The friendly rivalry between Legends MMA and Xtreme Couture, best illustrated with the historic three-fight saga between Chris Brady and Jimmy Jones, wrote another chapter last weekend, as Sean Bollinger and Ryan Couture battled to a razor-thin draw, capping off a Tuff-N-Uff event which saw six members of the combined 10th Planet / Legends MMA gym face difficult but important moral victories.
The match, a title bout for the Tuff-N-Uff 155 lb. championship, was a back-and-forth battle of wits between two celebrated ground technicians, one of whom had quickly become an affable fan favorite, and the other an underestimated but dangerous dark horse. Fans were calling it one of the most exciting matches in Tuff-N-Uff history, although several were up in arms that a title match would be allowed to end in a draw.
For Bollinger, the victory was, if nothing else, a moral one, as he said “this fight really showed me my heart. It proved something to myself: nine minutes of straight war. And I didn’t quit. . . It didn’t surprise me, but it showed me something. We both took a beating. I just need to see that in myself, to pursue this MMA career.”
Moreover, there was much debate over whether the match should continue into the third round, as Bollinger trapped Couture in a triangle choke and by all accounts (including Couture’s), put the second generation star to sleep moments before or right at the bell.
Teammate Tommy Gavin noted “I think Bollinger clearly won the first two rounds. He actually put the kid to sleep, so I think he won the fight. “
In a Las Vegas Sun article that ran the next morning, Couture told writer Hepi Mita that that he was put out, saying “He did have me asleep as the bell rang. . . It’s not every day you get to pass out and then still fight another round.”
Not to be outdone, Legends MMA / 10th Planet mainstay Alan “The Jedi Knight” Jouban finally made his MMA debut, winning with a highlight reel-caliber 14-second TKO over Dustin Chevalier (Striking Unlimited). With an 8-0 record in amateur Muay Thai, Jouban’s MMA cherrybreaker came after a series of injury mishaps. Ironically enough, Jouban was a last-minute replacement for Eddie Jackson, who himself withdrew from the event due to injury.
“I felt like I was more hungry for that fight than I was for almost anything in my life. It was almost two years of being sidelined, watching my peers grow and get better in this sport, and me not getting to do it. And once I kept building momentum, I get hurt again. . . Now that I think I’ve got that first hurdle out of the way . . . that’s my biggest goal right now – to stay hungry, to keep building a career,” explained Jouban.
“Alan was, what can you say? He went out there and took the guy out quick. He did exactly what he wanted to do and looked like an animal with his twelve-pack, the whole time,” said teammate and pro fighter Garren Smith.
155 lbs. – Tommy Gavin vs. Jon Gorton (Team Quest)
Gavin scored two trademark takedowns in round one, and Gorton worked for submissions from the bottom each time. The second takedown was a guillotine choke, which, while tight, offered little threat to the Upstate New York wrestler. With credit to teammate Eddie Jackson’s pre-fight head-shaving tradition, Gavin had little problem popping his head out, working for a D’arce choke to the round’s end. Round two saw Gavin and Gorton repeat the takedown / guillotine sequence from before. Gorton got a takedown of his own, and although Gavin worked for the armbar from bottom, Gordon was able to pass guard to full mount, throwing lefts and rights until the referee ended the match at 0:42 of the second round. Gordon was awarded the TKO victory.
Never one to get hung up on the past, Gavin saw a silver lining in the match itself, noting “one positive thing is I’m definitely getting better on my feet. I believe I was winning the stand-up in the fight, and my coaches told me to keep it standing, but I kind of went back to the wrestler instinct.”
Teammate Jouban added “Tommy let his hands go. He might have discovered something, that he’s got power in his hands.
170 lbs. – Takashi Munoz vs. Warren Roberds (Wand Fight Team)
This match was three rounds of Roberds keeping the pressure on Munoz with jabs and wild overhand rights. Fists flew right from the bell, as Roberds charged and cornered Munoz, who got caught up in the ropes. Munoz was able to retard Roberds’ pace with over/underhooks and Muay Thai knees, but Roberds broke free with lefts and overhands rights, scoring a knockdown that threw Munoz under the bottom rope just as the bell rang. Roberds again bullied Munoz into the corner in round two, but Munoz was able to slip in some knees from a Thai clinch, as well as mounting an offense of his own with kicks.
Munoz opened up round three with a perfectly-timed head kick that could have possibly knocked Roberds out, had he not gone with the momentum, but Roberds was able to clinch up and catch his bearings. Up against the corner, Munoz threw a controversial leg strike which the referee ruled as an illegal knee to the head, penalizing Munoz with a one-point deduction. Munoz threw more kicks and knees in this round than previous bouts, but that wasn’t enough to stop Roberds, who looked for the trip takedown and knees. Munoz fired another head kick, but tripped to the floor as the final bell sounded.
