Friday, October 26, 2012

Ryan Heckert Interview

Anytime you are an NAAFS event, you will also see Ryan Heckert from HexLinc Photos taking pictures throughout each and every fight. Ryan has gone from at first just helping out, to be part of the event all the way to becoming the photographer for the promotion, to his newly expanded role as Director of Media Relations. The amount of people who use his pictures as their Facebook profile pictures and things of that sort, speak volumes as to the quality of his work. While everyone who is an NAAFS regular knows Ryan and sees him, I wanted to give people an opportunity to know more about him and what he does.

Q: Can you talk about how you got interested in photography?
A: My interest in photography was started from MMA. I didn't have an interest growing up, I became interested in cage fighting and MMA and then NAAFS. Through a couple opportunities I got interested in photography to provide that service for the NAAFS. Not really, classically or technically trained, just something kind of self taught and learned from other people. A lot of Youtube videos and stuff. Not something that was a long interest of mine, something that came from NAAFS and cage fighting.

Q: How did you get involved with the NAAFS?
A: I had always been interested in MMA. I remember back in high school renting the early UFC's with my buddies. I always had an interest in the sport. I think it was about 2005 when I started attending local events, I saw a couple shows at the Canton Civic Center and then became interested in the NAAFS, they were putting on shows pretty consistently and were close to home. I started going to those and what ended up happening is it became quite an expense in my budget so I got connected with Jake Digman, he was looking for volunteers to work events. One thing lead to another and for the first few shows I just sold tickets, set up chairs, anything I could to help them out and in exchange got to go to all the shows and got a free t-shirt. That kind of evolved into other opportunities. I noticed that didn't have a consistent person doing photography and I got involved in that. I got better and nicer equipment and got better. After that I took on a different role than where I started and even with just the photography. I was just wanting to see the events more and be close to the action.

Q: When you started doing the photography, was that something you were hoping would become long term or was it just more filling in where you could fill in?
A: It was nothing I walked into thinking it was my goal. It just happened that I said "Hey Greg (Kalikas), you got no one taking pictures, can I do that?" You get closer to the action and the fighters and the staff. I just stumbled onto it. I started to experience it and learn more about the camera and the operational side of what happens.

Q: There is a lot more to what you do than just taking pictures, can you give an idea of the process for you?
A: I get to the show usually around four o'clock. I have taking on a role coordinating medial relations. A lot of my time is spent making sure everyone is situated, people in the right seats, telling media where to go. Once the event starts, it is just making sure I capture enough about each fight to tell the story of each fight. Although I am constantly firing the camera and getting shots, what usually makes it through production is just a few. After a two to three hour show, there is quite a bit of editing and re-creating a story. Somebody said one time that for every hour of shooting you do, you do three hours of editing and I have found that to be true. You shoot the event, put them in the server, getting the ones I need, editing them, putting a watermark on them and taking those and putting them on the website. We try and do it within forty-eight hours. Between shows there is constant requests for photos, we are doing posters, articles, other media outlets want pictures, it doesn't stop between shows. I have been doing it so long and have every single fight archived, so if someone needs something from a fight in 2008 I can get it.

Q: Sometimes people are doing the same thing and it is almost competition, more people are taking pictures at NAAFS events, but you all get along and support each other, is that important to you?
A: Very much so. I walked into this and every show never thinking it is my territory or my thing. I was given a unique opportunity to do this. I have been kind of coached by people along the way and for me not to return that ten-fold would just be plain wrong. It is a great opportunity and I want to do everything I can to maximize their chance to do that. It is not a competition. There is too many great people and enough opportunities for everyone. I try and build a relationship with people. I think about Keith Mills, who is Sherdog's go to photographer and I reached out to him a couple years ago, he wasn't a snob or rude, he helped me out. Some other guys like Mike Wrobel who has done a lot for shows for us has been a huge help for me. Without those people I wouldn't be where I am at.

Q: What about NAAFS makes it a company you like working with?
A: We have been putting on shows since I think 2005. That is a long run for a promotion that is regionally based. Especially in Ohio, I think I read Ohio is the second state in the country in volume of shows. It is exciting to be part of the behind the scenes, you know we are appreciated. What goes on behind the scenes with matchmaking, securing venues, making sure fighters have medicals, one thing changes and everything changes. The people have been a lot of fun to work with. It is fun to travel and see places, we have been all around Ohio and West Virginia. For me personally, it gives me a break from the every day grind that I have to do to support my family.

Q: When you look back at your time doing this, are there any fights that stick out in your mind?
A: I would have to say there are a lot of favorites. A lot of people would say Jason Dent vs Chris Lozano at Fight Night in the Flats. It was an incredible fight. For more reasons than just what went on in the cage. They had their differences before, two of the main gyms in Ohio putting their main guys out there in the Main Event, the hype, things leading up to it, helped make that fight. On top of that, what happened in the cage was even better. There have been so many. I have done over a hundred shows and at fifteen fights a show, it adds up. I have enjoyed watching Nick Duell, Joe Heiland, and I have favorite amateur fighters. So many great fights but the favorite has to be Dent vs Lozano, and with what happened before and during the fight, to see them at the end put the disagreement behind them.

Q: Sometimes I am writing my play by play and there is a great fight and I have to remind myself to keep writing, do you ever find that happening and have to remind yourself to keep shooting?
A: Haha, it is funny you say that. In the early days I would get three or four good shots and stop or back off and watch the fight. Now, I am really robotic about it. I go and put my head on the camera and it doesn't come up until it is over, and even when it is over it doesn't stop because that is where some of the best emotion is, when the fight is over. I have to remind myself to stay in my seat and get the shot because a particular guy may win and you wanna jump and scream because it is impossible not to like these guys and remain objective. You miss a lot behind the camera.

