By: Albert Miller – In combat sports, there is no moment of “do or die” greater than the title fight. A championship, by definition, is being declared the best in a defined quantity of competition. That’s what makes a title fight so enthralling to watch; it’s not the shiny belt, it’s not the fact that an athlete’s stock goes up (both of which are pretty cool and important), but it’s being declared “the best.” Since children were trying to outrun wild predators to live, to playing kickball during recess, to the glory days of collegiate athletics, it was a badge of honor to be recognized as the best. It’s that kind of competition that takes young athletes into the working world and aids them in being socially successful.
This weekend, at Stage AE, Joey “The Hitman” Holt will be fighting Michael “Popezilla” Pope for the vacant Lightweight Championship for Gladiators of the Cage (GOTC). The winner of that fight will be the undisputed best lightweight competing for Gladiators of the Cage; to celebrate the occasion, we’re counting down five of Gladiators of the Cage’s great title moments on this week’s Friday 5ive!
Note: This list is not definitive, in fact, it’s an installment (as you can tell by the “Volume 1” in the title). We’d love to get your input for Volume 2, and we’d love for you to send your suggestions to CageNationTV@Gmail.Com.
No. 5: Cody “Lenny” Karlheim vs. Ethan “The Wolverine” Goss (Amateur Lightweight Championship; Road to Glory 7)
A lot of fighters like to claim that they will take on all comers, that there is no one that they’d be afraid to fight, and then their bravado ends with just a lot of empty words. At Road to Glory 7, in Johnstown, PA, Ethan “The Wolverine” Goss was scheduled to fight Derek Wright for the GOTC featherweight championship. Along the way, Wright was unable to get his medicals completed for the Johnstown fight and Goss was left without an opponent for a title fight. I’m not sure how he does it, and he may want to consider teaching a class on disaster management, but GOTC CEO Robert Joseph puts together a replacement fight that was actually more exciting to hear about than the original: Cody “Lenny” Karlheim would fight Ethan “The Wolverine” Goss for GOTC Gold. The title bout would be contested at Lightweight instead of Featherweight, to accommodate Karlheim’s short period of time to make weight. This fight ended up on the list because of how two warriors came together to fight, plain and simple. Because they were amateurs, there was no money exchanged; Ethan Goss and Lenny Karlheim touched gloves in the middle of the cage and did what warriors do. Ethan Goss got the victory and the title that night, but both earned so much more. To date: Goss and Karlheim have become teammates on the Dignan-Brumbaugh fight team.
No. 4: Zach “Bad Newz at 11” Gobel vs. Brett “Showtime” Shoenfelt (Professional Welterweight Championship; Road to Glory 7)
While Gobel vs. Shoenfelt might not be remembered as the greatest grudge series in Pittsburgh MMA, their feud did add a lot of tension and interest to their welterweight title fight in Johnstown, PA. Gobel and Shoenfelt first met in Pittsburgh’s Stage AE, just days after Brett “Showtime” Shoenfelt defeated Ted “Red” Worthington for the Complete Devastation MMA welterweight championship. During their first encounter, Zach “Bad Newz at 11” Gobel bested Shoenfelt with a rear naked choke and proved to metropolitan Pittsburgh that he was not only a fighter willing to take fights, but an incredible showman as well. Five months later, Shoenfelt would get a rematch against Gobel and it would be for gold. With equally talented showmen like Gobel and Shoenfelt, the verbal jabs were expected and delivered. The posturing between the two was evidence that the fans to be in attendance would surely be entertained. At the weigh-ins, the night before Road to Glory 7, things between Shoenfelt and Gobel really soured. Details were sparse at the time, it was just understood that the tension between the two was palatable. When the fight started, it was clear that Shoenfelt had very bad intentions when he got his hands on Gobel. The fight was an excellent back and forth bout; a fight that lived up to the hype of “grudge fight.” When the fight was over, hands were extended in respect and true gentlemen athletes were shining. Zach Gobel walked away as the GOTC welterweight champion; to date, Gobel hasn’t fought since 2014.
