Tom Connolly Captures Middleweight Crown at Gladius X

Connolly’s Devastating Round 1 TKO and Full Card Report

By Briggs Seekins,
Amateur mixed martial arts returned to Ithaca on Saturday night with an exciting program at the Ultimate Athletics Gym in the Pyramid Mall. Three title fights highlighted the action and solidified the final spots on the Team Syracuse Gladius roster for the historic international team tournament set to kick off in Cortland at the end of April.

Up-and-coming fighters from across New York were represented on the card, with the Binghamton area’s own Tom Connolly closing the show with a thrilling stoppage to capture the Gladius Middleweight title from tough Joey DiSalvo.

ConnollyFiveElementTom Connolly, Jason Porter and Five Element members and supporters

Fight One: Lee Duvall (Ultimate Athletics) vs. Ryan Balintfy (Tai Kai); 185 lbs
Both guys came out swinging in this one, with Balintfy quickly getting the better of the exchange. The Syracuse-area fighter rocked Duvall with a right hand, then dropped him to the mat. As Balintfy moved in to swarm his downed opponent, the referee quickly called a halt to the action just 16 seconds into the fight.

Fight Two: Alexander Cummings (Ultimate Athletics) vs. Jon Rhodes (Ultimate Athletics Syracuse); 200 lbs
The weight for this bout was 200 pounds, but Rhodes actually weighed in at an athletic and ripped 195. He landed a thudding body kick early in the round, then stepped into a clinch, lowered his level and worked for a takedown against the cage. Cummings showed good defensive wrestling to stuff the attempt. The two big men clinched and battled for position along the cage but Rhodes landed a solid right hand as they separated. Cummings was rocked by the punch and Rhodes moved quickly to take back control and secure a rear-naked choke to earn the submission victory at 1:35 of Round 1.

Fight Three: Nick Valente (Fight Team Ascension) vs. Steve Elsenbeck (Tai Kai); 160 lbs
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu blue belt Steve Elsenbeck showed very good technique from the bottom position in this fight. After Valente secured a take early into the round, Elsenbeck quickly secured wrist control and worked methodically for the triangle choke from high guard. Valente managed to fight out of one triangle, but Elsenbeck re-secured it and got the tap at 1:41 of Round 1.

Fight Four: Matt Bogardus (Ultimate Athletics Syracuse) vs. Tim Miller (Cortland Elite MMA); 185 lbs
Promising newcomer Matt Bogardus recorded his second amateur victory in this one. He threw a high kick seconds into the round, then dropped down flawlessly into a very low shot to take Miller down against the cage. He quickly secured side control and hammered Miller’s body and shoulders with knees. Miller managed to work back into guard, but Bogardus postured up and hammered Miller against the cage with ground and pound. Miller instinctively gave up his back to avoid the punishment and Bogardus locked up the rear-naked choke at 2:13 of Round 1. Bogardus is a talented wrestler, in good hands at UA with Tim Boda and international wrestling legend Gene Mills serving as his coaches.

Fight Five: Benjamin Davila (Shogun MMA) vs. Kevin Carrier (UA Syracuse); 145 lb title eliminator
This one was over in a hurry as Davila caught Carrier with a beautiful straight right to knock him out cold just 13 seconds into the fight. A stunned Carrier momentarily complained to the referee after coming to on his back, saying “Are you kidding me? He just clipped me.” This writer can testify from personal experience, when a fighter gets knocked out, he is almost always the last person in the entire room to realize what has happened. Fight fans should remember this when they feel moved to criticize a fighter for what he says when a microphone gets shoved in his face only minutes after coming awake.

Fight Six: Ricardo Gomez (Team Bombsquad) vs. Corey Lauth (Combat Sports Lab); 135 lbs
Ithaca College national wrestling champion Ricardo Gomez returned to action for the first time since winning his debut fight last December, this time at bantamweight, a division he told me he plans to remain in, at least for the rest of his amateur career.

His opponent, Corey Lauth, is an experienced amateur fighter and did a nice job keeping Gomez honest in the standup department with crisp low kicks to Gomez’s lead leg. Still, he had no defense for Gomez’s elite-level takedowns, and most of all three rounds was spent with Lauth on his back, where he showed solid defensive technique to avoid getting stopped.

Gomez won a decisive unanimous decision. He told me he had been working a lot with Bombsquad pro fighters Josh and Zech Lange, and the influence was apparent in the creative approach to his standup. He showed quick hands and a varied attack. Gomez’s wrestling background gives him a trump card over all but the highest level amateurs and if his standup continues to develop, he could have a promising career in the pro ranks. For now he said he plans to spend about another year gaining experience as an amateur.

