Thailand’s first ever dedicated mixed martial arts event, ‘MMA: The Beginning’, took place in front of a small crowd of tourists in Pattaya, Thailand. The venue was not particularly large but it was standing room only with a healthy contingent of Russian fight fans in attendance and a number of fights being televised for Russian TV.
The first MMA bout of the evening was fought under amateur rules with Andreas Persson from Sweden, one of two fighters on the card from Ole Laursen’s Legacy Gym, taking on Leopoldo Katigbak.
The Filipino fighter looked very motivated and came charging out managing to land a straight right hand but Persson responded with a solid knee to the upper body of his opponent which knocked him down allowing the Swede to finish the fight with some grounds and pound.
Whereas the first fight of the night had featured shin guards and head gear the second was fully pro and saw up and coming Chinese fighter Alex Niu take on Poland’s Krysztof Hajtalowicz from the Golden Triangle Gym in Chiang Mai.
In what turned out to be by far the most technical fight of the night both stalked each other and exchanged a few tentative shots as they looked to find their range and rhythm. Hajtalowicz seems to want to take the fight to the floor and after pinning Niu against the ropes he drags him down and moves straight into side control.
Niu, who has fought on both Legend FC and Martial Combat, is no stranger to being on his back and is able to get to his fight almost instantly despite the absence of a cage wall to climb with.
Hajtalowicz soon executes another takedown which is unorthodox but effective and involved dragging Niu into his guard. This is clearly part of the game plan as the Polish fighter is extremely adept at fighting off his back turning a triangle attempt into an armbar which forces a disappointed looking Niu to tap.
It is possible Niu, who is one of the better fighters in the region, might have underestimated his opponent’s ground game would be. Hajtalowicz is not a name which will be familiar to many but after an impressive professional debut it might be one to look out for.
The next fight saw the US against Russia with Matt Meria of Tiger Muay Thai taking on Yuri Sovenko from the Bangkok Fight Club. The modified rules, under which fighters were only allowed 30 seconds to work on the ground clearly favoured Sovenko who supposedly has a background in boxing.
Unfortunately the fight was to be marred in controversy. Sovenko landed a couple of punches early one of which appeared to send Merria down, although it might have been more of a stumble, but before he can get to his feet he is on the receiving end of an illegal knee.
The referee rightly stops the fight, deducts a point and gives the American fighter time to recover. Svenko misses with a wild head kick and gives up his back in the process, allowing Merria to take him down and work for a submission from his back, although he receives a few punches in the process.
Merria then gets a chance to demonstrate his superiority in the clinch, pulling his opponent’s head down and landing a devastating knee. The referee steps in to stop the fight but instead of declaring Merria the winner by KO he deducts a point from the American for an illegal knee. There is some confusion as to why the fight is allowed to continue but it appears that the official saw one of Sovenko’s hands touch the ground, which under the rules of MMA would have made him ‘grounded’ and rendered the knee illegal.
Both attempt superman punches at the start of the second round but it is Merria who is able to execute his gameplan by taking the fight to the floor. 30 seconds is simply not enough though and a rushed armbar attempt is unsuccessful.
Both look visibly tired and Sovenko executes a takedown himself although he appears reluctant to spend time on the ground with Merria who looks to be by far the better grappler of the two. Round three sees Sovenko score with a couple more takedowns which might have attracted the judges eye but don’t really advance his cause.
The fight ends in controversial and slightly unfortunate fashion when Sovenko attempts a second illegal knee. Rather than issue a warning or a second point deduction he decides to call a halt to the contest, declaring Merria the winner via disqualification. It is not a popular decision and the Russians in the crowd all make their displeasure clear.
The penultimate fight features a Thai fighter, Mardsing Suriya from the Ultra Fight Gyym, against American Justin Governale from Tiger Muay Thai. Both men are wearing shin guards and make a patient start with Suriya, a veteran of over 100 Muay Thai fights, looking very comfortable on his feet. Despite the Thai fighters experience he makes a surprising error of judgment by attempting an ambitious head kick which misses and makes him lose his balance and end up on his back.
The 30 second rule doesn’t appear to be in effect and Governale wastes little time in moving to mount and landing some ground and pound. Suriya manages to reverse the position but finds himself trapped in a guillotine choke forcing him to tap.
The main event sees decorated Russian Karate fighter Sergei Plehanov from the Bangkok Fight Club take on Australian Eddy Hanna from 301 Muay Thai. Governale wants to take the fight to the floor and goes for a takedown which turns into an attempt at a Judo style throw. Unfortunately for the Australian he is unable to gain the necessary leverage and succeeds only in falling to the floor with Plehanov on top of him.
The Russian looks to do damage from inside his opponent’s guard and lands a series of solid looking body shots which cause Hanna to verbally submit, citing breathing problems possibly due to a broken rib.
Despite problems with the ring, which was a little loose, and confusion over the rules the event seemed to go quite smoothly and the absence of empty seats was a very encouraging sign. With shows such as Martial Combat, Legend FC and URCC continuing to grow it is important that there are more grass roots shows such as this for fighters to gain experience. Hopefully ‘MMA the Beginning’ will not be the last mixed martial arts event to take place in Thailand.