July 7, 2016 9:14 am

New York Fight Night: Triumph Kombat – Pt 2


New York Fight Night: Triumph Kombat-Pt 2

Thanks so much again!” I said to the security guard as he resumed his post. The original guard glared at me as I walked past.
Elijah was directly under the ropes of the ring and was still snapping pictures. The fights alternated between Muay Thai and MMA. I had only seen MMA once in real life, and I was very far away. Bruno Santos of Class One MMA was fighting against Marcos Cameron of ECU BJJ. The crowd was screaming for the men to knee or teep each other.
A few drunk guys in the VIP sections lifted their beers up towards the ring, as one yelled out, “I could fight better than that!” I shook my head at their red bloated faces. They had no idea how much went into these ten minutes. I had seen my teammates’ fight camps time and time again. They sacrificed everything to make it to the ring–their free time, their personal comfort, nights out, even sleeping in. I would watch them train their hearts out, sometimes rushing to the bathroom to vomit and coming back immediately to finish training. It didn’t matter if they rolled their ankle or felt ill. My team always finished their camps with their arms held over their head in victory position and would show up the next day, despite how hard the previous day was. These guys definitely didn’t understand what the fighters had to go through.
I glanced at the rest of the crowd. The house was packed. I was closer to the ring now and saw the men trying to sweep each other. Bruno won and lifted his arms up in elation. I looked back over to the drunk guys to get their reaction. They were engrossed in their drinks and had sweated through their suits. Bruno’s team was now hugging him. I thought about my own coaches and how they supported my teammates whether they won or lost. A gentle pat on the back or a nod of understanding–they did their best and gave it their all, and that’s all any coach ever asked of their fighter.
The men cleared the ring as the female Muay Thai fighters entered the arena. I saw Yasmeen and her team walk towards the blue corner. They would be competing under full Muay Thai rules and wore elbow pads. Yasmeen’s opponent, Kit Fung of RingSport Muay Thai, walked towards the red. Both women walked around the ring and bowed to each post. They then briefly acknowledged each other. The referee got between them as he told both women to defend themselves at all times and to fight a good clean fight. They touched gloves and walked to their corners.
A bell went off and the women met in the middle. Their energy was palpable and the Garden was quiet in awe as the women circled each other. Kit was light on her feet and maneuvered around Yasmeen’s strikes. Yasmeen threw a kick at Kit’s legs and got her knees to buckle down.
Their coaches shouted instructions to them and I heard Rami yell out, “Beautiful kick, Yasmeen, beautiful!” The timekeeper clapped the wooden blocks together and there were only ten seconds left. A few more punches were thrown and the bell was sounded. The first round was over.
The women walked back to their corners. Kit was nodding at her cornermen as they gave her feedback and instructions. One of Yasmeen’s corners placed ice on her chest as Rami spoke intently to her. Almost immediately, the colored stools were withdrawn from the ring and their coaches were out. The women were alone in the ring. The second round begun.
They circled each other once more. The second round looked similar to the first. Both fighters threw devastating kicks to each other’s abdomens. I imagined the pain their ribs must be feeling, but neither showed any emotion on their face. A few times I saw Kit almost smiling after being kicked, as if she was egging Yasmeen on. Her eyes would widen and her mouth would tilt slightly upwards. She jabbed and moved her head out of the way as Yasmeen countered. As the blocks were clapped together again, I was unsure of who was winning the fight.
The lights in the arena made the ring appear smokey and hazy. As the women met in the middle for the third and final time, I could no longer see their faces clearly. They exchanged counter after counter, until Kit knocked Yasmeen down. She stood up to continue fighting, but the match was close to over. As soon as the round was over, both women embraced each other and shook the hands of the other’s coaches. They then went to the center of the ring, as the ref held the wrist of their glove.
Kit was declared the winner. She smiled in elation as Yasmeen nodded and clapped for her opponent. The women bowed towards each other and quickly began to clear the ring. As they walked out, they were stopped by medics. They had their eyes, nose, ears, and mouths tested. Kit stuck out her tongue as the medic peered inside her mouth with a pocket flashlight. He then gently pressed on the sides of their midsection, arms, and legs, checking for broken ribs and limbs. After getting a full-body test, they were free to go. As Kit walked by me, I noticed that she had her toenails painted. While it could have been for any reason, I imagined her getting her favorite color as a good luck charm. The ladies disappeared from the floor, leaving behind only their amazing fight.
Taj Rueda and Macho Soto were up next. Taj walked in confidently and held his head high. He surveyed the ring, but looked at home in the space. Almost immediately when their fight started, he knocked Macho down right away. He then knocked him down three more times in the first round. Their second round had more punches, and both men came out swinging. He then clinched and started elbowing him in the face.
Teeps and knees brought “Ooh-wees” from the crowd. As the fighters entangled themselves into clinches, they would hang tight around their opponents’ necks and drive their knees into each other’s stomachs, while attempting to avoid the same happening in return. In between rounds, they rehydrated and listened intently to their coaches’ instructions. Their mouth guards were shoved back into their mouths and they would jump back into the fight.
