The Alaska Fighting Championship closed out it's 2011-12 season and put it's 100th show in it's rear-view mirror Wednesday, May 16th. Two sterling title defenses capped a night marked by lightning quick bouts and controversial calls by the referee. On the whole it was a satisfying night of violence.
Years ago a mad scientist attached atom smashers to the limbs of his beer-fueled death-bot. He then gave his creation an pop musician-style rhyming name and released it on the heavyweight division. That death-bot has been champion since AFC 3, way back in 2004. After the better part of a decade he's put on 18 unforgettable shows, blowing past local and visiting fighters alike. When his retirement finally comes, he should be the first MMArtist inducted into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame.
And the fact of the matter is that Ryan is in his late 30s. He doesn't have a lot of mileage left, and that's presuming he remains interested in fighting.
"I'm getting closer. That's the best way to put it," the venerable titlist admitted.
However, before he's done, he insists he wants a, "real opponent. A name guy with six weeks to train."
In the past the AFC has occasionally been able to bring up just such fighters (Tony Lopez and Jeremiah Constant come to mind), though with long times of inactivity in between. Hopefully the AFC will be able to oblige him again soon.
DIRTY FIGHTING AND CONTROVERSIAL REFFING, PART 1
There were two matches on the night that brought the referee to the center of attention, the last place any official wants to find themselves, ever.
First was the rowdy, back and forth bout between Josh 'The Rooster' Luther and Drew 'Spider-Monkey' Lipton. A year ago their fight was marred by a disqualification when Luther KO'd Lipton with an illegal knee. Unfortunately, the end of the rematch would be no more satisfying.
Lipton squatted on top of 'The Rooster', defending an armbar, while Luther threw hammerfists from the bottom. His blows landed perilously close the the back of Lipton's head.
Any strikes to the spine or the back of the head are against the rules in mixed martial arts. However, the Unified Code of MMA does not define what constitutes the 'Back of the Head'. Because of this, every referee has a different definition of what qualifies as an illegal blow. It is one of many fuzzy areas in the rules that desperately needs to be cleared up by the sports governing bodies.
Referee Paul Stockler warned Luther about his strikes. Luther followed with a few more strikes which landed very close to where he was warned about hitting, and the man they call 'Spider Monkey' fell over, unconscious. Stockler ruled it a KO victory for Luther.
Naturally, each of the three men in the cage saw it differently, and the video replay did little to clear things up.
Luther believes he landed two strikes to the back of Lipton's head, after which he was warned, then landed three strikes to the jaw. However, he does not think that his blows knocked Lipton out.
"The was no power in [the hammerfists]. Same as last fight, I think he's faking it," Luther accused.
Luther clarified himself by saying that he thought Lipton was gassed, and that he faked getting knocked out in order to get a DQ victory.
Lipton denies the accusations, saying Luther was the one looking for an easy way out of the fight.
"If you look where the punches were, and where I felt them, they were in the back of the head, and sometimes when people get hit there its a soft spot, so it can hurt, or make you go back," Lipton said in an email.
"I felt good that whole fight, I felt like he wasn't offering me anything I couldn't handle, and I looked in his eyes and knew he didn't want to fight ... so to me he looked for a way out and that was by dq again," he went on. "Same thing happened last fight as this one ... I have nothing to gain by faking a KO.
Lipton made it clear he disagrees with the ruling, stating "It should have been a DQ."
Stockler, who's is the only opinion that actually matters in this case, stands by his decision. He reports that he only saw one illegal strike, and warned Luther after it, but admits that his view of the questionable strikes wasn't the ideal.
"I was on the wrong side, looking at the [trapped] arm. I've never seen a knockout like that. I didn't think he would go out," the long-time AFC referee said.
A fighter getting knocked out by strikes from the bottom is nearly unheard of, barring a perfectly placed upkick. A quick Google search revealed only two videos similar to what happened between Luther and Lipton. There is also anecdotal evidence that Brian Ryan once knocked someone out from his back.
