Lou Neglia’s Ring of Combat promotion returned to the Tropicana Resort and Casino in Atlantic City on Friday, September 25 for another installment of the famed regional MMA promotion that Mr. Neglia has come to call the “American Idol of MMA.” True to form, Ring of Combat 52 highlighted some of the most notable prospects in the nation, and some statement-making performances in front of vocal fans who came to support their fighters.
In the main event two former ROC champs met in a rematch as Elijah “The Hero” Harshbarger avenged his 2011 armbar loss to Pete “Drago” Sell in a one-sided three round beating. From bell to bell, “Drago” was never competitive, save for some armbar and leglock attempts from the bottom position. Harshbarger landed takedowns early on in every round and landed effective ground and pound from the half guard position as Sell looked for alternating submissions and sweeps. Although Harshbarger looked to tire from administering so many ground strikes, medical personnel at ringside were watching the fight closely starting in the second round to determine whether the fight would need to be stopped. Sell, for his part, refused to relent, possibly drawing strength from a legion of fans in attendance supporting the Long Island, NY native. He always attempted to escape, defend, or submit every time referee Dan Mirgliotta appeared on the verge of stopping the fight. At the closing bell, Harshbarger landed a takedown straight into a deep rear naked choke attempt and Sell appeared to be saved by the bell. In the end, the judges issued scorecards of 30-26, 30-26, and 30-25 in favor of Elijah Harshbarger.
In the only title bout of the evening, Selden, NY’s Brian “Boom” Kelleher took an upset majority decision victory over the highly regarded Tiger Schulmann‘s prospect Julio Arce, who was the champion coming into the fight. The loss represented Arce’s first as a professional, and Kelleher and his team were jubilant at their capture of the ROC Bantamweight championship. Neither fighter asserted dominance for an extended period of time, but Kelleher was able to take control at the right points to sway the judges. Arce worked an effective boxing game behind a crisp jab and smooth counterpunching, headhunting for much of Round 1 and successfully defending takedown attempts from the challenger. Kelleher landed a couple of brief takedowns in Round 2 and became more aggressive with strikes late. He carried that increased confidence into the third round, where both fighters exchanged takedowns. One judge scored the close and competitive fight a 29-29 draw, while the other two judges went 29-28 to give Kelleher the majority decision and the Bantamweight crown.
ROC Welterweight champion Randy “Rude Boy” Brown saw his opponent switched twice in the lead-up to his ROC 52 fight, and as a result his bout with Tennessee‘s Ben “The Ruler” Brewer was a non-title catchweight affair contested at 180 pounds. Nevertheless, “Rude Boy” prevailed via guillotine choke at 0:31 in the second round to keep his undefeated professional record intact with his fifth stoppage in as many fights. Brewer came out strong in the first round, landing a trip takedown into side control and hunting a kimura on Brown’s far side. Team Budokan‘s Brown looked patient and relaxed from bottom, and when Brewer looked to transition the kimura into an armbar, Brown defended effectively and took top position, before both fighters made their way back to the feet. The round ended with a clinch along the fence and some aggressive punches by the champ. Brewer attempted to repeat the strategy in the second round but Brown was ready and locked up a power guillotine in the transition, which he finished on the ground to earn the victory when Brewer tapped to signal defeat.
In non-title action, Tajikistan native Shohin Safarov (Brooklyn MMA) and Oceanside, NY‘s Eddie Lenoci (Serra Longo Fight Team) engaged in an exciting and technical back-and-forth fight that saw both fighters exchange grappling positions and strikes before Lenoci claimed a TKO victory late in Round 2 with punches from the mount. Safarov was game, and had Lenoci in trouble with high impact takedowns in the first round and taking Lenoci’s back in the second. However, every time Safarov put together effective offense, Lenoci utilized effectie submission attacks from the bottom, and landed takedowns of his own from the feet. Eventually Lenoci scored a headlock takedown, slid into mount, and rained down punches until referee Gasper Oliver stopped the fight at the 3:41 mark.
Ricardo Almeida product and BJJ ace Max “The Cobra” Bohanan kept his undefeated record intact with a quick and dominant submission victory over Long Island MMA product Dan Cion, who hailed from Farmingdale, NY. “The Cobra” came out immediately to deliver a powerful takedown directly into back mount. Heavy ground and pound followed, which led to a tight rear naked choke. Cion conceded defeat at just 53 seconds into the first round, allowing Bohanan to make a statement with an impressive victory in the ROC Lightweight division.
After Bohanan’s victory, promoter Lou Neglia entered the cage to welcome the fans and introduce several notable MMA names in attendance, who entered the ring as has become customary at ROC events. Fighters or former fighters in attendance included original ROC champ Nardu Debrah, TUF winner Corey Anderson, Titan FC champ Andre Harrison, UFC veteran Nick Catone, top 10 UFC Bantamweight Aljamain Sterling, UFC vet Chris Camozzi, TUF veteran James Jenkins, UFC veteran and former ROC champ Gian Villante, UFC Lightweight contender Al Iaquinta, UFC veteran and BJJ legend Ricardo Almeida, former UFC Welterweight champ Matt “The Terror” Serra, former UFC Lightweight champ Frankie Edgar, and TUF winner Eddie “Truck” Gordon.
Earlier fights highlighted up-and-coming pro fighters. One of the most impressive victories came from Lightweight Pat DeFranco (Serra Longo Fight Team) who scored a standing TKO victory over ROC veteran Lashawn Alcocks, after a barrage of punches and elbows against the cage forced the referee to intervene at 3:36 of the first round.
A Welterweight matchup between Whitney “Da Bully” Jean Francois (Brooklyn MMA) and Jose Viera (Maxum BJJ) ended in a draw after a competitive fight and some questionable scoring. Viera opened with a beautiful lateral drop takedown and appeared to be the superior grappler, but “Da Bully” looked much more comfortable in striking range later in the round. In the second round, Viera pursued the ground game with less success, and Jean Francois seemed to be the fresher fighter as the bout entered the third round. However, after being warned for an accidental kick to the groin in the first round, Jean Francois landed another groin shot in Round 2. Although clearly accidental, the referee deducted a point from “Da Bully.” As a result, all three judges turned in 28-28 scorecards, resulting in an unsatisfying draw.
In Bantamweight action, Hazlet, NJ‘s Cody Mooney (Renzo Gracie / Nick Catone MMA) leaned on superior top position grappling to take a unanimous decision over Islandia, NY‘s Al Jones (Long Island MMA). Serra Longo Fight Team product Anthony Genovese took a unanimous decision over Jorge Martinez (Killer B Combat Sports) in a competitive Flyweight bout. And in the opening fight of the evening, Brandon Urquijo (Brooklyn MMA) took a contentious split decision over Paul Grant (Jungle Gym MMA) in a clinch-heavy fight. Both fighters’ original opponents pulled out at the last minute, so the two bantamweights accepted each other as opponents on short notice.
Other cancelled fights included Julio Germaine (Commack MMA) versus Robert Plotkin (Serra Longo), where Germaine did not pass medicals, and Mike Elshamy (Madama Jiu Jitsu) versus Karl Roberson (Killer B Combat Sports), representing the second straight event where Elshamy’s fight was cancelled at the last minute.
Written by contributing-editor, Kyle Antonelli
Kyle Antonelli is a lifelong martial arts enthusiast and has been following MMA since 2002. He has a background in wrestling and teaches Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which he has trained since 2005. Kyle is also a licensed attorney in New YorkYork State.
Photography by Geraldine Fernandez