TUNICA, Miss. — Having attended a number of quality productions to date, I feel like I am reasonably qualified to judge a production’s entertainment value as a fan. I am never surprised when I go to an MMA event and at least one of the fights on a card is less than exciting. That goes with the territory and I have come to expect it.
On Saturday evening, Oct. 9, 2010, I attended the “Empire Fights: A Night of Reckoning IV” at Harrah’s Casino in Tunica, Miss., as a guest of Tyler Sory, of Empire Fights. I expected the usual high intensity excitement, but I have to report that never before have I attended an event that literally left my hands shaking as my body attempted to deal with the adrenaline.
I am not exaggerating when I say every fight left me on the edge of my seat. Tyler had warned me that David Ferguson of Memphis Judo and Jiu Jitsu had done a phenomenal job of signing fighters for this card but I had grossly underestimated the accuracy of Tyler’s statement.
Eleven fights took place in front of over a thousand fans (I would estimate it to be closer to 1500) and I didn’t hear one complaint all night. Everyone with whom I spoke, and I spoke with many people, were of the same opinion as I and left exhausted from excitement.
A Night of Reckoning IV quick results:
- Issac Ware def. Jimmy White by split decision Rd 3 (3:00)
- Jeremiah Trundle def. Austin Garner by submission (rear-naked choke) Rd 1 (0:54)
- Mike Houston def. Dave Martin by submission (leg triangle) Rd 3 (0:36)
- Mike Hall def. Brian Horton by submission (triangle choke) Rd 2 (1:16)
- Taylor Callens def. Jonathan Burdine by KO (punches) Rd 2 (1:00)
- Shawn Johnson def. Dan Schroeppel by unanimous decision Rd 3 (5:00)
- Abe Wilson def. Dustin Rhodes by KO (punches) Rd 1 (1:30)
- Cody Floyd def. Harry Johnson by TKO (punches) Rd 2 (4:05)
- Jacob Noe def. Tel Faulkner by submission (arm triangle) Rd 1 (1:58)
- Charlie Rader def. Andy Uhrich by KO (punches) Rd 2 (2:06)
- Austin Lyons def. Zach Underwood by split decision Rd 5 (5:00)
AMATEUR CARD RE-CAP
The night began with Issac “Ironman” Ware’s split decision win over Jimmy White at 155 lbs. I don’t think anyone expected the first fight out of the gate to be this intense but Ware, who trains under Chris Gates at Tupelo Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Team AGEMA obviously had something to prove.
To many fighters the explosiveness, strength and well-balanced striking and ground work by Ware might seem overwhelming. I have seen this young man fight before and honestly saw a huge improvement in his game. Jimmy White wasn’t a guy to toy with either. He came out to put Ware down quickly and seemed confident that he could get the job done.
The result was that both fighters went the distance having given everything they had to give and Ware walking away with another impressive victory. I looked at my wife after the bout and said, “If this is any indication of the rest of the card we may need to get some blood pressure medicine.” She agreed.
In the second amateur match, Austin Garner of John Hubbard Martial Arts America faced Jeremiah Trundle of Memphis Judo & Jiu Jitsu in a heavyweight matchup. Trundle exploded when the bell sounded and landed multiple lefts and rights which drove Garner to the mats.
Working inside Garner’s guard, Trundle landed massive shots and elbows which were absorbed by a game and obviously very tough Garner. The strikes took their toll though as Trundle worked his way to gain Garner’s back where he quickly secured a rear-naked choke to end the fight. Trundle won via rear naked choke in the first round.
The third amateur fight of the night included Dave Martin of Bang Fight Gym facing Mike Houston of Memphis Judo and Jiu Jitsu in the 185 lb. weight class. These two were well matched.
Houston landed a knee to the head of Martin to start things off but Martin took the shot and defended the takedown by Houston. Both fighters worked hard to impose their will during the first round, landing multiple strikes and knees. Martin took Houston down and pressed him against the cage as he worked to pass guard but Houston was able to defend as he tried to secure a leg triangle.
Both fighters made it to their feet and Houston immediately landed a big right. Martin smiled at Houston and came back with a right of his own followed by another right. Round one ended with both fighters battered and winded.
In round two Houston took Martin down again but Martin was able to maneuver into Houston’s guard where he landed massive shots to Houston’s face. Houston answered by quickly moving up and out then attempted a guillotine choke as the round ended.
Round three began with Martin scoring another takedown and landing multiple strikes to Houston. Houston showed great patience and determination as he worked to secure a leg triangle. Listening to his corner and to the cheers of the crowd, he secured the submission and ended the fight. Houston wins in a brawl that exhibited true grit and heart by both fighters.
The fourth fight was an amateur fight at 135 lbs. which matched Brian Horton of Team R.O.C.K against Brian Hall of Memphis Judo & Jiu Jitsu.
Brian Hall controlled most of the first round landing strikes to the head of Horton after taking Horton down early. Horton proved to be a handful and quickly challenged Hall by sweeping to attempt a mount. Hall returned the favor and swept Horton to move into Horton’s guard and the two continued to throw strikes. It was difficult to keep up with this fight due to the extremely fast pace set by both fighters.
