by Paul Gara (Photos by Emily Harney)
BOSTON – The big question after the fights on Thursday night? Where is Roger Huerta’s head at this stage of his fight career? Was it an issue of a rhythmic drought? Is his focus on something other than mixed martial arts right now? Or did he overlook his opponent, Pat Curran, in this lightweight semifinal tournament bout? Regardless of the speculation, Huerta and Curran put on a great show.

The first round started with Curran landing brutal kicks to the body of Huerta that generated gasps of pity from the audience. It was Huerta’s slowest of the three rounds. He seemed to be waiting for a brawl, but Curran wasn’t interested in playing into that game.

In the second round the pace started to pick up. Huerta was given periods of the “brawl” he wanted from Curran, but during those periods Curran stayed focused, landed good counter punches, and even several foot jabs to the head and mid-section of his opponent.

The fans seemed to recognize that Curran was the underdog and they cheered as he escaped Huerta’s back control in the third. Huerta appeared to recognize he was falling behind on the scorecards because he was emptying his tank in the final stanza of the fight. The only problem was he wasn’t landing too many of the punches he was dishing out, instead getting tagged with Curran’s counterstrikes.

Whatever it seemed to be that was getting in the way of the Huerta we’re used to watching, it didn’t appear to bother him. His post-fight facial expressions looked to be those of a man who wasn’t upset with a loss. He smiled as Curran’s hand was raised, and left the cage in the same manor.

The man of the night was Toby Imada, who stole the show with his confident, skill-soaked performance against Carey Vanier. Imada has been on a continuous up-slope since making his mainstream debut with Bellator last year, Thursday night was just another point higher on that slope for him.

The first round was mainly Vanier’s with his wrestling control and takedowns. Imada was still there though, with his close kneebar attempt toward the end of the round. It could have been the right uppercut that he popped Vanier with as the bell sounded that acted as his boost to steal the fight in the second round.

Imada came out for round two pushing the pace hard. It seemed like he had his opponent all figured out by that point. When he landed shots, his boxing looked beautiful. He continued to impress as the fight continued onward, getting crafty as he transitioned from one thing to another. He landed a few punches, switched to a head and arm clinch that he used to set-up an unorthodox body kick, and then launched into a flying leglock, taking the fight to the ground, all within seconds. Vanier defended the leglock, but shortly after got caught in an armbar that Imada refused to let him escape.

Eddie Alvarez carried out a dominating performance over the always-tough Josh Neer. Although it wasn’t the flashy showing we’re used to seeing out of Alvarez, it was still a clean and prosperous victory.

It was Alvarez’ effortless wrestling ability that kept him where he wanted to be in this fight. He stayed postured and avoided Neer’s up-kick attempts on the mat. Alvarez set up his guard passes with solid punches to the head of his grounded opponent and he worked his way to mount several times throughout the fight. Neer proved why he’s not an easy fight for anybody, with a sneaky, cage-walk sweep in the first round.

Alvarez showcased more of his diverse skill-set in the second round after taking his opponents back and sinking in a rear naked choke. Neer stood up and defended as long as he could before he crashed head first into the chain-link cage wall, unconscious.

Out of all the local fighters on the card, none shined as bright as up-and-comer Josh Laberge. Now training full-time with the Lauzon camp in Bridgewater, Mass., Laberge is getting more and more consistent with each fight. He was no stranger to his opponent, Dan Bonnell, having already defeated him on the local Massachusetts circuit. Thursday night’s rematch was almost a replica of their first fight, just a bit faster and bit meaner.

The fighters circled each other briefly before Laberge dropped Bonnell with a quick one-two combination. That was the beginning of the end for Bonnell as the much stronger Laberge rushed forward, stuffing his opponent’s frantic takedown attempts. Laberge landed a punch every chance he was given, until he was able to rotate around to Bonnell’s back. From there, he pounded his opponent with brutal right hands to the side of the head before his opponent went limp and the referee called the fight at just 48 seconds of the first.

MAIN CARD BOUTS (Televised):
Cole Konrad def. Pat Bennett by Unanimous Decision (30-26, 29-28, 30-27) R3
Eddie Alvarez def. Josh Neer by Technical Submission (Rear Naked Choke) at 2:08, R2
Pat Curran def. Roger Huerta by Unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) R3
Toby Imada def. Carey Vanier by Submission (Armbar) at 3:33, R2

Greg Rebello def. John Doyle by Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) R3
Justin Torrey def. Lance Everson by TKO (Due to Strikes) at 3:55, R2

Josh Laberge def. Dan Bonnell by KO (Due to Strikes) at 0:48, R1
Chuck O’Neil def. Damien Vitale by TKO (Cut Stoppage) at 1:02, R3