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Crilly returns, Lopez retains title as KOTC sails into Lake Elsinore

Redemption was the theme for the three headlining matches at King of the Cage’s debut show, “Storm,” which took place on Saturday the 16th at The Diamond, home to minor league baseball team the Lake Elsinore Storm.

In an explosive war of attrition for the KOTC Light Heavyweight title, Fernando “The Manifee Maniac” Gonzales gave champion Tony “Kryptonite” Lopez his toughest challenge to date, pushing the champ to the fifth round before Lopez was finally able to catch his opponent in a rear naked choke. The fight was in fact a rematch from their original meeting in October 2008, when Lopez won the then-vacant title via rear naked choke. And while this second victory insures Lopez’ continued title reign, for Gonzales, his stalwart performance was a big moral victory and vindication over their previous bout.

“After the first fight, I didn’t like how he ended off with the tapping of his face, showboating, basically. I think it was real disrespectful, so I wanted this fight, and more just to earn his respect. And I think I did that in this fight. I earned a lot of people’s respect,” explained Gonzalez in a post-match interview.
Lopez acknowledged the threat that Gonzalez posed in this rematch, noting “it was pretty close. . . [Gonzalez} was landing some heavy hits at the beginning of the fight. Towards the end, I had to finish. I couldn’t let it go to decision, because it could have gone either way.”

Fan favorites Rick Legere and Joe Crilly returned to their winning ways with decisive finishes that both needed to turn their career momentum around. Legere, having lost his past two matches, the only losses of his pro MMA career, emerged victorious after a second round knockout. His excitement level was so high that, immediately following the referee’s stoppage, Legere leaped over the cage fence and ran into the crowd to his girlfriend. Legere quickly returned to the cage for the victory announcement, and then made his girlfriend his fiancée, proposing to her in his post-fight interview.

“She’s got my little girl, so I was hoping she would say yes,” Legere joked, referring to their newborn daughter.

Not one to be outdone, hometown hero Joe Crilly had the shortest, but perhaps the most electrifying, match on the card, scoring a KO over Ruben Tagle in 11 seconds of the first round. Crilly, who had the most fan support of any fighter that night, has been hampered with injuries and personal complications since his last fight, in 2004. For Crilly, this match represented not just a highlight reel victory in front of friends and family, but also a long-overdue rebirth into the fight game.
“Five years in the waiting. . . I’m 27 and it feels like tonight was the first time I’ve ever fought. Those other fights feel like they never happened. Tonight was my first fight, and I’m gonna build off that,” he declared at the afterparty.

The card, originally slated for 11 matches, lost two bouts the previous day at weigh-ins. Bantamweight Chad Walters was forced to withdraw from his match against Reuben Duran due to injury, while weight complications sabotaged a lightweight fight between George Sanchez and David Gomez. According to matchmaker Shingo Kashiwagi, after Gomez weighed in almost three pounds over the 156-pound limit (155 pounds with one pound leeway), it was proposed that Gomez weigh-in at noon the next day at 163 pounds, Sanchez’ typical walkaround weight. Sanchez would accept a second weigh-in, but Gomez, wanting to rehydrate and replenish, declined it, at which point negotiations fell apart and the match was scrapped.

Other KOTC action that night included:

Lightweight (155 lbs.) – Bryan “The Badger” Colebrook (Griffin MMA / Real Deal Boxing with Ed Mendiville) vs. Victor “El Valiente” Rodarte (The Jungle)
Rodarte, a Muay Thai specialist, employed low kicks and knees from the clinch to work over Colebrook, who didn’t shy away from the “dirty boxing” action, firing off overhand rights of his own. There was lots of back and forth action, with Colebrook pushing an offense with combinations, while Rodarte fired back with low kicks. Rodarte finally scored a takedown towards the end of the round. He scored another takedown early in round two, working an arm triangle from the top position. Referee Jason Herzog ordered a stand-up, but Rodarte got another takedown, getting full mount. The two slugged it out in the third round before Rodarte forced a third takedown. Both lit up and threw combinations in the waning seconds of the match.

Judges award Victor Rodarte the match by unanimous decision.

