By Briggs Seekins, #BriggsFightTalk on Twitter
Saturday night at the J.M. McDonald Sports Complex in Cortland the best amateur MMA fighters in the Southern Tier and Central New York team up under the banner of The Syracuse Gladius to face the visiting Nashville Renegades from Tennessee in the opening round of an historic tournament being organized by Fighters Source. The card will be broadcast over the United Fight Alliance Network into a potential 100 million homes.
This is a remarkable opportunity for the amateur side of the sport locally, even as the professional version continues to suffer from the bigoted censure of New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and his allies like Ithaca-based Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton. The McDonald Complex is a terrific venue, and with tickets going fast it will provide a vivid display of the revenue-generating potential the sport could be bringing to small cities throughout the economically troubled upstate region.
It’s also a chance for New York to show the rest of the MMA world that the sport thrives here despite our holdout status as the only state left in North America where the the sport continues to be banned. Nashville Renegades team owner Ron Daley has made public statements doubting how battle-hardened the local team is. He is clearly making assumptions based on our lack of professional standings. But anybody familiar with the sport’s evolution locally over the past decade would laugh at this. Gladius Fight League founder Ryan Ciotoli was the original trainer for UFC light heavyweight champion and Endicott, NY, native Jon Jones, and Ciotoli’s current roster of fighters includes elite professionals like recent Bellator title-challenger Anthony Leone and current Bellator finalist Des Green. Any top-level amateur MMA fighter in this region has spent plenty of time in the training room sparring and rolling with high-level professionals.
Of course, given the rich history of amateur wrestling in New York state, it should hardly be a surprise that this region has produced more than our share of very good fighters. Our great local wrestling tradition will be well represented on the Syracuse Gladius Team. Bantamweight representative Bryce Tallini was a captain of the team at Liverpool High School and has augmented his ground game by becoming a four-stripe blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under Dennis Sugrue. He has so far compiled an amateur record of 4-0. Gladius Lightweight Champion and 155-pound team member Josh Mayville is a five-time Section Five champion and won silver and bronze at the New York State tournament. He’s 7-0 so far in his amateur career.
The most-decorated wrestler on the Gladius Squad is 145-pounder Derak Heyman of Binghamton. The Art of Combat Featherweight Champion is 4-0 in his MMA career and 1-0 as a kick boxer. In wrestling he was a five-time Section IV champion, a four-time High School All American, a three-time New York State finalist and a two-time State Champion.
The entire Gladius team is extremely well-rounded. Tom Connolly, fighting at 185-pounds, has won five fights in the past year, four by KO and one by submission. He captured the Gladius Middleweight title earlier this year when he stopped a very tough champion in Joey DiSalvo in 30 seconds. Toren Reaves will be stepping in at 170 to replace Gladius welterweight champion Alex Henry, who had given Reaves his only loss to date. Reaves has won his other three fights by first round stoppage.
Few things motivate a fighter more than the opportunity to beat an opponent in front of their hometown crowd, so expect the Tennessee crew to show up highly motivated. It will be an extremely exciting card, with a loaded undercard that features two Gladius title fights at 125 and 145, in addition to the televised team tournament. Tickets are going fast, so fight fans who want to be present when history is made need to act quickly this week.
Editor’s note: Look for profiles of Derak Heyman and Tyler Bayer in the coming days.