When the Canadian middleweight hit the canvas, the crowd in Rochester went into a raucous frenzy. Their hometown fighter, Toren Reeves, followed up the second-round knockdown of his opponent with a ground-and-pound barrage and, after the referee stepped in to call the fight, he had won his first-ever amateur MMA bout by TKO.
Many had considered Reeves to be an underdog against Ashton Nemdhari, who trains with Team Ascension out of Niagara, Canada. But the Rochester Bedroc MMA fighter answered those expectations with fierce aggression from the opening bell.
Throughout the fight, the crowd cheered like it was a championship bout in the UFC, but here were two young amateur fighters with 0-0 records and only dreams of greater glory. This is MMA in New York. This is Gladius Fights.
On a Saturday night at the Rochester Main Street Armory, some 26 combatants stepped inside the cage to do battle in 13 amateur mixed martial arts bouts as part of Gladius Fights’ third ever event held in New York State.
As New York has yet to sanction professional MMA, fight fans used to have to travel to Pennsylvania or New Jersey to see live cards. A steady rise of amateur MMA promotions has spread across the state, and the Ithaca-based Gladius aims to be at the head of the pack. (Gladius has also held professional cards at Indian Reservations.)
“Gladius Fights is amazing,” said the 22-year-old fighter, Anthony Alves, who trains with Team Empire in Rochester. “Finally, we can fight in New York and receive the best treatment.”
Winning his fight that night via rear naked choke submission, Alves has the classic rough-and-tumble background of many fighters over the ages. Growing up impoverished, the featherweight said that he couldn’t afford the dues at martial arts schools, so he would simply hop from one gym to the next.
Landing a job at Best Buy finally allowed Alves to fully join a team. He currently balances his time working, attending school at Monroe Community College, and training with Team Empire. Like many of the young MMA hopefuls, he has dreams of soon turning pro and eventually making a living via fierce punches and kicks, takedowns and slick submission moves.
Just in it for Glory & God
With few scars and little cage experience, many of the amateurs appeared to be all hunger and nerves. With only 3 of 13 fights going to decision, and most ending via TKO or submission in the first round, defense tactics appear to be secondary priorities in such young careers.
It is a testament to the rise of MMA, however, that these bouts showcased highly trained young martial artists, executing elite moves like spinning back kicks and knee bars. Clearly though, some of the competitors stepped into the cage purely for the glory and perhaps the pride.
For Paul Burress, his fights serve as a testimony to his Higher Power. Burress happens to be the senior pastor at Victory Church just outside of Rochester and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Chaplain. But this is a man of the cloth and peace who knows how to brawl.
Pastor Paul made short work of Eric Reed at Gladius III, winning by TKO.
“When I took the fight months ago, not only did I not realize that it was the day before Easter but also that today is my wife’s birthday,” said Pastor Paul. “I wanted to win fast without getting injured so I could still give my Easter sermon tomorrow.”
The bout served as the 38 year old’s simultaneous official debut and farewell. It was a lifelong dream for Pastor Paul, who had started training in mixed martial arts while at a Bible college in Missouri and competed in unsanctioned backroom no-holds-barred affairs back in the late 90s.
Pastor Paul used the fight as a platform to raise funds for an orphanage in Haiti and sold more than 500 Gladius III tickets to his congregation, friends, and family members. He has become a subject in the forthcoming documentary, Fight Church, which also features Jon Jones and Benson Henderson.
Back at Victory Church, Pastor Paul has a 3,000-square-foot martial arts gym, where he helps train young men and women as part of his ministry’s MMA outreach.
“For me, it’s a chance to do something I love and to reach out to people who might not normally come to church,” said Pastor Paul. “So much of fighting parallels life. We are all struggling and fighting something, and there are many fighting metaphors in the Bible.”
Never Judge a Bruiser by His Belly
Only in MMA can you have an auditorium where the Labatt Blue is free flowing, while a fighter, having just delivered a bloody beatdown, starts preaching the Gospel and love of Christ in a cage to an audience whose vast collective tattoo ink is probably worth more than $1 million.
Always expect MMA to deliver the unexpected.
Take for instance the night’s co-main event between middleweights, Aaron Jeffrey and Alan Hoezle. Jeffrey appeared like a Calvin Klein model Adonis, body rippling with shredded muscle and six-pack abs. Complete with a handlebar mustache, Hoezle had more of a throwback carney look, and his gooey midsection suggested that he drinks more six packs than anything. The Adonis ended up winning in the third round, but the fight was much closer than anyone anticipated. Other fighters that night who had all the right looks and muscles ended up tapping out or being KO’d.
For those of you who have never viewed mixed martial arts live, or at all, you are in luck. Gladius Fights (www.gladiuspromotions.com) will hold its next event at Ultimate Athletics in the Ithaca Mall on Saturday, April 27.
You might just walk out of there as a MMA convert.