Welterweight (170 lbs.) – Nikko Medina (San Jacinto Grappling) vs. Marcos “The Reaper” Gonzalez (The Shark Tank)
Both men started out slow and very cautious to strike. Medina, who somewhat resembles WWE’s Batista, looks explosive. Medina attacked, but got caught in a front headlock, taking it to the ground briefly. Gonzalez kept his sprawl until being forced against the cage, at which point referee Herb Dean broke them apart. Gonzalez connected with a nice combination, but Medina also rocked himwith an overhand right. Medina had Gonzalez up against the cage as the round ended. In round two, Gonzalez charged on Medina with combos, getting another front headlock. Medina tried to take Gonzalez down, but was blocked for his efforts. Gonzalez later scored another takedown, trapping Medina’s hand in half-guard. After some ground-and-pound, Gonzalez dropped back for an ankle lock. Medina briefly claimed a front headlock, but Gonzalez eventually regained side mount and top position, dropping bombs from half mount. The third round opened up with very cautious footwork, which then exploded into a heavy trade of leather. Gonzalez once again took Medina down, transitioning positions and dropping big bombs on him. The two hugged and spoke at length at the end of the match.

Judges awarded the match to Marcos Gonzalez via unanimous decision.

Bantamweight (135 lbs.) – “Smooth” Greg Guzman (San Jacinto Grappling) vs. Kiko Lopez (Team Quest / Bob Chaney Muay Thai)
Guzman and Lopez wasted no time, trading fast shots. Guzman quickly claimed a takedown, eventually getting Lopez’ back, where he would stay for most of the rest of the match. Lopez got to his feet, but couldn’t shake Guzman, who kept his hooks in and fired shots from behind for the next several minutes. To his credit, Lopez fired back. He finally fell to all fours by the end of the round, but staved off the choke in an ongoing theme for the match. Lopez shot for a takedown early in round two, but Guzman used his high guard to sweep and take the back, locking in a body triangle. Lopez continued to roll over to lose Guzman, but to no avail. Lopez opened the third round by charging and clinching Guzman against the cage, but Guzman took Lopez’ leg and scored a takedown. After standing, both men traded kicks for combos, with Lopez landing a left hook. Lopez also landed a solid Muay Thai knee, allowing him to get a front headlock, but Guzman picked Lopez up and slammed him to break the hold. Lopez kept Guzman in high guard, but Guzman was able to stand up. Lopez scored a takedown in the waning seconds of the match.

Judges award the match to Greg Guzman by unanimous decision.

“I knew for sure that I was going to go in there and have a war, because he was 4-0. I’d done all my research on him, and he was dropping everybody in the first minute and thirty seconds. Three of his fights were unanimous decision. . . I knew that I had to not let him capitalize on any little mistakes and to stay on him,” Guzman reflected.

Flyweight (125 lbs.) – Thomas “El Chihuahua” Casarez (Riverside Submission / Joe Camacho MMA) vs. Javi Alanis (Quence Jiu-Jitsu)
Alanis set things off with a running flying kick, failing to nail it on the button. Casarez jumped on the opening and slapped on a guillotine choke, but Alanis calmly carried him back to Alanis’ corner and slammed him hard. Casarez kept the choke, and then transitioned to an armbar, getting the submission at 0:51 of the first round. Casarez was elated, doing a cartwheel and throwing his T-shirt into the crowd. Judge Cecil People’s noted Casarez won his previous match, just two weeks prior, in the same fashion.

Featherweight (145 lbs.) – Junior Kling (San Jacinto Grappling) vs. Aaron “The Blood Spiller” Miller (Blood Bank MMA / Sparta MMA / OC Boxing)
Miller and Kling were both chomping at the bit to attack, and the action didn’t belie their demeanors at all. In the first round, Miller and Kling imposed their will on each other against the cage with knees and combos before Miller slipped in a trip takedown. Miller threw body shots from the mount until Kling swept him, at which point Miller tried to set up a triangle from bottom. Back to standing, Kling almost got an armbar off Miller’s clinch, but they went to the ground and traded top position once more before the end of the round. In the second stanza, Kling slipped on a high kick, but was able to recover and work for an ankle lock. Miller eventually twisted out of it and the two exchanged sweeps on the ground, scrambling like pit bulls for the upper hand. At one point, Miller had a body clinch from behind on Kling, who used his momentum and position to slip in a kimura, driving Miller to the ground. They scrapped more against the cage, tradition positions before the end of the round. Kling’s face between the second and third round was a crimson mask, reinforcing Miller’s claim as “the Blood Spiller.” Going into the final round, the two trade kicks for combos. Kling escaped a first takedown, but Miller forced another, and then dropped elbows from side control. Miller jumped on Kling standing and slapped on a rear naked choke, but Kling escaped out the back door and tried to work a kimura from side mount. Standing, Miller landed a high knee to Kling’s face against the cage. Kling fired a head kick. Miller invited more, to which Kling responded with several more kicks and a combination as the match ended.

Judges award the match to Aaron Miller by unanimous decision.

