RAW MuayThai and Kickboxing
Photos by Raw Photography MX - Nicole Randall
On Saturday the 12th of August 2017, before the first of the night's 15 fights, the menthol smell of Deep Heat already permeated the Foundry Bar in Christchurch. An atmosphere of tense anticipation could be felt as 6pm approached, with the crowd eager for the action to start.
The first fight was at 64kg, and saw Zac Basharanti of Canterbury Fight Centre (CFC) take on TP Carroll of EFC Cage FIght. Despite Carroll's murderous knees in the clinch - one of which broke Basharanti's nose with an audible crack - Basharanti was indomitable, and used an aggressive style to overcome the reach advantage of his opponent, wading into punching range landing heavy blows from the southpaw stance, his workrate ultimately gaining him the decision victory.
The night's main focus was on the 4-man King in the Ring (KitR) 68kg eliminator tournament, from which 1 man would emerge victorious to represent the South Island in the famed national competition on 15th September.
The first KitR semi-final qualifier was fought between Nic Aratema, of Hammerhead MMA, and CFC's Sam Haggitt, and was perhaps the fight of the night. Haggitt wore an expression of grim intensity as he walked to the ring; the gladiator about to face the lion. After a brief feeling-out process in round 1, they turned up the pace, Haggitt pressing the action with grievous intent, and Aratema defending and countering effectively amidst the onslaught.
In what was a razor close fight, both men had their moments of offensive success. Aratema accurate and unflappable in the face of Haggitt's cold fury. While the bloodthirsty offence of Haggitt was mostly absorbed by the tight defence of Aratema, the impact of Haggitt's constant bombardment was enough to sway the judges, who awarded him the split decision victory.
The second KitR semi-final clash was between hard-nosed bruiser Shem Murdoch, of Hammerhead MMA, and Ian "the Switch" Blade from UMAF Christchurch. Both fighters were keen to exchange in the pocket, but it was Murdoch who was the more effective, crumpling the lead leg of Blade with kicks, and ultimately finishing him with a stepping right knee, opening a 2-inch gash above the eye, forcing the doctor to stop the fight in the 2nd.
In an epic battle at 77kg, CHC Martial Arts' Alex Zhao looked every inch the warrior monk of legend as he took on the towering figure of John Love (City Lee Gar Auckland). The 2 combatants wasted no time in getting to work, with Love taking the centre of the ring, keeping Zhao on the end of his straight punches, and delivering brutal knees to the body when in closer range. Zhao returned fire with ferocity, and the clatter of shin-to-shin contact was audible.
In the second round, Zhao took the centre, both men slinging hard and trading kicks. Zhao with the power advantage, landing a vicious lead hook splattering sweat to the canvas. As the fight wore on it came down to the accuracy and calm distance management of Love, coupled with stance switching and well-timed level changes, overcoming the power strikes of southpaw Zhao, who remained dangerous until the final bell, losing a hard-fought decision.
Impressive was CFC's Michaela Jenkins in her defeat of Rhino Fight Gym's Renee Roberts at 66kg. Jenkins using her pugnacious style to keep relentless pressure on Roberts, landing heavy punches, and several spinning backfists in succession. Roberts had some success at keeping the fight on the outside, but it was not enough to keep Jenkins at bay, who kept an inexorable pace, forcing the ref to step in for an 8-count at the end of the 3rd, cut short by the final bell.
In an absolute slugfest, John Pyers from Maui Tu Moana Nelson took on Proactive Templeton's Mitchell Stephens at 74kg. Pyers was looking jacked as usual, while Stephens possessed the height and reach advantage, despite a muscle mass deficit. After a strong first round from Pyers, the workrate and reach advantage of Stephens started to take its toll, and he began to win the exchanges, eventually leading to a pair of knockdowns in the 3rd round and a clear victory.
Jess "Whiplash" Wilson, fighting out of Lucky 9 Fight Gym, used a superior gas tank and offensive output to overcome Paradise Kahukoti of Rhino Fight Gym in a unanimous decision victory at 65kg.
In a violent 48kg clash, Golnaz "Danger Mouse" Tabar from SMAC Gym Auckland met CFC's Donna Robson, The fight was closely-contested, but it was the southpaw Tabar who left Robson's nose bloody in the 2nd, and kept the pace up to take the win.
CFC's Marcus Tuuli overcame an experience deficit to take a well-deserved 86kg victory over Hamish Calvert of EFC Cage Fight. Tuuli was able to stick to his game plan, closing distance well to overcome the reach differential, and once inside using body punches to set up devastating overhand rights to the head of Calvert, to earn the decision victory.
In the absence of opponents from elsewhere, 2 warriors from CFC decided to test their mettle, and met for a 77kg battle: James McBride and Kieran Cullimore proved that fighting can be a gentleman's sport, and put on a hearty display of skill. Ultimately it was Cullimore who used distance control and greater output to earn the unanimous decision win.
The 4-woman tag team battle at 56kg was a sight to behold. Hammerhead Gym brought a formidable team in Sarah Archer and Hannah "Spanners" Dawson, who met CFC's Pratiksha Ramji and CKB Auckland's Baylee O'Halloran, over 3 x 4minute rounds of tag team war. Despite having the least experience of the 4, it was southpaw O'Halloran who stole the show, coming out like a demon from Hell, using superior hand speed to unload combination punches on both of her adversaries, inflicting visible damage on Archer and forcing her to flee to her corner and tag out. Both Hammerhead fighters fought well, but the furious pressure of O'Halloran, coupled with Ramji's good use of her reach to fight on the outside, led to a clear victory for the mixed-gym team.
When Fi Sim of Queenstown Muay Thai faced Kelly Broerse of Strikeforce Auckland at 64kg, they both looked ready for war. The fight started as it was to go on, with Sim successfully riding the avalanche of Broerse's offense without being snowed under by it, but unable to mount enough effective attacks of her own, with the forward pressure and well-timed combination punching of Broerse earning her a decisive victory.
Hammerhead's Taylor Garrett walked out to Biggy Smalls, winning a few fans in the process. Not to be out-gangstered, Proactive Riccarton's Charlie Baker followed him out to the beats of Pharoahe Monch, before they squared off in the ring for a 70kg clash. Both displayed high levels of skill, but it was Garrett who took the split decision victory, working hard in the clinch and setting up head punches by first unloading to the body.
The final KitR South Island qualifier, between Sam Haggitt and Shem Murdoch, was not without its share of controversy. Both fighters had taken damage from their prior skirmishes, with Murdoch being the fresher fighter. As they engaged, every punch by Haggitt was thrown with intent to cause blunt force trauma, and he was clearly the aggressor for most of round 1, throwing a spinning back kick which dropped Murdoch, grimacing in agony. It is unclear whether the shot was a low blow, or whether it landed to the liver (the video replay will tell), but it was treated as a groin shot, with Murdoch given time to recover. Once he did, he pressured Haggitt, hurting him with a leg kick and dropping him with a hard cross to the head at the close of the round. At the start of round 2, Haggitt appeared to break his hand, and the fight was stopped. Hopefully these 2 warriors will meet again, as they have unfinished business to resolve. For now though, Shem Murdoch is the South Island King in the Ring representative for 2017.