Evolution of a blood sport
Regional interest in mixed martial arts grows as area athletes take to the cage
After three months of training, Lathrop’s Steven Russell made his MMA amateur debut Saturday at Battle at Big Creek 15
Walking into the cage for the first time can make some fighters feel alone in the world. When Steven Russell makes his mixed martial arts debut, he might just feel at home.
A two-time state wrestling medalist in high school, the now 24-year-old Lathrop resident became his own man on the mat – a lesson he carried into his personal life.
"I had a job where I was set until I retired - It wasn't me," he said. "I walked away from it all. Somedays I don't make as much money, but I'm happier. There's a sense of pride."
The day before his MMA debut, he's wrenching cars and fixing tires at a used auto company in Lathrop. With a faded hat and grease on his hands, he looks as composed and easygoing as he sounds.
"I'm relaxed," he says without hesitation. "I thought I would be nervous, but the closer it comes the more I've calmed down."
Russell recalls his trips to the state wrestling championships, standing at the center of Mizzou Arena with 10,000 people watching his every move. He says it was a bigger stage with more at stake, then admits it was a long time ago.
Three months of running, lifting weights and training at an MMA facility in Lee's Summit has transformed his body (dropping from 240 lbs. down to 205 lbs.), but perhaps more importantly it returned him to a competitive frame of mind.
He is just one of many young athletes in Northwest Missouri flocking to the brutal past time, which over the past decade has evolved, matured and exploded onto the national sports scene.
Cory Teel is bouncing through the skating rink-turned-arena and tightening up loose ends before Battle at Big Creek 15 kicks off in Cameron, Mo. The parking lot outside is overflowing, even though the opening fight isn't for another hour.
Teel founded Big Creek Promotions in 2007. After 14 events, the region is in a buzz over the rural organization.
"It's been ascending basically from the beginning," he said. "We started with a small show in Pattonsburg and each show has been bigger and better since."
With most of the fights taking place in Cameron and nearby Chillicothe, Big Creek Promotions doesn't have a metro base to bolster it's attendance. However. Teel feels this family-based product can hang with the best of them.
“There's a lot of fight fans up in this area and a lot of fighters. I think we actually have an advantage over a lot of the city promotions.”
In it's beginnings, MMA in the United States was a sport founded on unregulated violence. There were no weight classes or barred moves (aside from eye-gouging and biting). It was essentially a chemistry set for fight fans, matching varying forms against each other. Wrestlers took on boxers, jujistu artists faced submission experts, all in the name of crowning a dominant discipline.
Over the past 15 years, the world's wildest sport was tamed. Rounds and weight classes were introduced. Gloves were made mandatory, while new rules determined what strikes were acceptable and which were not.
It earned the approval of fight-sanctioning bodies and found a larger role on network television and pay-per-view. The Ultimate Fighting Championship – MMA's most popular organization – now out-does boxing and professional wrestling in annual pay-per-view purchases.
MMA has grown as a participation sport, too, with it's allure reaching into the rural midwest. Most fighters band together and train as teams, sharing their knowledge and training specifically for the cage.
“There's not just guys coming off the street and getting in the cage,” Teel said. “It doesn't work well for them. Just being a tough guy isn't enough anymore.”
Most fighters at Battle at Big Creek 15 are early twenty-somethings with fresh faces. Some leave the ring bloody and swollen.
Several matches in the emcee called for Steven Russell, prompting one of the biggest reactions of the night. His hometown is just down the road and many of his family and friends are cage-side.
“It seemed like everywhere I looked there was someone I knew,” he said.
Once he was in the cage he began to pace, his ice-cold exterior hiding away any emotion. He looked as though he had been there before, but internally he was realizing that he hadn't.
“It's not training anymore. It's not the weeks prior working up to it. It's time,” he later recalled thinking.
It had taken him three months to get to this point. Then it all started in a flash. He was trading blows with
Clayton Dahlberg, also a relative newcomer to the sport. The adrenaline started coursing through his body - a sensation that stuck with him hours after the fight.
“You can't explain it until you're there,” he said. “It's a feeling you'll never get anywhere else.”
He cornered Dahlberg in the second round and started reigning down blows. His opponent made the mistake of going to the ground, where Russell straddled his back and in a pendulum-like motion alternated left and right shots to the head.
He focused on where his punches were landing, not wanting to let the victory slip from his fingers.
“I knew I had it won,” he said.
“I didn't want anything that would potentially get me disqualified.”
Anticipating the end, Russell's cheering section hit their feet and filled the center with screams. Moments later the official finally took pity and stopped the bout.
Steven Russell's hand was raised. His name was called. As he exited the cage, his mother was one of the first to greet him.
There is no telling how many wrestling matches Eva Russell has watched in the past two decades. Usually when she shed a tear for one of her sons, they were sobs of joy. Tonight they were sobs of outright worry and, after the final bell, perhaps relief.
“You're just terrified,” she said. “But I have total confidence in him. He always gives it his all.” It is an experience she may have to go through once more. He doesn't know when, but Russell intends on fighting again. After all, it's only human nature.
“Everybody, to an extent, has this aggression,” he said. “At some point – whether it's physical, emotional or verbal – you're going to get into a fight. It's something everyone can relate to.”
Science Olympiad Team is Second in State; Qualifies for National Meet
Junior High Science Olympiad Team. Front row: Mandy Cissner, Garret McNett, Matt Stagner, Wes Sloan, Pat Iske, Alicia Brooks, and Bryan Davidson. Back row: Billy Hanks, Beth Vandereau, Heidi Holmes, Dan McCollum, Angela Livingston, Laurie Schaefer, Jennifer Smith, and Barbara Stocklas.
The results should come as no surprise to those who know about Lynda Rosander and her Junior High Science Olympiad teams at Plattsburg High School. Yes, they once again qualified for the National Science Olympiad competition, They did so by taking second place on Saturday, April 6 at the University of Missouri, Columbia.
This makes the third straight year they have qualified for the Nationals and the third straight year they have placed second to Lewis Middle School in Excelsior Springs. This time, Plattsburg lost by only two points 142-140. However, the near miss does not comfort Lynda.
"It's frustrating to work so hard and come so close and not win", said Lynda Rosander, who will be taking her team to the Nationals in May. "We had some hard luck. Our egg had to be dropped twice and it broke the second time. We left a door open in Aerodynamics and wind gust caught our plane, but I'm proud of our team. I think they did a marvelous job. Going into the award ceremony didn't feel very well about our changes, But they kept reading our name and our confidence grew."
Poster Winners Announced At Soil and Water District Meeting
Winner of the Soil and Water district poster contest were announced last Monday evening. Winners of the 5th and 6th grade were, left to right: Michelle Smith, first place, Wanda Porter, third place, and Nancy Griffin, second place. All three winners are from Cameron.
Winners in the 7th and 8th grade were: Cindy Collins, Cameron, third place, Lisa White, Plattsburg, first place, and Robin Burnside, Plattsburg, second place.
Becky Zimmerman, Cameron, tied for first place with Lisa White but was not present for the picture.
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