Irvine, CA- You hear the same argument over and over again. On mma forums such as Sherdog or The Underground you often see diehard fans bashing the sport of boxing whenever they are given the chance. They see it as the “old guard,” something their father and grandfather watch. They try desperately to establish any sort of distance that connects their generation to their elders in an effort to disassociate from anything seen “un cool.” It’s a known fact that mixed martial arts does cater to a younger audience, while its combative forefather, the pugilistic art of boxing has had a hard time winning over boxing converts. They are on the other side of the spectrum when it comes to mma; they dont understand it and they bash it just as bad as those on the online forums. I always ask myself the question, why can’t us fight fans all get along? I for one am a fight fan. I’m a fan of people punching their brains out with 4ounce gloves and inside a cage and a fan off two fighters beating their brains out with 8 ounce gloves inside a squared circle. To be quiet frank, I like a good ass whooping. Roy Englebrook does as well, the promoter of The Battle of the Ballroom which puts together Orange Counties only hybrid mma/boxing show. This concept has always intrigued me, so when I had the opportunity to see and experience what type of operation Mr. Englebrook I could not pass it up. I ventured out deep into the heart of Orange County and was surprised and please with what I found.
Englebrook is not a newcomer to the promoting game, he’s been in the fight business for 26 years, and was the first promoter in California to be licensed and approved by the California State Athletic Commission to put on a mma show. It’s no wonder the people at Affliction went to Roy to use his license to put on their two shows. When I arrived I was taken aback. I’ve been to many local mma shows in the area and this one by far had an impressive set up with a beautiful venue. Full on spotlights and a welcoming staff greeting everyone outside, the extra touches left a good impression on me. As I went to check in for my credentials I ran into a old friend, MMA veteran Brian “Mr. Unbreakable” Warren. Brian has fought some big names inside the cage including Tiki Ghosn and Cung Le whom he broke his nose. We exchanged pleasantries and he let me know he had one of his fighters from his Unbreakable Gym in San Bernardino was on deck to fight. I took a look at the card myself and saw the scheduled bout sheet; four boxing fights and two mma fights. Not bad I thought, though I would of liked a even mma to boxing ratio. When I stepped into the ballroom itself it was a really gorgeous site. Chandeliers everywhere, huge ample space, big name sponsors likes Tecate and SC Fuels plastered everywhere and beer stations. In every possible direction you looked there were beer stations. Mr. Englebrook knows his audience, I counted five beer stations throughout the whole ballroom, smart guy.
After doing a walk thru I decided to go into the fighters warm up areas to go take a peak. The first mma match of the night pit Bantamweights Vincent Martinez (1-5) and Marcus Kowal (1-0) and I paid each a visit. Martinez was being cornered by Brian Warren, I asked him how he felt his fighter would do he responded by saying, “Vince has good head movement and good striking. We know he’s going up against a good dude so lets hope for the best.” After watching them hit the pads for a bit I made my way over to Kowals corner. I opened the door and Bam! Right in front of me stands Strikeforce heavyweight contender Fabricio Werdum. He smiles and I watch him consult Kowal before he walks out to the ring. I myself finally make my way to my press section and I notice a strange dichotomy among the audience. Half of the crowd are what you usually see at mma shows. Your eighteen to thirty something’s, while the other half are…you guessed it, your working professionals and boxing’s old guard, the people that grew up with the sport when it was relevant in the United States. Martinez put up a good fight but was stopped via rear naked choke in the first round by Kowal, much to the delight of Werdum. The card continued with a few more boxing matches and I was pleased to see some of the younger fans in attendance actually appreciating those fights. The second mma match of the night pitted last minute replacement Billy Terry (4-16) against Buena Park native Chris Saunders (3-1). Terry was no match for Saunders, who worked takedowns to set up ground and pound damage to eventually get the win in the second round via TKO on his turtled up foe. The crowd cheered Saunders wildly, clearly appreciating the early stoppage. The night finished off with a four round boxing fight that pitted a Mike Tyson look a like against a young up and coming heavyweight that oddly resembled Lennox Lewis.
In what resembled the real life Lewis/Tyson fight his doppelganger look alike closed the night with a first round KO victory. Soon after I stopped by with Mr. Englebrook and asked him why have a hybrid card like this one. “I saw MMA and knew it was a hot thing to be honest. I thought to myself, I know how to promote, I know how to get butts in seats, why not give it a shot.” He certainly does know how to put butts in seats as the 1,412 seat Irvine Marriott Ballroom was completely sold out for the Wednesday night show. “I noticed that Fans that come just love the action. They love seeing fights and I’m glad I can offer just enough to please both mma and boxing fans,” says Englebrook. I was one of those fans and the 1,412 in attendance were shown when done right mma and boxing are not enemies, but can co-exist with one sport educating the old guard and the other highlighting the striking traditions of generations pass.