As I've mentioned before, a healthy amateur program is very important when a region hopes to produce talent in any sport. In terms of cultivating MMA talent, nearby states such as Georgia, Florida and Virginia all have a healthy head-start on the Carolinas because they have had sanctioning in place longer. 2010, however, saw the Carolinas make up some ground. There were several fighters that turned pro this year that I feel have definite potential to be pros with winning records. I'll also highlight some of the fights in 2010 where fighters from this region put up nice performances against outside competition and I'll mention a few fights that could be interesting draws in 2011.
More after the jump:
Part 1: The Class of 2010
2010 saw several fighters from this area turn pro. Here are just some from the class of 2010 (listed alphabetically by last name) that I believe can be winning fighters at the pro level:
Keith "Bad News" Bell (2-1) North Carolina
Jeremy "Pain Train" Holm (1-1) North Carolina
John Richard (3-1) South Carolina
Kelly Anundson (2-0) South Carolina
Derek Brunson (5-0) North Carolina
Will Estes (4-0) North Carolina
Steve Montgomery (0-1) South Carolina
Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson (3-0) South Carolina
Frank Waszut (2-1) South Carolina
Jacob "The Brick" Allman (3-0) North Carolina
Sylvain Bynum (4-0) North Carolina
D'Juan Owens (0-1) North Carolina
Jordan Rinaldi (4-0) North Carolina
"Wild" Bill Metts (2-1) North Carolina
Jerrod Sanders (1-0) North Carolina
Chris Cain (1-1) South Carolina
Keith Hulin (1-0) North Carolina
Matt "Spiderman" Tran (1-0) South Carolina
Part 2: A Look Back At 2010
As mentioned earlier, 2010 saw several pro matchups where fighters from this region put up nice performances against outside competition. These fights include fighters from various weight classes and degrees of experience. This is a list of basically what I consider performances to build on for fighters in the Carolinas heading into 2011. This list even includes a few losses where I thought there was a relatively significant performance by the local fighter. The matches selected are listed in order of weight class (and then alphabetically by fighter name). This list is by no means all of the fights that were eligible but these were a few of the ones that really stood out to me:
- Rodney Wallace (10-3) over David Heath (15-7) by decision. Wallace picked up a nice win in Canada against an opponent that has fought multiple times and won at the UFC level. This was a nice way to cap off 2010 for the Charlotte area fighter.
- Phil Davis (8-0) over Rodney Wallace (10-3) by decision. It is true that Davis pitched a shutout in this UFC fight, winning three rounds to none. But what made this significant to me is that Rodney went in there against a guy that is one of the best young fighters in MMA's deepest division and gave a great effort. Davis has had little trouble in dispatching opponents early, but not in this fight. I also considered the fact that Rodney could possibly make 185 pounds and Davis is an enormous light heavyweight. I don't know that he has any plans to do so, but could Wallace make some noise at middleweight if he decided to give it a try? Sho ‘Nuff.
- Houston Alexander (11-6) over David Griffin (0-1) by decision. So, here's the situation. David Griffin was a fairly successful amateur fighter and Charleston, SC firefighter. And how does he decide to turn pro? By fighting a far more experienced fighter with multiple UFC fights and some powerful striking. Oh, and for good measure why don't we just have this fight contested at 20 pounds over Griffin's natural fighting weight? Well, that's what happened and not only did Griffin not get outclassed, he took Alexander to the scorecards in a competitive decision. If Griffin decides to keep competing, he might be able to do some good things at middleweight.
- Roger Carroll (9-5) over Mike Guerin (9-2) by submission in the 1st round. Roger "The Leprechaun" Carroll is known for taking on tough challenges, usually in his opponent's hometown. This was the case earlier in 2010 when he faced then-undefeated Pennsylvania fighter Mike Guerin. Guerin is a veteran of the M-1 promotion and was a heavy favorite. Unfortunately for him, Carroll quickly secured a submission to take home an impressive road victory.
- Josh Eagans (5-1) over Aaron "Tex" Johnson (7-5) by decision. When Columbia, SC's Josh "The Juggernaut" Eagans went on the road to face Georgia fighter Aaron Johnson, many expected Johnson to be too much for his opponent. Eagans is young and winning at the pro level on the road can be very difficult. What happened that night, though, was that Eagans put on a gutsy performance to earn a nice victory on his opponent's home turf.
