Photo by Mike Dorsi/MMA Pro League
The newest entity in MMA, MMA Pro League, launched Saturday as Team Pennsylvania led by head coach Daniel Gracie defeated Team New Jersey led by head coach Dan Miller by a score of 14 – 6 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City and on FloCombat.com.
In the opening bout on FloCombat.com, Joseph Penafiel of Team Pennsylvania defeated Turpal Khamzayev of Team New Jersey by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28), securing three points for Team Pennsylvania.
“Getting that first win for my team meant everything,” said Penafiel. “I wanted to set the tone for my team and let everyone know we’re here to bang. I knew (Khamzayev) was tough, but I’m way too much for him. Even when he tried to strike me I was able to stay comfortable. And in the grappling department I don’t think many people can mess with me.”
The second official team bout saw Cody Hier of Team Pennsylvania secure a TKO victory over Gabriel Ruiz of Team New Jersey 3:43 into round two and earning Team Pennsylvania five more points, expanding their lead 8 – 0.
“I finally feel like I’m hitting my rhythm in the cage,” said Hier. “I did everything that I could to help Team Pennsylvania get the win tonight. I could tell Ruiz was out and he was quitting. When I hit him with that first big ground and pound, I felt how well I tagged him. And then when he tried to go to his side that’s when I really got aggressive and finished him.”
In the third fight, Team New Jersey’s Claudio Ledesma won by unanimous decision (29-27, 30-27, 30-27) over Andre Bernardo of Team Pennsylvania, earning Team New Jersey their first three points and tightening the team contest 8 – 3.
“I was glad to do my part for my team,” said Ledesma. “I’m a little mad that I wasn’t able to stop him, though. I hit him with everything but the kitchen sink, but I just couldn’t finish him. After the second round, once I realized that I probably wasn’t going to finish (Bernardo), I knew my main goal was to just secure the win and that’s what I did.”
The fourth official contest of the night featured a unanimous decision (29-27, 29-27, 29-27) victory by Zedekiah Montanez of Team Pennsylvania over Mike Pagano of Team New Jersey, capturing three more points for Team Pennsylvania and growing the lead 11 – 3.
“It felt great to get the win. I was just trying to listen to my coach and my teammates,” said Montanez. “I also had my son right there watching me tonight. He helps remind me what I do this for. But tonight, I was happy to get this experience under my belt and get the win for my team.”
In the evening’s fifth bout, Team Pennsylvania’s Rafael Celestino defeated Team New Jersey’s Emmanuel Walo by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28). With Celestino’s win, Team Pennsylvania collected three more points, widening the score 14 – 3, and officially securing Team Pennsylvania victory.
“I’m very happy with my win and to be able to help my team earn the victory tonight,” said Celestino. “Walo is a very tough opponent and he came to fight tonight, but I did enough to get the win and am happy with my performance.”
The sixth and final official contest showcased an exhilarating finale as Kevin Sears of Team New Jersey scored a unanimous decision (29-28, 29-27, 29-27) over Ahmed Samir of Team Pennsylvania, making the final team score 14 – 6 in favor of Team Pennsylvania.
“I went in there and fought for my team, but I was also fighting for my daughter and my family,” said Sears. “I’m doing this to make my daughter’s life better. She helps push me and drives me to fight. Samir had me shook in the first round, and then again in the second, but I just dug deep and did what I needed to get this win.”
“The way we won showed me a lot about my team,” said coach Gracie. “We won decisively and showed the type of performance that I’ve come to expect from my guys.
“MMA needs innovation and something new to excite the fans and help bring the masses to our sport,” added Gracie. “I think MMA Pro League and this team concept is exactly what will help bring that added attention and take this sport to the next level.”