By: Albert Cameron – Happy New Year folks! The New Year is a time for hopeful forecasting of one’s ambitions and hopes for the future; it’s also a great time to reflect on past accomplishments and defeats, to learn from the lessons history teaches. For me, it’s both. I’m holding on to a strong hope that the Altoona fight scene will be able to recover from the closure and absence of a strong, centralized MMA promotion; I’m also hoping that a much stronger presence emerges from the ashes of what was. This week’s Friday Five is a reflection on five of the most important fights to ever come out of the Logan Valley. Its part one in a series, aimed at reminding everyone of what was and what could be.
May the New Year bring you tremendous success and happiness; let’s get on with the Friday Five:
- Charlie “The Madman” Gathers vs. Gregory Jones – It’s hard to think of a list of Altoona’s best battles without Charlie Gathers being on it somewhere; it was also difficult to boil it down to just one fight that made an impact. Chuck’s fight with Greg Jones was chosen, not because of it’s title fight implications, but because of the heart and guts that were poured into that fight. Complete Devastation MMA (CDMMA) 3 was the first time I ever met the Madman; I didn’t have a chance to talk to him pre-fight and my first real good look at him was through the camera lens, perched on a tree stand that was straining under my heft. The bout was to crown a CDMMA Amateur Featherweight champion and was between a closely matched Gathers and an equally tough Gregory Jones. The fight was everything you’d hope for in a title fight: there were quality exchanges of strikes, fluid movements between positions and submissions, and then repeated. What makes this fight stick out in my mind is Chuck escaping a choke and then doing jumping jacks. While it looked like a ballsy display of bravado, the gesture meant much more than perceived. Back stage, while being administered oxygen by the paramedics, Charlie “the Madman” Gathers revealed that he practically had onset pneumonia and was trying to psych himself up to finish the fight. Charlie’s jumping jacks have hit highlight reels in every program that I’ve worked for.
- Brett “Showtime” Shoenfelt vs. Ted “Red” Worthington – What time was it when the Drew [Shannon; co-host and veteran ring announcer in Altoona] called the red and blue corners to the cage at CDMMA 9? It was Showtime! CDMMA 9 was the first fight to be promoted since CDMMA, LLC purchased the promotion from Go Time Promotions and the main event really had to deliver. Brett “Showtime” Shoenfelt had been a staple on the regional Valley Fight League (VFL) and made his CDMMA debut at CDMMA 6 against Antwan Penn. Shoenfelt would then earn victories over fellow Southern MMA fighter Noe Quintanilla and Detroit native Billy “The Psycho” Ward. Leading up to CDMMA 9, Brett had established himself as a regional welterweight contender and a CDMMA staple. Shoenfelt defeated Ted Worthington in the main event of CDMMA 9 and it perhaps wasn’t his hardest fought victory. What it did do for Shoenfelt was move him from a local fan favorite to being regionally known; his next fight would be for Gladiators of the Cage (GOTC) and then go on to World Series of Fighting (WSOF). Love him or hate the man, Brett Shoenfelt is a fighter who knows how to promote himself and did very well. According to social media, Brett Shoenfelt is training for a comeback; to that extent, we wish him as much luck as we can muster.
- Brandon “BLux” Lux vs. Caleb “Costa” Dobosh – In my humble history of being a fight commentator, I think CDMMA 7 will go down as one of my favorites. That particular fight really began to explore the potential of what Altoona was (and still is) capable as far as a fight scene goes. That card was kicked off between two middleweights (middleweight is actually a hefty weight class for Pennsylvania) that came together really last minute: Brandon “BLux” Lux and Caleb “Costa” Dobosh. That fight is how all fight cards should start. It was heavy handed, fast paced, and could have stopped at any minute. Did I mention it was an amateur fight? I firmly believe that Pennsylvania amateurs just want it more, or it’s something in the water, something makes them all fight like they are double parked. After the fight with Lux, Dobosh went to Pittsburgh and made a tear through Pinnacle FC. Lux made a stake in Gladiators of the Cage (including a great bout with “The Bionic Fist of Justice” Dann Cucuta) and eventually fought for King of the Cage. Two guys who made their amateur debuts in Altoona ended up becoming contenders in a much larger metropolitan area, that’s the kind of legacy that Altoona has.
- Maggie O’Neil vs. Courtney Kern – The first female fight in Pittsburgh was between Philadelphia’s Jessica Richman and Pittsburgh’s Jaimie Chesney, and it was enormous! Two hundred and fifty-two days before Richman vs. Chesney was Maggie O’Neil vs. Courtney Kern. Altoona may not be known as the center for cultural enlightenment, but to the city’s credit, the first female fight in Central Pennsylvania was embraced by fight fan far and wide and a lot of class was observed. The fight was a litmus test to how the local and regional fan would react to female fighters; this was way before “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey was fighting on cable for Strikeforce or the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). This fight was included, in such a spot, on this week’s Friday Five because of how truly progressive it was, how ground breaking the implications were. To date, there have only been two female fights in the Logan Valley: O’Neil (who got the decision victory over Kern) vs. Kern and Rachel Gray vs. Melanie Bremer.
- Ethan “The Wolverine” Goss vs. “The Raging Bull” Rich Cantolina – Prior to their bout for the Pinnacle Fighting Championships, Ethan Goss and Rich Cantolina were introduced to Altoona at CDMMA 8. Goss opened the card with a decision victory over Dan O’Neill and Rich Cantolina defeated Zach Shultz for the Amateur CDMMA Featherweight championship (the same championship that Charlie Gathers won with pneumonia). The showing for both fighters was right-fight-at-the-right-time displays for both fighters. As fights and challenges came, both fighters found themselves fighting for the Pinnacle FC amateur featherweight championship. Cantolina got the decision over Goss, but the result was hotly contested. It was clear that a rematch between “The Wolverine” and “The Raging Bull” had to happen, the question was: where? Goss vs. Cantolina 1 was one of Pittsburgh’s most talked about amateur fights that year, Pinnacle FC would have surely benefited from booking the rematch, both fighters were open to fighting for Gladiators of the Cage (Goss eventually captured the GOTC Lightweight Championship), but it was Altoona, PA that got to host the year’s most anticipated amateur rematch. The rematch, much like the first meeting, was close. To this day, you can poll a group of ten and five will disagree with the other five. The fight had stiff strikes, solid submissions (and defenses) and at the end of the third round, neither fighter could secure a stoppage*. Rich Cantolina got the split decision victory and retained his CDMMA featherweight championship. Rich Cantolina ended up giving up mixed martial arts and is set to make his pro boxing debut shortly. Ethan Goss, now under the tutelage of Dignan-Brumbaugh MMA, has a pro victory for King of the Cage. Both successes started in Altoona, PA.
That’s it for this week’s Friday Five and thank you for taking this little stroll down memory lane. These aren’t the five most definitive Altoona fights, but surely five that stick out. In future installments of the Friday Five, we’re going to go over other fights, I’d love to know what you all think.
Until next week, fight fans: Lights, Cameron, Action!