Q: You mention being objective when you do this long enough, you form friendships, is it hard when you see two friends fighting and see one beat up on the other?
A: It is hard but what is hard for me is not necessarily what goes on during the fight, I am used to that. What upsets me and makes me emotional is what happens after the fight. You know one guys is gonna lose, when it is over, reality sets in for the person that wins, at the same time, the guys still on the ground or his head is hanging low, that is what gets me. You know them and get to know who they are.

Q: When you for example go on Facebook and see a fighter using your work as their profile picture, do you get any joy from that?
A: I do. My joy comes giving them that memory. They like it and want to show everyone else, it isn't about me, it is about them showing that moment they had in a picture.

Q: Anything I missed that you want to talk about?
A: Just that it continues to be exciting with the NAAFS. It is fun to be a part of it. There is always something new in the works, a new venue, new market, new fighters coming up. I really enjoy that. like I said before, I really enjoy the relationships I have gotten to build from it all. I look forward to Night of Champions, it will be incredible. They keep topping themselves. You see a fight card and think it can't get better and then another one comes out. A lot of props to Greg and Nichole (Long) for their keen eye and the fighters they bring in. I appreciate guys like you who put so much into the sport and get very little in return, outside of the rewards we get emotionally. Guys who make the sport keep growing. The unselfishness really shows.

Monday, October 22, 2012

NAAFS Caged Vengeance 12 Report

Photos by Landry Yankle

October 20th the NAAFS put on Caged Vengeance 12. Most of the amateur series semi-finals took place What an amazing show it was. Almost every fight was exciting and had the crowd into it. Many great finishes as well. Fadi Shuman and Izzy Williams put on one of the best amateur fights I have ever seen, Strong Style had a good night producing the winners of three of the nights four pro fights and Josh Lasich became the first amateur series title winners of the year.

1. Amateur Heavyweight Semi-Finals
James Rankin (5-3 Kom Arts) vs Jay Olson (6-1 Evolve MMA)

RD 1: Leg kick and hook by Rankin. They trade hard punches. Takedown by Rankin. Rankin lands body shots. Olson pushes him off and gets on top in guard. Olson stands and drops down punches then drops into half guard. Head shots by Olson. Olson gets mount and lands head shots. Olson moves to side control and pins an arm down. Nice job by Rankin to stand. They clinch on the cage and Olson lands a knee to the body. Punch to the head by Olson. They separate and Rankin tries for a takedown but Olson sprawls.
I scored RD 1: 10-9 Olson

RD 2: Leg kick by Olson. They clinch and move to the cage. They trade knees to the body. They separate and both fighters look tired. Hook by Rankin. Cross by Rankin. Hard hook by Olson. They clinch but quickly separate. Olson lands hard punches against the cage. Rankin shoots but Olson sprawls. Rankin finishes the takedown and gets mount and then his back. Ranking gets a rear naked and Olson tries to fight it but eventually taps.

Result: James Rankin by Tapout (Rear Naked Choke) at 2:23 of Round 2

2. Amateur Light Heavyweight Semi-Finals
Matt DiCenso (8-1 Team Ascension) vs Dan Stevenson (4-0 Dojo Fight Club)

RD 1: Leg kick by DiCenso. Stevenson shoots and gets the takedown into guard. Body shots by Stevenson. Head shots from the bottom by DiCenso. More body shots by Stevenson. DiCenso tries to shrimp and escape and then tries for an arm but can't get it. Head shots by Stevenson. Dicenso defends well on the bottom.
I scored RD 1: 10-9 Stevenson

RD 2: Takedown by Stevenson into guard. Hammer fist by Stevenson. Head shots from the bottom by DiCenso. More head shots by DiCenso. DiCenso tries for an arm but can't get it. Head shots by Stevenson. More head shots from the bottom by DiCenso.
I scored RD 2: 10-9 DiCenso

RD 3: Leg kick by DiCenso. They clinch and DiCenso lands a knee to the body. Stevenson tries for a takedown and gets it and is in half guard. DiCenso gets full guard. Head shot by Stevenson. Stevenson gets his back and lands head shots. DiCenso pulls guard. Head shots from the bottom by DiCenso. Punch to the head by Stevenson. Body shots by Stevenson. Head shots from the bottom by DiCenso.
I scored RD 3: 10-9 Stevenson
My score card: 29-28 Stevenson

Result: Dan Stevenson by Split Decision (30-27/28-29/30-27)

3. Amateur Middleweight Semi-Finals
Tony DiPiero (7-6 Rising Dragon) vs Nick Halkides (2-1 Evolve MMA)

RD 1: They trade hard shots with Halkides getting the better of it. Takedown by DiPiero into guard. DiPiero pushes him to the cage. Halkides tries for an arm and gets the armbar for the tap.

Result: Nick Halkides by Tapout (Armbar) at 1:07 of Round 1

4. Amateur Lightweight Semi-Finals
Fadi Shuman (2-0 Mad Dog Fight Team) vs Izzy Williams (3-0 Evolve MMA)

RD 1: Leg kick by Williams. Hard cross by Williams. Shuman tries for a takedown but Williams sprawls and then gets into guard. Body shots by Williams. Williams stands and kicks at his legs. Williams drops down punches and then lets him up. Two hard leg kicks by Williams. Hook by Williams. Shuman shoots in but can't get the takedown. Williams hurts him with punches. Leg kick by Williams. Williams hurts him with a cross and a hook. Shuman tries for the takedown and can't get it.
I scored RD 1: 10-8 Williams

RD 2: Two jabs by Shuman. Leg kick by Williams. Williams hurts him with a cross and Shuman tries for the takedown. They clinch on the cage. Shuman tries for a guillotine and drops down with it. Williams escapes and gets side control. Knee to the body by Williams. Shuman reverses and gets mount and lands hard punches. Williams sweeps and gets on top in guard. Shuman tries for a triangle and lands head shots till Williams taps.

