LAS VEGAS --
The warriors of Fight Club 29 battled head-to-head with other Mixed Martial Arts fighters from throughout California, Nevada and Arizona and were crowned overall champions at the Grappling Experience Tournament at the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas Saturday.
All 12 fighters medaled and overall the team won 15 medals at the prestigious event.
The club also met with Shane Carwin, the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight contender who is slated to compete against Frank Mir for the interim heavyweight title in March. Carwin spoke with the club’s fighters, posed for photos and stressed his appreciation for the military.
“These guys are coming up to me wanting to know about my next fight when they are getting ready to go fight a war,” the mixed-martial artist said. “If it wasn’t for them, my family and I wouldn’t be able to live the life we do. It’s an honor to meet the Marines.”
After spending time with Carwin, the club warmed up and mentally prepared for their upcoming bouts.
“Before the competition started, I was a little nervous,” said Arron Stephens, who received a gold medal grappling in the 225-pound, Novice Division. “Once I got on the mat and made that first contact, all that went away. I was just focused on what I needed to do.”
The fighters needed to win by either points or submission in four or five-minute bouts. Novice and beginner fighters grappled for four minutes, while intermediate and master fighters battled for five minutes, unless someone submitted, or ‘tapped out,’ to their opponent.
“People see the sport and think it is mostly physical – size and muscle,” said Fight Club 29 veteran Tyler Moug. “What I like about it is how absolutely mental it is. You’re on the mat constantly thinking about how you can one-up the other guy – constantly thinking about how you can twist yourself to get a better position on them.”
The club got off to a rocky start when Masters Division fighters Darnell Mason, 165-pounds, and Klaus Springer, 200-pounds, both lost their first matches.
However, the momentum shifted in favor of Fight Club 29 after Mason and Springer won their subsequent matches, and Stephens rallied in the beginner heavyweight bracket to defeat Steve LaGrow and Jeff Viles to win the gold medal.
After those victories, Marcos Estrada, the 16-year-old son of a Combat Center Marine, exploded into action, moving quickly and strategically to defeat Michael Lowenthal for yet another gold medal.
Early in the competition, Fight Club 29 head coach Mark M. Geletko was impressed with his team.
“We’re not quite to the halfway point,” he said. “Everyone is already medaling – it’s looking good for us.”
To emphasize Geletko’s point, Dominic Waters, another 175-pound Fight Club 29 veteran making his debut fight, pounced on his opponent, Daniel Rhodes, using a triangle-choke to make Rhodes tap out.
Edward Gonzales, a 165-pound intermediate fighter with Fight Club 29, charged hard in his three matches, forcing his opponents to tap out with succesive arm bars in less than two minutes each.
When Moug took to the mats in the 185-pound beginner division, most of the tournament spectators shifted their attention to his bouts.
Moug was explosive and relentless. He also won the gold by carefully maneuvering into positions which either gave him points or helped him make his opponents tap out.
Not to be outdone, Omar Askew, a 185-pound intermediate fighter, grappled his way through the competition, winning gold in his weight class and carrying his victorious momentum to the Intermediate Absolute Division.
“The Absolute Division pretty much shows who is the [most valuable player] in their experience level,” Geletko said. “Everyone in the experience level fights everyone who signs up, there are no weight classes. It’s the absolute champion.”
Askew capped off his tournament by defeating Michael Childs in a grueling 21-minute battle. The pair fought tooth-and-nail before Askew finally gained the upper hand by putting Childs in a rear naked choke which forced Childs to tap out.
Moug also carried his momentum into the Beginner Absolute Division. There he overpowered Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton fighter J.R. McGill to win the gold. For his victory, Moug recieved a set of audio speakers he said he will use at the gym where the club trains.
After Fight Club 29’s overwhelming victory, Askew credited their success to the teams positive mental attitude and Geletko’s conditioning program. Askew said the club trains hard at the Crossfit Gym, completing what has been dubbed the “Spartan Workout.”
Askew also credits Geletko’s overall guidance.
“[Geletko] is like a father figure. He’s more than a sergeant major, he’s more than a coach,” Askew said. “He teaches us discipline – mental discipline and physical discipline. He has molded us into a brotherhood.”