On Saturday, September 22, a new chapter was launched in the long struggle to bring professional mixed martial arts competition to New York State, as the Gladius Fights promotion kicked off their inaugural show from the Cattaraugus Sports Arena in Irving, NY. The event was sanctioned by the Seneca Nation Athletic Commission and was broadcast live by Go Fights Live.
It was an action-packed 12-fight card loaded with some of the best MMA talent living and training in central and Western New York. Many of these fighters had spent years building their careers on the road, continually playing the role of out-of-town spoiler versus hometown hero.
On Saturday night, it was finally their turn to feel the energy that comes from fighting in front of family and friends.
The night kicked off in storybook fashion. In his second amateur fight, flyweight Brandon Warne of Ovid, NY won by unanimous decision over Dustin Bertch and then capped off his night by successfully proposing to his girlfriend in the middle of the octagon.
In lightweight action, Kevin Johnston improved his amateur record to 5-2 via split decision victory over previously unbeaten Jake Bohn. The two fighters put on a solid display of technical grappling.
"It was very important to us to make sure we had top-notch amateur fights," promoter Ryan Ciotoli told me after the show. "If we were going to have amateur fights, we wanted to make sure they were going to be very good."
The professional card kicked off with light heavyweight Jabril Patterson beating Dan Jennings by first-round TKO at 3:04.
In flyweight action, Pete Cole of Cortland, NY hung tough in stand-up action against Gabe Sacchetti before securing the takedown and sinking a rear naked choke to win by submission at 3:35 of round one.
In his professional debut at a 150-pound catch weight, Shane Manley bested Jeff Denz by unanimous decision.
In one of the night's most heated battles, Ahsan Abdulla showcased crisp striking on his feet and withstood Sabino Scarpone's powerful wrestling attack to counter with a guillotine choke 1:47 into the second round. Abdulla, who was the victim of an atrociously bad split-decision loss in Rhode Island on August 3, improved his professional record to 1-1.
In featherweight action, "The Russian Sniper" Amaran Aliyev beat Antwerp, Belgium import Nico Verresen by guillotine choke at 3:08 of Round 1 after a thrilling, blood-filled stand up war that had the crowd on their feet and screaming.
In featherweight action, fast-rising prospect Desmond "The Predator" Green improved to 5-0 when he dominated Matt Dimarcantonio en route to a unanimous decision victory. A Rochester native and former University of Buffalo wrestling standout, Green was fighting in his own backyard in front of an enthusiastic partisan crowd.
MMA fans who play the prospect-watch game should place Green firmly on their radar.
In a matchup of skilled grapplers, Tom Vanderhorst of Bedroc MMA in Rochester, NY employed an aggressive bottom game to catch an arm bar on James Frier at 2:33 of round two.
In my own choice for Fight of the Night, bantamweight Andrew Cseh bested Zech Lange via unanimous decision 29-28 on all three cards.
In the co-main event, welterweight Mike Winters improved to 7-2 by winning a unanimous decision against TJ Sumler.
In the main event, Rochester native and Bellator and Strikeforce veteran Don Carlo-Clauss survived an early scare against Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Eddie Fyvie to improve his record to 10-7.
Fyvie caught Carlo-Clauss with a hard shot early in the first round and closed aggressively. Carlo-Clauss dropped his level and secured an easy takedown, but Fyvie reacted aggressively, sinking a deep arm bar that nearly ended the night. Carlo-Clauss escaped by lifting Fyvie and slamming him headfirst into the mat.
"That's not normally my go-to (for escaping the arm bar), but I had to do something" Carlo-Claus told me in the locker room afterwards.
After escaping danger, Carlo-Clauss kept Fyvie trapped tight against the cage for the remainder of the round, which he still managed to win on all three cards.
In the second and third, Carlo-Clauss imposed his will with a dominant clinch game, trapping Fyvie on the cage and working for a takedown.
"I knew I could easily control the action in that position," he said afterward. "But he was crafty. He wouldn't give me any room to get off with a punch or an elbow."
Although he was pleased to come away with the win, Carlo-Clauss expressed some disappointment in his inability to deliver a more exciting performance. "
You train to finish guys and dominate," he said. "And I don't usually get to fight in front of so many family and friends. I wanted to put on a show."
"But sometimes, you have to do what you can do to win."
In truth, the fight was a satisfying technical matchup. Fyvie displayed an extremely fluid jui-jitsu game from his back and managed to score with flashy, if not overly effective, up-kicks when trailing late in the fight.
For his own part, Carlo-Clauss showed an impressive ability to adjust during the fight. He credited his opponent for the effective strike in the first.
"That might be the hardest I've been hit," he admitted. "I was worried about it the rest of the fight and couldn't get my rhythm."
Nevertheless, he managed to score throughout the fight with punishing leg kicks. It was a testament to intelligent reading of a dangerous opponent: "He kept stepping and circling with his jab, stepping right into the leg kick."
Carlo-Clauss showcased some smart adjustments in the grappling game, too. After surviving a legitimate scare in the first, he was never in serious danger the rest of the way. "In the second and third round I started to get a feel for what he does."
"I roll with good guys all the time," said Carlo-Clauss, mentioning his Bombsquad teammate and four-time Mundial world champion Rene Nazere. "But everybody does things a little bit differently."
For Gladius Fights and the Seneca Nation, it was clearly a night to build upon for the future. Ciotoli, who has been active in the northeast and national MMA scene for a decade, was happy with his promotion's initial offering.
"We looked to match up guys who would make exciting fights. I feel like we got it tonight and that we might have some matchups we can build on in the future based on what happened tonight."