by Ken Pishna (Photo by April Pishna)
Randy Couture and Matt Lindland brought their Sportfight promotion to Denver, Colorado last night. For their first foray into the Denver market, they littered the card with some of the top local talent, headlined by a fight between rising star Matt Horwich and Denver’s bad boy John Cronk. The show was a resounding success with the fans in attendance, most likely because not one fight on the 10-fight card went to a decision.

The main event featured Team Quest’s Horwich looking for the fourteenth win of his career and coming off of a big win over Vernon “Tiger” White just one month ago. His opponent, Cronk, is a tough fighter known for his standup game and his bad boy image, but who is also a strong all around fighter with a wealth of experience.

As most expected, Horwich took Cronk down early and spent most of the fight working to the strength of his jiujitsu experience. A little more surprisingly, Cronk defended well on the ground, but had a difficult time getting the bigger fighter off of him. After a long struggle on the ground in the second round, Horwich finally found an opening to lock on a rear naked choke for the win.

Struggling to emerge from the shadow of his participation on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, Alex Schoenauer took a big step in establishing himself outside of people’s familiarization of him from the reality show. Facing longtime veteran Shannon Ritch, Schoenauer overcame Ritch’s wealth of experience, with a dominating display early in the first round.

Schoenauer quickly rocked Ritch with an inside kick, followed by a left-right combination. In desperation, Ritch shot in, but Schoenauer locked on a guillotine choke to counter. Ritch attempted to move Schoenauer back to his corner, but as he did the choke got tighter and tighter until they fell to the mat and Ritch tapped out. Ritch has a reputation for having no heart in the ring, but there was no questioning the damage that Schoenauer did with the combination or the choke that he sunk in deep to end the fight just 29 seconds into the round.

On the undercard, in a fight that most expected to be a barnburner, didn’t disappoint. After Vern Baca scored heavily with a strong ground and pound attack throughout the first round, Noah Thomas came back to defend the takedown in round two. Working from the side while Baca was on all fours, the referee stopped the fight as Thomas threw several unanswered blows.

Also impressive on the undercard were Ian Loveland and Chilo Gonzales. Loveland, another Team Quest fighter, showed a variety of skills as he took down Joe Doherty, ground and pounded him, and moved from a guillotine attempt to the fight finishing arm bar. Following some struggles in his most recent fights, Gonzales returned to the dominating form of his early career as he deflected Ed Banks’ bull rush to start the fight and then proceeded to ground and pound him until Banks tapped out little more than a minute into the fight.

Highlighting the four amateur bouts that kicked off the show was a tremendous performance by local fighter Luke Holdorf. In trouble several times from various submission attempts that looked like fight finishers from Vellore Caballero, Holdorf turned the tables in round two. Sinking a guillotine choke and then flipping a visibly tiring Caballero over onto his back, Holdorf finished with the submission, which appeared to become a combination of the guillotine choke and a neck crank.

Some solid matchmaking made for a very good first effort by Sportfight to enter the Denver market. Whether or not the numbers on the business side of things add up to warrant a return appearance, I’m sure, has yet to be determined. Being the last of five mixed martial arts shows in a six-week span in the Denver area, the crowd was a bit sparse at the National Western Complex.

It was a great night of fights, but we’ll have to wait and see if Randy Couture and Matt Lindland will bring Sportfight back for a return appearance in the Mile High City.

Matt Horwich def. John Cronk by Rear Naked Choke @ 3:28 of Round 2
Alex Schoenauer def. Shannon Ritch by Guillotine Choke @ 0:29 of Round 1
Noah Thomas def. Vern Baca by TKO to Strikes @ 2:42 of Round 2
Ian Loveland def. Joe Doherty by Arm Bar @ 2:46 of Round 1
Chilo Gonzales def. Ed Banks by Submission to Strikes @ 1:15 of Round 1
Lindsey Durlacher def. Richard Hess by Submission to Strikes @ 2:46 of Round 1

Lauren Barr def. Henry Martinez by KO at 1:20 of Round 2
Joey Welch def. Kyle Gibson by Submission to Strikes @ 2:36 of Round 2
Luke Holdorf def. Vellore Caballero by Guillotine Choke @ 2:40 of Round 2
Nick Setrakian def. Ryan Plieness by Triangle Choke @ 1:19 of Round 2