In a very close differential, Warren Roberds takes the match with a majority (split) decision.
Like with his teammate, Munoz indicated that despite not getting the victory, the match added another block to his mental arsenal: “I found out a lot of things about myself in this fight. I realized I’m way tougher than I thought I would be . . . You know how there’s a saying – ‘how can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?’ In this fight, I now know that I’m ready to get hit, and I’m still going to come back at you.”
Discussing the point deduction, Munoz explained “[the referee] said something like ‘I told you there’s no knees to the head.’ And in my case, I was looking at him like ‘that was no knee. That was the middle to the top of the shin.’ If he looks carefully, it didn’t even look like I was throwing a knee. It was a kick. A complete kick.”
185 lbs. – Rick Borden (10th Planet Riverside) vs. Zach Conley (Xtreme Couture)
Despite this being Borden’s Tuff-N-Uff debut, the 10th Planet Riverside rookie is no stranger to the lights and big stage. Borden went into the event 2-0 in amateur MMA, and previously played football at Eastern Oregon University.
After the first flurry of strikes and a takedown attempt by Borden, he and Conley circled and felt each other out. Borden pushed Conley into the corner with a punch combination, throwing left body shots as Conley tried to mar the action with over/underhooks. During the scuffle, the corner pad came loose, which led to a brief stop in the action. Upon the restart, the two traded combinations and vied for takedowns that neither got.
Both men engaged much more gingerly in round two, only throwing single or two-strike combinations. Conley had a chance to capitalize off a slip by Borden, but didn’t. Borden tried for another takedown towards the end of the round, but Conley stuffed it and held him at bay, landing a big knee. In round three, Conley opened up with a wild right, then attacked with single left hooks and low kicks. Borden fired combos to the head. Conley scored a trip takedown off a body lock, but was unable to get out of Borden’s half-guard.
Judges awarded the match to Zach Conley by unanimous decision.
“I wish I could have got a little more takedowns and worked my ground game, because that’s what I’ve been working on. My jiu Jitsu game is probably my strong point. . . I knew he was gonna be a pretty well-rounded fighter. I knew he had a lot of experience on me, which obviously showed at the end of the fight,” Borden said after the fight.
135 lbs. – Chris Brady vs. Casey Johnson (Team Driven)
This match was destined to be a barn burner from the entrance music, as Brady walked out to “A Country Boy Can Survive,” with Johnson emerging to Justin Moore’s “I Could Kick Your Ass.” Johnson, making his Tuff-N-Uff debut, is the 145 lb. champion in the MMA Explosion promotion, with a 7-1 MMA record and training out of Jens Pulver’s Team Driven in Idaho.
Round one was a kicking battle, as both men traded a series of low shots, one of which Johnson used to trip Brady to the ground. Johnson chose to keep it standing, however, knocking Brady down again with straight-ahead punches. Brady got revenge by knocking Johnson down with a high kick, but got tied up in top position and almost caught in an armbar before the round ended. The pair traded heavy leather and furious kicks and knees in the second round. Brady neutralized Johnson on the ground with rubber guard and mission control. Round three saw Johnson catch another kick, pushing Brady to the ground and in the corner, but Brady escaped and engaged on the feet, brushing off a Superman punch from Johnson. They traded combinations until Johnson got another trip. Brady had him in an armbar in the waning seconds of the match.
Judges awarded the match to Johnson by unanimous decision, but this was one of the closest matches in recent Legends MMA memory.
For Johnson, the slugfest took its toll, commenting “I tell ya, halfway through the second, all into the third, my ears were ringing. . . Chris Brady is a tough, stacked kid. . . I appreciate him taking the fight. It’s a pleasure for me to have the opportunity to fight him, to go three rounds with him. Hat’s off to Chris and hat’s off to Tuff-N-Uff.”
170 lbs. – Alan Jouban vs. Dustin Chevalier (Striking Unlimited)
Jouban and Chevalier almost instantly started throwing flurries at each other. Jouban connected with left high kick to the head, following up with a right hook that dropped Chevalier. With Chevalier on his knees, Jouban fired off several more punches to the head before the referee jumped in.
Alan Jouban won by TKO, R1, 0:14.
Ever the perfectionist, Jouban was surprisingly disappointed in at least one aspect of his match: “I was really actually kind of jealous of [my teammates’] fights. All of them did things that I wanted to do in my fight that I didn’t get to do. A 14 second knockout’s great, but all-in-all, the amateur league is to get the ring experience, which I feel like I’m not getting when I was with that dude. . . Takashi went three rounds, Brady went three rounds.”
