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.

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