He may have absorbed the loss on his record, but everyone in the packed Armory Room of the Doubletree by Hilton Downtown was convinced that David George is still a true winner after David Espino scored the TKO victory over him in the co-main event of Combat Zone 68 “The Return” Saturday night.
“This fight wasn’t about winning or losing in the traditional sense for Dave George,” said UFC star Calvin Kattar, the Combat Zone co-owner and co-promoter, who bought the MMA promotional company from George in 2014 and is his lifelong close friend from their days growing up together in Methuen.
This fight at 160 pounds marked pro MMA fighter George’s first time back in the octagon in 11 years after battling and beating cancer not only once but three total three times as the disease returned twice. It is no coincidence that Kattar named the event “The Return.”
Though it had been more than a decade since he last fought, from the opening bell George showed no signs of ring rust. After two rounds of non-stop, even-handed and intense action he and his opponent entered the third stanza tied on points and George had the momentum after taking the second round. But more than midway through the stanza Espino was able to execute the takedown and pinned him on the mat in a full mount, and from there he rained down relentless strikes until George could no longer defend himself and referee John English stopped the fight with 3:09 elapsed.
“It felt awesome to get in the cage and compete again after 11 years. I wanted a good fight and that’s what it was,” said George, the owner of Free Bird Tree Service and a lumberjack and tree climber. “Dave Espino got his hand raised, which was well deserved. I got to show up and do something I love one more time. It was an honor to fight a tough, active fighter and this has taken me to new heights.”
Espino, who hails from Quincy, MA and upped his record to 3-2, offered high praise after the fight, saying, “He is the strongest guy I have ever fought, He is amazing. I have the utmost respect for him.”
The same can be said for the fans, who turned out in force to support George and were on their feet cheering vociferously for him and screaming encouragement from start to end.
“I felt the love. It was surreal, just amazing,” said George (2-2), who was valiant in defeat. “I would have liked to win, but I’m proud of how I fought and that I did it. Nobody is going to take that away from today. Or ever.”
In the worthy main event between two skyrocketing stars that lived up to all the pre-fight hype, Vovka “KGB” Clay of Amherst, NH emerged triumphant from his pro featherweight battle with Oklahoma invader J.R. Coughran by forcing him to tap out via a deep Von Flue choke late into the third round.
Coughran (6-2), who suffered his first career loss last time out while competing in the UFC Contender Series, and Clay, who rose to the top of his weight class in the regional rankings and has competed for Bellator, each gave as good as they got until Clay executed the submission and improved his pro record to 9-2 while extending his winning streak to six.
“He’s a tough dude and is by far the highest level of competition I’ve fought. I won the first round, the second one was close so I had to recover a little bit and then I came out in the third round with everything. I don’t want to go to decisions. I fight to the finish,” said Clay, who represents Triumph BJJ in Nashua, NH and agreed to fight Coughran on just eight days notice after his original opponent scratched. “I feel that a win over him should put me on The Contender series and I’m always ready for the UFC.”
In undercard action, former Bantamweight Amateur MMA champion Jake “The Gorilla” Pilla, who is one of the most popular and respected fighters in the Northeast, wowed the crowd once again while making very light work of his opponent as has become his trademark when he faced off against Matt Brady in an amateur MMA contest at 145 pounds.
Pilla, who was scheduled to make his pro debut on the card but couldn’t find anyone willing to get into the cage with him, wrapped up what should be the end of his 7-2 amateur career with an acrobatic single-handed cartwheel kick that knocked out Matt Brady of North Hampton, NH in only :32 seconds of round one. The stunning effort brought him honors at the Chang’s Tae Kwan Do America Amateur Fighter of the Night.
“It was absolutely fantastic. A lot of hard work went into this. Granted, he took the fight but he came in overweight and I made him pay for every pound he was over,” said Pilla, who normally fights at 135 pounds and hails from Billerica, MA. “This feels great. I’m very appreciative of everything I have and this is a dream come true.”
Brendan Marotte of Hampstead, NH, who is also enormously popular and highly respected, gave the partisan crowd what they came to see with a TKO victory by merciless strikes rained down on an overmatched Joey Sanchez (0-2) in 2:06 of round 1 of their pro featherweight fight. Marotte, another on the fast track, remained undefeated as a pro as he improved to 4-0.
In other pro action seasoned veterans Ray Shawdee, who owns New England Top Team in Salem, NH and is the head coach, and Jesse McElligott entered the cage with identical 5-3 records and waged all-out war for the distance until McElligott was declared the unanimous decision winner.
In a battle between pro 205 lb. heavyweights Terrance Jean Jacques, who carried the banner of Team Link Hooksett, needed the full three rounds and the unanimous decision to dispense with Jahnell Parkinson. Jean Jacques, from Haverhill, MA, dominated the third round with a couple of thundering takedowns and then went to his ground and pound game to improve to 2-1 while Miami’s Parkinson slipped to 3-4.
Gerald Meuse (1-0) made his pro MMA debut a winning one by forcing the more seasoned Jesus Cintron to tap out via rear naked choke in 3:09 of the first stanza in their fight at 170 lbs. Cintron dropped to 0-4.
In what was the rematch between amateur bantamweights Alyssa Marini of Kingston, NH and Haverhill, MA’s Chrystal Gadd, who fought in an amateur kickboxing match in Combat Zone 67, it took only 1:52 of the first round for Marini to submit her opponent once again, this time by guillotine choke. Marini improved to 2-0 while Gadd is 0-1 after her MMA debut.
The first amateur fight of the night was Payne versus Able as former Boston College varsity baseball player Spencer Payne remained undefeated at 2-0 by submitting Isaiah Able, who slipped to 0-2, with a first round guillotine choke in 2:12.
> Main event 145 lbs: Vovka Clay (Amherst, NH) def. JR Coughran (Edmund, OK) Round 3 by Von Flue choke
> Co-main event: 160 lbs: David Espino (Quincy, MA) def. Dave George (Hampstead, NH) 3:09 Round 3 by TKO
> 185 lbs: Jesse McElligott (Boston, MA) def. Ray Shawdee (Lowell, MA) by unanimous decision
> 145: lbs: Brendan Marotte (Hampstead, NH) def. Joey Sanchez (Brooklyn, NY) 2:06 Round 1 by KO/TKO via strikes
> 205 lbs: Terrance Jean Jacques (Haverhill, MA) def. Jahnell Parkinson (Miami, FL) by unanimous decision
> 170 lbs: Gerald Meuse (Boston, MA) def. Jesus Cintron (Springfield, MA) 3:09 Round 1 via rear naked choke
> 145 lbs: Jake Pilla (Billerica, MA) def. Matt Brady (No. Hampton, NH) :32 Round 1 KO
160 lbs: Lorram Esteves (Boston, MA) def. Seth Basler (Virginia) :23 Round 1 via rear naked choke
> 135 lbs: Alyssa Marini (Kingston, NH) def. Chrystal Gadd (Haverhill, MA) 1:52 Round 1 via guillotine choke
> 185 lbs: Spencer Payne (Seattle, WA) def. Isaiah Able (Gaithersburg, MD) 2:12 Round 1 via guillotine choke