Result: Fadi Shuman by Tapout (Triangle) at 2:48 of Round 2

5. Amateur Lightweight Semi-Finals
Nick Browne (3-0 Uniontown Fight Club) vs Kenny Jackson (9-5 Evolve MMA)

RD 1: Leg kick by Browne and another. Another leg kick by Browne. Cross by Browne. Jackson gets poked in the eye stopping action. They resume and Browne lands punches. They clinch on the cage. Browne punches at his legs. Head shots by Jackson. Takedown by Browne into guard. Jackson scrambles and they stand still clinched against the cage. Knee to the leg by Jackson. They separate and Jacks lands a cross. They clinch as the round ends.
I scored RD 1: 10-9 Browne

RD 2: Leg kick by Jackson. Leg kick by Browne. Nice body kick by Jackson. Browne catches a kick and takes him down and tries for an arm. Jackson pulls guard. Body shots by Browne. Browne gets his back and lands head shots. The ref stands them. Leg kick by Jackson.
I Scored RD 2: 10-9 Browne

RD 3: Hard body kick by Jackson. Cross by Browne. They clinch and move to the cage. Knees to the body by Jackson. Browne gets his back standing and tries for an arm as they drop down. Head shots by Browne. Browne gets a rear naked and gets the tap.

Result: Nick Browne by Tapout (Rear Naked Choke) at 1:20 of Round 3

6. Amateur Bantamweight Semi-Finals
Shane Valko 5-0 (The Mat Factory) vs Jordan Baldwin (3-1 Evolve MMA)

RD 1: Clinch against the cage. Takedown into side control by Valko. Nice job by Baldwin to stand. Jab by Valko. Valko shoots bu Baldwin sprawls. Valko tries again and gets the takedown into guard. Punch to the head from the bottom by Baldwin. Baldwin tries for an arm and they stand clinched on the cage. Takedown into half guard by Baldwin. Baldwin gets side control but Valko gets half guard.
I scored RD 1: 10-9 Valko

RD 2: Leg kick by Valko. They clinch and move to the cage. Knee to the leg by Baldwin. Baldwin lands a knee low stopping the action. They resume and Valko lands a hook. They clinch in the center and Valko lands a knee to the body. They separate and Baldwin catches a kick and tries for a takedown against the cage. They drop down but get right back up. They trade body kicks. Hard hook by Valko. Takedown by Baldwin into half guard. Head shots by Baldwin. The ref stands them. Baldwin catches a kick and lands punches.
I scored RD 2: 10-9 Baldwin

RD 3: Clinch and takedown by Valko into guard. Head shots by Valko. Valko gets mount and lands punches. Valko gets his back and lands head shots. Valko looks for a rear naked. Head shots by Valko and again he looks for the rear naked. Baldwin is fighting it. More head shots by Valko.
I scored RD 3: 10-9 Valko
My score card: 29-28 Valko

Result: Shane Valko by Unanimous Decision (29-28/30-27/30-27)

7. Amateur Featherweight Semi-Finals
Eric Gifford ( 4-2 Brickhouse MMA) vs Dominic Mazzotta (5-1 Ed Vincent MMA/Cho's Tae-Kwon-Do)

RD 1: Hook by Mazzotta. They clinch but quickly separate. Leg kick by Mazzotta. Cross by Gifford. Takedown by Mazzotta into guard. Mazzotta moves to half guard and then side control. Mazzotta goes for an armbar but Gifford fights it off until he has to tap.

Result: Dominic Mazzotta by Tapout (Armbar) at 1:56 of Round 1

8. Amateur Bantamweight Semi-Finals
Ryan Arce (4-1 Evolve MMA) vs Jerrell Hodge (4-1 Brickhouse MMA)

RD 1: Leg kick by Arce. Jab by Arce. Takedown by Hodge and her gets side control. Hodge moves to mount and lands punches to the head. Arce tries to scramble. More punches by Hodge. Hodge gets an armbar and gets the tap.

Result: Jerrell Hodge by Tapout (Armbar) at 2:09 of Round 1

9. Amateur Welterweight Title
Emmanuel Kangah (3-1 Tru Roots MMA) vs Josh Lasich (4-1 Evolve MMA)

RD 1: Leg kick by Kangah. Clinch and takedown by Lasich into side control. Lasich moves to north south and lands body shots. Kangah defends well. Lasich is back to side control and lands a knee to the body. Another knee for Lasich. Lasich gets mount and lands punches. More punches by Lasich.
I scored RD 1: 10-9 Lasich

RD 2: Kangah throws him down and kicks at his legs. Kangah drops a punches and then drops down on top of Lasich. Kangah tries for a choke and it allows Lasich to get in top in side control. Knee to the body by Lasich. Lasich moves to north south and then gets his back. Lasich looks for a rear naked. Body shots by Lasich. Lasich again goes for the rear naked. Kangah tries hard to escape it and rolls into guard. Punch to the head by Kangah.
I scored RD 2: 10-9 Lasich

RD 3: Hard hook by Kangah. Cross by Lasich. Lasich shoots and gets a takedown into side control. Lasich gets knee on belly and lands head shots. Back to side control for Lasich and then north south. Punch to the body by Lasich. Lasich back to side control and lands knees to the body. Punches to the body by Lasich. More knees to the body by Lasich. Lasich moves back to north south and lands punches to the body. He moves back to side control and lands knees to the body.
I scored RD 3: 10-9 Lasich

Result: Josh Lasich by Unanimous Decision (30-27/30-27/30-27)

