It is rare treat for me to go to fights when I don’t have a fighter on the card. I always wonder what it might feel like to sit in a great seat, drink a few ice-cold beers and not have a personal stake in who wins or loses; just me and the sport that I love. Saturday night was supposed to be one of those nights. My fighter had to pull out of the show on Monday due to an ear infection. I figured I would grab one of my buddies and head to Gwinnett Arena to watch Bangkok Fight Nights. Being a part of the Georgia Mixed Martial Arts scene for about 10 years I quickly realized that this would not be a relaxing evening. Every fight seemed to have a fighter, training partner, gym or coach that was an old friend. So I sat back and prepared to cheer like crazy and deal with the nervous feelings I get watching people I care about fight.
Two fights in particular stood out as personal highlights. The first fight of the night was a women’s Thai Boxing match. Now there are few things I dislike watching more than Amateur (strike one), Female (strike two), Kickboxing (strike three). However in this fight one of the combatants was a close friend with a great story. Carolina Cawthon is a Karate Black Belt and Fitness Instructor at Contemporary Martial Arts, the gym she owns with her husband Chuck in Hartwell, GA. She came into the fight at 5-0 and a Georgia Kickboxing Champion. She started kickboxing in 2008 for no other reason than personal growth. Tonight she was fighting an opponent more than half her age. You see Carolina is a mother of two grown children and a grandmother of one (an adorable four year old named Lilly). This 43-year-old was about to fight her sixth and final fight, having decided to retire and pursue a degree as a Dietician. The fight was a back and forth affair and at times I thought the younger fighter was going to pull it out. In the end Carolina’s experience, aggression and strength were too much. Winning a well-deserved unanimous decision, she now hangs up her gloves as an undefeated fighter and role model to us all. Later in the night one of Chuck’s young Thai boxers (Ryan Peace) won his first pro fight by TKO.
The eighth fight of the night pitted two opponents that I am very familiar with against each other. Fans of FIGHT! Magazine will recognize Donovan Craig (38 years old) as the former editor-in-chief and current President of FIGHT! Media. After only one amateur fight (a win) Donovan decided to put himself to the ultimate test: professional MMA.
Donovan has a strong boxing background and a solid BJJ game under Ricardo Murgel (a former coach of mine as well). With another three or four amateur fights I think Donovan would do well as a pro. However he decided to jump into the deep end without any water wings. On this night he was fighting a very tough 3-3 fighter named Ronnie Roger. I trained Ronnie for about a year and two of his losses were close decisions to two of my other fighters. Weeks earlier I voiced to Donovan my concerns about such an experienced and tough opponent for his pro debut but Donovan’s confidence won me over. He trained hard, got in great shape and spent two weeks with Greg Jackson in New Mexico. When it came time for the fight he looked ready to go. I am a 38 year old BJJ blackbelt who has trained MMA for over ten years and I have never had the confidence to fight in a crowded arena before a packed house. Watching Donovan lay it on the line like he did has inspired me to do something competitive before the end of the year (maybe a grappling tournament? I have yet to figure that out.). In the end Donovan fought his tail off and Ronnie looked better than he ever has. The fight ended due to Ref stoppage right at the end of the first round. Donovan never stopped trying and never thought of quitting. After the fight Donovan confided in me that he felt he had a good game plan until he was tagged and that maybe he was not experienced enough to fight a pro fight. Regardless of the outcome, I am sure he will look back at the fight as a personal triumph. I would also guarantee this is not his last pro fight.
Win or lose it was great to see some old and new friends put it on the line motivated purely by personal goals. It was indeed a good night at the fights and one that left me inspired and reminded me why I love this sport so much. And I eventually got my beer and it was good.
Adam Singer is the owner of The HardCore Gym/American Top Team of Athens in Athens, Ga.