TRENTON, New Jersey, July 14 -- What a difference a year makes. In 2006, when Bodog-sponsored a fight card on the east coast, it was littered with unknown, undistinguished fighters. Today, flush with resources from their billionaire owner Calvin Ayre, Bodog has attracted fighters from some of the top camps in the world for its own shows.
Saturday night's card -- the first bodogFIGHT event in the U.S. -- was a perfect example. On paper at least, it offered competitive, entertaining bouts and something for fans of every fighting discipline. Unfortunately, very few fans actually showed up to the Sovereign Bank Arena.
But give the Bodog guys credit for knowing who butters their bread in these parts. It's Philadelphia's favorite MMA son, welterweight Eddie Alvarez (Pictures). Eddie brought his usual entourage -- all decked out in green "Fight Factory" tees -- and as per usual they were hyped, leading the obligatory "USA" chants as Korean Matt Lee (Pictures) entered the ring.
If their boy had lost, it's fair to say the place would have turned into an English soccer match. But while Lee (9-6-1) put up a great fight, he was overmatched, distinguishing himself mainly by his ability to withstand Eddie's combinations.
After some brief exchanges in round one, Alvarez shot in and scored with a double-leg, landing some hammer fists against the ropes, and ultimately taking Lee's back. But this was predominantly a stand-up fight, and Alvarez continued to get the better of his opponent throughout.
Despite being at a reach disadvantage Alvarez (11-1) threw multiple combinations that backed Lee against the ropes, and by the end of round one it seemed that the home run Eddie was looking for would happen any second.
In round two he continued the attack from his feet, adding a high roundhouse kick to the head that narrowly missed. To be fair, Lee did counter effectively at times with his jab, even drawing blood from the nose of his opponent, while also landing several leg kicks. Only later in the round did Alvarez attempt a takedown, but Lee proved adept at defending against it.
Round three continued the same pattern, though the crowd did get more involved as both men taunted one another. Again, Lee was on the losing end of the exchanges that followed, but Alvarez could not finish, despite snapping Lee's head back at least three times during the round. Lee scored his only takedown late with a leg sweep, but it was too little, too late, as Alvarez took a unanimous decision.
The Bodog middleweight belt was on the line as Trevor Prangley (Pictures), undefeated in four consecutive Bodog events, took on MMA veteran Yuki Kondo (Pictures), he of the 70 plus fights.
Kondo holds wins about a decade and a half ago over Guy Mezger (Pictures) and Frank Shamrock (Pictures), but judging from his performance tonight he's still got a lot of fight left in him.
The South African Prangley (16-4-0) looked to be in top condition and totally confident. He dictated the pace of the fight from the beginning, scoring a right hand early, then a take down. While he was able to sink the hooks, Kondo escaped, returning with a few leg kicks of his own.
As Phil Baroni (Pictures) yelled instructions from the crowd, the much bigger Prangley pressed Kondo into the ropes, where he continued to reign down punches before scoring a knockdown at 3:30, opening a cut in the process. From Kondo's guard, Prangley continued to land some huge punches, opening a cut and causing a mouse under the left eye. Kondo (49-20-6) was lucky to escape the round.
In round two Prangley continued to press on the feet, locking Kondo in a Thai clinch and landing several knees early. Kondo held on, even attempting an armbar from the ground, but by the end of the round the cut had worsened and the punches had clearly taken their toll.
The bell saved the Japanese fighter in round two, but he couldn't escape the doctor stoppage before the third, making Prangley the first Bodog middleweight champ.
The fight of the night pitted 12-1 fan favorite Tara Larosa (Pictures) against Kelley Kobold in a 135-pound woman's title fight that was billed as "four years in the making" despite Kobold joining the card as a late replacement 10 days ago.
Larosa, a Woodstown, New York native, shares Alvarez's flare for the dramatic, and she stirred up the crowd with her glad-handing entrance. She probably got more than she bargained for in Kobold, who displayed punching power and an ability to withstand a ground-and-pound submission attack.
In fact, the challenger probably won the opening round, scoring mainly with punch combinations against the ropes and from inside Larosa's guard. She also countered Larosa's leg-attacks.
By round three, however, the tide started to turn in Larosa's favor, ironically after she was the victim of an illegal knee to the head. Following a short break and point deduction against Kobold, Larosa shot right back in, scoring a takedown and combinations from Kobold's guard. Several more takedowns would follow as Kobold began to tire.
It was not until the fourth round that Larosa could fully capitalize, finally submitting her opponent at the 2:50 mark with an armbar from the guard.
The heavyweight class featured a rematch between Pancrase veteran Yoshiki Takahashi (Pictures) and Portage, Ind. native Mark Burch (Pictures). Their previous match-up in February was declared a No Contest, and both fighters put on a show in the rematch, throwing bombs from the outset, which was good because neither looked to be in the condition to go the distance.
While Takahashi scored the first takedown early, Burch used his 40-pound weight advantage to bully the fight into the corners and batter away with combinations. The American also used a more varied attack, throwing knees in the clinch that ultimately helped him score a knockdown.
The first knee dazed Takahashi and the second put him away as the ref stopped it at 3:45 of round one. Portage exclaimed "USA!" as the official decision was announced.