10. Pro Lightweight
Jon Washington (11-4) vs Joe Heiland (14-2-1 Strong Style Fight Team)

RD 1: Leg kick by Washington. They trade hard hooks. Clinch on the cage and Washington lands a knee to the body. Foot stomps by Washington. Knee to the body by Heiland. Knee to the body by Washington. They separate and trade punches. Double jab by Heiland. Leg kick by Heiland. Jab by Heiland. Cross by Washington. They clinch on the cage and Heiland lands two knees to the leg. Knee to the leg by Washington. They separate and trade hooks. Cross to the body by Heiland. They clinch but quickly separate. Heiland shoots but can't get the takedown and they clinch on the cage. Takedown by Heiland but they are up quick and still clinched. They separate and trade hard shots. Uppercut by Heiland. Clinch on the cage. They drop down and Washington has him pushed against the cage. Washington tries for a triangle but the rounds ends.
I scored RD 1: 10-9 Heiland

RD 2: Leg kick by Heiland. Hook by Washington. Washington shoots but Heiland sprawls. Jab by Heiland. Hook by Washington. Washington seems real tired. Leg kick by Washington. Hook by Washington and another. They trade hard shots. Leg kick by Heiland. Washington tries for a takedown but Heiland defends it. They clinch in the centers and Heiland lands two knees to the head. They separate and trade hard punches. Cross by Heiland. Leg kick by Heiland. Hook by Heiland. Superman punch by Heiland. Leg kick by Heiland. Jab by Washington. Heiland hurts him with a hook and lands more punches as the round ends.
I scored RD 2: 10-9 Heiland

RD 3: Jab by Washington. Leg kick by Heiland. Heiland lands hard shots against the cage. Washington tries to drop down but Heiland sprawls. Both fighters are cut and bleeding. Hook by Heiland. Cross by Heiland. They trade jabs. Leg kick by Heiland. Hook by Washington. They trade punches. Cross by Heiland. Hook by Washington. Hook by Heiland. Washington tries for a takedown and eats punches. Hook by Heiland. They clinch and move to the cage but quickly separate.
I scored RD 3: 10-9 Heiland
My score card: 30-27 Heiland

Result: Joe Heiland by Unanimous Decision (29-28/29-28/29-28)

11. Pro Welterweight
Zac Gobel (7-5 Dragons Den) vs Elonzo Harvey (3-5 Rising Dragon)

RD 1: They trade leg kicks. They clinch on the cage and Gobel gets a takedown into side control. Gobel goes for an arm and then gets his back. Gobel gets a rear naked and gets the tap.

Result: Zac Gobel by Tapout (Rear Naked Choke)at 1:33 of Round 1

12. Pro Welterweight
Jay Buck (14-11 G2) vs Nick Duell (19-6-1 Strong Style Fight Team)

RD 1: Cross by Duell. They clinch in the center and move to the cage. Knee to the leg by Buck and another. Knee to the body by Duell. Head shots by Buck. Foot stomps by Buck. Both lands head shots. More foot stomps by Buck. Knee to the body by Buck. They separate and Buck lands a push kick. Cross by Duell. They trade punches. Head kick by Duell. Buck catches a kick and takes him down. Buck tries to get on top and Duell lands an up kick that puts him out cold.

Result: Nick Duell by KO at 3:02 of Round 1

13. Pro Light Heavyweight
Bill Hill (17-25 Truth Training Systems) vs Maxim Grishin (13-6 Strong Style Fight Team)

RD 1: Hill charges in and eats a hook. Grishin lands hard punches. Takedown by Grishin into half guard. Hill gets full guard. Body shots by Grishin. Head shots by Grishin. Grishin stands and lets him up. Hill shoots in but can't get the takedown. Grishin drops him with a cross and a hook and gets on top landing more punches before letting him up. Hill's nose is bleeding bad. Hook by Grishin. Cross by Grishin. They clinch on the cage. Punch to the body by Hill. Hill is working hard for a takedown. Head shots by Grishin. They separate. Leg kick by Hill. Two more leg kicks by Hill. Cross by Grishin. Grishin hurts him with a hook and lands more punches that drop him. Grishin lands a couple more on the ground and the ref stops it.

Result: Maxim Grishin by TKO at 3:57 of Round 1

Submission of the Night: Fadi Shuman

KO of the Night: Nick Duell

Fight of the Night: Fadi Shuman vs Izzy Williams

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Nichole Long Interview

Photo Credit: ISO Photo Studio

October 20th is a big day for amateur MMA in Ohio. It is the semi-finals of the NAAFS Amateur Series, to see who moves on to the title finals. It is a chance for you to see the top amateurs in the area fight on the same night. Caged Vengeance 12 also will feature some exciting pro fights as well. I interviewed NAAFS matchmaker Nichole Long to get her thoughts on the card and other things.

Q: Let's start with the amateurs. Basically, if they win this fight, they are in the finals. How big of a springboard can the NAAFS amateur titles be for these guys?
A: If you look at the record of what has happened to our amateurs who have won the titles in the past, those guys move on to being pros with us and most of those guys are at our top level and have our belts. Guys like Stipe (Miocic) and Jessica (Eye) have moved on to bigger shows. There are so many who have done so well. Even if you are fighting at that level, in the finals, regardless of if they win it or not, those are the guys that stick with us, they are all legit and fought all year to be there. It is a platform for them to step on and go pro and go from our organization to bigger ones.

Q: A lot of times a card that has amateurs, some of them are unknown and you don't know what you are gonna get, but this is basically you are seeing the best of the best correct?
A: Yeah, this is the whose who of amateur MMA. I get so excited every year for the semi-finals, sometimes even more than for the finals cause these guys are in it to win it right now, they are not trying to grind out a win, they are trying to kill that person haha, so they can move on quickly and go for that title. We have great title fights, sometimes you will see the occasional person try and grind out a win, where as in the semi-finals it is dog eat dog.