- Derek Brunson (5-0) over Todd Chatelle (6-5) by knockout in the 1st round. It was indeed impressive for Brunson, the former three time collegiate All-American wrestler, to get a victory against Chatelle in Rhode Island. But what was even more impressive was that it took him less time to earn the knockout than it took for you to read this paragraph. This was yet another impressive victory for Derek in 2010, a year that saw no one take him out of the opening round.
- Luigi Fioravanti (19-8) over John Buck (9-7) by split decision. I'm guessing that the fans down in Florida didn't know much about John Buck prior to his match against Fioravanti. After all, they were there to see their hometown fighter, a veteran of several UFC fights, get a nice win in front of his fanbase. If they didn't know about him before that event, they definitely do now. The crowd on hand witnessed a very competitive matchup that saw Buck lose a controversial split decision. This was one of those matchups that showed that the level of talent in the Carolinas is quickly gaining ground on the competition.
- Stephen Thomson (3-0) def. Marques Worrell (3-1) by submission in the 2nd round. 2010 saw the transition to MMA of Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson, a world ranked, undefeated kickboxer. Thompson was fighting in front of his home crowd in Greenville, SC against a dangerous undefeated fighter in Ohio's Marques Worrell. Thompson was able to earn the victory by (of all things) a submission in the second round, solidifying himself as a prospect to really watch out for.
- Derrick Kennington (6-2) over Chad Hines (6-3) by submission in the 1st round. 2010 was an eventful year for Kennington. He returned home to the U.S. after serving in the military overseas. Then, after sustaining a loss to fellow prospect Will Estes, he got right back in the win column by going to Indiana and easily dispatching Bellator Fighting veteran Chad Hines by submission in the opening frame. This was the same Chad Hines that fought into the third round on national television earlier this year against UFC veteran Roger Huerta.
- Spencer Fisher (24-6) over Curt Warburton (7-3-1) by decision. Warburton might not be a world class fighter (especially in comparison to some of the fighters that Fisher has faced in recent years), but it could be argued that any win in the UFC is a good win. When you consider that Fisher is toward the end of his career, it can be especially tough to beat a younger opponent on their turf. Spencer got the job done here so it's definitely worth mentioning.
- Jordan Rinaldi (4-0) over Jonathan Bermudez (7-2) by submission in the 1st round. This was a great win on the road for Team ROC's Rinaldi. The fact that he did it against a very solid young fighter in Bermudez? Impressive. The fact that he did it in front of a hostile crowd? Even better. This was a perfect end to an awesome 2010 for Rinaldi.
- Jacob Allman (3-0) over Dustin Center (1-1) by submission in the 1st round. Dustin Center might not be a well-known fighter now, but my suspicion is that he will be a very solid pro fighter. His NAIA All-American credentials and his surprisingly sharp striking make him a tough matchup for most fighters. Still, Allman withstood an early scare to secure a guillotine choke for the win in Asheville. This victory showed that Allman can stay poised and overcome adversity to win. Jacob is another young fighter from this area that has lots of potential and this was a nice way to end 2010.
- Preston Marks (5-3) over Turrell Galloway (4-1) by submission in the 2nd round. Speaking of fighters with impressive submission skills, Asheville, NC fighter Preston Marks handed Team Jackson product Turrell Galloway of New Mexico his first and only pro defeat. Galloway deservingly has a reputation as a talented young fighter but it was Marks that would have his hand raised on this night, submitting Galloway for the win in the second round.
Part 3: Potential Matchups in 2011
Understanding that many of the fighters in this region will want to test their skills against competition from other regions, there are several fights between fighters in the Carolinas that could make some sense in 2011. Here are just a few that I'm hoping are made sometime next year:
- Jake Whitfield (5-1) vs. Will Estes (4-0) for the CFP welterweight title. This matchup between two of the top 170 pound pro fighters in the Carolinas could sell a lot of tickets in either Raleigh or Wilmington. The fight itself would, in my opinion, be an interesting clash of styles.
- Nissen Osterneck (9-3) vs. either Josh Eagans (5-1) or Derek Brunson (5-0). Osterneck is a very talented, veteran fighter with UFC experience. Right now both Eagans and Brunson are very young but eventually a matchup with Osterneck could be interesting. Would it be best for that fight to be in 2011? I'm not sure, but I am sure that it would sell a lot of tickets locally.
- Brandon Garner (8-1-1) vs. Preston Marks (5-3). This would be a fun matchup to watch between two of the more talented fighters in the region. Both fighters are tough and highly skilled. If Garner recovers from the injury that he experienced in 2010, perhaps this is a fight that could be made next year.