No. 3: Chris Dempsey vs. Lewis “The Beast” Rumsey (Light Heavyweight Championship; North Shore’s Rise to Power 2)
I need to admit to a little bit of bias on this one: by the time this fight was over, I was completely sold on Dempsey-mania and I’m still a card carrying subscriber. A professional fighter, by definition, as an athlete that competes in the realm of combat sports for money or other considerable compensation. If one agrees to fight for money, then they are usually preparing to compete at the best possible peak performance possible. That process is arduous and calculated; one of the most important aspects is the weight cut and being sure that the body is both fueled and hydrated enough to compete at an elite level while maintaining weight. I’m terrible at such math and science, but that’s why I don’t compete. When it came time for North Shore’s Rise to Power 2, the main event bout between Chris Dempsey and Lewis “The Beast” Rumsey was to be at middleweight. Rumsey was unable to make weight (in my honest opinion, Rumsey is a natural heavyweight / light heavyweight, taking a fight at middleweight was extremely ambitious on his part), even after Dempsey was prepared to compete at middleweight. Now, Dempsey would have had every right to walk away from that fight; he had cut weight to middleweight and may have been physically more drained than a man who couldn’t make the weight cut, and clearly the contract agreed upon wasn’t being met. I learned that day that Chris Dempsey (and those who train and advise him) doesn’t back down from a challenge like that. Dempsey scored the decision victory over Lewis Rumsey and made it abundantly clear that Dempsey was a franchise name to be reckoned with in Pittsburgh. After the fight, Dempsey would vacate the GOTC light heavyweight championship and defeat Tenyeh “Skinnyman” Dixon for the GOTC middleweight championship; a title he would hold until he vacated it to fight for the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
No. 2: Mark “The Pride of Bloomfield” Cherico vs. Nathan Landwehr (Professional Featherweight Championship; GOTC 19)
Since being introduced to Pittsburgh MMA, I get why traditional sports fans are fiercely loyal to their teams and their cities. I carry a firm belief that our fight circuit is one that is to be respected; that belief is affirmed by the fighters from Pittsburgh that are being picked up by the larger organizations. I remember hearing the news that Mark “The Pride of Bloomfield” Cherico was going to be retiring after his title fight with Nathan Landwehr, I imagine its what baseball fans experience when their favorite baseman is traded or when an injury takes a running back too soon. Everyone who fights in Pittsburgh is an important part of the fight circuit, I truly believe that. The stage was set: Nate “The Train” Landwehr had the opportunity to win the GOTC featherweight championship, but he had to get through one of the most popular and dominant featherweights that Pittsburgh had produced to do so. At the time, Mark Cherico was also the Pinnacle FC featherweight champion; to retire with both the Pinnacle title and the GOTC title would mean that Mark Cherico would retire the undisputed best featherweight in Pittsburgh. The moments leading up to the title fight were monumental; no matter who won or lost, the Pittsburgh featherweight title picture was going to change forever, featherweight being the most hotly contested division between all of the fight promotions in Pennsylvania. Mark would say in a later interview that he hoped that halfway through the fight that he wouldn’t say “f*** it,” and give up. Giving up just isn’t Cherico’s style. Landwehr put on a great fight, but in the middle of the second round, Mark Cherico cemented his legacy in Pittsburgh: retiring the undisputed king of featherweights in Pittsburgh. As of late, it seems that Cherico’s retirement will be short lived; Mark Cherico did have a bout for King of the Cage, but that never happened. If the right fight comes along, perhaps. Cherico was spotted in the corner of new UFC acquisition Adam “The Prototype” Milstead.
No. 1: Rob Hannah vs. Mike “Iron City” Wilkins
It was bound to happen: the new generation of Pittsburgh main event fighters were going to need to identify themselves. Chris Dempsey had been picked up by the UFC, Cody “No Love” Garbrandt was a walk-on team member of Team Alpha Male (and subsequently signed by the UFC), and a lot of others posturing to do the same. If Pittsburgh can be proud of anything, it’s that they build and forge their own main eventers, promoters don’t have to rely on bringing in big names to sell tickets, the scene sustains itself. At GOTC: North Shore’s Rise to Power 7, the main event had been cancelled at last minute. Without batting an eyelash, Mike “Iron City” Wilkins and his opponent Chris Coggins were called to the main event and the pressure had to be incredible. When a fight gets cancelled last minute, the whole “day of” procedure changes; you don’t have as much time to prepare mentally, your warm ups are now different, your state of mind (which is incredibly important in all facets of competition) could be interrupted. Lesser athletes may not be able to meet that challenge and no one would fault them. Mike Wilkins not only stepped up to the main event, but ended the main event by first round knockout. Not to discredit Rob Hannah, but he was the sleeper coming into this bout with Wilkins. Hannah, a veteran of Bellator and other top-notch regional promotions, had been on a winning streak that included Todd Bevans, Nathan Clark, and Rocky Edwards. This fight was so important on so many levels; it wasn’t just for the gold, it was for the prestige, it was for the respect of a fight circuit that had built champions so complete that the largest promotion in the world was coming for them. The winner of this fight was going to be propelled into a pecking order that had lucrative implications. The fight was hard fought and back & forth, just like everyone knew it would be. I don’t want to say that Hannah was written off, but he might have been. When Hannah scored the decision, there was definitely a feeling of “upset.” Truth be told, Rob Hannah took that title without question, and that’s how title fights should end. Hannah vacated the GOTC lightweight championship to go to featherweight, challenging Dominic “The Honey Badger” Mazzotta for the Pinnacle FC featherweight strap.
This weekend, at Stage AE, Joey “the Hitman” Holt welcomes Mike “Popezilla” Pope to Pittsburgh and they are going to fight for the Gladiators of the Cage lightweight championship. If this week’s Friday 5ive has shown you anything, it’s that being in attendance for title fights means you could be in attendance for great moments that will live on as long as guys like Albert Miller, Jim Aujay (from Steel Nation Magazine), Allen Levine & “Smokin’” Jim Frazier (from Pittsburgh Sportsline) keep telling the legends. Buying your ticket is not just a momentary fix for fight fans, but an investment into a legacy that will be remembered.
Thank you for joining me this week for the Friday 5ive. Keep your ears open for the Prizefight Podcast this week, when I’m breaking down the GOTC 21 card, set to go down this weekend at Stage AE.
Until next time: Fights, Cameron, Action!