By Ray Hamill — The growing culture of MMA here on the North Coast was evident in all its glory at the Bear River Casino on Saturday night.
And in terms of sheer excitement and intensity, it doesn’t get much better than this anywhere in North Coast sports.
This was the eighth time Hard Fought Productions and the Bear River Casino have partnered up for the event, which regularly sells out, attracting 1,100 fans.
On Saturday, the casino had to add an extra 100 seats at the last minute to accommodate the demand, and was even forced to turn away patrons at the door.
For anyone lucky enough to be inside the arena, it was plain to see why these fights have become as popular as they have.
Hitting a home run
As a sport, MMA is still in its infancy, and the number of competitors in the area, while growing, remains minimal.
But the popularity of the sport among spectators continues to grow in leaps and bounds here on the North Coast, and the fight nights at the local casino are a testament to that.
And Saturday was once again a huge success.
“As far as the turnout, it was a home run,” said Brian Wilson, who promotes the fight nights through his Hard Fought Productions company. “We were absolutely at capacity.”
Big wins for Moore, Watkins
The highlight of the night was Austin Moore’s first-round knockout of Willits native James Whetstone in a 205-pound battle.
Moore, a Crescent City native who fights out of the Lost Boys gym in Arcata, brought the packed house to its feet with the KO, earning him the Knockout of the Night award.
In the final fight of the night, Moore’s Lost Boys teammate Tyler Watkins defended his title at 135 pounds, getting the better of Raymond Mazyck with a first-round arm bar.
“He’s starting to become a submission specialist,” Wilson said of Watkins, who earned the Submission of the Night award.
Hoopa in the house
In another title fight at 155 pounds, Eddie Davilla retained his belt by beating another Lost Boys fighter, Hoopa’s Jacob Hodge, with a first-round rear-naked choke.
At 150 pounds, another Hoopa fighter out of the Lost Boys, Fletcher McCovey, lost on a third-round TKO to Jummah Mohammed in his fight debut, while McCovey’s teammate Eric Smith, out of Eureka, got his first win at light heavyweight, improving to 1-1.
A sixth Lost Boys fighter, Antonio Ramundi lost at 170 pounds to Dominic Isaiah.
In other fights on Saturday, Mayo Rodriquez, Caesar Noel and Dylan Seer each also won.
Eureka’s Andrew Guisa was supposed to fight Kaes Ishun in a welterweight title showdown, but Ishun never showed back at the arena after the morning weigh-ins.
That, however, didn’t take from what was an entertaining night of action, which most certainly included ring announcer Dante Gelormino.
“The fights, I thought, were exciting and competitive for the most part,” Wilson said. “All the fighters left happy. It was a great experience for them.”
Wilson, who also co-owns the Lost Boys gym, has seen first-hand how the sport of MMA has evolved over the past few years here on the North Coast.
“People here were ignorant to what mixed martial arts was five years ago,” he said. “Now they’re watching. It’s definitely grown.”
Fight night will return to the Bear River Casino on Feb. 9, with four total events already planned for next year, including additional nights in May, September and November.
And Wilson says he is planning on adding some kick boxing fights to the mix.
“Everyone loves the stand-up fights,” he said.
The local promoter is also looking for any North Coast fighters interested in competing.
“My priority is to get these local guys on the card,” he said.