In the third round, after sweeping Macho over and over again, Taj was finally knocked down. He got up quickly, but it was apparent that he didn’t enjoy being the one on the ground. The fight finally ended and the men met in the middle. Taj was declared the victor and hugged Macho. Both men smiled and laughed at each other, and then paid respects to each other’s corner. Taj smiled broadly and waved to the group in the stands that was cheering his name.
Soon after was a match between Coban’s Gabriele Rao and Next Generation Muay Thai’s Rustam Saidov. In the first round, Gabriele hit Rustam six times clean in the face. A crowd was gathered for him in the stands and they erupted into cheers. Gabriel was knocked down briefly but didn’t let that deter him. He continually came after Rustam with a flurry of punches and intense kicks. Rustam landed a few on Gabriele’s face, leaving him with some bruises and blood around his nose, but Gabriele continued to press on. Rustam would throw a jab, only for Gabriele to duck it and come back with a counter. He would bounce forward as though he was about to kick, and then would let his fists fly.
In a high energy bout, Gabriele won with a knockout in the third round. He stood over Rustam until the ref sent him back to his corner. After he was announced the winner, he stood in the middle of the ring and kissed his fist, then lifted it into the air. I glanced over at his team and saw them standing and clapping, elation on their faces. A few were dancing in their seats and hugging each other. I knew there was nothing better than seeing your teammate, who worked their ass off, get a well-deserved win.
For most of the fights, I sat in a black plastic fold-out chair, a few feet away from the ring. Occasionally a security guard would sit next to me and ask what was going on.
Is he allowed to throw his elbow like that?
Yeah, he’s got the padding and it’s full rules. You don’t ever want to get caught with an elbow, but it’s a real effective strike,” I’d answer, as I leaned closer because we couldn’t hear each other over the cheers of the crowd.
The medical personnel stood next to each other, their hands ready and protected by purple latex gloves in case of a knockout or injury. I could hear parts of their conversations, as they talked about their lives.
I keep telling my wife, my mom will watch the kids during the week, but you know she is–she doesn’t want to ask family for help. She’d rather hire a sitter and spend money. It doesn’t make sense to me, when there’s a perfectly good woman who will do it for free.
Cameramen moved around the outside of the ring to find better angles. Occasionally, when the rounds ended, the fighter would stop in front of Elijah and pose with their arms flexed or their tongue sticking out. He’d snap a picture and laugh as their coaches called them back to their corners.
In between fights, when the cameras were off of him, the announcer would check his phone and reply quickly to messages. Phoenix Carnevale, a prominent fight commentator and MMA journalist, would write down the scores on her notes. I had heard of Phoenix from everyone that I knew at Renzo’s, as a respectable and reputable individual, and probably one of the nicest people I would ever meet. I remembered seeing her do something with Friday Night Fights the year before and watched her on CNN a few days prior, talking about Kimbo Slice‘s unfortunate passing. She would go into the ring after the fights and interview the victor. It was as though nothing they would do could faze her, even if the fighter was yelling and jumping around, or trying to grab the microphone out of her hands. If there was someone epitomizing the career I dreamed of, it was definitely Phoenix.
While Phoenix watched the fighters and kept scores, I took notes as the competitors came in and out of the ring. As they entered, their faces were shiny from the vaseline and their mouths were shut tight, as though to keep their mouth guards safe. Their Thai shorts often had their nickname and school’s name and ranged from intricate designs to plain colors and writing. After their fight was over, their cornermen would grab hold of their glove and the fighter would pull themselves backwards to yank the glove off. Black X-marks were prominent on their wraps as well as the black and blue bruises on their legs, stomachs, and faces.
More than once, I heard an exiting fighter mumble to his corner, “I’m so hungry. Can we eat now?” I felt a rumble in my own stomach. I had run straight from work to the Garden and hadn’t eaten in several hours. I had nothing on me other than my phone. There was a brief intermission, so I went to tap Elijah on the shoulder.
Do you have snacks?” I asked.
He shook his head and patted his stomach. “No, and I am starving!” I looked towards the lobby.
“Okay, I’ll grab us food.
He brightened. “Okay, but no hot dogs, please. They make me sick.” I looked at him questioningly. I never had met a New Yorker who didn’t like hot dogs, but I had no time to worry about it then. We needed food if we were going to make it for the rest of the event.
I walked towards the vendors, only to be stopped by a guard.
You heading to the lobby?” I nodded my head.
It’s closed.” My stomach grumbled.
There’s no food?” I asked, not really wanting to hear the answer.
No, everything’s done. There’s no drinks either.
I had only felt hungry, but in that moment I realized how thirsty I was as well.
I looked into the crowd and was surprised to see my teammate and friend Michelle sitting in the stands. I waved towards her and beckoned me to come over. Next to her was Taj, laughing with a group of their friends. She smiled as I walked up and asked her the only question I could think of: “You got any food?