DIRTY FIGHTING AND CONTROVERSIAL REFFING, PART 2
Soon after Luther either did or didn't knock Lipton out, fan favorite Tommy 'The Pot-Bellied Assassin' Ide endured a series of fouls from opponent Austin Banks.
Banks landed an terrifying illegal knee to Ide early in round 1. Banks, a veteran of two AFC fights, later claimed that he did not know the rule barring knees to the head of a grounded opponent.
The referee was again Paul Stockler, who stopped the fight to give Ide his standard five minutes to recover. During this time both fighters are supposed to remain in neutral corners, to prevent extra coaching or any other shenanigans. However, both fighters spent the majority of the fight hanging out in their own corners, while Ide actually got water from his corner man!
"[Ide] was saying, 'I can't focus,' but he wanted to continue," Stockler later said, attempting to explain his permitting of the water break. "In retrospect I should have ended the fight there."
Stockler also did not call the waiting EMTs into the cage, a move he defends. "I've seen [Ide] fight, he didn't look that bad. His eye's were tracking."
However, Stockler allowed the fight to continue. Ide fought hard for a takedown, taking more damage as he did. However, Banks grabbed the cage, another illegal move, and as they went down Stockler moved in to separate the two. Ide was not happy, having worked so hard to get the fight to the mat, and Stockler penalizing Banks a point for the foul did little to make him feel better.
Banks later said grabbing the cage was an accident.
As the round wore on Ide spent a lot of time clinching with Banks against the cage, while Banks landed numerous illegal 12-6 elbows to Ide's back. Stockler again issued a warning.
In between rounds Stockler says he told Banks that he was out of warnings, and the next foul would result in him being disqualified.
It didn't take long, as Banks landed another illegal knee in round 2. Stockler swooped in and ended the fight.
"I thought there were enough fouls that the fight was getting out of control," Stockler said.
Banks described his mood after the fight as, "Kind of pissed." He said that he caught an illegal knee as well, but that strike was missed.
He also said that the fight-ending knee was completely accidental. He was firmly in control of the fight, he believed, so why would he purposefully throw another illegal knee?
On a personal note, I fully support Stockler in his decision to end the fight, rather than take another point away. The primary concern of the referee has to be the safety of the fighters, and while watching the fight I remarked to my neighbor that Stockler was quickly losing control of the fight. However, judging by Stockler's testimony, ending the fight after the first illegal knee (which would have resulted in a No Contest) probably would have been the correct decision.
Alaska got a surprise celebrity guest, as David Arquette popped up at the event. Arquette, who has starred in such films as Scream, Ready to Rumble, and (my personal favorite) Eight Legged Freaks, was in the state shooting a show for the Travel Channel.
Arquette, who jokingly told me I could ask him anything, "in an outfit like that," served as a substitute ring announcer for a portion of the night.
"I love MMA. I love boxing. It harkens back to the tough-man days, the days of pugilism," said the confessed fight fan.
So cool. I just wish I'd asked him if he still had the WCW belt from the brief time he was a professional wrestling champion.
FIGHT OF THE NIGHT
Brian Ryan vs. Rod 'Short Notice' Pucak
You can say what you want about Rod Pucak, the dude has got some serious chutzpa. We can chalk it up to ignorance when an out-of-state fighter elects to stand and trade blows (well, they try to, at any rate); but Pucak is local, he knows the legendary power held in the champion's fists. He knows he's got better odds taking a mid-size SUV to the head than one of Ryan's patented clobberknockers. But any wariness he felt was pushed aside to honor the male virtues of violence and recklessness. Pucak charged at the Ryan, fearless fists flying, and everyone in the Sullivan Arena gasped the same thing: "What the hell is he THINKING???"
The two clashed, and was that? Yes, it was! Ryan's nose was bleeding! Pucak's bold, insane, stupid strategy was working! He continued to push the attack.
However, any faith he had in his gameplan was made of such stuff as dreams are made of. After getting over the initial surprise, Ryan set the fight back on it's inevitable course.
