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Small Stage, Bright Lights: Recap of ShoXC Hamman vs Suganuma II

Despite public issues between promoters and the California State Athletic Commission, California is a hotbed of MMA, with events going on nearly every weekend. This past week there were three. I went to Friant, a small town outside of Fresno, to shoot ShoXC: Elite Challenger Series at Table Mountain Casino while my madam Tracy covered Pure Combat in Visalia, about sixty miles to the south. ShoXC is EliteXC’s show for up-and-comers and some more experienced fighters making their EliteXC debuts.

There’s no trouble getting a spot this time and though it isn’t ideal, I am grateful to have an assigned position. Before the show, I chit chat with Dave Mandel, photographer for Sherdog, and referee Jason Herzog, about Fedor, Randy, Affliction, and more about Fedor. Essentially we gushed about Fedor for ten minutes. Our Fedor lovefest probably could have gone on for a while, but the show gets underway and I hop back to my spot. Melanie La Croix and Katrina Alendale fight hard for three entertaining three-minute rounds. Alendale is cornered by Gilbert Melendez and La Croix is cornered by accomplished wrestler and former ProElite employee, Kenny Johnson. Johnson too will be fighting later in the show. Just the day before, Johnson was asked to fill in for a local fighter who did not make weight and accepted a welterweight bought against Lucas Gamaza, a student of Nick and Nate Diaz.

I picked this one for FL because it looks like Alendale is reaching for La Croix’s boob, eh?

Though striking effectively in the first round and bloodying Alendale’s nose, La Croix appears to gas as Alendale throws repeated front kicks to her body in the second and third. Alendale wins by unanimous decision and jumps up in elation. There’s no time for consolation. Johnson needs to go backstage and get ready for his own fight.

The next bout is local undefeated Ralph Lopez against Roberto Vargas. It was three rounds of ridiculously unorthodox–no, wild grappling.

Last time here, Vargas took part in a bout that was equally filled with puzzling techniques and turns. The split decision goes to Vargas but seeing as muay thai fighter Lopez was the aggressor, had mount for three minutes, and hurt Vargas many times, the crowd and I agree that the judges are wrong.

Next up is Jesse Brock, sporting an amazing mullet, against the smaller, Josh Rave, who weighed in nine pounds less than Brock even wearing a belt and cargo shorts. In Brock’s corner are Urijah Faber and Scott Jorgenson of the WEC. Brock repeatedly takes down Rave, prompting Rave’s girlfriend to worriedly shriek out commands from the audience: “Shrimp! Keep his head close! Get the fuck up! FUCKING GET UP!”

Her friend grabbed her arm saying “Josh is trying!” but she yelled, “I don’t care!” and continued to scream “Get the fuck up!” as if Rave just needed to hear her words and they would empower him to rise. With less than a thousand people in the room, her voice beat out the corners and other fans. Rave could not get up. Surprise surprise, Brock wins the decision, though Brock seems disappointed in himself.

Now Lucas Gamaza emerges from the fake smoke and orange lights with Nate Diaz in tow. Kenny Johnson walks out with a hurt La Croix sporting the bucket, towels, and water. Gamaza lands a few kicks and Johnson returns with strong jabs and takes Gamaza down easily. Towards the tail end of the second round, Gamaza cuts Johnson’s cheek deep just under the eye with a grazing elbow. The squat wrestler Johnson throws Gamaza to the mat and blood gushes out of his face onto his lanky tattooed opponent. Every time Johnson moves or Gamaza turns, another spurt of blood pours out.

Doctors quickly wipe and fill Johnson’s cut with Vaseline, and they start round three. Johnson nods and points at Gamaza, they go at it and the cut opens up quick. Gamaza throws head kicks, a few land, Johnson does what he does best and takes Gamaza down. They go back and forth. And in the end, Gamaza wins the split decision. I agree with the decision, though I could see it going either way. I’ll have to rewatch it and let you know.