Q: You mentioned people like Stipe who have moved on, this is a chance for you guys to see who might be your next Stipe or next Chris Lozano correct?
A: Oh yeah, we are building stars, that is what we do. We are building them from the bottom when they start out to the top of their career and get to watch them on the big stage and they represent us well.

Q: There are a couple fights I want to talk about. Ryan Arce vs Jerrell Hodge, both have had big wins and exciting fights, could this be that show stealer at the end of the night?
A: This is definitely one of the interesting bouts on the card, I am excited to see it. Especially because, I don't know how many people know but Ryan and Jerrell have cross-trained before. They know each other and have trained together before. When it comes to the semi-finals, that happens. Another on of the 135's, Jordan Baldwin is also from Evolve, Ryan's camp, so they cant fight each other. (Shane) Valko have already fought so they cant fight again, it doesn't make sense. So it just happens that two guys who have cross-trained have to fight each other. They are the biggest finishers at the weight class so it will be fireworks.

Q: Another is Fadi Shuman against Izzy Williams. How impressed have you been with their skill level for having so few fights?
A: They are both amazing. They both look like they have had fights before and neither have. More people are excited that match because of the way they match up. That is not to take anything away from (Josh) Kallai, he is a great competitor and deserved his spot. Injuries happen and he had to step out, we hope to have him back next year. They both came in with such a force and not having that much experience or any background before that like Kallai with wrestling. It is so interesting to see guys go and decide to train and come out looking like they have had experience.

Q: As far as the amateurs, is there a fight no one is talking about that they should be talking and might steal the show?
A: There are so many of them that can turn out so many ways. I cant pinpoint one for you. There are so many on this card that will be amazing fights.

Q: A few weight classes have Evolve fighters in both fights, which speaks to what they have done this year, but does that leave you with the possibility that if they both win, there are less title fights at Night of Champions?
A: Yeah, it definitely does. Evolve has put out a ton of fighters this year. If you look at it as a whole, they have had more guys compete this year than any other team. That is something that when we do awards at the end of the year will be looked at. When it comes to team of the year, there are two different philosophies, does it go by the team that produced the most fighters or the team who has won the most, what does it go by? You have to look at the amount of fighters Evolve has produced this year and have got to the semi-finals. I have never seen this many from one team.

Q: Moving to the pro fights, the main event is Nick Duell and Jay Buck. Nick has seemed on the verge a couple times of moving on to the big show and suffered a loss. How big of a fight is this for him?
A: This is a huge fight for Nick Duell. Jay Buck is a seasoned fighter, he has been around a long time and is from a legit camp. Jay Buck has got more experience than Nick, at the same time, Nick has been on that level before and been the main event before. He has been behind the eight-ball before, knowing this could be make or break in his career. It has happened before for him and he always rises to the occasion. Yeah he has had a few losses here and there, but Nick learns from his losses, he doesn't sulk, he comes back stronger. I have talked to Nick recently and he sounds very on it, very confident, like he is doing what he needs to do to have his head right and do a great job. I have also talked to Jay and his coaches. It is gonna be a great fight.

Q: Another one is Mark Cherico and Jason Lawrence. Mark has been dominant in the NAAFS, but Lawrence is possibly a guy who can give him a good fight correct?
A: Lawrence has been around a long time. He is not a young fighter. He will fight smart and is a coach at his gym. He is used to making game-plans for specific fighters. I think going in that is what he will do for Mark. Mark has been great in the NAAFS, he is undefeated. I think it will come down to whose game will win, is it Lawrence playing that smart game, or is it that Cherico is just that good and will powerhouse through another opponent.

Q: Joe Heiland is fighting against Jon Washington. What can we look for in that fight?
A: I think that will be fight of the night for the pros. I don't know why. Either that one or the Nick Duell fight. Jon hasn't fought for us in a long time and has been wanting to come back. He is coming back on a large stage as a pro. Looking at what he has gone through in his career, when it is all on the line, he will shine. Joe has been in the NAAFS and used to being on our stage. I see that fighting finishing, not going to a decision.

Q: With so many popular gyms such as Evolve and Strong Style on this card, just from crowd interaction for fans, the crowd can make this card a lot of fun, would you agree?
A: Yeah! We have teams from all over on this card, that is why I love the semi-finals. It comes down to the fighters who have fought their asses off to get there, they are from all over the place and it makes for a great crowd. Then of course, the local teams to. From what I have heard, it is really close to being a sell-out.

Q: You know I allowed fans to ask some questions, so I am going to ask you a couple of them. First, how close is Isaiah Chapman to being in line for a title shot?
A: Without giving it away, it will probably happen before 2013.

Q: For you as a fan, what has been your favorite NAAFS fight?
A: It would depend on the year. We have one of those great fights every year. I can remember so many saying "wow, that was a great fight". One that sticks in my head is the Kevin Rothacker and Doug Kulbis. This year so far, in my eyes is Terry Blackwell and Brandon Suber. Certain fights just stick in my head as wars and those ones stuck out as wars.

Q: Are there any fighters who debuted this year who you feel have pro title potential down the line?
A: I think he started last year but Wes Hanson definitely. He is a big Urijah Faber, he comes out and does his business. He has the talent, he has what big promotions look for. Two more, who are fighting each other, Fadi and Izzy, they came in with no experience and are acting like seasoned amateurs. As for the girls, I am extremely impressed with Jena Baldwin. She is only training with her and her coach, no other partners. To be that calm and skilled is very impressive.

Q: Are there any fighters who when they fight you drop everything to watch?
A: My husband (Tony Castillo) of course. It is the only time my stomach drops at all haha. It isn't about a certain fighter, it is matches that make me drop everything. There are some fights I really want to see. There are so many I wanted to see that I have to watch on our show or video, we get busy and I do have to work. Every card I mark a little X by certain bouts because they are guys I am looking at for potential to be in the series. I am already setting up next years series by watching the young kids this year. It is more about matches than fighters. Last year, when I saw Dave Lastafka, I told him he had potential and for some reason I felt he would win it. He said he was flattered but didn't think he would win. He won the title, sometimes you get that feeling.

