Monday, June 14, 2010

Matrix Fights 2 report

By Charles Cieri
states Photo by Meg
Matrix Fights 2 was a success. That’s a bold statement for an event that had every obstacle thrown at it short of Don King coming to town and pulling the plug. Five fight cancelations and a last minute change to the main event would be a deal breaker for most promotions. But Matrix was able to pull in World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) contender Anthony Morrison and give him a worthy challenge in former Strikeforce and Bellator contender Nick Gonzales; they also kept their headline fight alive by grabbing Tiawan Howard at the last minute from Ohio. Most importantly though, they simply let the fights happen.

In this region with its depth of talent and heart, any fighter to pass through one of the gauntlet programs that pock the city will earn their piece of your admission money, with a little proper match making this means a good lineup can come together pretty organically or in this case under extreme duress.

The Amateurs

The night started promptly at 7:55, despite the light seven-fight card, with Joe DiFranco taking a decision over Luis Vasquez. DiFranco comes from Brad Daddis’ Fightcamps (DFC) and edged Vasquez on the feet and the ground. He seemed to be just shy of the ground savvy required to dispatched Vasquez without the judges help. It may be early to get fired up about Difranco but considering the perfect 4-0 record from DFC on the night, there’s no reason not to be optimistic about his potential.

Next up was a fight I was feigning for: The debut of Azunna “Zu” Anyanwu, a first generation Nigerian-American from Bensalem who trains under Jared Weiner’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu United flag (video interview here). Given the current heavyweight talent pool, Zu’s size (255 pounds cut down from 315 pounds) and his BJJ purple belt, he was relevant as soon as his name was added to the card. He came out against Charles Finnegan, a Balance fighter from Media PA, who was comparably light at 235 pounds.

I don’t know if Zu is buying into my hype-ups or my call on him was just that good but he seemed very comfortable entering the ring and started off solid, landing a clean right cross off an initial exchange that stumbled Finnegan. He seemed a little surprised by the reaction and lost his cool trying to finish. After settling down, he held top position through a scramble but couldn’t dislodge an arm that he was prying on.

Back on the feet and having tasted blood, Zu had one thing on his mind and stalked Finnegan with the right hand, eating a couple leg kicks in the process. He near-missed a overhand right before closing the distance to plant his next shot on the button; that pushed Finnegan — disoriented — into the cage. To his detriment, the cage kept him upright and Zu pressed in and yoked up his opponent with short hooks and straight shots that forced the ref in between them.

Afterwords he basked in his fan’s admiration, waving in the applause. He could most likely challenge Joel Wyatt — the current number one local heavyweight — as he stands right now but much of his future success will depend on how patiently he and his coaches can build form this promising start and resist the temptation to rush him up the ladder.

Finally, another DFC product Matt Friedeborn pounded on but couldn’t finish Jimmy Cerra, a Balance fighter from Pittsburg. The first exchange told the story of this fight. Friedeborn collapsed Cerra with a shot, an uppercut in this case, and Cerra recovered by dropping his level and shooting in. He would get to at least a single leg almost every time but only after the stamina or consciousness to do anything with it was beaten out of him. By the third round, Cerra was trudging his way in like Frankenstein although he did come close to getting offensive at one point when he nailed a takedown and was able to crawl up Freideborn’s body into a mount. To no avail on the mount, Friedeborn gets an easy decision and Cerra walks away with a broken game plan and significantly less wrinkled brain.

The Pros

Balance’s BJJ Blackbelt Tim Carpenter earned a decision win over New York product Guybson Sa. Sa came out to the standard NYer entrance music of Empire State of Mind, Carpenter came out to heavy crowd support. Carpenter’s unanimous decision was a gritty game of survival. He kept the pressure on Sa on the feet and while he could not pass Sa’s very liquid guard, he was able to wear him down and out.

 Carpenter started off right by firing straight shots right down the pipe and backing up Sa who was able to regain his space with some leg kicks and a high kick that slapped loud on Carpenter’s blocking arm. It wasn’t long before Carpenter was working from the top of Sa’s guard. While Sa’s guard never delivered a submission, it protected him well and kept him dangerously close to snapping shut a choke or sweep. As healthy as his guard game was — Carpenter was effectively shut down within it — by the third round it had succumb to exhaustion and a better conditioned opponent. Despite a juicy laceration Carpenter kept the pressure and scored enough on the feet, and — after Sa’s guard broke down — on the ground, to earn a unanimous decision victory.