In the final untelevised bout, David “Tarzan” Douglas, who made quick work of Marlon Mathias at the Stockton EliteXC show just a few weeks ago, fills in for another fighter to fight Marcus Levescu of Fresno. However, for reasons I have not yet determined, hours before the event, Levescu is unable to compete and EliteXC is able to bring in William Jacobson to fight Douglas. When Douglas, also a student of the Diaz brothers, walked into the casino earlier, Turi Altavilla of EliteXC said, “Are you ready to fight?” and Douglas beamed, laughing and smiling, “Hell yeah!” So obviously “Tarzan” remained unphased by the change in competition. Again, Douglas rushes through his opponent, prompting Jacobson’s corner to throw in the towel after only 1:12. Will Douglas be a force to reckon with in the 160 pound division? I don’t know but he might have the best pecs in MMA. Seriously.

Check ‘em out. Don’t worry, it’s not gay to admire them. Or is it?

The purpose of these smaller EliteXC shows is to find the next big thing. EliteXC brings in promising fighters from King of the Cage and other smaller promotions to this event to see how they do. Despite this being a slightly smaller cage than the standard one, the shows are still produced with good lighting and somehow they manage to fit in a huge jib in a tiny venue for those fancy shots. Showtime’s budget is smaller for these shows of course, but they’ve made an effort to light it well (which I appreciate greatly). Though, there is one awful holdover from the previous ShoXC shows, the smoke. Last time here at Table Mountain, it filled the small room and made it impossible to shoot.

Bao Quach vs Doug Evans, last ShoXC at Table Mountain

This time, much less smoke was used but somehow it manages to ooze from the apron, flowing right into my eyes as I photograph. I look around and Mauro asks me what’s up and I point at the smoke emanating from below the cage and he exclaims, “Crazy, I know! I asked about it and the crew says it is residual.” Which means the smoke stays. Fuck me, the crap is flowing out from the seams.

I take a quick piss break and run into the ring girls.

Ring girls in the bathroom

After a few minutes, the televised portion of the show begins and I can hear Mauro reciting his introduction. Keith “KO Kid” Berry walks in, cornerman with his King of the Cage Middleweight belt pumping in the air. Ray Lizama, who was slated to fight in the Affliction show and cut for time, comes out, eyes narrowed, determined. Berry, training out of Xtreme Couture, is a young rising star. But tonight, Lizama wants this more. After Berry knocks down Lizama in the first and takes his back, somehow, Lizama gets up, and they brawl. Berry’s face lights up, he’s excited for the fight to continue and the guys throw nonstop at each other.

Lizama knocks Berry’s mouthpiece out. They continue to bang. At the end of the first round, referee Herzog picks up the mouthpiece thinking it belongs to Lizama, but Berry waves him down, laughing and pops it back. Bell for round 2. The boys keep throwing hard. The crowd in the tiny casino venue stands, cheering louder with each hit. Lizama knocks down Berry and delivers punch after punch and wins by TKO midway through the second. I think after training so hard for Affliction and not even getting to fight, Lizama came into this bout feeling like he just needed to hurt someone.

During the awkward post-fight interview where Quadros kind of insults Lizama, I look over to my left and the timekeeper is dabbing her clock. There is a trail of giant blood drops going from the cage to her station. Blood on the bell, blood on the fancy timepiece. It’s pooling in the corner on the buttons too. And it’s drying, congealing, caking on the hard plastic. Mmm. Someone from the cage crew comes by to wipe it but the blood is stuck to the buttons.

The fight I’ve been anticipating is next — Debi Purcell vs Rosi Sexton. I’m a regular photo contributor to Fighters Only Magazine so I of course am a Rosi fan. They match up well, throwing strikes and clinching and working for position. Surprisingly, the fans don’t boo. I’m used to fans at more rural shows getting rowdy when fights aren’t endless strikes. From my lens, Sexton is controlling the cage better and able to take Purcell down well. Purcell defends herself on one occasion by simply kicking Sexton off.

