Saturday night in Las Vegas means fight night.
Last night was no exception, and a sold-out crowd provided palpable electricity from the evening's opening knockout until the night's final submission.
The crowd was filled with the type of attendees you would expect at a Las Vegas soiree. UFC champion Randy Couture and his wife Kim, world-class middleweight and Las Vegas social-scene staple Frank Trigg, "The Ultimate Fighter 8" lightning rod Junie Browning, as well as "TUF" coaches Frank Mir and Ken Hahn were all spotted very early in the evening.
It was typical of everything you would expect from an MMA event in the fight capital of the world -- and yet nothing like you've ever seen before.
The star-studded attendees were among the 1,500 people packed into a ballroom at the Orleans Casino & Hotel for the fifth-anniversary show of the amateur MMA organization Tuff-N-Uff Fighting Championship.
Couture was ringside throughout the night, there as a coach to support three Xtreme Couture Products -- Marc Phan, Westin Duschan and Chance Torres -- in their quest to become professional fighters.
"It's an important part of our gym," Couture told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
) about the amateur event. "We're here trying to support the guys. You see these guys in the gym every day, just like me, grinding it out -- trying to get better and trying to learn. That's what our gym is all about."
Couture also said the passion that his amateur fighters show in their performances is on par with the rest of his gym.
"There's no difference in mindset," Couture said. "They love the sport. It's about the passion for the sport. I feel blessed and fortunate that I get to fight full time, and that's how I get to make a living. A lot of these guys are trying to work themselves into that position.
"That's what this show is all about. A lot of these guys are still keeping their day jobs. They're pulling double duty. It's tough."
Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Director Keith Kizer told MMAjunkie.com the show is a proving ground not only for fighters, but for cornerman, and aspiring judges and referees as well.
"It seems like compared to the first amateur show I saw in Nevada, compared to this one, I think there's a lot better matchups," Kizer said. "And it's just a matter of experience.
"I'm very pleased at how Tuff-N-Uff is doing the amateur gig, as well as the other amateur promoters in Nevada. And hopefully that will only help the fighters, the cornermen, the referes, the judges and the fans in both the short run and the long run."
Kizer explained that although these events may be displaying the fighters of the future, they are also imperative to developing the judges and officials of tomorrow as well.
"At the end of the day, anyone can sit in the stands, or sit at a TV, and say who they think won the fight," Kizer said. "And that's not a bad training method. However, you're still not in the hot seat. When you're judging an amateur boxing or kickboxing or mixed martial arts fight, your score is then told to a room full of people here, and you've got to deal with the heat.
"So I think just as important as gaining the experience of judging, you also get the experience of being on the hot seat. And the same with the referee, but even more so."
Tuff-N-Uff was celebrating their fifth year in MMA promotions. The company started with a bang in the very same Orleans Casino & Hotel ballroom in November 2003. That card featured the likes of Jon Fitch, Shonie Carter, Aaron Riley, Rob Emerson and Sam Morgan.
Tuff-N-Uff President Barry Meyer explained to MMAjunkie.com his company's interest in working with the amateur ranks.
"We want to showcase that MMA is a real sport, just like any combative sports," Meyer said. "Just like boxing and kickboxing have amateur leagues, mixed martial arts needs this. These kids need an avenue to go, and that's what we're trying to build for them."
Kizer felt the popularity of the amateur shows -- which have sold-out consistently in Tuff-N-Uff's five-year existence -- shows the growth of the sport as a whole in the U.S. Kizer also believed Meyer and other promoters in his jurisdiction were taking a fiscally responsible approach to the business.
"I think this really shows the popularity of mixed martial arts," Kizer said. "I think that [Tuff-N-Uff are] doing it very well with the amateur background.
"A lot of the pro shows, a lot of the promoters we've seen, they seem to think they can just jump right in and do 10,000 seat arenas. And unfortunately after one or two shows, they're out of business. I think Barry Meyer and some of the other amateur promoters realize that, 'Hey look, you know what? Let's start from the ground up -- the true ground up -- and work our way up.' And they're really doing a great service, not only to the fighters, but also the fans, the officials and the cornermen."
Couture's fighters went 1-2 on the evening, but the UFC champ knows that the wins and losses aren't nearly as important for his aspiring professionals as the experience gained on the night.
"Most of the guys at this level definitely are aspiring fighters," Couture said. "They're training. They're trying to get better at this. Like so many others in our society, to be a professional athlete is a dream for a lot of these guys."
The night featured 16 bouts, with tickets starting at $25. Just three of the evening's bouts made it the full time. The organization kept bouts moving quickly, and the vast array of ring card girls proved to be one advantage Las Vegas certainly has over most locales.
The night's highlight was delivered by 235-pound fighters Glen Amador and King Gabriel, and the two were officially awarded the "Fight of the Night" at the conclusion of the program.
Amador came to the ring sporting a ragged, wiry-haired mop of a coif, and his sizable mid-section did little to impress the crowd. When Gabriel -- who could pass as a close relative of Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou with his chiseled frame and dreadlocks -- strolled into the ring with a Portuguese ballad blaring over the speakers, the crowd in attendance was wagering on how long Amador would remain conscious.
When the two did their best Don Frye vs. Yoshihiro Takiyama impersonation, the crowd erupted. Gabriel landed a slapping high kick across the chest of Amador, and a solid knee soon followed. But Amador showed heart, chin, and a collection of powerful straight right and left hand counters. Somehow the action-packed bout made it into the second round.
Gabriel came out more cautious in the next frame. Amador did not. A relentless onslaught by the ballroom's decided underdog followed as Amador poured on the offense, and the bout was halted as the crowd roared.
For Couture, it was the perfect example of why amateur fighters deserve the support of MMA fans as much as the pros.
"I guess the question is really, 'Why shouldn't they?'," Couture asked. "I mean if you love this sport, you're getting to see it at a grass-roots level. The next champion could be fighting here tonight. You get a chance to see where he came from. The grass roots movement of this sport is the biggest growth we've had."
Full results of the card were:
* Jimmy Spicuzza def. Odis Alex Ruiz via submission (arm bar) -- Round 1 (for four-man lightweight tournament title)
* Kacy Lyle def. Moa Palmer via unanimous decision
* Chris Engles def. Jason Caldwell via submission (kimura) -- Round 1 (for four-man 175-pound tournament title)
* Donovan Craig def. Ty Beeson via submission (guillotine choke) -- Round 2
* Justin Cheeks def. Art Martinez via submission (guillotine choke) -- Round 1 (for four-man welterweight tournament title)
* Abran Salazar def. Jesus Gonzalez via TKO (punches) -- Round 2
* Chance Torres def. Tarus Nelson via TKO (punches) -- Round 1
* Danny Scolari def. Westin Duschan via TKO (punches) -- Round 2
* Chris Brady def. R.J. Terrano via TKO (strikes) -- Round 1
* Tommy Owen def. Maurice Senters via submission (rear-naked choke) -- Round 3
* James Toller def. Timmy Howell via TKO (punches) -- Round 1
* Marc Phan def. Wayne Wrath via split decision
* Danny Davis def. Takashi Munoz via TKO (punches) -- Round 1
* Glen Amador def. King Gabriel via TKO (punches) -- Round 2
* Jose Salgado def. Julian Delgadillo via unanimous decision
* Kyle Atkinson def. Ben Sundell via TKO (punches) -- Round 1