by Felix Falcon
On Saturday, February 6th, the folks at the Elite Warrior Challenge had the whole floor of the Salem Civic Center covered with both a full size boxing ring and their 30-foot circular cage side by side. It was reminiscent of the recent Bellator "Dynamite" show they co-promoted with Glory Kickboxing. The arena itself is pretty fascinating. While it's an older building, the layout is super conducive for viewing combat sports. The seats on both sides of the arena are deceptively intimate regardless of how far from the cage you actually are. Just in case, the promotion also put up two big projection screens to ensure there's not a bad seat in the house.
The night opened up with four Pro Boxing matches and one Pro Muay Thai bout. A couple of recognizable faces from the MMA scene were part of the ringside proceedings. Somner Martin, who has seven Pro MMA fights under his belt, won the first Boxing match of the night, while Disciple MMA's Willie Floyd won the lone Muay Thai fight of the night in impressive fashion.
Once the inside the ring action was done, the focus shifted to the cage.
The first three MMA fights showed off some of the great young pro talent the state has to offer.
The first fight was nothing but fireworks from bell to bell, as Pride Training Center's Brandon Pennington took on Gustavo Machado BJJ's Greg Walker. I personally dubbed this bout as a Spartyka Super Fight, as these two young pros had prosperous amateur careers, with a combined eight of their amateur fights occurring in the SFL cage. Walker, a BJJ black belt who spent some time in Thailand sharpening his striking, had up to this point not had a chance to show off his striking in a significant manner. Pennington, an analytical and well rounded fighter came forward early and often, giving Walker no choice but to have to use all his weapons. Throughout the fight, both fighters were close to even in the striking exchanges, what seemed to seal the deal for Walker was his ability to consistently take Pennington down. Pennington, however, was able to defend supremely well in the grappling exchanges. He was able to get out of very tricky situations, including having his back taken with both hooks in and from full mount - not an easy task against someone of Walker's credentials. The fight went the distance and the judges awarded Walker the victory unanimously.
The second fight of the night between Zamora Boxing Gym's Chris Rollins and ATT's Brandon Sandford was an awesome demonstration of will and determination. Rollins weathered an early storm from Sandford, including several strikes that visibly damaged his left eye. For the next two rounds, Rollins was able to settle down, find his range with his kicks, and managed to grind out every round with Sanford, who, along with Rollins, did not seem to slow down at any point during the fight. After three hard-fought rounds, Rollins was awarded the unanimous decision victory.
Our 2015 Amateur Fighter of the year, Tony Gravely, has wasted zero time since turning pro last October, facing Reggie Barnett, Jr. in his fifth pro bout in as many months. In a proverbial "grappler vs. striker" match, the keys to this fight coming in were whether Barnett could defend well against Gravely's takedowns and whether Gravely could hang in the striking department against a good boxer like Barnett. Gravely showed off his wrestling skills successfully throughout the fight. Taking Barnett down multiple times per round, pressuring his opponent on the fence, and even landing a couple of good strikes out in space. Barnett also showed some improvement on his ground game, almost landing a guillotine choke early in the first round and finding openings to get back to his feet throughout the match, especially pushing off Gravely's hips from butterfly guard. Ultimately, the continuous pressure from Gravely seemed to have worn Barnett out towards the end of the fight and after all three rounds concluded, Gravely came out the victor, also by unanimous decision.
If told beforehand that the fight between MMA Institute's Terrell Hobbs and "Felony" Charles Benett (AKA Krazy Horse) would end in a heel hook, the house money would be on it being a Hobbs victory. Hobbs has finished five out of his nine pro wins by submission, while Bennett has only won six out of his impressive 27 pro wins by submission - and even then, two of those were submissions due to strikes.
The fight started with Hobbs immediately taking the fight to the ground and trying to work a guillotine as Bennett tried to get back up to his feet. In a wild scramble, Bennett got a hold of Hobbs' back and attempted a slam. While Hobbs was defending the throw, Bennett capitalized on Hobbs being off balance and landed a clean head kick from behind. After another scramble on the ground, and both fighters finding themselves in 50/50 guard, Bennett won out the position, clenching Hobbs' foot and cranking a heel hook that forced Hobbs to tap 1:17 into the very first round. After the fight was called, Bennett, in traditional form, ran and climbed to the top of a cage wall and did a full-on back flip.
In the Main Event of the night, UFC vet, Matt Van Buren - who split his camp between ATT and Pride Training Center - took on Michigan fighter, Derrick Weaver. Van Buren dominated the fight the whole time. He was able to take Weaver down at will and land heavy ground and pound strikes, both to the body and to the head. After more than a round and a half of punishment, Van Buren was able to land a half arm triangle - half Von Flue choke from opposite side half guard, similar to how Bryan Barberena finished Sage Northcutt a couple of weeks ago at UFC on Fox. Van Buren's win is now his first step on a path back to the big show.
All in all, it was a very entertaining night of fights. The boxing matches in the undercard were better than expected and only lasted four or six rounds a piece, so they didn't take a ton of time to resolve. The quality of fighters on the MMA side was a great mix of recognizable names, local vets, and good young talent who know how to put on a show. The promotion, in it's third endeavor at bringing Pro fights to the Southwest VA region, has considerably stepped up it's efforts to become one of the big players in the state. It seems like now their focus would need to be on finding a balance between finding reliable talent from the region that can bring a crowd, while still putting on higher caliber fights that people will enjoy.
EWC 10 is slated to happen on March 12 at the Roanoke Sheraton Hotel, it will be an all Pro Boxing and Muay Thai event. In the very early fall, they will look back to resume their MMA action with EWC 11.
For full results from the card, you can check out the EWC 9 Tapology Event Page.
If interested in watching a replay of all the action, you can still order the event through GFL.tv
MMA in VA's "Of the Night" Awards:
Fight of the Night:
Ryan MacDonald: Greg Walker vs. Brandon Pennington
Felix Falcon: Greg Walker vs. Brandon Pennington
Submission of the Night:
Ryan MacDonald: Charles Bennett
Felix Falcon: Charles Bennett