In the Books: Elite Warrior Challenge 7

by Ryan MacDonald

There’s a small stretch of road, between Martinsville and Rocky Mount and off that stretch of road is a small town, in Henry County, called Bassett.  One of the sources of pride for the Town of Bassett is Bassett High School, home of the Bengals.  As you drive onto the campus, you take immediate note of the school’s devotion to athletics, as the expansive football field is on your left.  As you drive further, you see the baseball field on your right and you just know that on any given night, this is where “Bassetonians” spend their evenings cheering for their athletes.  BHS has produced a good core of fighters.  So, when Elite Warrior Challenge was looking for a location to house their 7th show and first Pro/AM, it was natural to go to a location where many fighters on the card found athletic and academic success, in years prior.  

The event, as many often due, ran into some logistical snags, leading up to fight night.  Making it even tougher was EWC having to deal with local government, during the Summer months.  The event was supposed to take place in the gymnasium, but due to some refurbishment efforts not being completed on time, totally out of the hands of EWC, the cage and fights were relocated to the school’s auditorium.  It was an intimate space that led to every seat actually being a good seat, as the majority of the seats were tiered, so you were elevated above the person in front of you, for an unobstructed view of the enormous cage, that fit just snugly into the space.  So, everyone could sit back, be cool and watch the fights.  Well, almost.  See, in Summer months, schools usually turn off their air conditioning systems.  When something is not used for months at a time, it often doesn’t work when turned back on for the first time.  Unfortunately, that was the case in this situation, as the 429 attendees all felt a little bit like fighters in a sauna cutting weight.  Add to that the fact that there were 23 fight cancellations/changes on this card, many of which occurred the day of the event.  

Fights drop off all cards.  That’s part of the game. However, there seems to be something in the water in Southwestern VA that makes this occur more often and in higher numbers than normal.  That’s a story for another day, though.  When the first bell sounded, EWC 7 was left with an abbreviated card, consisting of 5 professional fights and 4 amateur fights.  

The night of August 1, 2015 could go down in the MMA annals as a night of several things that you don’t see every day.  First off, Pro fighter Jonathan Baldridge pulled double duty as a fighter but also got the night started by singing the National Anthem.  He was good too!  He told MMA in VA that while attending Liberty University, he traveled with a singing group.  

Highlighting the amateur portion of the card, red hot fighter Andrew Clement stepped in to face Eric Belcher for the EWC Amateur Welterweight Title.  Justin Hatcher and Brad Lawrence were supposed to fight for the belt, but Lawrence pulled out and Hatcher ended up participating in a grappling match that evening.  So, Clement who has been doing nothing but winning in 2015 submitted Belcher in the 2nd round.  In the post-fight interview, Matchmaker Jeremy Boardwine called for a possible Clement title defense against Hatcher at EWC 8 in October.  Hatcher verbally accepted, which was odd as Hatcher had stated he was “probably” not going to fight as an amateur anymore after that night.  So, stay tuned on that one.

The first pro fight was a fight that makes you realize why fights are not fought on paper.  Brandon Sandford was up to take on debuting pro and BHS alum, Chad Wiggington.  Here is where you might think a lopsided bout would be afoot.  Wiggington, having been out of the cage for almost 18 months, since graduating high school and working returned to his Alma Mater to take on American Top Team’s Sandford.  Anyone that knows the fighter formerly known as “Honey Bun”, however, knows that he’s a gamer and sometimes does things you might think unattainable, like when he submitted a BJJ Black Belt at Ultimatum Fights, several years back.  Wiggington, obviously wanting to put on a show in front of his friends and family started the fight doing his best Roy Jones impression by playing a little bit against the taller, rangier Sandford.  Sandford was cool, calm and collected and fought very methodically and appeared to do a great job of listening to his corner, in just about every situation.  He landed some good shots on Wiggington, but Wiggington delivered some good strikes of his own.  In the end the differentiator was Wiggington’s wrestling, something he excelled at during his time as a Bengal, allowing him to secure 6 takedowns during the fight.  The two warriors battled the entire 15 minutes and Wiggington won a Unanimous Decision in his Pro debut.

When you thought that there wouldn’t be a better fight that Wiggington-Sandford, in comes Chris “The Rocket” Rollins and Jonathan “The Warrior” Baldridge.  This was an interesting matchup as Baldridge had been out of fighting for two years, while dealing with some issues at home, and Rollins had just recently made his training home with Zamora Boxing Gym.  So, you had Rollins looking to show his new tricks and you had Baldridge looking to see what he still had.  The result of that formula made a fight of the night.  Round one was so even, with Rollins capitalizing in the striking game, but Baldridge having his success on the ground.  Round two was full of controversy as Rollins was deducted a point for strikes to the back of the head of Baldridge.  This was the deciding factor in the fight, as it turned out.  This was another extremely close round that saw Baldridge continue to have success on the ground but also saw Rollins almost finish Baldridge with his ground and pound.  The third round was more in the favor of Rollins, as Baldridge was fatigued and had suffered a bad cut at his hairline, earlier in the bout.  Again, both fighters waged a war for the full 15 and due to the point deduction, two of the judges scored the fight a draw, while the third judge scored the fight 29-27 for Rollins.  Due to the two draws, the fight of the night was declared a Majority Draw.

