Saturday night’s all right for fighting

MMA comes out swinging with Gladiator Challenge at sold-out Thunder Valley
By: Anthony Hardin/Roseville Press Tribune Correspondent
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Mixed Martial Arts in Placer County may have found a home.

Owner Tedd Williams and his Gladiator Challenge organization teamed up with Thunder Valley Casino Resort on Saturday night for its first fight card — “Unleashed’’ — at the new concert and entertainment pavilion.

If Gladiator Challenge and Thunder Valley were looking to make a statement by bringing MMA to the casino, they couldn’t have asked for a more explosive card full of great matchups and exciting finishes.

The undercard featured fighters from Roseville, Orangevale, Yuba City and as far away as Honolulu. These fighters are either breaking into the sport or have established themselves and are looking for that big win that can catapult them to a larger organization like the UFC or Strikeforce.

With the explosion of MMA in Placer County and nationwide, the number of gyms popping up in and around neighboring communities has skyrocketed. The famed Team Alpha Male, led by UFC featherweight superstar and Lincoln High School alum Urijah Faber, saw all three of its fighters notch victories.

As the sun went down, the action heated up as a sellout crowd estimated at 3,000 was treated to a card full of fast-paced action with knockouts and submissions.

Only one of 18 fights on the card went to a judges’ decision, as Team Alpha Male heavyweight Freddie Aquintania of Fairfield defeated independent fighter Ivan Pack of Olivehurst. Team Alpha Male 145-pounders T.J. Kuahine, now living in Roseville, and Mario Soto of Davis also won their matches.

NorCal MMA fighter Kyle Davey of Roseville lost to Rick Reger on a TKO 48 seconds into the second round. Clinton Fouse, a bantamweight and 2011 Colusa High grad, defeated Ray Heredia by TKO at 2:21 of the third round.

Native light-heavyweight champion Mike Gonzalez of Rancho Cordova, representing Carnage Fight Team, used his quick hands, long reach and powerful punching to TKO challenger William “Little Bear” Johnson at 2:32 of the first round.

Vacaville native and Gladiator Challenge heavyweight champion Rob Jackson used several punch-kick combinations to set up his overhand right, as he dispatched Team Boyaa member and Honolulu native Deutsch PU’U by TKO at 3:12 of the first round.

Gladiator Challenge super-heavyweight champion, fan favorite and all-around mountain of a man Rick Vardell defended his title and barely broke a sweat as he KO’d Dave Hagon of Team Allegiance just 17 seconds into the first round.

Vardell apologized for the quick knockout and stated his appreciation for everyone that supports the fighters and MMA.

“I want to thank you all for showing up,” he said. “You fans are the motivation behind not only the training but the reason we fight.”

At events like Gladiator Challenge, fans can cheer for their favorite fighters and rub elbows and talk with them afterward.

The main event saw reigning middleweight (185 pounds) champion James Fanshier lose his title to Chris Sheridan of AMAC Fight Club.

The fight had fans on the edge of their seats, as the champion tried to weather a storm. Sheridan was too big, fast and had youth on his side as he pounded away at Fanshier.

“The Educator,” as Fanshier is known, gave it every ounce of fight he had, even while looking to be out on his feet and on wobbly legs. The end came at 4:29 of the first round, as a straight right hand from Sheridan landed perfectly and dropped Fanshier. Sheridan pounced with hammer fists, and the referee stepped in and stopped the bout.