The middleweight fight looked to be one of the best on the card when Red Devil fighter Amar Suloev (Pictures) took on Chael Sonnen (Pictures) of Team Quest.
Looking for his third Bodog win, Sonnen, who was cornered by Matt Lindland (Pictures), worked to neutralize Suloev's punching power by taking it to the ground early. He pushed the pace right out of the gate, shooting from across the ring and then attempting a flying knee in the first 10 seconds.
Cornering Suloev, he attempted an early takedown, but the Armenian grabbed the ropes, first with his hands, and then in what was probably an MMA first, his feet.
Sonnen completely controlled the rest of the round, gaining side-control at roughly the three-minute mark, attempting a Kimura and ultimately taking Suloev's back late in the round.
He could not sink the choke, however, and Suloev escaped to see round two. Given the point deduction for grabbing the ropes, it was easily a two-point round for Sonnen. Round two was more of the same, as Sonnen spent much of the time in Suloev's guard dropping punches. Aside from an attempted triangle, Suloev offered nothing to help his own cause.
Sonnen finally applied trapped Suloev's arms and from across the side pummeled away with about 15 unanswered hammer fists before the referee stopped it at 3:33.
Bodog veteran and Milwaukee native Nick Agallar (Pictures) took on James "Binky" Jones, a guy desperately in need of a new nickname. Agallar looked to rebound from a couple of recent losses and did so with a convincing win tonight.
In round one Agallar scored an immediate takedown and tried a guillotine, then moved into Jones' full guard for over a minute before the ref stood them up. While he would score another takedown later in the round he was unable to cause any damage from the top position, a pattern that repeated throughout.
Round two brought more of the same, with the exception of a wild spinning back fist attempt from Jones late in the round that didn't land. Not much action besides that, folks. Agallar won by split decision.
A lightweight match-up featured American Top Team's Jorge Masvidal taking on PRIDE and UFC vet Yves Edwards (Pictures). Edwards was hoping to get back on track after two consecutive losses, but unfortunately for him Masvidal would not be denied.
Edwards pushed the pace early, scoring repeatedly with leg kicks that resulted in a nasty welt over the left knee. But Masvidal withstood the attack and started to rally in the final minute, scoring on some combinations of his own and opening a cut over Edwards' right eye.
The pace was even faster in round two with Masvidal catching Edwards with a nasty left kick to the body. About a half a minute later Edwards tried his own kick, but Masvidal caught it and took him down. The Texan escaped and got very aggressive, only to get caught with a right high kick that dropped him to the canvas. Masvidal pounced quickly and fired down the punches before the referee finally pulled him off and put a stop to it at 2:59.
The heavyweight bout featured St. Petersburg, Russia native Roman Zentsov (Pictures) against Branden Lee Hinkle (Pictures). Zentsov has been on a seven-fight tear, knocking out Pedro Rizzo (Pictures) and Gilbert Yvel (Pictures) along the way. Hinkle's claim to fame is for being "the man who beat the man," specifically his TKO win over Kimbo Slice hunter Sean Gannon.
Having lost three in a row, Hinkle seemed to be moving in the opposite direction career-wise. Still, he showed up to fight, looking slimmer and in better condition than in previous bouts. Surprisingly, the fight turned out to be a ground clinic in round one for Hinkle, who after getting caught in a neck choke early completely dominated the rest of the round. At the end Hinkle put his hands on his head, exhausted, which begged the question of whether he could continue the same pace.
As it turned out, he did, because round two was all Hinkle in a virtual repeat of round one. Throughout the fight he tried very few submissions, and none in round three. The boos were pretty heavy by the third round, if only because it was the MMA equivalent of Groundhog Day -- Hinkle scored the early takedown, gained control and kept it, scoring punches but mainly fighting to maintain control.
He attempted a Kimura late in the round that had no chance. By the time the ref broke it up in the final minute, Hinkle literally hung against the ropes, completely gassed. Then he shot in for another takedown. As boos reigned down during the announcement of a unanimous decision, Hinkle took it in stride, blowing kisses to the crowd.
In other bouts, David Love out of the Animal House in Indianapolis, defeated Eben Oroz via split decision at featherweight. Both fighters were well matched and relied heavily on Muay Thai techniques, scoring repeatedly with some very effective leg and body kicks.
Love seemed to win out on the ground, scoring a takedown at the start of round two, followed by several others. Submissions weren't on either fighter's menu. The split decision was probably due to a flash knockdown that Oroz scored in round three, from which Love recovered very quickly.
In the bantamweight division, Dan Hawley, who made a bizarre Genki Sudo (Pictures)-esque entrance to the ring, suffered his first defeat to Jersey Boy Blair Tugman.
Round one was a snoozer as Hawley spent much of the time attempting to sink an arm-triangle and an armbar. Tugman scored a takedown late in the round, but that was about it as far as the action was concerned. In round two, Hawley inexplicably started showboating, but he was clearly gassed as Tugman scored a couple of double-leg takedowns and fended off Hawley's submission attempts.
While Tugman maintained control in Hawley's guard for much of the fight, he was unable to score with any solid punches and didn't attempt any submissions, which led some in the crowd to question the unanimous decision victory.
Tugman's gloating after the bell brought one of the biggest ovations of the night. Mark Coleman (Pictures), cornering for Hawley, shouted across the ring, "Well, you won a wrestling match, but this was a fight."