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UFC Fight Night in Halifax

On Sunday February 19, the Scotiabank Center hosted its second ever Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Fight Night. Over 8000 fans were on hand for the event which featured a much anticipated bout between heavyweights Travis “Hapa” Browne and Derrick “Black Beast” Lewis, as well as the UFC debut of the Newfoundland-born Halifax-native, Gavin Tucker.

Tucker was born and raised in Ship Cove, N.L., a small hamlet about two hours drive from St. John’s. He estimates the population of his hometown at around 60 people.

“Not everyone in northern Newfoundland in a small 60-person town is out cage fighting and playing jazz…it’s really fuckin’ strange for them,” Tucker said.

Originally drawn away from the island of his birth to pursue a career as a musician, Tucker began training as a mixed martial artist under his coach Peter Martell at Titans MMA shortly after his arrival in Halifax. Gavin now considers the city his adopted home, and was treated in kind by the packed crowd at the Scotiabank Center. Upon entering the arena, he received a deafening reception befitting a hometown hero.

The title of ‘hometown hero’ carries a special resonance for one of the attending fans in particular: his mother. It was a weekend of firsts for her, according to Tucker. It was her first time seeing her son fight in the UFC, and her first time ever leaving the island of Newfoundland.

“She hasn’t seen a rock concert. Her first big public show is watching her oldest boy fistfight a dude in a cage.”

Tucker ended up defeating Sam Sicilia in a unanimous decision. Sicilia, known for his knockout power, couldn’t land a solid hit the entire fight. ‘Stick and move’ was the name of the game for Tucker, who fed Sicilia a steady diet of kicks and strikes while using his quickness to avoid becoming a stationary target for Sicilia’s notorious right hand. Any doubt about the final result was laid to rest with Tucker’s takedown of Sicilia during the third round.

Towards the end of the fight Tucker started toying with Sicilia, miming as if he were catching a fish and then fighting a bull. Tucker claims this was an attempt to goad Sicilia into opening himself up to Tucker’s left hand, rather than an open display of disrespect towards his opponent.

The most surprising aspect of Tucker’s performance was the poise he showed in the ring against the much more experienced fighter in Sicilia.

“Sam has more fights in the UFC than I have fights,” Tucker said. But Tucker had his mother in the audience and the home crowd’s support.

Canadian content  

The card was filled with Canadian-bred and Canadian-based talent from start to finish. The audience, brimming with national pride, erupted in cheers at the mention of anything or anyone even tangentially related to Canada.

Ryan Janes, born in Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland and fighting out of Victoria, kicked off the night of action with an early-preliminary bout against American Gerald “The Machine” Meerschaert.

Janes came out swinging but committed a fatal error in deciding to go to ground against Meerschaert, who has 19 submission wins in his career. Meerschaert forced Janes into tapping with a skillful armbar 90 seconds into the first round. The result was disappointing for the fighter and for the fans that hoped to see a dominant showing from Canadian fighters on home soil.

“Don’t go to the ground with me, you will get tapped,” Meerschaert said during his post-fight interview.

Aiemann Zahabi, born in Laval and fighting out of Montreal, took on Brazilian Reginaldo Vieira in the second preliminary fight of the night.

Vieira dictated the pace through the first round, never allowing Zahabi to establish his strategy in the ring. Zahabi came back in the second round with a flurry of strikes that had Vieira down on the ground, clutching desperately at Zahabis leg awaiting the merciful sound of the round-ending horn. Round three was a slugfest that saw both fighters take considerable damage.

The judges decided unanimously in Zahabi’s favor. The crowd applauded the result while Vieira, visibly disgusted, stormed out of the octagon.

Zahabi appealed to Canadian fans during his post-fight interview.

“I’m really happy to grow up in Canada, and I’d love to be the guy to represent Canada for the UFC all over the world.”

The first fight of the main card saw Alessandro “Alex” Ricci, born in and fighting out of Woodbridge, Ontario, pitted against the hard-hitting Paul “The Irish Dragon” Felder of Philadelphia.

The fight was finished before the conclusion of the first round.

With 30 seconds remaining in the round, Ricci came inside in an attempt to hit Felder with a left jab. Felder met him with a vicious left elbow to the face that sent Ricci reeling. Felder capitalized on that vulnerability, brutalizing Ricci with a hard knee to the head and a barrage of punches. The fight was called with Ricci cowering helplessly in the fetal position with his back to the cage.

For Felder, the win was a result of meticulous preparation.

“Everything we were working on was slipping him off and beating him to it with the elbow and he walked right into it.”

Boot to face

In the third fight of the main card, Elias “Spartan” Theodorou of Toronto, squared off against Cezar “Mutante” Ferreira from Saõ Paolo, Brazil by way of Miami.

The 28-year-old Theodorou holds a degree in creative advertising from Toronto’s Humber College. His path to the UFC began with an embarrassing viral video that began circulating online when he was in his first year of university.

“I used to get into a lot of fights in high school…and then I picked a fight I shouldn’t have … I was drinking, he was not. I went to go for a superman punch, I slipped, I fell. He kicks me in the face … I jumped on the cab, and the cab drove off and I fell and knocked myself out.”

The next day one of the employees at the footlocker where Theodorou worked showed him a video on his phone, entitled “Boot to face,” that showed the incident in its entirety.

Theodorou, mortified, sought the guidance of his father who encouraged him to take up martial arts to prevent similar events from taking place in the future. At the time, his father was unaware that the advice would lead his son to pursue a career as a professional fighter.

Elias won the fight by unanimous decision after landing a few strong blows and evading a series of strong submission attempts by the Brazilian.

“I take pride in the ability to fight all over the world, but specifically Canada.”

Late stoppage

The main event saw Derrick “Black Beast” Lewis, winner of his last five fights, go up against Travis “Hapa” Browne, loser of his last two and in desperate need of a win.

Browne came out strong in the first round. Repeated kicks to the midsection had Lewis in visible pain. At one point he fell to the ground clutching his abdomen but was able to recover before Browne could pounce.

After the fight, Lewis downplayed the severity of his injury.

“It’s not really hurting from the kick; I just have to go poo poo,” he said.

Browne continued his strategy of targeting Lewis’ midsection into the second round. Lewis, notorious for his striking power, responded with a series of punches that left Browne visibly dazed.

With two minutes left in the second Lewis caught Browne with a blow to the top of the head. Browne’s legs turned to jelly beneath him as he stumbled to the mat. Lewis was on top of him throwing punch after punch at Browne who was powerless to do anything but cover up in the face of the assault.

Many criticized referee Mario Yamasaki for being slow to end the fight. Lewis landed three especially forceful punches to Browne’s head while the downed fighter was completely unable to protect himself.

After the fight, Lewis expressed gratitude to the referee for the extra few seconds of fight time. He also made reference to past allegations of domestic abuse levied against Browne by his ex-wife Jenna Webb.

“I appreciate it, for letting the fight go a little longer than what it would. I just wanted to get all my anger out on Travis’ face anyway because he likes to hit on women.”

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