The third pro fight was truly bizarre as Zamora Boxing Gym’s Donelei Benedetto squared off against Tech Top Team’s Gary Sheppard at a Catchweight of 195 lbs.  The first round was back and forth, with Benedetto able to land the only takedown of the round.  The rest of the round was pretty much a “feeling out” process on the feet.  Round 2 is where it got weird.  Halfway through the round, the ringside Doctor was called back to the locker room, as one of the fighters was experiencing what could be described as concussion-like symptoms.  Since a fight cannot occur without a doctor present at cageside, the match was paused, in the middle of the round.  During the 5-10 minutes of rest, both fighters were very comical with each other, even going so far as to re-enact a Mortal Combat scene.  When the Doctor returned, the fighters were allowed to finish the round.  Round 3 was a frustrating round, as MMA in VA’s unofficial scorecard had the fight even.  Both fighters were looking to become counter-punchers, which meant there were long stretches of time where nobody was engaging.  Benedetto tried to press the action by constantly imploring Sheppard to engage, once even so feverishly that Benedetto accidentally spit out his mouthpiece yelling at Sheppard.  Benedetto was the aggressor in the third and landed the better shots and parlayed that into a Unanimous Decision victory.

The Co-Main event turned out to be what everyone filled the auditorium for, as another BHS Bengal, Huiber “Nitro” Garcia returned to his old stomping grounds to put on a show against Reggie Barnett, Jr.  This, on paper, looked to be the fight of the night, as Barnett has been in so many great battles, winning our ammy fight of the year award in 2014 as he battled with Thomas Blair and most recently his decision loss to Ginseng Du Jour, at Odyssey Fights.  You could tell that Barnett took the Du Jour loss hard and was determined to come back and give it his all against the hometown favorite.  Barnett came out fast, highlighting his exceptional boxing, as he cracked Nitro with a couple of shots and pushing forward.  Nitro was sent stumbling backwards which caused him to fall to the canvas.  Barnett pounced, but Nitro was ready for him on the ground and instantly sunk in a deep heel hook, which caused Barnett to tap at the 29-second mark.  

The main event, which ended up playing to about a half empty auditorium, due to the Nitro fans having cleared out to start their celebrating, featured Josh Sturgill, who wrestled at Liberty University, taking on a short notice opponent, Dreon Martin.  Both Sturgill and Martin were slated to face other opponents, but those fights fell through and they decided to battle each other at a 160-lb Catchweight.  Round one went as might have been expected.  Martin had the crisper, cleaner striking, but Sturgill’s ground game was much stronger.  One thing to be said, however, Martin’s ground game has evolved, as he was able to get up and get out of positions and even had Sturgill’s back for a moment.  It was good to see Martin, an amateur veteran, still improving as a young pro.  Round two saw more of the same, with Sturgill imposing his grappling will.  A very scary moment in the fight and one that ultimately ended the night came early in the 2nd when Sturgill took Martin’s back, in a standing position, it appeared that Martin perhaps looked to shake Sturgill off by falling forward and slamming him to the ground or perhaps Sturgill’s weight and momentum forced both fighters in that direction.  Either way, both fighters slammed face first on the canvas, with Martin appearing to have spiked himself and Sturgill ending up with a broken jaw.  While on the ground, after the impact, Martin tapped two or three times with his left hand and referee Angel Ortiz stopped the fight.  When the fighters separated, Martin remained down.  He was moving his extremities and appeared to be communicating with his family, who had come cageside.  The EMS team on-site took all necessary precautions and immobilized his neck and carried Martin out on a backboard, to the hospital.  Martin was released from the hospital on Sunday and walked out under his own power, thankfully.

So, EWC 7 saw an impromptu venue change, saw matchmaker Jeremy Boardwine work extra hard for his money, saw a fighter sing the National Anthem to perfection and then participate in the Fight of the Night, saw a draw and also an injury stoppage with severe damage to both fighters.  What the fans saw was an ammy card that, due to drop-outs was the best it could be, and a very solid pro card, with two fight of the night candidates.  

EWC 8 will occur on October 10th, 2015 at the Salem Civic Center, in Salem, VA.  This will be another Pro/Am card.

For full EWC 7 results, go to Tapology.com at the following link:

Elite Warrior Challenge 7: Reckoning | MMA Event Page | Tapology

MMA in VA’s “of the Night” Awards

Fight of the Night: Chris Rollins v. Jonathan Baldridge

Knockout of the Night:  James Willis

Submission of the Night: Huiber Garcia