Anthony “Cheesesteak” Morrison, a North Philly lifer who trains out of DFC, came out next to start his long trip back to the top of the 145 pound universe. He didn’t have an easy opponent in Nick “the Ghost” Gonzalez but Morrison made it look easy. The fight could only have been better for Morrison (coming off his back to back WEC first round submission losses) had he finished the fight with a submission and started to refute the knock that he can’t hang when the fight goes to the mat. However this was a fight and not a PR stunt and Morrison’s performance, while simply reaffirming what we already knew — that he has the quickest and heaviest hands around — was phenomenal.

Morrison came out at 150 pounds but still ripped while Gonzalez was 160 pounds and situation-less in the musculature department. Both fighters were cautious in the first round but Morrison leaped out in front by 1) closing the distance like a specter and landing shots and 2) getting some crisp takedowns, one of which resulted in a scoop, walk and slam that gave everyone their monies worth. By the end of the round, Morrison was comfortable enough to drop his hands a few times and simply dance around Gonzales’ punches. While that was for dramatics, his helmet guard was for earning. He raised and cupped his face with his own hands so readily and fluidly that all Gonzales head-strikes were robbed of any effect.

The one bright spot for Gonzales was a spinning back kick that repeatedly caught Morrison by surprise through the first two rounds. These were mere interruptions in Morrison’s domination: between picking Gonzales apart on the feet, simply hitting the mute button on his strikes via helmet guard and hitting and digging out takedowns (Morrison even worked to Gonzales’ back at one point to no avail) Morrison kept himself unharmed while Gonzales’ face got knifed.
Morrison works to clear his ground game rep. Photo by Megan Lavelle
Gonzales’ final move, in the third round, was the one trick from up his sleeve that didn’t go thud on Morrison’s helmet guard- the spinning back kick. However, this time Morrison was prepared enough to stop, identify the threat, instruct all the photographers to set their aperture and light meters for the coming highlight — and then — react. He simply reached out and snapped his hand into the spinning chin of Gonzales for a crippling KO. One second Gonzales was starting to spin, his mind full of thoughts, memories and aspirations, the next he was splayed out on the ground, flat-lining. (Video interview of Morrison diagraming the KO and his fav cheesesteak)

Brylan Vanartsdalen came up next to try to close out a perfect night for the DFC team. He didn’t allow for much suspense: 15 seconds in, the ref was peeling his anaconda choke off of Shane Hutchinson’s neck while the DFC crew celebrated.

Closing out the night was a solid performance from Balance Studio’s Delaware product Tim Williams who was originally scheduled to fight Jay Silva, who was decapitated by Hector Lombard in a Bellator promotion, then Woody Weatherby, who went awol. Finally he stepped into the cage against Tiawan Howard, a former top prospect from Ohio.

Williams came out to the loudest cheers of the night, not a surprise considering he hasn’t lost a fight (including a 6-0 amateur record) and none of his first three pro victories have made it out of the first round. Howard was not up to cracking either of these streaks as he was simply out muscled by Williams who, after a couple minutes of banging around on the feet, rode a single leg takedown into a front headlock. It looked suffocatingly tight and all Howard could do was turn into Williams and invite him onto his back. Williams took the invitation and kept turning to trap an arm for a head and arm triangle. He stepped himself to one side and while the cage obstructed him from getting his belly all the way down, he was able to brute-force the tap.
Another dominate performance from Williams who is yet to look troubled in the cage. The race is on (and long passed due) to pit him against someone who both matches his strength and can at least give us a glimpse of what second-round Tim Williams looks like.

While not as crowded as Matrix Fights 1, due — we hope — to the Summer shore-flight that robs Philly of population, this card was better for two reasons. 1) the ambition of the promoters Phil Migliarese and Jimmy Binns Jr. alongwith fight-picker Sam Caplan for what this card could have been had unprecedented cancellations not decimated their planning (absent were key fights featuring Alexandre Beserra, Andria Caplan and Lionel Borreli) and 2) what the event was in spite of all the cancelations- a great mix of upcoming and established talent that delivered huge.

Be sure to check back for further analysis on the implications of this show.

Photos by Megan Lavelle

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