Thursday, September 23, 2010

NAAFS Eve Of Destruction

As a long time fan of mixed martial arts, I watch if whenever or wherever I can find it. One such place is on the weekly television show for the NAAFS. I like companies like the NAAFS, because it is filled with young, hungry fighters trying to make a name for themselves. The result is men and women doing their best to put on entertaining fights.
I had never been to an NAAFS show, despite them staging their shows in my own home state of Ohio. Mostly because I don't have friends who follow the sport, and those who do think MMA is really just the UFC. SO who wants to go alone? Then I heard of the NAAFS putting on their Eve Of Destruction show, Ohio's first all women's MMA show. Even better, a friend from Vancouver was booked on the show, and finally we could meet in person. I wanted to do a story on her and decided I should do one on the entire show. Thanks to the great people with the NAAFS, namely Jake Digman and Nichole Long, I was given a press pass. Unfortunately my friend had to pull out from the show. But I still was very interested in covering it. Especially when I found out Tara LaRosa, one of, if not the pound for pound best fighters in the sport, would be there.
So then a little bit of fear set in. I mean, I just interview people. Can I write a story that would make them glad they allowed me to cover it? But quickly I realized, I love the sport, I love to write, so seems like a natural to me, so what is there to fear?
So on fight day, I set out to make the forty-five minute drive to the show, wanting to arrive early to kind of get a feel for everything. I arrived and saw a long line to get in. Longer than I even expected. I made my way past the line to get my press pass and entered. The first person I saw was a woman named Nichole Long. After taking a second to try and figure out why this woman is not a high paid Supermodel, I decided to approach her and introduce myself. Nichole is the amateur matchmaker for the NAAFS. I found Nichole to be incredibly friendly. Then I noticed half the building seemed to be wearing shirts for Jessica Eye, a fighter I knew of, but had yet to see fight. I was thinking to myself "Did her whole family come and bring all their friends?" But the reality is, as Nichole stated, "Jessica has a huge local fan base....... she has a ton of fans, but at the same time, she earned them", and I would later see why.
With an hour till fight time, I decided to take my seat by the cage, just to soak in the atmosphere and observe everything going on around me. Sitting there I realized when watching the different fighters scuttling, it has to be hard to put together an all female card. Has to be a lot more work. Nichole says it was "ten times harder and also that makes in ten times more rewarding." Nichole is pretty busy on fight day, taking care of paperwork, weighing-in fighters, helping make sure everything runs smoothly, and "bringing tape and garbage bags in case someone forgets their sauna suit", but I could also see throughout the night, she had a real sense of pride over this show. This is revealed in her statement "I have been wanting to do (an all women's show) for about a year now." Then I thought back to my friend who had to pull-out close to fight day. How hard is it to replace a fighter that close to a show with such short notice? "I had several fighters pull-out the week of the show. Luckily the female MMA community all supports one another......sending me names" Nichole said.
Fight time arrives. The crowd is filled with hardcore fans, the usual people who don't really understand the sport but just want to see a fight, and family and friends of some fighters. One thing I noticed right away is ring announcer Jake Digman. I mentally said to myself "He out Bruce Buffer's Bruce Buffer" with an obvious enthusiasm for what he is doing. Jake is not just the ring announcer, he is also in charge of media relations for the NAAFS and is responsible for me covering the show. His ring announcing really helps bring the crowd up and get them excited. You can't teach that kind of passion.
The fights continued, each one exciting in it's own way. Leading to the main event, two fighters really impressed me. One was Trisha Barr. Trisha fought Shannon Floyd. It was interesting because while I found Trisha the more talented fighter, I had to give Shannon the first two rounds. She used a size advantage on Trisha to push her around and get on top on the ground. But I was very impressed in Trisha constantly looking for submissions and felt she was going to catch her, and she did. Trisha showed the poise, heart, and skill of a much more experienced fighter. Plus as Jake Digman said afterward, "Trisha Barr is the most polite fighter!" Trisha Barr is loaded with potential.
Also, I was impressed with Tamikka Brents. Tamikka got a first round TKO over Tera Carper. Tamikka came out aggressive landing good strikes before getting the takedown. On the ground she was dominant, twice going for an arm, before finally using great ground and pound until the ref had to step in and stop it. It is easy to see why Tamikka is undefeated and is another one loaded with potential.
Later in the night, I got my chance to meet Tara LaRosa, even though I had to miss a fight to talk with her. Tara was amazing. We talked about the sport, shared thoughts on some fighters, and I got her to agree to an interview. Meeting Tara by itself made this night worth it.
Main Event time. Jessica "Evil" Eye vs Marissa "Shorty" Caldwell". I was amazed at the crowd support for Jessica. Is this normal when she fights? According to Nichole Long "Every time she fights, we see the crowd the same way, loud and excited!" Watching her in the cage, I soon saw the reason for that excitement. For fifteen minutes, Jessica was non-stop excitement. Whether standing or on the ground, she was in control. She showed tremendous skill. The fact she didn't finish Marissa is a testament to Marissa's heart, as she kept plugging away, never gave up, when many would have. I don't think a single person was in their seats the whole fight. When the anti-climactic score cards were read and Jessica got the unanimous decision, the place erupted. Jessica is going to be a star, and as Nichole Long put it, "Keep your eye on this girl, she's gonna go far in this sport." Very true words.
After the last fights, several fighters took time to talk with fans, including Jessica, who seemed to really enjoy taking pictures with several fans. I thought "How great is that? It's that kind of atmosphere and willingness to interact that keeps fans coming back."
On my drive home I reflected on the show and was so impressed. Great fights, great people, and so professionally run. The people with the NAAFS clearly make sure to put on entertaining, fan friendly shows. I suggest anyone who is close enough, get out there and see them when you can. You won't be disappointed. For a very reasonable price, you will be highly entertained.
So whats my last thoughts on Ohio's first all female MMA show? I loved it and hope Nichole is successful in her goal to make this "an annual event that NAAFS puts on." When I asked Nichole to rate the show from 1 to 10, her response was a very accurate "....Every girl who fought that night really wanted to be there and it showed. They put on a hell of a show." I agree with Nichole when she rated this NAAFS show "a 10!"

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