The crowd roared as bass-heavy rock music reverberated through the old National Guard Armory on First Street in Monmouth, Ill. Chairs and bleachers were arranged around the walls of the Armory facing a gated, chain link octagonal cage in the center of the room.
The hundreds of spectators were gathered last Saturday evening for Revolution 12 Cage Fighting, a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) competition. The funds raised by the cage fight will be used to support the programs of the armory including the food pantry and youth outreach programs, according to the Monmouth Review Atlas.
A few minutes after 7:30 p.m., the lights went down low, the crashing heavy metal dropped to a dull roar and a booming announcer came on over the PA to start the evening’s fights.
There were going to be approximately 13 fights during the evening with fighters from around the Midwest, both male and female, competing. Knox College junior Sergio Ulloa would be fighting in one of them, his first MMA fight. In many ways, the fights were what one would expect at a cage match: violent and rough, the fighters egged on to greater displays of physical prowess or violent attack by the shouts and screams of the audience.
Many audience members were at the fight for the violent spectacle. Speaking before the first bout, Monmouth resident Ryan Pateri said, “I want someone to get knocked out.”
Overall, the attitude of the audience towards the spectacle at the match was one of machismo. Each match was accompanied by shouts of “hit him” and “Go, go down. Go down.” The majority of people in the audience were men, although there were many families, sometimes with young children.
Before the match actually began, the referee would check the clothes and gloves of each fighter and then, after they had entered the cage, the announcer would say, “The cage is locked and loaded. It’s time to come and get soooooome.”
The fights were frequently short, no more than two or three minutes. Many of them simply ended with one of the combatants tackling and pinning the other, immobilizing them, but many others would progress beyond this with the pinned fighter being repeatedly punched in the face and side of the head or held in a headlock until they either tapped out or the referee ended the fight. Although it is possible to win an MMA fight by points or through an immobilizing grapple, the matches frequently ended in a more violent fashion.
One of the matches was a female kickboxing match. This was a greatly anticipated event. Michele from Monmouth said, “I’m looking forward to the girls. It’s going to be vicious.” A punch to one of the fighters’ faces could be heard from the other side of the room.
Ulloa’s fight, however, was over very quickly and without any of the punches or hits of other rounds. Once Ulloa and his opponent Derek Elmore entered the cage, the fight began quickly. Ulloa quickly closed with his opponent, grappled him, threw him to the mat and pinned him, immobilizing Elmore and winning the match in a mere 27 seconds. The crowd was ecstatic, shouting and cheering, and Ulloa jumped to the top of the cage and then landed back on the mat on his knees with a loud crash.
Ulloa had many supporters present from Knox College, Galesburg and his gym. After the match, Knox senior Rozie Smith said, “That was incredible.”
Another of his supporters said, “He won in 27 seconds. That’s not just winning.”
Knox wrestling coach Tony Islas was also present as part of Ulloa’s retinue.
“What a great performance,” he said. “I’m glad he paid attention in wrestling season. That first take down showed he wasn’t just spinning his wheels. I’m excited for him”
Ulloa’s MMA coach, Beau Admire of the O.S.E. Wolfpack gym said, “He’s been training since this fall. He’s a great kid, super respectful. He had a great coach at Fife [Ulloa’s previous gym] named Sean Gaspaire. He’s really outgoing and really pushes everyone. Your first fight is more fighting yourself than fighting your opponent.”
Following the match, Ulloa said of winning, “It feels good.”
Ulloa followed a long road to competing in the fight. He began his competitive fighting career doing Brazilian Jujitsu in a program started by his high school wrestling coach.
“I took it very seriously. [The jujitsu program] was a thing for kids after school. I’ll be coaching there this summer,” said Ulloa.
Ulloa says that he makes life goals for himself.
“I want to start a fighting program for kids because I think it’s a really good thing for boys,” he said. “Another one of my goals is that I want to teach in secondary education. I wouldn’t have gotten my education without my wrestling coach.
“I graduated high school not knowing what do with my life. Sean Gaspaire [my high school wrestling coach] really took me under his wing. He bought clothing for me. He was like an older brother for me. He pushed me a lot. I said, ‘I’m going to go work construction,’ and he said, ‘no, the hell you’re not,’ and he pushed me to go to college,” said Ulloa.
Competitive fighting has become a huge part of Ulloa’s life and he wants to be able to do what his coach did for him for other people facing the same problems.
“I really believe in giving back to the community. MMA has given me a place and reason overall. I have to get my degree first so I can reach out to more kids who were like myself, that didn’t see themselves as academic achievers,” said Ulloa. “Wrestling, jujitsu, boxing are all included in MMA. They provide a way for kids to let off steam, to help them out. I came from a hard background. In the end it’s not how you start — it’s how you finish.”
When asked about how he reconciles the violence and spectacle of MMA and the attitudes of the crowd with his own personal reasons for fighting, Ulloa said, “I see it as a sport. I don’t look at the guy across from me and say, ‘I want to beat this guy bloody and make him look foolish.’ I just want to win fairly. In real life I’m not a violent guy; I’m a jokester. I don’t have any control over what the audience thinks, or even if they understand it.”
Ulloa sees it merely as a competitive sport between him and his opponent.
“I respect my opponents. I just added my opponent on Facebook,” he said.
Speaking directly about the reactions of the crowd, Ulloa said, “The crowd might want to see a knockout just like people want to see a home run in baseball or flashy stuff in basketball, but there are lots of ways to win, and for me it’s not about violence, it’s about competition.”
Ulloa specifically wanted to credit and thank the OSE Gym in Galesburg, Fife Jujitsu and Marcelo Alonzo, Islas, junior Calvin Zirkle and all of his supporters from Knox and Galesburg for his success. “A lot of it, why I was able to feel relaxed about the fight, was my supporters and friends,” said Ulloa.