Q: Last one is, what is the best part of your job?
A: The best part is, you put so much work into every card, people don't even realize the work, there is so much to make everything perfect, and then seeing it come to life. Especially getting to see the series at the end. See it happen and who your title holders are. Watching them work so hard each year. To see the trials and tribulations everyone goes through.

Q: Anything I missed that you want to talk about?
A: Not that I can think of.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Nick Halkides Interview

Photo Credit: Hex Linc Photography

My list of favorite fighters to watch would not be complete without Nick Halkides. Although young in his career, he has show himself to be well-rounded and entertaining. On October 20th he will step into the cage at NAAFS Caged Vengeance 12 in the semi-finals for the 185 pound title against Tony DiPiero, an experienced fighter with some legit skill. This will be Halkides toughest test to date and a win will definitely make a statement.

Q: I wanna start out with a little background, can you talk about how you got interested in training for the sport?
A: I played football since I was a little kid. After high school I was going to play college ball for my school but decided to focus on my grades. Eventually I needed something in my life again. I took up Jiu-Jitsu at Dudu Barros Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Fairlawn, Ohio. Eventually after a couple years I felt I needed something else. I stumbled upon an advertisement for Evolve, one of their first commercials. I tried it out and fell in love instantly and it has been a work in progress.

Q: When you started training was there any intention to fight?
A: There was some intention. I wasn't so sure, but always had a feeling I would get involved in it. Especially after meeting all the fighters at Evolve and dealing with them everyday, I felt I had to. After my first fight, I was like "this is for me, I wanna do this" haha.

Q: You are coming off a first round win over Kevin Bailey, how happy were you with your performance?
A: I was ecstatic. In my first fight I demonstrated I had boxing ability but never had an opportunity to use my ground game. After the second fight, which I fought injured, and my luck, I fought a great wrestler, I felt I had to prove myself by my third fight that I do have a ground game to show the world, that my Jiu-Jitsu is here and is always gonna be there.

Q: This fight is with Tony DiPiero, what do you know about him?
A: I know his entire coaching staff and teammates very well, they cross-train a lot with Evolve, I have nothing but respect for Rising Dragon. He is a tough fighter, very experienced. I have to bring my "A" game, mix it up, giving him a little bit of everything I got.

Q: His last fight was the same night as yours, he beat John Burbol, did you see that fight?
A: I did.

Q: What did you think of his performance?
A: I thought he did well. I figured he would be more of a kick-boxer, but from what I saw from his fight, if anything he relies on grappling and standing against the cage. He has heavy hands. Nothing I shouldn't be able to handle.

Q: You mentioned his experience, he has thirteen fights, does that experience worry you in any way?
A: No, it doesn't worry me. Once the cage door shuts, everything changes. Like Mike Tyson used to say, "Everyone has a game-plan till they get punched in the face".

Q: He has a win over your teammate Steve Burton, has Steve helped you get ready for him?
A: Oh yeah! I've been doing a lot of rolling, grappling, cage work, with Steve Burton. His insight helps and I truly respect and thank him for all the help he has given me leading up to this fight.

Q: You have several teammates fighting that night, does it help you to have several teammates getting ready at the same time?
A: Of course it does! When you train as much as I train, every day, you start to get tired, feel weak, you really tax your body. Having six other teammates fighting on the same day, everyone is there every day pushing each other, helping you get through whatever obstacle is in your way. I love having so many teammates preparing with me and it benefits me a lot.

Q: With so many people from Evolve fighting, you will have a big crowd support, does that motivate you?
A: Oh Yeah! A lot of tickets we sell are a lot of members, not necessarily fighters, just people there training every day and see you every day. It motivates me, they see how hard I work every day. I have to go out there and show them what I am made of.

Q: What does it say about Evolve that so many guys are in the semi-finals?
A: It shows that we have a world class staff. We have every aspect covered. Kickboxing we have Ryan Madigan there, we have Mike Riedel for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and recently we added Dave Rella an Ohio State champion wrestler to the mix. It benefits all of us, it really makes a difference.

Q: Not to look past Tony, but what would the title mean to you?
A: It would be another step forward in hopefully a long illustrious career for me. The way I look at it, it is step one to success. You gotta get through step one to continue.

Q: Do you have a prediction?
A: I don't like to make predictions, but I will say there is gonna be fireworks. You are gonna see me at my best.

Q: Anyone you want to thank?
A: I want to thank all my family and friends for their support. My coaches at Evolve, Ryan Madigan, John Cook, Dave Rella and Mike Riedel, and a very big thank you to Steve Traczyk for the countless hours of help with my boxing, and Dudu Barros Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy and Eduardo Barros.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mark Cherico Interview

Photo Credit: Landry Lynn

After recovering from an injury, Mark Cherico is ready to resume one of the most promising careers in the mid-west. After an undefeated amateur career, in April Cherico made his pro debut and continued his winning ways. On October 20th he steps back into the NAAFS cage at Caged Vengeance 12 to take on Jason Lawrence and looks to continue his winning streak and his streak of exciting fights.

Q: You won your pro debut in April, How did it feel to finally get to fight as a pro and fight for money?
A: It was really cool to finally be able to say I’m a Professional Fighter. I was hoping to get to use some elbows but the fight didn’t end up playing out that way. No worries though I’ll take a quick win like that any day. As for getting paid it was cool but I don’t fight for the money. We’re well taken care of working for Fight Club. So fighting for me really is just for fun.