Fight Seven: Mike Bennett (Five Element MMA) vs. Bryce Tallini (Tai Kai); 135-pound title fight
In a battle of I-81, Mike Bennett of Binghamton faced off with Bryce Tallini of Syracuse for the Gladius Bantamweight title. This fight was largely a grappling match, with both men showing solid technique while battling for position on the floor.

Tallini won all three rounds, but the action was close in each of them, as Bennett worked with dogged determination to secure a choke from bottom position. Despite the vast majority of the fight taking place on the ground, the referee did not need to issue a single standup warning to the fighters for being inactive. This is a rarity, and both fighters deserve credit for maintaining such a brisk grappling pace for three straight rounds.

As the Gladius bantamweight champion, Tallini will join Team Syracuse Gladius to face off against the visiting team from Tennessee in Cortland next month.

RingCardGirlsRing-card girls representing Proper Puss Salon

Fight Eight: Derek Brennan (Jiu Jitsu Nation) vs. Dylan Freedman (Team Kinetics); 155 lb title fight
The Gladius lightweight belt was up for grabs in this action-packed battle. After absorbing a hard body punch from Brennan, Freedman secured a takedown and advanced into side control. Brennan struggled back up to his feet, but Freedman jumped on his back and worked for the rear-naked choke from a standing position. Brennan managed to shake him off his back and turned into a clinch. For most of the rest of the first round, the two fighters clinched along the cage, trading knees the the thigh and body while struggling for position. Brennan landed a sharp right cross as the two separated right before the end of the round.

Brennan’s advantage in the standup game made itself apparent in the second round. After taking Freedman down and defending Freedman’s attempt for a guillotine choke, the two scrambled back to a standing position against the cage. After separating, Brennan landed a nice uppercut-overhand combination that rocked Freedman badly. Brennan went on the offensive, backing Freedman up all over the cage and landing several hooks and overhands. Freedman made it to the bell in full survival mode.

Freedman secured a quick takedown as the third round started. Brennan made back to his feet, then re-shot and brought Freedman down hard. Brennan took side control and moved into full mount. Freedman locked up Brennan’s arms to prevent him from punching and the referee issued a very questionable standup, prompting loud complaints from Brennan’s corner.

However, Brennan made the issue a moot one just seconds after the two returned to their feet, landing a monster overhand right that knocked Freedman out cold at 1:58 of Round 3. As the Gladius lightweight champion, Brennan joins the roster for the big show in April.

Co-Main Event: Toren Reaves (Bedroc MMA) vs. Dylan Hall (Combat Sports Lab); 170 lbs
These two experienced amateurs put on a highly entertaining battle in the evening’s penultimate fight. After a brief feeling out period, Hall forced a clinch and then dropped to a single-leg takedown, elevating Reaves high into the air and bringing him down hard. Reaves was able to work back to his feet and got the better of the standup action in the final part of the round, landing a nice jab-cross-roundhouse kick combination and two solid front kicks.

Hall landed a sharp straight right early in the second round attempted a takedown, which Reaves stuffed. Reaves landed a brutal body kick to Hall’s ribs and Hall attempted a desperation takedown. Reaves stuffed it and landed another body kick. Hall kept coming for the takedown and managed to get in deep on Reaves’ legs. Reaves slowed down his progress enough to land some hard body punches, but Hall was able to finish the takedown and secure side control. But Hall got too high with his weight and Reaves was able to roll him, then stand the fight back up. Hall secured another takedown and finished the round on top, attempting to damage Reaves with ground and pound.

Reaves landed a big lead hook seconds into the third and final round. Hall ate the punch and immediately lowered his level to shoot for the takedown. But as the fighters hit the mat he fell into a triangle choke, which Reaves was able to lock up and secure just 51 seconds into the round to earn the submission.

Main Event: Joey DiSalvo (Empire) vs. Tom Connolly (Five Element MMA); 185 lb title fight
This one ended in a hurry as Maine, NY, native Tom Connolly won his fifth straight fight and secured a spot on the Team Syracuse Gladius roster with a stunning TKO of champion Joey DiSalvo just 30 seconds into the fight.

Connolly is a tall, rangy fighter and made excellent use of his reach advantage against the stout and powerful DiSalvo, keeping him at the end of his jab, then menacing him with a high kick and finally dropping him with a beautiful lead hook as DiSalvo came forward. DiSalvo dropped straight to his back and Connolly swarmed aggressively, but the referee stopped the fight before DiSalvo could absorb further damage in his defenseless position.

You can’t teach reach, but you can certainly teach a fighter how to exploit it. And Connolly showed signs of being very well coached. In the post-fight interview he was quick to credit his coach at Five Element, Binghamton University graduate Jason Porter.

Submission of the Night: Steve Elsenbeck

Knockout of the Night: Tom Connolly

Fight of the Night: Toren Reaves vs. Dylan Hall

ConnollyInterviewConnolly being interviewed with his belt

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