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Kickboxers sparring at Bellingham MMA on Friday, July 13. // Photo by Harrison Amelang By Ellis Thomson Josh Ratliff of Kindred Jiu-Jitsu slowly circles his opponent, Brock Gorang of Kitsap Combat Sports Center, with wide eyes that search for an opening. He has to look hard. Gorang is a defensive specialist who knows where he needs to be. Ratliff feigns suddenly to Gorangs left side, baiting Gorang to follow so that he is unprepared when Ratliff snags his left leg and pulls hard. Gorang crashes into the mat, and Ratliff leaps on top of him before digging his hooks or ankles under and around Gorang’s thighs. Now on top and anchored to Gorang’s body, Ratliff brow furrows, and leans in closer to Gorangs head. “You good?” Ratliff asks. “Yeah,” Gorang replies. “I’m OK.” It was a full house during Bellingham Mixed Martial Arts’ annual fight night, the Nightmare On Roeder St. on Friday, July 13. A few MMA fans were even turned away at the door. The event was a smoker, meaning it was an opportunity for fighters from different gyms to test their styles against new opponents, without the results appearing on their amateur record. “I wanted this to be a competitive event,” Hunter Clagett, Bellingham MMA owner and head coach, said. “We had 16 fights and 32 competitors tonight. I’m excited that most of the matchups were even." The kickboxing bouts were three rounds of two minutes each without a declared winner. Grappling matches lasted 10 minutes with an official winner declared after a tapoanyut, referee Jeremy Saunders said.

Fighters on the mat using advanced grappling techniques. // Photo by Harrison Amelang
“I’ve been a referee for 15 years, mostly kickboxing and MMA,” Saunders said. “The difference between regular kickboxing and what we will see here tonight is that once someone goes down, we're going to let them get them get back up.” The fights began at 8 p.m., but the rules were explained at 6 p.m., giving the fighters plenty of opportunity to mull around the gym and practice jabs and takedowns. Joe Taylor of Rock Solid Gym climbs over the ropes before his first bout. He practices side stepping around the ring while keeping his weight underneath his hips. “I’m excited,” Taylor said. “Put me in there. I’m ready to go.” Joe Taylor fought Benji Warrior of Bellingham MMA. Early during the first round, Taylor focused a jab aimed at Warrior’s head, but was unable to connect before receiving a leaping kick to the groin and a cuff to the side of the head. Taylor went down hard. But he was able to stand after a few seconds of rest to finish out the rest of the match. “I was telling him basics like, ‘Keep your hands up and to get the last shots,’” Josh Hostetler, Rock Solid kickboxing coach, said. “One of his eyes was dilated after he got knocked in the side of the head. Definite concussion.” Another big fight was Tony Hugo of Bellingham MMA versus Korn Luke of Catalyst MMA. This was the only heavy kickboxing match of the night, and these two did not disappoint. Hugo dominated most of the match with combinations of quick jabs while using his superior size to keep Korn away with well-placed axe kicks. Hugo has plans to turn pro sometime during February of next year.
Kickboxers exchange intense blows as the crowd looks on. // Photo by Harrison Amelang
“Everyone says I did well, but I got lofty expectations,” Hugo said. “I hope to fight for a title soon and go pro." Stephanie Hugo, Tony Hugo’s wife, also competed in her first ever kickboxing match that night. “It’s really weird being a spectator,” Tony said while glancing over to his wife. “I didn’t watch her second round because there should be one voice in the corner, and it should be Hunter’s.” Bellingham MMA’s one voice policy is designed to keep the fighter honed in on a single voice, usually belonging to Clagett. “It’s very confusing if you hear multiple voices,” Clagett said. “Even if some of them are shouting good advice.” The final match was a jiu-jitsu grappling bout between Gorang and Ratliff for the title. The match was close and went into overtime with Ratliff eventually winning by a very thin margin. "It went great,” Ratliff said. “I had a back injury going into this and it was super tough but I was able to pull it out. He’s a tough guy with a lot of pressure, so I really tried to play from on top for most of the match.” Clagett was impressed. “Gorang and Ratliff are beautiful to watch,” Clagett said. “It gives me chills.”      

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