She and her friend handed over popcorn, chips, and baby carrots. I saved the carrots for Elijah and immediately started munching on the popcorn.
Hey, uh, can I interview your friend really fast?” I asked between mouthfuls.
Michelle pointed towards Taj. “Him?
Yup. It’s for this article I’m writing for New York Fighting.” I continued to stuff my face. Garden popcorn never tasted so good in my life.
Hey, Taj! My friend here wants to interview you!” She called out to him.
He scooted a few seats over. “Alright, what’s up?
The same nervousness came back, but being fueled by popcorn and chips gave me energy to do the job. I learned that Taj was always ready to fight and trained year round. If it was up to him, he would fight every month and a half, leaving him constantly in a fight camp. With his numerous fights, he had only four losses, which he learned from and was to avenge. Taj was happy to be fighting and hadn’t fought the same person twice yet, but would take a fight anywhere, any time, regardless of weight and if he had adequate time to prepare. In 2015 alone he had six fights, a staggering amount for an amateur competitor. The best feeling for him was being in the ring and dumping another fighter, as he had demonstrated in his fight less than half an hour earlier. The best way he was going to celebrate the night was with his two W’s: wings and whiskey.
After leaving Taj to his friends, I headed back over to Elijah and handed him the baby carrots. He raised his eyebrows at me.
Why do I get the carrots and you get the chips?
I’m not a pro Muay Thai fighter, I’m a writer and we fuel differently.
Elijah made a face at me and turned back around. The final events were about to start. A security guard had a list of the fights in front of them and had written “AT LAST IT’S OVER” next to the main event. Tired fans were leaning back and had their eyes closed in the stands. A couple of security guards had circles under their eyes and kept yawning. However, when the guys for the 140 lb title tournament came out, the crowd went wild once more.
In the red corner was Chris Tapeia of Weapons 9. Sergios “Greek Dynamite” Mikios of Thorton Muay Thai was in the blue. The men were courteous to each other and would touch gloves every time they entered the ring or if they fouled one another. After several back and forth powerful crosses and hooks, Mikios won the tournament. He was elated when he spoke to Phoenix and his team in the front were cheering loudly for him. The belt was strapped securely around his chest. The front of the belt was metal and the back looked to be made of a fuzzy material, and Sergios shook his arms in the air as he left the ring.
As the 147 lb guys walked out into the arena, Mikios yelled out to Joe Merolla, “Joe! You better fucking get this, Joe! This belt is yours!” Joe laughed and shook his head at him.
I’ll do my best man, I’ve been training for this!
Joe came out of Five Points Academy and would be competing against Nick Grant, representing The Wat. The Wat’s Phil Nurse jumped over the ropes and into the ring to help Nick warm up. He had several flowers around his neck. The men sealed the ring and faced each other. They smiled as they touched gloves and went to their corners. Cheers of “Nick” and “Joe” were yelled out in the crowd, as each team tried to be louder than the other. Their battle was short-lived however.
A few moments into the first round and the fight was stopped. Joe’s shoulder had appeared to pop out and he was no longer allowed to compete. It was considered a technical knockout due to injury. Joe took a deep breath and sighed, bowing to Nick and his team. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but it appeared to be friendly. He smiled again and looked as though he accepted the decision. The men shook hands and left the ring quickly. The main event was finally happening.
Ricardo Mixco and Ahmad Ibrahim walked out quickly into the arena. It was now past midnight and several people had left. The room still had faithful spectators, teammates, friends, and family calling out their fighter’s name. The photographers around the ring were still snapping away and the cameramen looked for the best angle. The drunk guys were all long gone.
The rounds went quickly, almost as if they were in a blur. Rami’s Elite were in the corner closest to me. I saw Rami and Ahmad’s other cornermen and noticed that the men wore matching Nikes. Ahmad and Ricardo both went round for round, punching and kicking each other as spectators called out “Ooh-wee!” over and over again. Rami called out to Ahmad when he would take strikes, “Don’t you want to win? Fight like you want to win!
Finally, the fight was over, and Ahmad was well on to his way for White Castle, to celebrate a well-deserved victory.
The men exited the ring as the announcer thanked everyone for coming. What had been quiet and still now erupted into chaos–cameras being unplugged, parts of the ring being taken down, security guards escorting people out, and the remaining fighters rushing to the locker rooms for a fast shower. Elijah already had his equipment disassembled and backpack on. I trailed behind him to avoid getting lost in the huge crowd of people leaving the Garden.
We stepped out into the night sky and it was a little chillier than it had been the last couple of days, even though it was a warm night in June. I replayed the night in my mind as I followed my coach. The fighters, the rounds, and sounds of the bell dinging rang in my ear. Elijah turned to look at me.
You feel like getting pizza? All I had were some carrots, so I’m starving.
I ignored the fact that I ate an entire bucket of popcorn. Having a slice of pizza in New York City, only a few feet away from Madison Square Garden, seemed like the best way to end one of the coolest nights of my life.


Writer: Pari Aryafar

: Kyle Antonelli

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