Q: You were supposed to fight again this summer, but had to withdraw due to an injury, what was the injury?
A: I got injured three times in that last camp getting ready. The 1st was a back injury that really affected my grappling and ability to use my wrestling. Then I split my eyebrow grappling Luke Burdette. Thankfully my wife is a nurse and she fixed me up but a week later I went for an Omaplata on Khama Worthy and when he looked for a reversal his knee clipped my head and open a new cut right above the old one. So after that we made the decision to pull out and get healed up.

Q: Safe to say it is fully healed now?
A: Yes everything is healed up. I seen a chiropractor 3 days a week and with adjustments and massages my back is back at 100%. As for the cuts I think they were a result of bad training on my part. Now that we have Dave Sachs over seeing all of our day to day training there’s been no injuries & our level of training has greatly improved.

Q: You have Jason Lawrence coming up, what do you know about him?
A: I seen some old video’s of him. He’s a Southpaw he likes to wing some wild punches. Other than that I don’t know much else. He’s older so he doesn’t have a twitter or facebook so I was only able to find to YouTube video’s.

Q: From what I have seen, he hasn’t fought since early 2010, do you think ring rust could possibly be a factor for him?
A: I definitely think rust could be a huge factor. He hasn’t been in that environment in a long time. I’ve fought 6 times since his last fight.

Q: Is it hard to game plan for someone who hasn't fought in so long, not knowing where he could have improved in all that time?
A: No, from watching his video’s his style never seemed to change much at all. I can assume he’s gotten better, but we have worked on a ton of different scenarios for this fight & with the killers I have at FCP and with Dave Sachs & Justin Wilcox in my corner we will be able to adjust the game plan on the fly if we need to.

Q: You are used to finishing fights early, now that you are fighting five minute rounds, if a fight goes into that third round, I assume you are confident cardio would not be an issue for you?
A: There’s no way cardio will ever be an issue for me. Thanks in large part to Scott Umberger of Umberger Performance. Aside from training me before fights his 8 week fight prep turns me into a machine. Scott has it down to a science and I know I got the gas tank to push hard all 3 rounds.

Q: With more and more people paying attention to you, could he come in with the attitude that a win over you would be a big boost to for his resume?
A: I’m sure that’s going through his head. But I’m not about to be a name on his resume. He’s someone I got to get through in order to take that next step in my career.

Q: Do you have a prediction?
A: You’re going to see Mark Cherico entertain as always. When that cage door closes I’ll be looking for the finish and I believe I’ll find it. Then when I get the mic I will thank my sponsors and then proceed to entice the crowd.

Q: You have had a few fights with NAAFS now, how have you enjoyed working with them?
A: I love fighting for NAAFS! They’ve been great to me. I hope to continue fighting for them!

Q: It is a little early still, but how far away do you feel you are from fighting for a title?
A: I honestly don’t think about that. I just want to keep fighting and keep winning. When the time comes and I get an offer I’ll sit down and talk with Sachs and see if he feels I’m ready. But right now the only thing I’m thinking about is my Jason Lawrence.

Q: After this fight, any idea what you want next, or just taking it a fight at a time?
A: After this fight I’m going home and spending time with my beautiful baby girl Aubree Rose & my wife Nicole. This has been a long camp and I haven’t been home as much as I’d like to be. Nicole understands and supports me chasing my dream so I want make sure I get to show her how much I appreciate that. When she gets annoyed with me that’s when I’ll know it’s time to get back in the cage.

Q: Anyone you want to thank?
A: I got a lot of people to thank. First and foremost my wife for being so supportive, and blessing me with a beautiful daughter. I’d also like to thank my daughter Aubree for sleeping through the night so I can get the rest I need to get up and back in the gym every day. I’d like to thank my coach Dave Sachs for helping make me a better fighter and putting together a great training camp. Thanks to Justin Wilcox for working with me just about every day leading up to this fight and also teaching me so much. Thanks to all my teammates from Fight Club Pittsburgh & all the guys from Renzo Gracie Pittsburgh. Also special thanks to Poochi who sent me up to NYC to train at Renzo Gracie NYC & Edge Hoboken. Thanks to Mick & Melissa for giving me this amazing job at Fight Club. Thanks to Scott Umber of Umberger Performance for always pushing me in the gym and helping me to become a better athlete. Thanks to my sponsors Prescription Nutrition who has some amazing products, check them out at Also thanks to Intimidation Clothing for the all great gear and look for me to be rocking there Board Shorts in my upcoming fight, check them out at Also thanks to Blasfome Clothing locate on East Carson or buy online at Thanks to ESCO Inc., The Filth Squad, Double D’s Saloon for also sponsoring me. Also after this fight I’ll be raffling off my fight shorts autographed of course and donating all the proceeds to The Mad About Maddux Foundation so even if you don’t want the shorts enter the raffle cause it’s going to a great cause! Lastly shout out to my #BlacktalianMMA brethren Justin Steave, Luke Burdette, Tyler Saltsman & Dave Sachs. Follow me on twitter @MarkChericoMMA

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mark Wallace AKA Wally Boy Wonder Interview

Photo Credit: Hex Linc Photos

If you have ever been to an NAAFS event, you have surely seen Mark Wallace, better known as Wally Boy Wonder walking around and working. But you may not be aware of who he is or what he is doing. He is actually a big reason the event is able to be run as smoothly as it is. Myself, when I arrive early to cover the events, I am able to see him and the crew working hard to set everything up, making sure everything is ready. He has been with NAAFS from the beginning and is one of the reasons you are able to enjoy great events month after month when you attend and NAAFS event. He also is working on betting movies budgeted and has a music career as well, all things you will get to read about in this interview.

Q: Let's start with NAAFS. How did you get involved with them?
A: Through Jake Digman. I worked with him at Akron City Hospital. He asked if I would be interested in volunteering at Fight Night in the Flats 1 and I said "yeah I'll give it a try as long as I can work the VIP section". I didn't know anything about it, I just didn't wanna be out there in the crowd. I worked the VIP section and volunteered for three years for them. Then Greg put me on the work-force.

