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Review: ICF 17 features decent fights headlined by O’Malley’s quick win

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On Friday evening, a sold-out crowd of MMA fans filled the Exhibition Hall at Montana ExpoPark to watch 221 Industries’ ICF17 and see Sean O’Malley make his professional debut vs. Josh Reyes of Washington state.

While O’Malley’s fight ended after less than a minute into the first round, overall it felt like there were enough quality bouts to make it a fun night out.

Jesse Cummins and
Jesse Cummins and Carl Gaul battle in ICF17 at Exhibition Hall in Great Falls. Photo courtesy of Get the Picture Photography

The arena was never louder than when O’Malley entered the arena with a somersault and the excitement equivalent of a young boy catching his very first rainbow trout along the shoreline of the Missouri River.

And essentially, that’s what this fight amounted to. Reyes was no match for O’Malley, but in a sense that’s what was expected before this fight began.

We saw flashes of O’Malley’s prowess early on, and although Reyes caught him early with a take-down, O’Malley quickly turned the tables and was on top of his foe giving him several punishing blows to the head.

Reyes, on the edge of defeat, managed to escape, but not before O’Malley attached himself to his left leg, which earned him the submission victory.

While some people might have wanted to see more action in the main event, true fans of MMA would have known that it would have been a huge upset to see Reyes make this a real challenge.

The reason?

With O’Malley recently signed to 221 Industries as a pro, if he were to go up against a challenging foe right out of the gates, if he lost, not only would he have been criticized for “going pro too early” but 221 would have as well for making the decision to sponsor a fighter that clearly wasn’t ready for the big boys.

Now, the beauty of any sport is that when the chips are on the table anything can happen, and indeed Reyes could have found a way to catch O’Malley when he wasn’t looking.

Andy Davis takes down Lee Dam early in Rd. 1 in an amateur bout at ICF17.
Andy Davis takes down Lee Dam early in Rd. 1 in an amateur bout at ICF17. Photo courtesy of Get the Picture Photography

But, it would have been like in the NCAA March Madness Tournament if a 16 seed were to upset a 1 seed. It’s never happened even though several teams have come close.

Knowing that going into ICF 17, however, it wasn’t without some entertaining fights.

The most intriguing of which was between two young fighters — Theron Martin and Dylin Drivdahl.

This rematch was expected by many to be one of the best fights we’d see, and it did not disappoint.

Drivdahl and Martin exchanged blows early, with Martin getting the slight advantage. Drivdahl did a good job blocking many of Martin’s attack, however that strategy backfired slightly as the judges awarded the match to Martin, who was the aggressor for most of the match.

While that match may have been the most entertaining of the night, one could make the case that the amateur fight between Chad Davison and Kenny Smith fit the bill as well.

The fight heated up in the first round with Davison delivering a plethora of blows to the head of Smith. Smith recovered in Round 2, however, and was able to escape several choke holds from Davison and get a few offensive moves of his own to win that round. However Davison retook control in the final round to defeat Smith by decision.

While Smith may have been a bit over-matched, he was able to endure the entire match without going down, something many other fighters were not able to achieve.

The heavyweight match between Fight Force champion Jesse Cummins and Carl Gaul, while short, Gaul defeated Cummins in just 1 minute and 11 seconds, was an explosive match nonetheless.

Gaul got full mount on Cummins early in  round and while Cummins tried escaping, Gaul took advantage and grabbed him into a match-ending rear-naked choke hold.

Finally, the match that intrigued me the most was the fight featuring Ryan McCracken of Great Falls against Johnson Nasona from Seattle for the 155 pound championship belt.

McCracken appeared to be the stronger fighter,  but Nasona’s strategy for taking him down paid off in the end. From the time the first bell rang to the very end, Nasona made sure to deliver a consistent batch of kicks to McCracken’s right leg. He’d occasionally go for the head and the body, but a good portion of his kicks were landed near the same spot, the upper thigh, of McCracken’s limb.

McCracken, with a crowd of supporters cheering him on, was able to start exhausting Nasona as the third round rolled around, but it wasn’t enough as his leg became his own downfall, as it was swelling and bleeding ever so slightly.

The judges awarded a split decision victory to Nasona, with Cory Smith himself placing the belt on his waist at the end of the fight.

In the end, if I had any real critiques of this fight card it would be that there weren’t many surprises and that the fights that were bad were really bad.

Most of the early undercard bouts ended in early first-round submissions with one foe overmatching his opponent by quite a bit. One fighter, Codie Nader of Havre, bowed out before the match began vs. Andy Davis because word has it that after seeing how quick Davis took down Lee Dam, Nader made the decision that he didn’t want to suffer the same kind of punishment.

Jake Zuidema battles Alex Ackerson as judge Frank Ramsay looks on. Photo courtesy of Get the Picture Photography
Jake Zuidema battles Alex Ackerson as judge Frank Ramsay looks on. Photo courtesy of Get the Picture Photography

Another thing that could easily be fixed involves the ringside behavior of the judges. As it happened on Friday I was sitting next to one of the assigned judges, who, to be fair, likely knows much more about MMA than I will ever know, which is why he’s a judge in the first place.

However, during one fight he was judging, which came down to a decision, he was outwardly rooting for one of the fighters.

It’s impossible to know if that swayed this judge’s decision, but, just the fact that he was cheering on one of the fighters he was supposed to be deciding on whether he would win or not, is a slight cause for concern.

In the end the fighter that this judge was rooting for ended up losing the fight by a decision, so it’s not as if this act made any difference in the result of the fight, but, it did come off as slightly amateurish.

Because, let’s face it, you wouldn’t see a judge  rooting for Rhonda Rousey against any of her foes in a primetime UFC event, or you never saw any judges outwardly rooting for Muhammad Ali in any of his boxing matches.

I understand that when you are assigned to be a judge and you’re friends with one of the fighters you’re going to want to root on the person you’re friends with. I get that. It’s just that by doing so opens up the question of accountability.

Perhaps this issue cannot be fully resolved until Montana ever becomes a sanctioned state, which includes a structure for how judges are chosen, how referees are chosen, and a structure for how fighters are treated after matches.

That’s an issue that will be decided at a later time, and is one that is not without many challenges facing it.

Before that happens, though, perhaps 221 Industries could put in place a rule that says you cannot root for a fighter you are judging, even if you’re friends with one of the fighters.

From my perspective it would be easy to put into place and it would go a long way toward helping make sure that people don’t get any ideas that the fights are rigged.

Which, let me be clear, I’m not insinuating at all.

A judge rooting for a fighter and a  promotion setting up the bouts so the results are pre-determined before they begin are two entirely different things.

While to an average fan they might seem related, in reality they’re not really much at all.

One is a matter of how an individual, or a group of individuals, behaves while ringside. The other involves the sanctity of the entire event.

Once a fight starts judges have very little control over how it ends. When a fight comes to an end, though, a judge has the training to score a fight based on established criteria used to declare a winner.

But, getting back to Friday’s action, it was fun to see the fights return to Montana ExpoPark after some time away.

The crowd seemed to love it, especially when it came time to see O’Malley take center stage.

He has a healthy fan-base ready to support him as he continues to grow as a professional and it will be interesting to see how far that support can take him.

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