At 135 pounds, Christian Rivera of Fisherman’s Den won a quick submission victory over Todd Selva of Team Ravenous. Rivera came throwing leather right out of the gate. Trying to close the gap, Selva passed into the clinch and repeatedly secured double underhooks as well as over-unders, but could not throw or take Rivera down. After the fighters separated, Selva landed some good shots and then ate several strikes in response. Selva closed the gap again to avoid taking punishment, but Rivera was ready and threw up a standing Guillotine choke to coax the tapout in the first round.

Brent Bergeron of Haverhill MMA was the superior striker despite giving up a reach advantage to the lanky Sirus Clark in their 175 pound match up. Despite good head movement, Clark was peppered with shots from the outside and was forced to move in for the takedown to get out of danger. Once on the ground, though, Bergeron was overwhelmed quickly. With Bergeron on all fours, Clark pressed him up against the cage and applied a full nelson, controlling him while trying to dig to put his hooks in and secure full back control. When Bergeron scrambled to get to his feet he dropped his hands and Clark immediately capitalized with a rear naked choke that ended the fight in the first round.

At 135 pounds, Nick Patnaude of Team Burgess submitted Josh Spearman of Dragon Warrior. Spearman continually shot in for double leg takedowns, leaving his neck exposed in the process. After scoring a successful takedown, Spearman could not stop Patnaude from using a Guillotine choke to bring the fight back to standing. From there, Patnaude retained the hold, pulled guard, and scored the submission.

In a hard fought decision, Trevor Stone of Seacoast MMA used superior positioning and control on the ground to win against Ethan Keane of Team Ravenous. Very evenly matched for much of the fight, both fighters repeatedly attempted submissions, with Stone employing the Rubber Guard at one point. Kean’s flexibility and long legs helped him to escape danger when repeatedly mounted by Stone, but it was not enough to earn the judges’ nod.

The only hiccup in the night was at 165 pounds, when Ralph Johnson won a controversial stoppage over Josh Hersey. Johnson landed combinations early and when Hersey went down, Johnson followed up with 6 unanswered strikes as Hersey covered up. Referee Leon Drucker stepped in to stop the action, which was immediately protested by both Hersey and the audience. The stoppage was a jump ball, but one cannot fault Drucker for looking after the safety of the fighters, which is paramount. The referee made the right call in doing so, and the controversy was quickly forgotten.

In the opening fight and the only amateur competition of the evening, Adam McQuad of team Burgess needed very little time to dispatch Tim Thomas of Billerica, MA. Catching Thomas with a left hand on the feet, McQuad followed his opponent down to the mat, pressed him against the cage, and finished with strikes from half guard.

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