155 lbs. Tuff-N-Uff Title Match – Ryan Couture (Xtreme Couture) vs. Sean Bollinger
This match, along with the two other title matches of the night, were three-minute rounds. The story of the match was that Couture, a noted armbar specialist, was facing his toughest submission challenge in Bollinger, who was only the second black belt under Eddie Bravo’s 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu system. This was also Bollinger’s second amateur MMA fight.
Bollinger set the first round off with kicks, including an unexpected headshot. Couture got Bollinger to the ground after engaging with a combo, but opted to keep it standing, which would be the theme of the fight for Couture’s ground strategy. Conversely, Bollinger would pull guard whenever possible, and did secure Couture in tight mission control at one point, but Couture eventually escaped. Bollinger didn’t shy away from stand-up engagement, however, holding his own with headwork, left hooks, and overhand rights. Couture missed several overhand rights, but did his fair share of damage with low kicks to Bollinger’s left leg.
Round two opened with a longer feeling out period, as the two traded measured combos for the first minute. Bollinger got double overhooks and pulled Couture down, trapping him with mission control and a triangle. The controversy really kicked in with eight seconds left, as Couture, still trapped in the triangle, tried to escape by stepping over Bollinger’s head. Sensing it, Bollinger hooked the leg and held on to the ring of the bell. Referee Joe Sullivan, not in position to stop the action right at the bell, made contact with the fighters 1-2 seconds after the ring, by which point Couture’s arm was visibly limp.
According to commentator Ron Yacovetti, Sullivan’s hand gesture could have been interpreted as the round ending or the match ending. After a brief celebration by the Legends / 10th Planet corner, Sullivan informed them that the match was not over.
Going into round three, both men engaged. Couture caught a Bollinger kick and tripped him to the ground, then followed up with combos, stepping away from Bollinger’s sweep attempt. Couture kept the pressure on Bollinger, stuffing a takedown attempt and landing rights to the body and head. Bollinger did briefly get mission control on Couture on the ground again, but Couture peppered the body with punches and escaped. The two traded selective shots in the last few seconds of the round.
Judges scored the entire bout evenly, ruling it a draw. Couture won the first round by a split, with two judges scoring it 10-9 for Couture and one judge scoring it 10-9 for Bollinger. Bollinger took the second round unanimously, 10-9 on two judges’ scorecards and 10-8 on the third scorecard. Couture walked away with the 10-9 for the third round on all judges’ cards, ending the match with one judge scoring it 29-28 for Couture, one judge scoring it 29-28 for Bollinger, and one judge scoring it 28-28 as a draw.
Fans were visibly upset by the decision, with loud chants of both fighters’ names, as well as “one more round.”
Afterwards, Bollinger spoke about the match being an opportunity to show that he wasn’t simply a one-dimensional fighter, saying “I’m just happy that I could go all three rounds, and I can display other talents than just the grappling. I guess people kinda know where my hands are at.”
As for thoughts on a rematch, Bollinger said “Ryan was saying he didn’t want to fight a rematch, unless we went pro. He said he didn’t want to do that for free again, is the actual quote he said. But I’m down for a rematch for sure. I definitely want to fight a couple more amateur fights. I love Tuff-N-Uff. I love coming here and fighting at the Orleans. I’d love to see him in the future. Maybe on a UFC undercard or something.”
In other Tuff-N-Uff action that night:
170 lbs. – Joey Angelo (TapouT) def. Jesse Bowler (Team Hollywood) via sub (triangle) R3, 1:27.
135 lbs. – Jerry Shapiro (Cobra Kai) def. Victor Henry (Strike Sub club) via sub (rear naked choke) R2, 1:57.
155 lbs. Jimmy Spicuzza (Team Lethal) def. Oron Kahlon (freestyle) via TKO, R3, 0:21.
185 lbs. Tuff-N-Uff Title Fight – Edmon Xhelili (Warrior Training Center) def. Tim Bowman (Striking Unlimited) via unanimous decision.
145 lbs. Tuff-N-Uff Title Fight – Andrew Alirez (Top Notch MMA) def. Vince Norica (Suffer Fight Team) via sub (arm triangle), R1, 2:41.
Tuff-N-Uff returns to the Orleans Hotel & Casino on Friday, April 23rd. Legends / 10th Planet expect to send fighters. Check back here for details.
Legends MMA is sponsored by X-Pole, Melee Fight Gear, HPE, Inc., and Stripper 101.