I have never seen so many women in so little clothing in all my days on this great green Earth as I did last Saturday night at Shogun Fights VIII, Baltimore's home-grown Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) spectaculon. I'm not sure what it is about watching (mostly) dudes pound each other into the planet that makes the ladies get all dolled up, but if you were to stack every single high heel on display that night, you could climb it to the top of the Empire State Building and drop King Kong with a spinning backhand. On the flip side, if you're wondering why Baltimore looked a little short that night, it's because every dude over 6-feet 2-inches was working security at the arena. Shogun Fights is a hell of a show before the show even starts.
The fabulous (humor me) 1st Mariner Arena actually cleans up pretty good for Shogun Fights. Between the cage that is not an Octagon (despite the fact that it is actually octagonal, since the Ultimate Fighting Championship [UFC] has somehow managed to trademark a shape) blazing under the massive light rig and the huge HD screen dominating one wall of the Baltimore Street Bunker, the old girl actually starts to sparkle. Hell, they even had the U.S. Marine Corps bring in the flag. It was enough to make up for what was easily the worst rendition of the national anthem since Enrico Palazzo sang it in Naked Gun. Throw in Comcast's truly first-rate coverage (over a half-dozen cameras and perfect audio coverage) and that everybody in the joint can keep track of every bead of sweat or drop of blood, or both, and there was a good deal.
Having that coverage was good because, truth be told, before the first bell, I didn't know a damned thing about MMA. I was half-expecting Sub-Zero vs. Scorpion for the title card, but it turns out there are actual rules and a complete (and tragic) lack of ninja masks. Mobtown's own John Rallo, owner of the Ground Control martial arts schools, a former fighter himself and a man with arms bigger than my last four apartments, lobbied to legalize MMA in Maryland in 2008 and started Shogun Fights in 2009. It's a regional fight with 13 of the 22 fighters on the card coming from right here in the Old Line State and while most of them will never make the UFC, Shogun makes it up in swagger-from now on, I'm not going to step up to my computer without an entourage, theme music, and a dude applying a liberal coat of Vaseline to my face.
Plus, Shogun Fights is so damned awesomely Baltimore. It had the absurd, like the sixth fight of the night, between Ground Control's hometown hero Dave Daniecki-a man who looked to be chiseled from a pile of muscles that then had more muscles grafted on before being covered with a thin veneer of tattoos-facing off against Lewis Rumsey, who sported a green-and-yellow striped mohawk, body "art" that could have been done on an Etch A Sketch, and looked like he'd stopped off at every third sub shop between the arena and his Williamsport, Pa., home. Rumsey's strategy was to unleash a series of delightfully ridiculous and remarkably ineffective chubby-dude spin kicks. This will shock no one, but he didn't win. But even in that lone note of the absurd, there was an overriding display of heart as Rumsey, despite a vicious pummeling by the man-mountain Daniecki, never tapped out and made it through a grueling three full rounds.
All that heart is what made the night fit right into Fair Baltimore. The second fight on the card saw Craig Hight from Chambersburg, Pa., take on Dameron Kirby of Gaithersburg. Kirby, a swing-for-the-fences striker, shivered Hight with quick hard jabs and more than a few pendulous roundhouses, but Hight, a college wrestler, owned the ground, repeatedly taking Kirby down and savaging him with sharp elbows to the face, to the ribs, to anywhere he could find an open inch of the powerful Kirby. By the third round, Hight's mouth was a red mess and his huge beard was streaked with blood, but he held on to win a 29-28 decision. After the fight, Hight described his strategy: "He's a strong son of a bitch and I didn't want to get hit in the head again, so I wanted to take his ass down." When I asked the tired warrior what hurt, he looked at me through swollen eyes and seemed to wonder if someone had swapped my brain for a potato before answering, "My face."
Foregoing the tight dresses and heels for trunks and mouth guards were Gabby "The Gabbinator" Holloway and Rosanna "The Rosanimal" Garcia, who became the first women to fight professionally in Maryland. Their bout was titanic. The lanky 5-foot-9-inch Muay Thai-trained Garcia had a 3-inch height advantage and came out strong with a series of crisp snap kicks, but Holloway was able to work her way inside and take the taller fighter down. On the ground, the fighters traded hard jabs, with Holloway, a compact 135-pound wrestler, getting position and pounding the taller fighter from behind. The fight went the distance, and though Holloway won a clear decision, Garcia stood, blood filling her nose and running down her back, with her fists still raised.
These fighters aren't going to get rich from Shogun. Hight, a 31-year-old construction-equipment salesman by day, spent eight weeks on the side training for the fight. Holloway is a 22-year-old student who trains six days a week on top of school. They'll return to their lives with bodies full of pain and hearts full of pride to remind them of their time in the cage. I hope to see them both again in Shogun Fights IX.