The Quebec Chronicles: Ringside 13 – St-Patrick’s Day Beatdown Edition
With nearly five months elapsed since Ringside 12, the Montreal-based promotion was back in action Saturday for its thirteenth event. Gone were Paul Daley and the Bell Centre, and in were the smaller Metropolis venue and a main event featuring two Heavyweights, Eric Barrak (1-1) and Paul Cheng (2-1), with fight records showing more boxing than MMA.
Ringside previously visited the Metropolis in March 2011 for its Rising Star 2 event. A year later, the promotion is operating in a very different provincial environment following the emergence of aggressive rival Instinct MMA late last summer. As only their second show since, it’s worth taking a closer look at how the event came off – the good, the bad, the rest, and where Ringside goes from here. (For more on the fights, check out TMN’s Ringside 13 play-by-play)
- Olivier Aubin-Mercier (2-0): Several prospects were on display Saturday, none more prominent than this 23 year-old, a former member of Canada’s national Judo team, and winner in his division at the 2011 World Abu Dhabi Pro BJJ Championships. Hitting the main card in only his second bout, he made short work of his overmatched opponent with an early rear-naked choke. His team managing to sell almost 200 tickets, along with the crowd showering him the evening’s loudest pop, are two more reasons why Ringside is keen to keep pushing him as an attraction. While at 2-0 he’s being built up slowly, stiffer competition will be needed to showcase his full range of skills.
- Mike Ricci: While not the most crowd-pleasing of performances, the Martian got the job done, rebounding from his decision loss to TUF 15 contestant Daron Cruickshank last October. Facing a striker, Tristar’s Ricci (7-2) put his wrestling to use by repeatedly taking Tony Hervey to the mat, and working his ground-and-pound on way to a clear-cut decision. It wasn’t overly impressive, but it should help get him back on track. A future bout against Kurt Southern (10-3), his original RS 12 opponent prior to injury, is a possibility according to promoter Eric Champoux.
- Vladimir Starcencov: Also worth keeping an eye on given Canada’s thin Heavyweight ranks is this colossal Montreal-based Russian, now 2-0. The former judo competitor is coming along solidly, winning Saturday via Americana. A late scratch resulted in a pro boxer stepping in to face him, but a rescheduled fight with original opponent Blake Nash (1-1) could be next per Champoux.
- Debuting fighters delivering the FOTN: Saturday’s best bout was the opener, with Kyle Nelson (1-0) and Mic Dufort (0-1) both showing incredible heart. An arguably 10-8 opening round featuring tight submission attempts and several landed bombs by Nelson led into the 2nd, where Dufort bounced back and achieved mount, before Nelson finally sealed the deal in the 3rd as he again connected with several massive shots. It’ll be interesting to see what Ringside does with these two going forward. For his part, Dufort looked undersized for a Lightweight, and would likely be better served at 145 pounds.
- Game-planning against boxers: Twice on Saturday fighters facing boxers did the logical thing (see Couture-Toney), wasting little time exchanging on the feet. Though it may not please fans thirsty for a stand-up war, this is MMA. In the main event, Paul Cheng brought Barrak down to the ground, where he pounded him into submission. Likewise, Starcencov utilized his judo for an early trip takedown before finishing. Who knew boxers couldn’t handle themselves off their back?
- Ambiance: Though it may not do much for ticket sale bragging rights, packing a more intimate venue with about 1200 people (per my count) will nearly always bring you better ambiance than a few thousand in a gargantuan hockey arena. Ringside 13 was definitely a lower scale event than RS 12, production values included, but on this scale it was superior.
- Dedicated cut men: Something new for this event, their addition to the fighters’ corner was an added professional touch. Though there were few cuts on the evening, it’s nice to see Ringside spending the extra money. A positive sign related to Eric O’Keefe’s increased role in the promotion.
