Prairie fight fans got all the action they could ask for as Centre Ring Promotion’s Modern Fighting Championship 1 took over the Saskatoon Soccer Centre Friday night. Seven professional MMA bouts were capped off with a boxing slugfest that closed out an event mostly characterized by wars between 10 Saskatchewan fighters and combatants from Manitoba, Alberta, and BC.
Gary “Hocus Pocus” Kopas came into last night’s main event looking to add to his 5 fight winning streak against Mexican boxer Bladimir Hernandez Cazares. Cazares never stopped moving forward over the course of their 6 round tilt, with Kopas mainly using his footwork to stay out of reach and avoid his opponent’s power shots. When Kopas did stall against the ropes and allow Cazares to close, he was still able to out-finesse the Central American fighter with crisp combos and land with authority. Cazares took everything with a smile – literally in some cases, with some tongue-wagging to boot – and the two went toe-to-toe until the final bell, with the judges giving Kopas the unanimous decision victory.
The co-main event pitted Saskatoon mixed martial artist Denys Zelenski against Calgary fighter Patrick Ward for the inaugural MFC Bantamweight belt. Zelenski came in off his last two fights with Centre Ring lasting a combined total of 30 seconds after demolishing his opponents with power punches. Ward is at the outset of his pro career but has an extensive amateur background and stated before the bout that he was unimpressed with Zelenski’s credentials. Ward came out flying, launching himself across the ring at Zelenski in the first seconds, but got caught coming in and dropped with a big left hand that enabled Zelenski to swarm him with heavy punches on the ground and against the ropes as Ward regained his footing.
What followed was a 5 round display of surgical destruction by Ward against the iron will of Zelenski, who never stopped coming forward. Even as his lead leg was chewed to pieces by a varied attack by Ward – using inside, outside and oblique kicks to the thigh with visible and devastating effect – Zelenski switched stances (presenting a new target to be abused) and pressed on. Ward also had success with a beautiful superman-punch-to-ankle-pick takedown that he was able to ground Zelenski with repeatedly. Towards the end of the 4th round Ward landed a spinning back fist that seriously rocked Zelenski for the first time but he wasn’t able to close the show. The fifth and final round saw Zelenski score a takedown and land some ground and pound, and Ward was able to get up near the very end, with both fighters blasting away to the final horn. It was too little too late for Zelenski and Ward wins the Bantamweight belt via unanimous decision.
Regina’s Adam Wayne and Grande Prairie, AB’s Alex Martinez are two highly touted prospects and their fight delivered on all levels. Martinez had some success with body kicks early, dropping Wayne with one. However, the match was defined by high level grappling, with each fighter having the other’s back in the opening frame with Martinez doing more damage with punches. Wayne was able to get top position twice in the second round, but Martinez was able to avoid damage and threaten with submissions and elbows from the bottom, and finished the round on top again landing body shots and hammer fists as Wayne defended.
The final round saw Wayne again pressing for a takedown but Martinez was again able to reverse it and get the fight to the ground. Wayne came up in another double-leg takedown, and it looked like Martinez would go for a ride as Wayne tried to slam him. But the Paraguayan-born Martinez displayed incredible balance and strength and was able to thwart the attempt and again reverse position to end up on top. Martinez wins by unanimous decision.
The Battle of the Battlefords grudge rematch between Cory Chambers and Blair Oster saw the fighters rewind their Saturday Night Fights bout from last spring. In that contest both fighters came out touching gloves, but Oster immediately threw a big shot that dropped Chambers and after some ground strikes, the ref halted the fight. Chambers called it a sucker punch and vowed revenge – but it was not to be. Obviously there was no touch of gloves this time, and both fighters engaged immediately with kicks and punches. Oster – who now fights out of Victoria, BC – managed to get Chambers down and dropped heavy hammerfists but couldn’t take him out. Chambers regained his footing but was dropped hard by a big punch and this time Oster would not be denied. He laid into Chambers with heavy ground and pound, forcing the ref to stop the contest. Both fighters kneeled and embraced in a show of class and respect afterwards, the beef apparently squashed.
Saskatoon veteran Eric Wilson and Chad Anheliger from Calgary essentially fought another boxing match Friday, even though it was under the MMA ruleset. Anheliger was able to beat his opponent to the punch for the most part, as he relentlessly stalked Wilson around the perimeter of the ring. Wilson did try to take him down in the second but was unsuccessful, and as his confidence grew Anheliger narrowly missed with a flashy spinning kick to close out the round. The third was much of the same for Wilson, who never stopped trying to fire back despite his face showing the accumulated damage. Anheliger takes the unanimous decision.
Devon Smith and Tyler Weran were the biggest fighters on the card and their Sask-on-Sask light heavyweight bout went the distance. Weran turned a caught kick into a takedown early and was able to maintain top position for some time, delivering more than a dozen full power punches to Smith’s midsection in a wince-inducing volley. Despite some moments for Smith in the second – trading knees in the clinch, and reversing a takedown to wind up on top briefly – the round was defined by Weran’s grappling as he locked in a body triangle and threatened with a rear naked choke. It was turnabout in the third though, as Smith was able to get Weran’s back and attempt his own rear naked. Weran was able to defend – and get Smith’s back again – before the horn, and took the unanimous decision.
Thomas Richardson from Winnipeg and Jose Rodriguez from Sasktoon’s fight can be summed up as striking battles in all 3 rounds that Richardson eventually took to the mat and dominated. Rodriguez was game and landed some shots but was at risk of a rear naked choke in the first and another submission towards the end of the second. In the third Richardson was able to again take Rodriguez’s back and while Rodriguez was able to defend the rear naked, eventually Richardson was able to turn it into a brutal neck crank to force the tap.
The evening’s festivities started with a quick and vicious beatdown. After a tentative feeling out process, Ryan Rohovich threw a leg kick that Josh Goodheart caught and tried to turn into a takedown. After a scramble it was Rohovich who wound up on top and quickly transitioned to full mount. As he began to rain down punches Goodheart tapped due to strikes and the ref jumped in to save him from further damage and award Rohovich the victory.
MFC 1 showcased the best that Saskatchewan fighters have to offer, and provided an invaluable proving ground for fighters from across Western Canada. With a sellout crowd treated to the best local show to date in the province, Saskatoon earned its spot as the destination location for the forseeable future.