In the second round Hall somehow secured an arm triangle after a flurry of activity. Horton tried to escape but couldn’t and the fight ended with Horton’s tap. Brian Hall won the fight that may have maintained the most blistering pace of the night.
PROFESSIONAL CARD RE-CAP
Fight number five began the pro fights and featured Taylor Callens of Team Relentless in Union City, Tenn., and Johnathan “The King’s Kid” Burdine of Team Paragon in Corinth, Miss., in what was Burdine’s pro debut.
Both fighters showed respect for the other as they traded jabs and a few low kicks to the legs before locking up against the cage. They pummeled throughout the first round, each trying to gain some form of dominance. Burdine pressed and landed knees to the thighs of Callens but Callens returned with knees of his own. Referee Michael Cain broke them up and moved them to the center of the cage where it was more of the same, jabs and kicks to the legs of each competitor. Callens landed a solid kick to the ribs of Burdine but Burdine shrugged it off and continued to stalk Callens, moving forward and constantly utilizing his boxing skills and kicks to keep Callens attention.
Round two was much the same with Callens matching Burdine kick for kick. Burdine landed a solid shot as he advanced on Callens. Callens turned to reposition and decided to try a spinning back elbow which paid off. He landed the shot and Burdine went down. Referee Michael Cain stopped the fight. This was an impressive victory for Taylor Callens against a well rounded and game Johnathan Burdine.
Fight number six was a catchweight match at 162 lbs. between Shawn Johnson of Team Relentless in Union City, Tenn., and Dan Schroeppel of Germantown, Tenn.’s, Germantown Martial Arts. “Cardio is king” is what I have heard and these two fighters proved it.
Johnson had an obvious reach advantage over Schroeppel and used it. Schroeppel was very aggressive and had no problem wading through the hard right crosses delivered by Johnson to close the gap and secure a takedown early on. He gained position on Johnson’s back and attempted a rear-naked choke after a strong takedown but Johnson was able to overcome the effort and spin into Schroeppel’s guard and eventually gain some control. Both fighters took some serious punishment before the end of the round. The round ended with blood from both fighters littering the floor.
In round two Johnson showed impressive striking skills and he was very precise and at one point staggered Schroeppel with a hard right. He immediately jumped in to try and secure a guillotine choke but Schroeppel wouldn’t give in and pulled out of it.
Round three presented both fighters with a challenge as the energy they had exerted was beginning to take its toll. Johnson showed his commitment to a win by fighting through the pain and landing surgical bombs and Schroeppel showed a level of toughness and grit rarely witnessed as they trudged through to the end of the round. The decision went to Shawn Johnson after an impressive showing against a very strong opponent.
The seventh fight of the night matched Dustin Rhodes of Team Flatline in Florence, Ala., against Abe Wilson of Germantown Martial Arts in Germantown, Tenn., in the middleweight division.
A relaxed and confident Wilson simply attacked a fit and strong Dustin Rhodes with only a few seconds passing in the first round. Wilson set up his attack, moved forward and landed a bombshell on the jaw of Wilson which rocked him. Rhodes immediately pounced with a flurry of strikes raining down onto Wilson before referee Michael Cain stopped the fight. Abe Wilson improved his record to 2-1 as a pro in strong fashion.
Fight number eight was a highly anticipated 145 lb. featherweight bout. Cody Floyd of Tupelo Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Team AGEMA from Tupelo, Miss., squared off against a very fast and talented Harry Johnson of Team Vortex in Memphis, Tenn.. Floyd, a Strikeforce veteran, is known as one of the rising stars in the MMA game and Johnson is well respected as an aggressive force.
When the bell sounded to begin round one, Floyd crossed the cage and began working to get inside with jabs. Johnson was determined to keep the fight standing up and circled away from Floyd’s power. Johnson landed strong right hands but Floyd was unwilling to back up and kept pressing forward. Both fighters were aggressive and Johnson got the takedown near the end of the first round but paid for it as he took a sweeping knee to the rib cage from Floyd. Floyd remained relaxed as Johnson gained side control before the end of the round which limited Johnson’s ability to inflict any damage.
Johnson began the second round with a combination of strikes that were absorbed by Floyd. Most would have at least wobbled as a result of the precision strikes delivered by Johnson but Floyd showed massive determination to take the fight to the ground as Chris Gates coached him to stay focused on the job at hand from his corner. Johnson then changed gears and landed hard kicks to Floyd’s legs to which Floyd answered with a shocking jab to the nose followed by a strong right cross to Johnson’s chin. Both fighters showed great patience but Johnson was swinging for the fences in an attempt to stop Floyd and landed some great shots. Johnson then drove Floyd into the fence but Floyd turned him and attempted a guillotine choke. Johnson defended the choke but Floyd got the takedown and quickly flattened Johnson facedown. Floyd was in his world now and moved with the fluid motion his fans have come to expect. Johnson tried to defend but after multiple strikes to the head with no response the referee had to step in.