Q: So in the beginning you weren't doing anything like what you do now?
A: No, not at all. I just came and helped set up the event and made sure everyone in the VIP section was supposed to be there. It was tough because it was the first one and not everyone up there had credentials. I found out this is this fighter and this is that fighter and became familiar with the faces. Basically I did a good job and Greg (Kalikas) invited me back. I wasn't setting up the events like I do now.

Q: Looking back at those early events, would you have ever imagined it growing like it has?
A: Not at all. Greg didn't even know my first name the first year I was there. I was just helping out. I felt I was involved in something that would grow. It wasn't until Greg explained to me what his vision was that I truly understood giving a platform for the amateur fighters to come up and sharpen their tools. Through the years I saw it was more than that, it was a platform to make it to the next big show, not only sharpen their tools, but with our television contract, they can sharpen their tools getting sponsors and working on interviews and all that other stuff.

Q: A lot of people see you at events but may not know what it is you do, can you explain what you do at the events?
A: Basically I am the first person to get there and see what needs done, set up the event, the cage needs to be up at a certain time, video production, sound production, seats need to be numbered before we open the doors, everything has to be orderly before the doors open. A lot of times we are rushing because we have limited staff available. We always find a way to get it done. Basically everything you see when you walk into the event was done by my guys and me, Roger, Brian, Mike Moran, and a few other guys.

Q: After you get everything set up and people are coming in, do you ever just stand back amazed at how much just a couple people where able to do?
A: Oh yeah, for sure. Even after a hundred and twenty events I am always in amazement that we were able to get it done on time, before doors open. That's is just being able to have trust in each other, know that if something needs done it will get done. After I change my shirt, it is usually soaked in sweat from setting up. After I change my shirt I sit back in amazement that this is what they get to enjoy the rest of the night.

Q: When the fights are going on, is there ever a situation where their is a specific fight or fighter where you wish you could just sit back and watch?
A: Yeah there is. Since 2005 I have gotten to become friends with a bunch of fighters. In our league friends fight friends and it makes it very difficult to sit and watch because I would like them both to achieve a win. There are some fights I watched, Daniel Strauss, it was the last fight of the night and everyone was behaving, and Jason Dent and Chris Lozano was another one. Every once in awhile I will watch and see them perform their craft and be in amazement that this is why they make it to the next level and achieve success. You get the enjoyment of watching them grow into great fighters.

Q: Looking back, is there any memory that you would say is the one that stands out?
A: Last year, the night before Rock-N-Rumble losing my dad. Being able to come the next day and get it set up, I didn't stay the whole event, but I was able to get it done and everyone enjoyed themselves and I got to go home and spend time with my family. As far as the good, I enjoyed co-promoting with Bellator. I thought that was a great relationship. It felt like we were starting to get our name known. Venturing to other states was huge to. Going to West Virginia and seeing how the crowd reacted to our show.

Q: I want to talk about your music as well, what got you interested in that?
A: Basically, I was always a writer, writing poetry. I figured if I could do that, then I could put it to music. I have always been interested in music and rhyming. I would go to street battles as a seventeen year old pale white kid and realized I was pretty good at it. Wanting people to be proud of me in some way and it was a release, negative and positive energy put into one form and creating something out of nothing. A lot of people don't realize I use a lot of low-end base. Growing up in a deaf family, a lot of the deaf still listen to music and have big speakers in their car, so I like to use low-end base so they can feel the rhythm.

Q: Is there anyone musically who has influenced you?
A: Oh yeah, for sure. Wu-Tang is huge when it comes to hip hop. I always liked Jim Morrison, I liked his lyrics, he got me started writing. The Def Tones, basically a lot of people influenced me. Anywhere from Phil Collins to the rest. Growing up, my mom always collected a lot of albums. Growing up in the eighties, a lot of music from that era.

Q: Are there any set goals you have with the music?
A: I think I am gonna put out one more album. I put out an album with the band I was with Dog vs Cat, then I did two full-length Wally Boy Wonder Albums, then an EP called Monster Mayhem based on the Universal monsters. I will put out one more album. I never did this for financial gain, I put a lot of money into it. It is just for personal therapy. Something I enjoyed to do. I got signed to a label a couple times and they let me do whatever I felt, didn't try and mold me, gave me opinions but never changed who I am. Screen writing is the long-term goal for me.

Q: Where are you at as far as the movies?
A: Basically when I finish a screen-play, I send it to my buddies in California, Studio Zero Productions, Johnathon Carmichael and Mike Wilkinson, they did the Joe Heiland documentary I directed. They get it in the hands of people who do it for a living. They send back their info and I re-write till they have a solid script. I have two scripts that are getting budgeted, how much it will cost to be made and they find investors. Basically I have two getting budgeted and am working on two more right now.

Q: Is it hard to balance all that with trying to raise children?
A: For sure! I am a father first. I have to make sure is good at the house. My wife works night and I work days at the hospital. She gives me the ability to do things and sits back and waits for her turn. She has things she would like to do, but she knows when it comes to these things, it is not just personal therapy, it makes me a better man in the house. She does a lot of sacrificing. I have OCD and ADD and I put them together and get it done.

Q: Anything I missed that you want to talk about?
A: The graphic design I do for the fighters is cool. I started dabbling in some design and did logos for people and shirts and it is cool to see them wearing them.

Q: Anyone you want to thank?
A: I would like to thank everyone who behaves themselves at the shows, Greg for giving me the opportunity and to bring in my cousin Troy, Steve and my good friend Roger and his good fried Brian, Mike Moran who has become a good friend, Jeff, we have built a tight-knit group outside the fight. They aren't co-workers, we have become friends. Yourself, coming to the events super early wearing your Denver Broncos hat haha.