- Erik Barrak: What can you say about a boxer who gets drafted into MMA to face Butterbean, avoids him for much of the fight before choking him out, jumps promotional ship, lands the main event, then fizzles like only a caged pugilist can? That Barrak (1-1) didn’t take MMA seriously was never in doubt – he admitted as much in interviews. After being taken down Saturday, he threw a knee to Cheng’s head (his corner had to inform him it was illegal), then verbally submitted to strikes while fully conscious. In a post-fight interview with La Voix des Guerriers, Barrak revealed he’d focused his preparation on a boxing bout two weeks prior, spending little time on his ground game. He’ll be boxing again April 20, which he pointed to as the reason for wanting to avoid unnecessary cuts when he submitted. Understandable as a boxer, but none too impressive for MMA, resulting in a very anti-climactic end to RS 13 for the crowd, post-fight retirement speech included. Makes you wonder what Ringside was thinking putting him in the main event, ticket sales or not.
- Steve Claveau: If you didn’t know, ‘the Snake’ (8-8-1) is a fighter now forced to the sidelines as a coach due to Quebec’s refusal to license him. Yohan Gariepy (2-4), a fighter of his known as a brawler, lost a decision Saturday following an uncharacteristically tepid performance. Claveau, unable to corner his fighter, but nonetheless seated near the cage, appeared incensed that Gariepy hadn’t followed his game-plan. Despite cordial contact with Michel Hamelin (head of the RACJ, Quebec’s athletic commission) earlier in the evening, Claveau had to be pulled away from the cage environs post-fight by Hamelin as he shouted disparagingly in Gariepy’s direction. Probably not the best way to get the commission to change their mind…
- Tony Hervey: Sporting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Raphael on his shorts, described by Wikipedia as “aggressive, sullen and rebellious,” Hervey lived up to the characterization in his post-fight speech as he deplored Mike Ricci’s game-plan. “Montreal you did not come here to see lay and pray. I’m a KO artist.” Sure, but if you can’t defend a takedown, should people really feel sympathy when you’re competing in MMA? (Am I sounding like a broken record?)
- Technical Difficulties: More of a bummer than anything, the Ricci-Hervey bout was interrupted late in the 1st round by an overhead light exploding and sprinkling the ring with debris, prompting a pause of several minutes as staff rushed in with brooms and a vacuum cleaner. A less humorous companion to the Joe Rogan vs. the ice bag clean-up crew showdown at UFC 109.
- Poor Reffing: There were a few stinkers on the evening, but none more than after the exploding light bulb. Ricci was in half-guard when the bout was halted, but post-clean-up, referee Erick Phillippeaux deferred to Hervey’s refusal to re–start things on the ground. And so the fight began again on the feet, prompting the question of just who was in charge in the cage.
- Can booked, can withdraws: That Tim Chessell (0-2), he of the W-1 pec tattoo, was booked against David Lafond (1-2) at Lightweight was suspicious from the start. Chessell, who last competed back in 2009 as a Bantamweight, weighed in Friday at 148 pounds. Against Lafond, who cut to make 155, he would have been giving up massive size come fight time. Likely picked as an easy opponent, Chessell withdrew Saturday after suffering from a kidney stone and being hospitalized, according to Champoux. Chessell previously no showed for a W-1 weigh-in back in 2010, prompting questions about his seriousness as a fighter.
- Over-friendly post-fight interviews: On top of doing play-by-play, Eric O’Keefe is also Ringside’s post-fight interview man (among other roles, more below). The fact that he works as a trainer at Tristar lead Saturday to a post-fight interview with Mike Ricci that was a bit too ‘congratulating a friend’ sounding for this reporter, a tone that likely does little for the crowd, or the viewers who will later catch the event on RDS.
- Ringside 13 was O’Keefe‘s public debut as the promotion’s new Director of Operations, where he’ll deal with fighter relations among other duties. O’Keefe’s influence on the promotion’s direction has been ramping up progressively since late last year, though he won’t officially be able to rise to the position of co-promoter unless the RACJ decides to relicense him, something they currently appear unwilling to do.
- Despite stating a year ago that hitting the Bell Centre meant he didn’t plan on looking back, Champoux said Saturday his hand was forced this time by a provision in the UFC’s deal with the arena for the cancelled March 24 UFC 145 event. Apparently the contract included a 60-day exclusivity period Ringside couldn’t get around.