Cody Floyd captured another pro win as his corner, Chris Gates and Mark Romano, and fans, erupted. Floyd gave props to Johnson, stating in the post fight interview that it was his toughest fight to date. No one can say that Harry Johnson isn’t the real deal but tonight was Floyd’s night.
The ninth fight saw Tel Faulkner of Team Gorilla Squad MMA of Natchez, Miss., take on Jacob Noe of Memphis Judo and Jiu Jitsu in the light heavyweight division. Noe, who has completely re-invented himself as I understand it, came into the cage as if he could chew the hinges off the door.
Faulkner paced as he waited for the bell to ring and when it did, he moved in quickly to throw strikes but Noe was able to take the fight to the ground and secure an arm triangle ending it with a minute and fifty eight seconds left in the first round. This was an impressive win for Noe who improved his pro record to 3-1 with the win. It is difficult to be anything other than impressed after that kind of performance.
Fight number ten was the co-main event of the night and featured another highly anticipated matchup at 170 lbs. Andy Uhrich of Team Vortex in Memphis met Charlie Rader of Team Power MMA from New Orleans, La. Uhrich is a veteran of Strikeforce and Rader is a veteran of Bellator. The crowd was on its feet from the beginning of the match to the end.
Rader used his reach advantage from the start and landed a solid kick to Uhrich’s ribs but he seemed unaffected as he moved quickly away from Rader’s power and around the cage returning fire to Rader’s thighs and knees with swift kicks. Uhrich staggered, either from a punch or a trip, and Rader immediately drove him into the cage. Both fighters threw elbows inside coupled with knees to the opponent’s thighs. Rader remained relaxed against the fence and absorbed countless knees by Uhrich until he could get a strong takedown and put Uhrich on his back. Rader was able to gain the mount position but Uhrich rotated his entire body to prevent any real damage. Rader had a submission seemingly locked in but Uhrich exploded into some kind of flip and defense that put him on Rader’s back and they both ended up back on their feet. That move was faster than my eyes and I am not sure what happened but it was impressive. The first round ended with both fighters remarkably calm and equally resolute and it wouldn’t be an easy round to judge.
Round two began with a jab to the nose by Uhrich followed soon after by a big right hand but Rader wasn’t intimidated. After a short pause due to a low blow to Uhrich, the round resumed with Uhrich advancing to meet a stiff jab by Rader. Rader unloaded a crushing right and Uhrich went down. Just like that it was over. Andy Uhrich stood up and was still visibly shaken but made the gutsy trip across the cage to shake Rader’s hand. Rader and Uhrich both showed great professionalism as they parted, Rader the victor. Charlie Rader’s title shot would seem to be a lock barring any problems and he seems very prepared for it.
The night’s finale pitted Zach Underwood of Team Relentless from Union City, Tenn., against hometown favorite Austin Lyons of Memphis Judo and Jiu Jitsu in a 155 lb. title fight. Both fighters came into the cage in fantastic shape and you could tell that they had prepared well for the face-off. For five rounds we all sat with our mouths hanging open in complete awe of these two warriors. For every strike there was an equally damaging counterstrike. Many times in each round we all collectively drew in a deep breath as we were sure that we had witnessed a knockout punch only to see the recipient stand up, grit his teeth and counter with something just as strong. Underwood was the more mobile of the two as he continuously circled Lyons and taking every opportunity to inflict damage. Lyons stalked constantly and neither was ever still.
At one point the fight had gone to the ground and Lyons was able to connect a knee to the side of the head of Underwood. One could hardly imagine a man getting up from such a blow. Referee Michael Cain called time and indicated the blow was illegal. I was shocked to see Underwood take only a small portion of the time allotted to him to recover, look up at Lyons and wink as if to say, “Hey, that’s fighting man, no problem,” and then stand to continue for another round as if nothing had happened. On the other hand, Underwood was called for a blow that cost him a point and Lyons shook it off quickly and continued in the same fashion. Neither fighter wanted to win in a diminished way and left blood and guts in the cage to prove it.
I could go on all night about how impressive these two guys were. David Ferguson knew what he was doing when he put them in the cage together; there is no way one could deny that. The fight went the full five rounds and until the very last second both fighters were at full speed and smashed each other with all they had in them.
When the dust settled it came down to a split decision. Judge one scored the fight 47-46 Underwood, judge 2 scored it 48-46 Lyons, and judge 3 scored it 47-46 Lyons. Austin Lyons walked away with the belt in his hand only after he met Underwood in the center of the cage to share a mutual respect. There was no bad attitude, no “in your face” antics, just pure and complete MMA professionalism.
Personally, I think many of the big names in the big shows could take some pointers from these two guys and their respective gyms and trainers. I also would say that the show put on by Empire would be hard to beat. Harrah’s may need to expand their facilities if Tyler Sory and David Ferguson keep this up.
For more information about Empire fights, their fighters and to learn about future events, visit www.empirefightsonline.com.