With the announcement that St. Louis will soon be home to an expansion team in the MLS, a raging debate has emerged among St. Louis sports fans. Is St. Louis a baseball town or a soccer town? Let’s not forget the St. Louis Blues drew an estimated 500k fans to celebrate the team’s first Stanley Cup victory. Maybe STL is really a hockey town.

Though teams and athletes from St. Louis have had championship success in every major professional sport, there is a great argument to be made that STL is really a fight town. The sport of boxing has a rich history of producing world champions such as, Archie Moore, Henry Armstrong, Sonny Liston, the Spinks family (Leon, Michael and Cory), Devon Alexander and more. On the MMA side, Tyron Woodley ruled the UFC welterweight division for nearly three years as champion.

Now, Shamrock FC is working hard to promote and develop the next generation of championship fighters from Missouri. Shamrock FC’s mission is to “fans fast-paced action and high-quality fights, all the while maintaining a professional atmosphere.” 

The promotional outfit routinely puts on MMA events at four Missouri casinos: Lumiere Place, River City, Ameristar St. Charles and Ameristar Kansas City.

Saturday night, I received an invitation to attend Shamrock FC 322 at River City Casino. It has been a while since I attended a pro/am fighting event (an event that features both professional and amateur bouts).

It was a pleasant surprise when I walked into the River City Event Center to see a healthy and excited crowd ready for some MMA action. While it great to watch sports at an arena or stadium that seats 10k, 20k or 50k fans, there’s something far more intimate and appealing (especially when it comes to combat sports) to watch an event in a ballroom that seats about a thousand fans.

The night was filled with blood, sweat, tears and first-round stoppages. Rather than recapping the full 12-fight card, here is a list of highlights from Saturday night.

Most exciting scrap

The second fight of the night between Adrienne Brusca and Aspen Gross was the most-competitive and the most-exciting. The ladies kicked off Round 1 by engaging in a toe-to-toe battle that captivated the crowd. Think Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, but with braids and ponytails.

Both women showed tremendous will, heart and chins as they traded punches all throughout the cage.  Brusca possessed an advantage in technique, power and accuracy when it came to fisticuffs. Yet Gross was in her face helping to press the action for nearly the entire round.

The second round was more tactical, with Gross showing off a solid ground game. I am generally not a fan of watching fighters roll around on the canvas for extended periods but Brusca and Gross were both extremely active on the mat, regardless of position.

In the third and final round, Brusca worked to stay on the outside and let her hands and footwork dictate the action. Gross tried to work her way inside with punches and grapple once she got there. Brusca earned a unanimous victory and advanced to (3-0) in her amateur career. Meanwhile, Gross dropped to 0-1 in her debut fight.

In the end, the crowd applauded both women for fighting their hearts out. Both women put on a heck of a performance and really showed what local and regional fight cards are all about.

Most interesting fight

It is hard to imagine a 6-foot-11 MMA welterweight (170-pound limit) but that is exactly what Shamrock FC showcased in Columbia, Mo. native Wally Herndon in the first fight on the main (televised) card. Most people would presume a 6-foot-11 athlete would be somewhere dunking a basketball. However, Herndon would rather slam his fists into an opponent’s head and make his mark as a mixed martial artist.

Herndon faced off against 6-foot-2 Jeff Glover, from Coulterville, Ill. Facing a whopping nine-inch height disadvantage, Glover had zero desire to fight on the outside. He wasted no time charging Herndon to get inside his massive wingspan.

Glover quickly, and repeatedly, took Herndon down to the mat. An amazing thing happened nearly every time Glover performed a slam or takedown that resulted in Herndon lying flat on his back. The lanky fighter used his long legs to his advantage.

Repeatedly, Herndon used his feet to climb up the cage and escape from Glover’s side mount position. Though Glover performed several take downs during the fight, it was actually Herndon who was the more active fighter on the ground. His constant reversals and consistent punches from the ground made it a very difficult fight to judge.

Ultimately the judges rewarded Glover for his slams and takedowns with a split decision victory. The win elevated Glover to an amateur record of 3-2 and dropped Herndon to 1-5. Though his record is underwhelming, Herndon could have an interesting future in the sport.

At 6-foot-11, Herndon will always have a tremendous reach advantage. In the fight, he showed a solid aptitude for ground escapes. If he can get better at preventing takedowns, he can become a tough nut to crack for welterweights, super welterweights or middleweights.

Quick work in the main event

The main event was a heavyweight bout that pitted St. Louis native DeWayne Diggs versus Lucas Lopes, a native of Brazil, fighting out of Granite City, Ill.

The fight was billed as the final fight of Lopes’ career. Lopes entered the ring with a professional record of 29-19. Compare that with Diggs’ 2-2 record and it seemed that Diggs might be in for some tough sledding with a more-experienced opponent.

Dewayne Diggs and Lucas Lopez

In the main event, St. Louis native DeWayne Diggs made quick work of retiring fighter Lucas Lopes with a first-round TKO just 1:09 in Round 1. With the victory, Diggs record rose to 3-2, while Lopes ended his career with a record of 39-20.

However, Diggs came out like the Tasmanian Devil and flooded Lopes’ face in a sea of punches. They say that Father Time is undefeated. Well, he and Diggs tag-teamed Lopes as the 39-year-old fighter caught a quick and vicious beat down.  The fight was mercifully stopped just 1:09 into Round 1. 

The full Shamrock FC card featured 12 fights and seven of the bouts only took 1 round. I’d call that exciting and efficient work. Watching the card reminded me of watching Cory Spinks and Devon Alexander fight in casino ballrooms or at the Ambassador as they made their way up the ladder from prospects to champions. Maybe the next MMA superstar is cultivating their craft with Shamrock FC.

Follow Ishmael and In the Clutch online at stlamerican.com and on Twitter @ishcreates.

Ishmael H. Sistrunk is a columnist and the website coordinator for the St. Louis American and www.stlamerican.com.

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