Miller was another victorious fighter who echoed the redemption theme, commenting “my last King of the Cage showing was pretty poor and I just had a really bad attitude since then. I wanted to change up my habits and be more in attack-mode and keep going. I train with some of the best guys around and I just said “I’m not gonna stop until this fight’s over. One of us is going to be knocked out, bloody, tap out. It doesn’t matter how it’s gonna end. It’s just gonna end with my hand raised.”

But Miller’s road to redemption is not quite over, as he looked to the past for a fight in the future: “I want Casey Olsen back. That’s Chuck Liddell’s guy. We fought in Fresno. Bring him down to King of the Cage. . . because I have some built-up frustration from that fight. I’d love to see him again.”

Light Heavyweight (205 lbs.) – “Tall” Paul Karski (American Jiu-Jitsu) vs. Dave Cryer (Millennia MMA)
Karski weighed-in heavy the day before, and was unable to make weight after a second attempt. As such, the match was allowed to occur, and Karski had to forfeit 10% of his purse to Cryer.

Most of the match was fought in the clinch against the cage, as both men used knees, including to the face, to gain control. Cryer pushed Karski to the ground off a knee, proceeding with side mount and an assault off lefts and rights as Karski held on. Karski trapped Cryer’s left leg, but it was Cryer who continued with rights to Karski’s head and body. After Cryer steps back, referee Herzog forced Karski to stand up. Both men fired shots, with Cryer’s left hook dropping Karski. Cryer pounced and fired off ground-and-pound until referee Herzog called for an end to the match. Cryer takes the KO victory at 4:17 of the first round.

190 lb. catch weight – Rubin Tagle vs. Joe Crilly (Lake Elsinore Fight Crew / United Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu)
Both men typically fight at 185 lbs., but with Crilly coming off a five-year hiatus, both sides agreed to fight at 190 lbs. Crilly was the clear cut big draw, as the crowd erupted for his walk-out. Tagle was cornered by KOTC Superheavyweight champion Neil Cooke of Pinnacle Jiu-Jitsu. Crilly wasted no time in overpowering Tagle with a barrage of lefts and rights. After several combinations against the cage, Tagle went down. Crilly fired off several more rights on a prone Tagle before referee Herb Dean could pull him off. Crilly was awarded the KO at 0:11 of the first round. The crowd was going nuts for several minutes after the fight.

Looking forward, Crilly said he was hungry for more competition: ““What I want next is to stay in shape. It’s been five years out of shape. . . I want a fight lined up in the next month, two months. And then I want another one after that, and then I want a title.”

Welterweight (170 lbs.) – Eric “E-Train” Meaders (Ring of Fire Monrovia) vs. Rick “I.E. Bad Boy” Legere (Team Wildman)
Legere might have been a fan of Bret Hart as a kid, as he sports the Hitman’s trademark pink-and-black colors as his own. Legere kept the center of the cage and held Meaders at bay with low kicks as Meaders circled around the outside, changing levels sporadically. Meaders got Legere to the ground with a textbook double-leg takedown, but Legere transitioned to an uma plata. Meaders escaped to his back as Legere stood up, but Legere eventually passed guard, took the back, and tenderized Meaders with left hooks. Meaders actually stood up and carried Legere piggyback, using hand control to ward off the rear naked choke, to the end of the round. Meaders put together more combos in round two, but Legere dropped him with a low kick. Meaders tried to transition for a takedown, but Legere took side mount, trapping Meaders’ arm. Meaders freed his arm and worked for a kimura as Legere stood up. Legere connected with three hard rights, causing Meaders to turn his back. Legere pounced on Meaders and threw rights until referee Jason Herzog stopped the action at 2:20 of the second round.

When asked about what made the difference tonight from his previous two matches, Legere explained “I learned a lot. Definitely want to keep your hands up all the time, because it only takes one punch. And don’t go out there rushing things. Relax, stay calm. You’ve got three five-minute rounds. . . If you need to use your 15 minutes, use your 15 minutes.”

KOTC Light Heavyweight Championship (205 lbs.) “The Menifee Maniac” Fernando Gonzales (Team Quest) / Bob Chaney’s Muay Thai) vs. Tony “Kryptonite” Lopez (Team Oyama)
While being a former Gladiator Challenge Light Heavyweight champion, Gonzales has more recently fought at middleweight (185 lbs.). He was also a last-minute replacement for Tony Valarde, who had to bow out due to injury.

Gonzales initiated the offense in the first round, charging Lopez into the cage with a clinch. From southpaw stance, he dropped Lopez with an overhand left, but wasn’t able to capitalize before the champ recovered. This seemed to give Gonzales confidence for the rest of the match, because he continued to land the punch throughout. Lopez mixed up some combos with his trademark head kicks and a back kicks, including firing three head kicks in a row (which Gonzales took with seemingly little effect). Gonzales forced a takedown and shot lefts to the head as the bell rang.

