On April 16, in Tucson, Arizona, Roland Sarria's "Rage In The Cage" showed once again why it is such a popular regional promotion.
The fights were intense, the stakes were high, and one of MMA's most elite competitors was in attendance.
WEC Lightweight Champion Ben "Smooth" Henderson was cage side to support one of his camp's up and coming young fighters Victor Meza. Meza and Henderson train out of The Lab in Glendale, Arizona.
The Lab is an elite camp who's fighters always impress and Meza lived up to the reputation earning a hard fought victory over Eric Regan as his team looked on and guided his actions.
There is something quite special when a fight fan has the opportunity to see a champion that motivates them to follow this sport as he is equally motivated by watching one of his camp's prospects perform in the cage.
My point is, it was a lot of fun watching Henderson shuck and jive cage side as he mimicked the movement he expected to see from Meza.
At the end of the night though, meeting Henderson was more like the icing on the cake.
The fights were what brought it all together. They were the meat and potatoes of the event. Still, meeting a world champion is an unbelievable experience.
Also, worth noting is the fact that team Tito Ortiz's newest addition Seth Bacynski was also in attendance, cornering Apex MMA fighters. Sarria tried to get Seth to spill some beans on The Ultimate Fighter details, but obviously, Seth wanted no part of it.
Over the span of 10 fights, fight fans were treated to the full spectrum of what MMA has to offer. Many elite camps were in attendance as well as their represented fighters.
As always with "Rage In The Cage" events, all the fights were exciting, but a few really stood head and shoulders above the rest.
In what could be called fight of the night, Jaime Gutierrez of Tucson BJJ (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) went to war with Apex MMA's Andres Acuna.
Forgive the bias on this writer's part, but the name Andres Acuna is one that will be brought up time and time and time again when talking about high-level fighters.
Not just competitors, but fighters in every sense of the word. This young man is the real deal and knows not one ounce of weakness, fear, or quit.
All that said, the fight itself told fight fans a lot about the young man named Gutierrez. His ability to compete with the very strong and aggressive Acuna is equally indicative of his skill level. There were endless exchanges between the two, with both having their moments of strength.
At one point, Gutierrez had sunk a filthy guillotine choke on Acuna but could not control him.
Acuna, ala Matt Hughes, picked Gutierrez up and slammed him sending a thunderous echo throughout the Desert Diamond's Diamond Center. The crowd went nuts, and the war waged on.
Again, these two went to war trading blows and momentum with a feverish pace.
Sadly, in the third round Acuna suffered a pretty serious cut on his forehead. After the doctor examined him and allowed the fight to continue, it almost immediately opened up further ending the fight in a most unfortunate TKO fashion.
It was troubling to see as neither fighter was about to quit and both wanted to know who was really winning the fight.
One thing is certain, there were a few judges that had to have been quite thankful for that cut, because if they had to call it, they might have had to flip a coin.
All in all, regardless of the unfortunate early stoppage, these two kids left a lasting impression—the kind that makes a fight fan remember their names. Both fighters were honestly winners as they learned a lot about themselves in that cage together.
Another fight that really gave fans something to talk about was one that took place between local hometown hero Eddie Arizmendi Jr. of Apex MMA and Mike Moritz of the Rage In The Cage Training Center.
This fight was very telling of the elite type of talent that Sarria brings with him come fight night.
In just 51 seconds of the first round, Arizmendi Jr overwhelmed Moritz with razor sharp striking, took him down with technical grappling, mounted and submitted him by armbar with slick Jiu Jitsu.
It looked like Arizmendi Jr was well above the bar.
All that after taking the fight on short notice and fighting 25-pounds north of his championship weight. Not a bad showing for "Crazy Face" as he is known.
In the main event, Mr. Sarria brought together the towering Jo Jo Thompson of RITC Training Center, and the up and coming Joe Yager of Apex MMA.
This bout was for the RITC Super Heavyweight title, yet somehow, Thompson dwarfed the smaller but solid Joe Yager.
At first glance, once the two started getting at it, the writing on the wall said size was going to play a big part in this fight. Thompson stuffed multiple Yager take down attempts and appeared to be smothering the smaller super heavyweight.
Yager displayed great amounts of grit and drive as he hung in waiting for his chance to show his strengths against the larger man, who was imposing his will against him.
Some may have blinked and missed it, but with a lighting fast reversal from the bottom, somehow Thompson found himself no longer smothering Yager but trying to fight him off his back.
Yager took Thompson's back, sunk in his hooks, and a very nice rear naked choke, defeating the larger man by tapout and earning his first ever championship belt.
Not bad for a guy who once told this writer that BJJ was an area he needed improvement in.
Well, the work is never done, but Yager has obviously breached that barrier and it shined brightly in his submission win.
All in all, this past weekend's RITC event was as entertaining as always, and showcased a lot of great talent for local fight enthusiasts. It had been a while since they had been to The Old Pueblo, and they can't get back soon enough.
For those interested in seeing some of these matches and more visit rageinthecage.com, where the videos will be uploaded any day now.