There’s a brutal sound when the thud of a fighter’s fist strikes his opponent. The brief and immediate silence of the auditorium that ensues feels nearly as deafening as the roar of the crowd that follows. This is MMA.
Local fighter’s came to the stage in mass to brawl at the War Memorial Auditorium, aptly named for this particular event, in Fort Lauderdale during Howard Davis Jr’s Fight Time 20. Fighters at these local events mostly train in nearby gyms in Coconut Creek, Miami and Pompano Beach, Including a UFC and MMA legend in Jeff “the Snowman” Monson who was fighting in the co-feature bout for his 50th victory, a nearly insurmountable feat in the injury laden world of mixed martial arts.
On this night, the 5’ 9”, 240 pound Monson, who has been fighting professionally for nearly two decades, was trying to drown out the winning milestone to stay focused on his one true obstacle, a giant brawler named Kevin Brooks pacing the ring like a caged lion waiting for feeding time.
“I try not to pay attention to that, I’m trying to get back to what I do,” says Monson before entering the ring. “I’ve got two more years of fighting, so I’m trying to get as much in as I can to be successful.”
Though Jeff, as a 43 year-old, is getting on in years as a professional fighter, he’s fighting his way back from injury and hopes to take number fifty tonight with a mix of his long seasoned skills as a No Gi Brazilian jiu-jitsu World Champion and the new practices he learns to keep him competitive.
“Now I’m older. I still go as hard, I just can’t go as long,” he says. “You gotta pick up things, the sport’s evolving all the time, that or you become a dinosaur.”
Marcos Sr. and Mary Gomes are smoking cigarettes anxiously outside as they await the fight between Miguel Restrepo and their son, Marcos. On the opposite end of their respective career timelines from Monson, Gomes is a flyweight just starting out in the ranks of the professional fighters. He’s currently stands at 2-0, with an amateur record of 6-0 and his parents are sending fleeting glances inside, looking for a sign that he’s ready to enter the ring.
“I feel a little anxious but we’re used to it,” says his mother Mary, a ten year resident of Deerfield Beach after relocating years ago from Massachusetts with the family. “He’s been doing it his whole life, since he was five, the nerve part of it is gone, but you still get anxious.”
Marcos Sr. has a quiet confidence in his son’s ability; he’s been watching him improve since those childhood martial arts classes Marcos’ grandmother brought him to as a young kid living in the Northeast.
“He’s trained with the best,” says Marcos Sr. of his son’s training at American Top Team in Coconut Creek. “He could take me ever since he was in high school when he was wrestling. We’re very proud of him, he trains very hard. Everything he does he does 100 percent.”
Moments later Marcos’ parents enter the auditorium as their son is about to take the ring. Marcos is stunned by a few punches and seems to be on the path to his first loss, but he battles back to finish out the fight after a gruesome illegal knee to the face by his opponent Restrepo. It turns out the point deduction for the illegal blow is just enough for the fighter to pull out the victory. Marcos is 3-0 as a professional and showing his parents the long-time training is beginning to pay off.
As Monson enters the ring to face down Brooks and the 50-win plateau, he’s calm. The calm of a cagey veteran that knows how to end a fight before it wears his body down. However going for a take-down, Brooks gets the better of “The Snowman” and has him face down, taking blow after blow to the back of the head. In a quick break from the onslaught, Monson escapes just long enough to put his massive arms around Brooks’ neck and force him into a North-South Choke, straddling over his face and forcing him into submission. It took “The Snowman” one minute and eight seconds into the first round to pull off win number fifty, and the fight couldn’t end soon enough for the aging fighter.
When asked how he felt after pulling off the victory for his 50-19-1 record, Monson is just as quick with his diagnosis as he was with his submission: “He hits pretty hard, so I’m pretty sore.”