In round two, Gonzales continued with his stick-and-move circling around the cage, which clearly frustrated the champ. Lopez continued to switch stances throughout, but Gonzales was able to catch some kicks and land strikes over the top, including a hard left body kick that was audible in the bleachers. Round three saw Gonzales catch a left low kick and force a trip takedown, pushing Lopez into the cage. Gonzales had Lopez’ left arm trapped behind his own back, working a kimura, while keeping the clinch from the side. Lopez climbed to his feet and escaped. By this point, the crowd was at a fever pitch. Lopez continued to chase Gonzales around the cage, firing kicks at will.

In the “Holy Shit!” moment of the match, Gonzales had Lopez in a body lock clinch on the cage, and as Lopez tried to break the hold to set up for an armbar, Gonzales actually German-suplexed him over his head, following up by passing guard and throwing a knee to the back (which got a warning from referee Herb Dean). Lopez was able to escape out the back door to standing position, but Gonzales, perhaps smelling blood, charged with lefts and rights. Lopez landed a high knee and sunk in a rear naked choke that almost ended the match, but Gonzales managed to survive. Lopez was in full mount and fired rights on Gonzales’ face as the round ended. Going into the fourth round, Gonzales was clearly hurt, but he had a big smile on his face. The two traded kicks and left fists as loud “Fernando” chants emanated from the crowd. Gonzales continued to charge in with overhand lefts and combinations to Lopez’ body. Lopez worked to clinch Gonzales up against the cage, and perhaps smelling blood, chased after him with a series of low kicks, but Gonzales fired back with another left body kick. Both men were visibly spent by this point. Lopez dropped Gonzales with a harsh right knee and fired shots as the bell ended round four.

By the last round, the crowd was bonkers for these two combatants. Between rounds, Gonzales had a look on his face that suggested he wasn’t going to come out, but he did, and after the bell rang, his face changed to say “this one’s for all the marbles and I know it.” He charged with an overhand left and shot in for a single-leg. Lopez was able to turn it around and mount Gonzales on the ground, setting up a rear naked choke once Gonzales went to all fours. As Lopez stood up and kneed the ribs, Gonzales actually grabbed Lopez leg and dragged him to the ground again. But Lopez had the composure to wrap his arms around for the rear naked choke and roll back, until referee Dean finally stopped the fight at 1:48 of the fifth and final round.

Although Lopez retained his Light Heavyweight title, Gonzales spoke positively about his performance, saying “I’m not down on myself at all. I gave everything I could in that fight. I just wasn’t ready for a five-round fight yet. . . I got heart, and I just tried to push as much as I could. I almost didn’t come out that fifth round, I was so done. . . .My stand-up coach told me ‘look, you don’t come out, you’re never gonna let yourself live this down.’ And he’s right. I would have been down on myself a lot worse if I didn’t come out. I’m happy that I did.”

As for future prospects, Gonzales announced “I’m going back down to 185. Trying to work my way down to 170 if I can. . . Everybody knows I should be fighting at a lower weight class. [But] I wanted this rematch. . . so I stuck around the weight. I got what I wanted. . . but now it’s time for me to move down and start working at those lower weight classes.”

After the match, Lopez admitted to underestimating his opponent: “Last time that I fought him, I was sick. And I came out with the win early in the fight. So this time I came in like ‘okay, you know what? I’m just gonna have my way with him and stuff and that’s it.’ Well, he didn’t think the same thing. . . I gotta go back to my old way of thinking: that everybody’s a pro, and I can’t take no fight lightly. That’s where I’m at right now,” said Lopez.

Also worthy of note was the announced return of former KOTC lightweight champion Chris "The Westside Strangler" Brennan, an MMA pioneer who returns to action on June 11th at the San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino in Highland, CA. Brennan's fight career dates back to 1996, and had already consisted of a 6-3-1 record before the very first KOTC event in 1999. During the in-ring interview with ring announcer Big Poppa Schnake, Brennan discussed his plans to move up to welterweight and win the KOTC title from reigning champion Mike "Joker" Guymon. Ironically enough, Guymon is a former student of Brennan's.

King of the Cage’s next event in the Southern California area will be June 6th, at the Quechan Casino & Resort in Winterhaven, CA, as well as June 11th in Highland. No official announcement has been made for King of the Cage’s return to Lake Elsinore, but updates and news on events, matches, and fighters can be found at www.KingoftheCage.com.

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