The three rounds are all pretty similar but Sexton lands more strikes and sticks to her gameplan, or Karl’s, as I can hear him guiding her through their strategy calmly. One thing that bothers me is I can see Sexton getting into the groove of each round, starting to really land punches, get smarter takedowns, and every time this happens, the round ends. This is because they are fighting three-minute rounds, which I think is bullshit. Female fighters of this caliber should fight five-minute rounds. Every time both fighters started to work towards a finish, the round would end. Three-minute rounds is why Shayna Baszler always felt the need to finish her opponents off with quick submissions. The short time motivated Baszler to rush through her movements.

Even being behind a pole won’t stop me from posting this poor photo.

I digress. Sexton attempts a cartwheel into Purcell’s guard which garners oohs and ahhs from the crowd. While it looks awkward in my photo there, you can see Purcell’s face break out in panic as Sexton’s legs come down. Ultimately, Sexton wins a split decision, and I will have to go back and rewatch the fight on TV to tell you what I think of that judgment.

Cyrille “Da Snake” Diabate makes his EliteXC debut after a year and a half absence against Jaime Fletcher, who surprised everyone by beating Tito Ortiz’ sparring partner, Aaron Rosa, at a previous ShoXC. As announcer Mark Lichtenfeld introduces Diabate, hailing from Rueil-Malmaison, France, someone yells, “Go home Frenchie!” I shake my head. “Frog!” Embarrassing. Just embarrassing. As the fight begins, it is evident Diabate has ring rust, cage rust, whatever — and slowly makes his way through the fight.

Though Diabate is winning, Fletcher manages to keep going despite the cuts and head kicks. In the end, Quadros tells “Da Snake” that he put on a Muay Thai clinic and asked if there was anything he didn’t throw. Someone in the crowd yells, “YEAH! A knockout punch!” Diabate clearly had trouble fighting Fletcher but is still poised to challenge Rafael Feijao in the EliteXC LHW division. During his “>post fight interview, an exhausted Diabate describes his lack of speed in this “tune up fight,” while Fletcher is just off to the side of the frame getting his cuts stitched up, definitely within earshot.

And then, poor Sammy Morgan. He’s fought Cung Le, Paul Daley, and now Brazilian Fabricio Camoes and seems the opponent of choice for rising, hard striking stars.

Fabricio “Morango” Camoes skips the last step on his way up the cage stairs. “Morango” means strawberry, which is a nickname that certainly toughens you up. Camoes dismantles Morgan early and then asks to fight for the lightweight belt. I would like to see this, but first, I’d like see them feature Camoes at a bigger show. He deserves a shot.

Finally, the rematch is on. They keep calling Hamman vs Suganuma II a grudge rematch, which it is not. Po’ai Suganuma won the last fight — sure, it was an early stoppage, but it was a win. Neither have a grudge with each other, but they are fine with fighting again. Jared Hamman has surprised EliteXC before and does the same tonight. Perhaps Suganuma underestimated Hamman, who felt that his loss to Suganuma (that marred his undefeated record) gave him the necessary push to pursue fighting full-time, and begin more serious training with Vladimir Matyushenko. It is a fast barrage of strikes with Suganuma taking Hamman down in defense, Hamman getting back up to knock Suganuma out at the ear. As Suganuma collapses, the timekeeper screams at the ref Herzog, “He’s out! He’s out!” since Herzog cannot see the Hawaiian’s face from inside the cage. Suganuma lays on the mat for minutes and even when standing is wobbly. Hamman gets his win and celebrates at the casino buffet with lots of shrimp and humor, making funny faces at me for his photo.

Also at the post-fight buffet, Po’ai Suganuma and his team, chowing down, happy. Jesse Brock sporting a wolf shirt. When asked by a video crew member if Brock hailed from Alaska pointing to the shirt, Brock replies, “No, I just like wolves.” Yes!

Rosi Sexton is smiling, even with a few cuts and bruises. And Fabricio Camoes is cheerfully filling his plate with his teammates and Diego Sanchez. It’s nice to see the fighters winding down, bellies full, bruised faces glowing.

In the end, a solid night, and another bloody one for EliteXC’s ShoXC series.

For more photos from both events, click here.