Friday, July 10, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 19

Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead

The following article was posted on September 23rd, 2010, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 11, Issue 28 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 11, Issue 28

Mortal Combat

A host of mixed martial arts fighters compete in Santa Maria to be the best on the Central Coast


Ladies and ... well, ladies
In between rounds, fights ceased and the ring girls came in to remind them the round number.
Some people, like myself, tend to avoid physical conflict as much as they can. However, others thrive on the adrenaline rush that comes from the thrill of slamming their fists on their opponent. On Sept. 18, warriors like those came out to the National Guard Armory at the Santa Maria Fairpark to fight—and spectators packed the place to bear witness.

The mixed martial arts (MMA) event was the first-ever California State Championship, hosted by California Fight Syndicate. This portion was the Central Coast regional championship; a chance for local fighters to prove they’re currently the best around. 

Before the matches started, I hung out in the back with the fighters. I ended up gravitating toward Keith Cutrone. The stakes of his fight were unbeknownst to me, but members of his entourage were nervous.

“I’m just as nervous as if I were fighting,” said Matt Lovato, who trains with Cutrone.

“He’s an underdog of the fight,” another said. “If there was a betting booth, the odds would easily be 3-1, but if he wins, then it’ll be some great publicity for him.”

Cutrone’s opponent was John Hackleman Jr. Who is that? Well, I had to ask, too. He’s the son of Chuck Liddell’s former trainer.

The event was a huge headlining gig for Cutrone, who, prior to the bout with Hackleman, had an MMA record of 1-0. The win came by decision. Hackleman’s MMA record was 3-0, and he was clearly the crowd favorite. I could tell this was going to be even more of a fight than David versus Goliath.

When the clock struck the magic number—5 p.m.—the Armory morphed into a coliseum. After the announcer stirred up excitement from the crowd, the first fight began with Kyle Smith in the red corner, and Benji Gomez in the blue. Round one was underway.

Gomez immediately informed Smith that he was in charge of the match, taking him down numerous times. Still, Gomez’s efforts to win with a “ground and pound” shutout were foiled by Smith’s defensive tactics. Gomez had to settle with a split decision win.

Extend happiness
Gregg “Bulldog” Baker Jr., who trains at the Pit, returns from the cage, where he won by unanimous decision. After the fight, the Bulldog said that he is “waiting for the next fight, and next opponent.”
The second fight was over quickly, a TKO at the 1:02 minute mark courtesy of Kevin Danis. Danis, a staff sergeant in the Air Force, took down his opponent, Tony Topas, grabbed the rear mount, and pummeled him until the referee called for a technical knockout.

The third fight was quite possibly the closest of the night. Robbie Valance and Nolan Regie were on equal footing, but Valance started out the fight by taking down Regie. In stand-up, Valance landed a gut kick and then went for another, but Regie countered, and the game was back on the ground. Valance tried a submission, but the round ended, stifling any hope of tapping out. The second round commenced and Regie landed a hard punch, but quickly found himself on the ground in the grip of his opponent. The hold broke, and, while in the north-south position, Regie landed some hits on the torso of Valance. The third round was more of the same, causing Regie to win by a split decision.

The fourth fight featured MMA newcomer Joshua Gould, who had begun training just months before the fight. Gould was facing Gregg Baker Jr., who trains at the Pit. Gould started the fight aggressively, with arms wailing on Baker. He landed everything from head hits to low kicks, but Baker, anticipating Gould’s rhythm, countered with a takedown and pounded him on the ground. The second round began, and Gould got rocked, thrown down, and put in a hold. With the second round over, the ringside doctor was called in to examine Gould. The fight was called off, though trooper Gould wanted to keep going.

The next fight between crowd favorite Cameron Sewell and MMA newcomer Richard Parra had a similar fate. With the first round starting, the two touched gloves, and the fight was on. Sewell tried to get control of his opponent, but Parra was too smooth. He countered most of Sewell’s moves, and was only brought down by messy takedowns. The fight conjured growing roars from the crowd, but at the end of the second round, the fight was called off by the referee, who determined Sewell was no longer fit to fight. Parra was named the eminent victor.

As great as the previous fights were, the crowd was excited for the big boys—the heavyweights. Previously, while I was standing in the will-call line before the fights, I was told of Makani Sarallano’s tenacity.

It’s all over now, baby blue
Underdog fighter Keith Cutrone amazes and upsets the crowd with a rear naked choke that forced his big name opponent, John Hackleman Jr., to submit 41 seconds into the first round.
“He’s a tough dude,” Charlie Jimenez said. “You have to bring your A-game if you’re gonna be in with him.”

I wasn’t let down by his performance. His opponent, Joseph Bourdony, played conservatively by holding Sarallano against the cage, but that didn’t stop him. Sarallano landed a hard uppercut, and some head punches. It was clear that Sarallano wanted to take the fight in stand-up, because every grapple ended in a stalemate. The crowd was electrified with the performance of the two fighters at the end of the first round. However, in the second round, Sarallano got his opponent on the ground, and within seconds of pummeling him, a TKO was declared, ending the fight in his favor.

Finally, it was the main event. When Cutrone entered the cage, he was met with a lukewarm greeting—some booed, and few cheered him on. But when his opponent, Hackleman Jr., entered the cage, the audience raved.

The fight started, and, after touching gloves, Cutrone landed some mid-kicks and punches on Hackleman, stunning him. Within seconds, Cutrone wrapped his arm around Hackleman like a snake around its prey, and took him down. In a blink of an eye, Cutrone had a rear-naked choke intact, and the fight was over. Although the crowd was disappointed in Hackleman’s loss, it was proof that this underdog had a grip like no other. 

Forward, forward, forward, high punch is how Intern Henry Houston finishes his opponents. He can be contacted at

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