- It’s often said that ticket buyers at the regional level aren’t necessarily hardcore MMA/UFC fans. This was in evidence Saturday, when a crowd there to support their friends cheered the local fighters far more loudly than Mark Bocek, John Makdessi, Francis Carmont, or Bellator’s Nordine Taleb when they were introduced to the crowd. That these fighters training in Montreal were cage-side and not on the card is a reminder of where the city’s top talent is employed.
- Despite an energy-sucking main event and a lower key card with a few flat fights, for what it was, RS 13 was a success in terms of packing a smaller venue and helping along some potentially bankable prospects. It did however leave several questions as to what will happen when Ringside moves back up to a bigger stage.
- Ringside 14, originally scheduled for May 25, is now possibly being moved back to Grand Prix (F1) weekend early in June. Originally announced as the promotion’s return to the Bell Centre, Champoux mentioned the possibility of an outdoor card in lieu.
- What isn’t exactly clear is who the promotion will use to fill its next card for a larger-scale show. With top provincial draw Steve Bossé (who was present Saturday) currently out of reach for Ringside, they’ll need to rely on returning fighters to anchor the event, along with some of the prospects seen at RS 13. With Mitch Gagnon and several other champions now gone, the spotlight will have to turn elsewhere. On that note…
- Former Lightweight champ Guillaume Delorenzi (9-1), laid low by injury since June 2010, is by all accounts on track to make his comeback this summer. Ringside will have work to do to in rebuilding awareness of him in the public’s consciousness after two years out of the spotlight. Interviewed in the cage Saturday, he received little reaction from the crowd (see regional MMA crowds note above).
- I asked Champoux post-event about several other possibilities, here’s what came up:
- Alex Garcia (7-1), Ringside’s top Welterweight prospect is currently sidelined by a knee injury. The Tristar fighter recently had surgery. An update on his recovery should be forthcoming by month’s end.
- Rejean Groulx (5-1), inactive since last April’s Canadian Fight of the Year candidate loss to Mitch Gagnon at RS 10, is another possibility. Speaking to him Saturday, he sounded non-committal about a return to competition. Champoux expressed interest in bringing him back however.
- Donald Brashear (1-0), could also be back. Given his time as enforcer for the Montreal Canadiens in the 90s, having him fight in the city is an interesting option. Though at 40 this athlete can’t be thought of as much of a prospect, he does sell tickets. That’s just how it works in Quebec. His younger brother Jay, who has trained for longer per Champoux, has also been signed.
- Paul Daley (29-12-2), last seen in Montreal leaving fans somewhat cold with his performance in RS 12’s main event, he’s apparently interested in taking another fight with the promotion, an option mentioned when he was first signed.
- Patrick Côté (16-7) fought twice for the promotion last year before taking a bout with Instinct MMA. He’s set to compete in Brazil on March 31, but remains a possibility if he isn’t called back to the UFC.
- Other possibilities include the return of head-kick KO Heavyweight Lenard ‘LT’ Terrance (3-1), and undefeated Welterweight Daylin Logan (5-0). Who can be lined up in time for this summer remains to be seen.
- Word emerged recently of a possible coming collaboration between Ringside and Wreck MMA. Promoter Nick Castiglia was on hand Saturday in Montreal. Talks have just begun per Champoux, focused mainly on a sharing of talent with Wreck and other Canadian promotions to help build more reputable title-holders.
- At the end of the day, given O’Keefe’s increased role, and the UFC and Instinct’s signing of several of their fighters, Ringside remains a promotion in transition, looking to push its remaining draws while concurrently building up new ones. It will be interesting to see how the promotion fares in this newly competitive market as it attempts to ramp things back up to a level reminiscent of its peak last April at Ringside 10, when it mostly had the Montreal market to itself.
Up next for the province is Instinct MMA 3 in Sherbrooke in two weeks time. The card, already delayed once, lost its main event recently after Martin ‘the Hammer’ Grandmont pulled out due to injury. The promotion will look to bounce back from what many perceived as an under-attended event in Quebec City last December. Grandmont or not, there’s still plenty of talent on display March 31 on a card 18 bouts deep.