It was a far cry from bulls, broncs and cowboys at the Winter Show main arena Saturday night.
In a venue usually accustomed to hosting rodeos and livestock shows, the atmosphere was slightly different, with blaring hip hop entrance music, a scantily clad ring girl and intensely focused fighters pacing the floor in anticipation of the next fight.
Hundreds of fans had come from as close as Jamestown and as far as the Turtle Mountain Reservation to witness a first in Valley City: mixed martial arts cage fighting.
The 10-fight card delivered fits of hard-swinging boxing action as well as intense on-the-mat grappling, with only two matches making it past the first round.
“Usually the matches do last a little longer,” said Impact Fighting Championship Director Chad Kurle. “But we had some good action tonight, and a really good crowd.”
Much of the crowd’s excitement centered around Valley City fighters Mitch Ludwig, Nick Klubben and Travis McCullough, with fans coming to their feet to chant the names of their hometown boys.
In the middleweight class, Ludwig came out swinging against Jesse Diaz of Jamestown, pummeling Diaz on his feet to force a submission just over two minutes into the match.
“It feels really good,” Ludwig said of the hometown win. “It’s a very big rush. Getting into a street fight is filled with emotion, rage and booze, more than likely. When you get into a cage, it’s nothing but pure sport and adrenaline.”
Heavyweight Nick Klubben didn’t share the same luck, going to the mat quickly against Ben Wicks of Fargo and tapping out to escape a rear naked choke.
In the co-main event match, Travis McCullough did not disappoint his hometown fans, showing off a variety of holds and escapes in his eventual win over James Wilkie of Belcourt, N.D.
“He actually got me on the ground first,” McCullough said, “but he was tired after first round. When he tried to take me down again, I just slipped in around his neck.”
McCullough enjoyed the fight atmosphere, taking time to talk to fans and throw candy bars into the crowd during intermission. And when fellow fighter Mitch Ludwig ripped his trunks prior to his fight, McCullough lent him his own.
“My shorts won twice last night,” he said with a laugh.
“The crowd was into it. It was a fun time,” one Valley City male said after the fights concluded.
“Two dollars and fifty cents a fight, that’s a pretty good bargain,” said another of the $25 admission price. “I’d do this again, absolutely.”
“It’s fun, we’re right up close,” said Valley city resident John Stearns, who was sitting at a ringside V.I.P. table. “I’ve been to an MMA match in Las Vegas before. We like to see them more on their feet punching, instead of the wrestling.”
Overall, the fights went off without a hitch, and most fans and fighters walked out of the Winter Show arena into the gathering snowstorm with smiles on their faces.
“You’re there to entertain,” said McCullough. “That’s the reason we get paid to do what we do. Usually by the end of of the night, you’re friends with the guys you’re fighting. Everybody had a blast.”
Impact Fighting Championship - Challenger Series results
Main Event - Keith Bride Jr. defeated Daniel Perez via rear naked choke in the first round.
Co-Main Event - Travis McCullough defeated James Wilkie via guillotine choke early in the second round.
Kevin Tjaden defeated Starr Roberts via armbar submission.
Ben Wicks def. Nick Klubben 39 seconds into the first round with a rear naked choke.
Cody Fipps scored a rear naked choke victory over Patrick Woods.
Mitch Ludwig stopped Jesse Diaz with strikes at 2:14 in round one.
David Duncan def. Shaun Hall.
Brett Channel def. Dustin Decoteau by submission early in round two.
Paul Patrick scored a first round stoppage after 47 seconds due to a Travis Azure injury.