Mixed martial arts claims to be the fastest growing sport in America. Judging by the excitement it generated in Cayman on Friday night, this island can claim the same thing.
Eight explosive bouts at the Lions Centre left the massive crowd who had paid between $35 and $150 for VIP tickets feeling they had got far more than the entry fee warranted.
Billed as Proving Ground II following the first Proving Ground show six months ago, all the pre-fight hype was thoroughly lived up to.
Most of the fighters were from the Palaestra gym and coached by martial arts expert Trevor Howard who co-promoted with business partner Chris Dinan. Howard also refereed the four main bouts.
First up was Bruce ‘The Lionheart’ Coulson, a member of the Cayman Islands Boxing Club who fought on the recent Charles ‘The Killa’ Whittaker boxing bill. His opponent Brian Charles looked slightly more experienced at mixing punches with kicks and ground work and took a unanimous decision in an entertaining opener.
The judges were Bob Daigle, Steve Graham and Paulinho Rodriguez. They did not have much to add up because all the others finished early.
The grudge fight between rival bar tenders Jasmin Murtagic and Cameron ‘The Dragon’ Rasmussen was a classic. Both threatened to finish it early and the first round action reflected their animosity. Even at the weigh in the day before the hostility was palpable.
It was all action with a lot of energy expended as all the bitterness of the build up unfolded. Rasmussen seemed to get the better of exchanges with his slightly better technique. He used it in the second round to finish off Murtagic, a former soldier in the Yugoslav army. On his back with Murtagic trying to get clean shots in, Rasmussen was still in control. He wrapped his arms around Murtagic’s head and executed a perfect guillotine choke out after 2 minutes 22 seconds. All the hatred dissipated, they embraced like long lost friends.
‘Kill’ Bill McLaughlin, the Cayman police man, was determined to win after losing in his debut on Proving Ground I. He faced Chris ‘Sly Fox’ Thompson. McLaughlin had the best of the first round, looking fresher by the end of the round with Thompson already tiring. Sure enough, Thompson felt the strong arm of the law in the next round as McLaughlin knelt astride of him picking heavy blows to his head. It was stopped after 1 min 32 secs.
The fourth bout was for many in the massive crowd of around 2,000 the most highly anticipated. And sure enough, it was arguably the best. Steve ‘Chappy’ Chapman, a boxer and kick boxer, had promised to annihilate Todd ‘The Anger’ Stewart who in turn refused to acknowledge he would be defeated. Stewart has plenty of jujutsu and karate experience and his versatility showed.
It was rough with little finesse but marvelous entertainment as the crowd roared. So fired up was Chapman that he illegally kicked Stewart when he was down and was officially warned for it.
Stewart pinned Chapman down for a long period at the end of the round to win it by a big margin. Stewart’s onslaught continued in the next session and then he put a guillotine hold on to win in the 51st second. Great action, shame there was a loser. Chapman took his defeat with good grace although thoroughly disappointed.
The fights were shown on video throughout the half time intermission to heighten the already electric atmosphere.
Flloyd ‘The Spider’ Moxam took on Palaestra’s Jason Ward next. It was fast and furious from the off with little between them at the end of the first session. Moxam seemed tired. Ward looked stronger in the second half and was starting to take control. Moxam was pinned on the ground and then suddenly put a choke hold on and it ended after 2 mins 29 secs. A great turnaround. A jubilant but exhausted Moxam staggered out of the octagon with his hand raised in triumph.
Medical student Aaron Lynch took on Ray ‘Ipswich Cobra’ Steinbeiss next but ended up looking like a patient very quickly as he was completely overpowered with powerful shots. It only lasted 2 mins 10 secs. Canadian Lynch’s face was a bloody mess.
Steinbeiss announced after: ‘I came here to kick ass and that’s what I did. I tried to knock him out but he’s one tough individual.’
Another boxer took centre stage next when Troy O’Neil, former Caribbean light-heavy champion took on a two-time All-American wrestling champ in Ryan McMahon who insisted he would prove that his style of fighting is superior.
McMahon, muscled and in tip top shape looked the part against a fleshy O’Neil who had come to the venue late. Speculation was that he had choked and was too scared to turn up because O’Neil hadn’t even been at the weigh-in. Nayon ‘Donie’ Anglin, Cayman Islands Boxing Club coach, was in his corner.
McMahon rushed his opponent and took him down immediately. Raining in blows, O’Neil was under immense pressure even though few caught him cleanly. O’Neil looked on the verge of being overwhelmed until he found an opening and was on top of the Canadian at the end.
O’Neil had a far better second round and was on top of McMahon for most of it, pounding him relentlessly. McMahon staggered to his corner, face bloodied looking a beaten man. And he was. His corner pulled him out.
An ecstatic O’Neil said: ‘I went on vacation for a week to Miami and only came back on Wednesday. I had to go to work Thursday and Friday which is why I wasn’t seen. I’ve just pulled off a miracle.’ Not quite Troy, but it was a dramatic victory.
Final fight was another humdinger. Butterfield Bank’s Timothy Coulson faced Aaron Simpson. The difference in body shapes was stark; Simpson muscular, Coulson podgy and at 221lbs he was 19lbs heavier. Anther explosive start saw Coulson bounced on his head in the opening clash. Simpson smashed big shots into his opponent’s face and Howard correctly stopped the bout after 3 mins 44 secs with Coulson protesting despite the blood pouring from his face. Simpson, a two-time All-American wrestler, said: ‘This was my first fight so it felt strange. He was a little bigger but I’ve been training a long time.’
A relieved Dinan said: ‘The evening was incredible. The Cayman Islands if part of the fastest growing sport in the world. We have Americans flying down here to compete against Caymanians and Americans competing against each other. It’s only going to get bigger. We’ve been here from 7pm to 11pm. Four hours of unbelievable entertainment. These guys have worked their asses off to be here tonight. You’re looking at some of the toughest people in the country.
‘Todd Stewart against Steve Chapman was for me the best fight of the night. Two bar tenders just throwing down. They did three to four months training for this fight and they threw fists like their hearts were behind each one. By the end of it they were still friends which is the biggest part of the sport. You saw everybody at the end of each fight hug and say: ‘Listen man, good job, nice fight, thanks for coming out.’ That’s how it works.’
Proving Ground III is on New Year’s Eve and Howard may fight if he can find an opponent.