KNOCK-OUT OF THE NIGHT
It took a minute for Ryan to get into his usual rhythm, but once he found it the world knew it was curtains for Pucak. Ryan's hammers busted through Pucak's defense, sapping his will with body blows as Pucak desperately attempted to clinch or score a takedown. Up against the cage Ryan brought up a knee square to Pucak's jaw, and it was all over.
SUBMISSION OF THE NIGHT
Josh 'Double Trouble' Hubble
Hubble had his hands full with the slippery Tristan Slatts. After gaining the dominant position, Hubble quickly let the Slats squirm his way free. Slatts was just about back to his feet when Hubble slapped on the textbook guillotine choke and jumped guard, getting the quick tap.
PERFORMANCE OF THE NIGHT
'Naptime' Nic Herron-Webb
As previously stated on this blog, Herron-Webb had looked a little out of sorts for his last few fight. Whatever was ailing the young champion, he shucked it off for his performance against Joe Murphy. 'Naptime' was on point in every aspect of his game. Starting with a beautiful striking approach where he mixed up punches, kicks, and feints, keeping the challenger guessing as he broke him down. When Murphy clinched and looked like he was taking the champ down, Herron-Webb executed a highlight reel reversal and landed on top. Murphy even managed to slap on a triangle choke, but Herron-Webb expertly defended it and ended the fight with brutal strikes from the top, his first clean TKO victory.
"I felt great. I trained hard," Herron-Webb said after the fight. "I had no idea how much power I had in my striking."
Murphy is still very early in his career, and will come out a better fighter from this loss. Herron-Webb was the first person to expose some of the holes in Murphy's game, specifically, that he gets a little sloppy and rushed when not setting the pace. With some hard work in the gym, and a little more seasoning, Murphy should come back better than ever.
"I really respect Joe Murphy," Herron-Webb admitted. "He's a great fighter and a great guy. He cam in afterward and said, 'Thank you for humbling me.'"
I couldn't get a hold of Murphy to verify the interaction, but it sounds like a sweet moment.
NEXT FOR RYAN: Ryan stated a desire to fight Chuck Liddell. If 'The Iceman' were unavailable, then he mentioned Randy Couture as his second choice. In all seriousness, a fighter Ryan's age hasn't got many wars left in him, and he deserves to fight an accomplished martial artist who can give the venerated champion a real challenge. While former UFC champs might be unfeasible, there are plenty of UFC veterans always looking for a scrap and a paycheck. What's Sean McCorckle up to? Wait! What am I saying? He needs to fight Kimbo Slice! Best. Matchmaking. EVER.
NEXT FOR PUCAK: Hipa Fouvale. Both fighters are highly aggressive. Pitting them together will make for the kind of slugfest of which every card needs at least one.
NEXT FOR HERRON-WEBB: Gary D'Hue came out and challenged the champion immediately following his match. D'Hue defeated 'Naptime' in a non-title match earlier this year, which gives him the best claim as challenger.
NEXT FOR MURPHY: Murphy was humbled in his match with Herron-Webb, but is still immensely talented and belongs in the deep end of the division. Murphy won't get an easy rebound fight, a he's already scheduled to hook 'em up with Schon Ellis in Fairbanks on June 24th. The well-rounded, well-traveled Ellis is the former AFC lightweight kingpin and current Fairbanks middleweight champ, and makes for a very intriguing match-up. The fight is for the second annual Midnight Sun Mayhem event, a free, outdoors, Pride-rules smackdown featuring several of the state's best fighters.
NEXT FOR MITCHELL: Mitchell called out the 5-1 Kyle George after his fight, but in my mind the untested George has not yet looked like he'd give Mitchell much of a challenge (before you ask, Juneau's Henry Dehling would make a far more suitable opponent for the ambitious George). With Jesse Cruz and Zach Eastlick on the the shelf, the most reasonable match for him is Fairbanks champion Josh Clark. Clark has expressed some interest in setting up this bout in the fall, and hopefully the AFC belt with be at stake.
NEXT FOR BRANHAM: The 135 division is thin and top-heavy. That's bad news for Branham, who could really use a mid-level guy to end the current skid he's on. For that, the AFC will have to dust off a fighter that's been gone for a while, like Kyle Volin or Michael Sihakoth.