by Ken Pishna, MMAWeekly.com
Forget all the pomp and circumstance of “reality” television; Monte Cox has been discovering world-class talent in mixed martial arts ever since the very first Extreme Challenge in November of 1996. He wasn’t discovering talent in Sin City or on some sponsor-laden set, either. He was doing it in the heart of working class America… the Midwest.

From the get go, Extreme Challenge has featured such talents as Pat Miletich, Jeremy Horn, Dan Severn, Shonie Carter, Heath Herring, Paul Buentello, Rich Franklin, and many, many more. It’s no accident that Cox is the busiest manager in the business; he’s also the best at spotting talent.

This Saturday night, he continues a tradition that has produced many dominant fighters: The Extreme Challenge tournament. Cox’s eye for quality fighters has led these tournaments to produce the likes of Dave Menne, Joe Doerksen, LaVerne Clarke, Chris Lytle, Brock Larsen, Ryan McGivern, Jason Miller, Denis Kang, and the UFC’s most dominant Welterweight Champion in history, Matt Hughes.

It is Cox’s belief that this weekend’s welterweight tournament is apt to produce the next crop of competitors on the world stage. “We’re hoping to find the next Matt Hughes,” he commented. “I mean, if you look at these guys, many of them are already main event-type fighters. There are a couple of newer guys in the tournament, too, but they are unbelievably talented, or we wouldn’t have them in there.”

The tournament field at Extreme Challenge 68 does stack up as almost a who’s who of fighters that are one step away from going global. Straight out of the gate, Chad Reiner, from Omaha, Nebraska, has to be the odds-on favorite to win the tourney. In 16 total fights, Reiner’s only loss was in his amateur debut more than two years ago. He hasn’t lost since, racking up win after win against the likes of Victor Moreno (who is also in this tournament), Joey Clark, Dan Anderson, and Jay Jack.

Another favorite to win the tournament is Dustin Hazlette, a Jorge Gurgel-trained Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brown belt . With a 5-2 record as a pro and 3-1 record as an amateur, Hazlette’s training with Gurgel and UFC Middleweight Champion Rich Franklin has produced wins over the likes of Jason Ireland and Rhalan Gracie, the son of the legendary Relson Gracie, and should help him to handle the pressures of a tournament format.

But the pool hasn’t dried up yet. Victor Moreno had an undefeated amateur career with a record of 15-0, and has also racked up a professional record of 15-5. With his wealth of experience and hard-hitting style, not to mention wins over Alonzo Martinez, Kyle Jensen, and Bobby Voelker, Moreno is sure to give the other guys some trouble, and the knockout is always a handy tool for this type of competition.

The aforementioned Bobby Voelker is also in this tournament. With the lone loss of his 4-1 professional career coming at the hands of Moreno, an undefeated 10-0 amateur record, and having never taken a fight to a decision, Voelker could actually be one of the more difficult fighters to eliminate from the tournament.

Mark Bear is another interesting addition to the mix. Although his pro record stands at a misleading 6-4 (losses to the likes of Josh Neer and Jake Ellenberger), he has defeated Extreme Challenge veteran Jason Medina twice, and has also defeated a very tough Jake Short.

The field is rounded out with a mix of less experienced fighters: Jason Wilcox, Nick Sorg, and Edward O’Daniel. However, there’s a reason that they are also part of this tournament. They are talented fighters who have caught the eye of Monte Cox, and that’s nothing to be taken lightly when you consider that a certain Matt Hughes only had a record of 2-0 when he stepped into the tournament at Extreme Challenge 21 (beating Dave Menne before losing in the final to Dennis Hallman) and swept the tournament at Extreme Challenge 29 (including wins over Joe Doerksen and LaVerne Clarke). So, don’t discount the Wilcox, Sorg, and O’Daniel for lack of experience.

The first two rounds of the tournament, as well as a main event featuring Brian Gassaway and Jamie Toney, takes place on Saturday night, July 15th, at the LCO Casino in Hayward, Wisconsin. The two finalists will be back at LCO on August 26th to crown the tournament winner.

July 15, 2006
LCO Casino
Hayward, Wisconsin

Jamie Toney (6-2) vs. Brian Gassaway (21-14)

Bracket A:
Victor Moreno (16-5) vs. Nick Sorg (4-0)
Mark Bear (6-4) vs. Dustin Hazlette (5-2)

Bracket B:
Bobby Voelker (5-1) vs. Justin Wilcox (1-0)
Edward O’Daniel (1-0) vs. Chad Reiner (10-0)

Jason Loucke (3-0) vs. Mike Cardosa (0-0)