Fight night in Syracuse

Amateur mixed martial arts fighters took to the caged arena at The OnCenter Crouse Hinds Theater.

While the nation glued its eyes to the biggest boxing match of the year on Saturday night, the amateurs tried their hands at mixed martial arts at Gladius VII at The OnCenter Crouse Hinds Theater. The only difference is that in New York State, amateur mixed martial arts don’t have the choice to turn pro.

The fight opened explosively with heavyweight Deny Obefin’s 14-second knockout of Seth Wilks. Jackie Gates won her amateur debut with by technical knockout, followed directly by her husband Sam McHale’s first loss by rear naked choke. The super heavyweight Yohance Bailey arm barred James Chaplin.


Toren Reeves heads out to fight Alex Henry at Gladius Fights VII. (Photographed by Ziniu Chen)

Part of the promotion was four separate title fights in one night. Alex Henry claimed the welterweight belt with a knockout of Toren Reeves, Josh Mayville won the lightweight belt with a guillotine choke, Genaro DeJesus won the bantamweight belt by unanimous decision, and Luay Ashkar knocked the flyweight belt out of Justin Bertch with a spinning back kick.

“Fun, wasn’t it?” said Dave Maclean, Gladius’ matchmaker and promotion head. “We had great fights tonight, every bit as good as a pro organization.”

Josh Mayville prepares to take on Doug Miller in the ring at Gladius Fights VII. (Photographed by Ziniu Chen)

Gladius is a New York State promotion that tries to put on every bit as professional a show as the UFC, Maclean said. They have doctors, video intros for each fighter, professionally attractive ring card girls, and the ability to charge $50 for a seat. The goal, he said, is to show the legitimacy of the sport.

“We’ve been around for a few years now,” MacLean said. “Our first match was actually professional one, we got to pay our fighters, but that was a one-time deal. We did it on the Indian reservation. We just want to prove that it isn’t a bunch of thugs beating on each other.”

Despite the promotion and the impressive title fights, Gladius VII showed the by-products of institutionalized amateurism. One of the doctors ate his sandwich ringside. Cung Zathang spent his victory in the back room vomiting into garbage can from exhaustion. An unnamed fighter floated around backstage with a liquor-filled Snapple bottle, refusing tastes to friends who hadn't yet fought. The crowd was mostly friends and family of the 30 fighters, each cheering loudly in clusters of support.

Cung Zathang has a tough fight against Jimmy Todhunter in action at Gladius Fights VII. (Photographed by Ziniu Chen)

The fighters were carefully matched, but their inexperience caused issues. Some fights were one-sided, the majority ending in knockout or submission. Some fighters appeared uncomfortable in their weight class, not having the experience to know their strengths or properly condition. Vince Ciotoli, a welterweight who lost 100 pounds since beginning his training, thrashed the canvas and cursed his way into his dressing room after being choked out.

Still, the amateur atmosphere accomplished what it sets out to. It felt more like a high school track meet than a high pressure fight club. After their fights, winners and losers alike stood ringside, shouting encouragement to teammates in the cage or trading training tips despite the crowd.

“We have families here,” Maclean said. “This is a sport just like bringing your kids to football or soccer.”

Great Fight Night

It was a great way to promote the sport by scheduling four title bouts in a single night. It would have been a treat for the audience to watch and a night of full house for the Gladius VII Arena.

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