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Posted on Sat, Jul 13, 2013 : 1:43 p.m.

Fights, blood and music fill the card at Ann Arbor's A2 Fest

By Pete Cunningham


Ypsilanti's Greg Sizemore prepares to enter the octagon for a fight at A2 Fest on Friday, July 12.

Courtney Sacco |

Pacing up and down the gravel-covered parking lot of the Washtenaw Farm Council fairgrounds, Greg Sizemore somehow appears calm and nervous -- relaxed yet jittery -- all at once. It’s Friday night at 6 p.m., an hour before Sizemore is scheduled for a mixed martial arts fight with the Michigan Combat League during A2 Fest, and three hours before Sizemore will actually step in the ring.

The music will blare through the steel canopy when Sizemore walks toward the caged octagon for his fight, but for now he keeps his headphones around his neck, focused in his own thoughts. He is alone while he paces, and a scattered few begin to fill the bleachers that surround the ring. Organizers put final touches on the ring while dust and rocks kick up from the ground beneath Sizemore’s feet.

A championship fight on the Las Vegas strip this is not.


Ypsilanti's Greg Sizemore has his hands taped before his fight at A2 Fest on Friday, July 12.

Courtney Sacco |

“Kickboxing it primarily my fighting style,” said Sizemore, 29, who is from Ypsilanti and trains at Ann Arbor Mixed Martial Arts off of Jackson Road. “I’ve had six fights and my goal is just to get better.”

“A lot of these gyms train by just going in and sparring, trial and error. Our gym is more technique, they teach power and strength will come behind the technique,” Sizemore said.

Sizemore said he has the two things essential to keep fighting as his recreational sport of choice: a job where it doesn’t matter if he comes in bruised up on Monday - he’s a personal trainer - and a supportive wife.

“A lot of people ask me ‘why do you let him do this?’ I don’t let him do anything. He’s going to do it whether I ‘let him’ or not, so I just figure I gotta be on board and be here to show support,” said Mignon Sizemore, Greg’s wife, who said she can’t eat days before Greg’s fights because of nervousness. She rocks with anxiety as Greg’s fight grow nearer and holds her breath when he’s in the ring.

“It’s just nerves. You can’t even explain it,” she said.

Behind the organization of the night’s fights is a man who has known more glorious venues than the dusty confines of the fairgrounds near the Ann Arbor-Saline border — Jake Short. A former professional fighter, Short is the co-owner and promoter of the Michigan Combat League, an amateur mixed martial arts circuit. When Short was asked join the bill at A2 Fest music festival he went to work on putting together a 10-fight card.

With separate stages for heavy metal, rock, hip-hop and techno at the fairgrounds, the music festival was billed as “Mixed Mayhem,” so why not feature some mixed martial arts?

“I like to say the only thing amateur about my promotion is the fighter’s status,” said Short, shortly before the first fight of the night. “Everything I do “I want my show to be an experience for everybody so they enjoy themselves…I try my best to get guys who train at legitimate gyms who do have legitimate backgrounds…I try to get the best fighters I can.”

“This is where you gain a lot of experience, really cut your teeth. You have to build yourself as a fighter and these type of shows are absolutely necessary to the process,” said Danny McIntire, the head coach at Ann Arbor Mixed Martial Arts and a former professional fighter himself. “This is awesome. With the rock shows and stuff you’re introducing the sport to new people.”

Before the first fight of the night Short has gone from calm to frustrated as several fighters are no-shows. His message to fighters shortly before the start of the show is scattered with profanity - disparaging toward those who bailed and encouraging for those who will fight.


UFC fighter Daron Cruickshank, right, tapes the hands of David Ratliff before a fight at A2 Fest on Friday, July 12.

Courtney Sacco |

“Some of you guys showed up and took a fight on three or four hours notice, I appreciate it more than you guys can imagine,” Short tells the fighters.

While the young fighters bounce in anticipation of their bouts, dreams of making it to the professional ranks alive in some of them, Short takes a moment to bring the adrenaline down a peg.

“This is amateur. You’re going to go back to your normal life after this. Don’t get your (expletive) arm broke, don’t get hurt,” Short said. “If you’re in there getting (messed) up, tap out. There’s no shame in that. Live to fight another day…You’re getting in the cage, 95 percent of people won’t do that.”

As much as Short tries to remind them they are far from the bright lights of the Ultimate Fighting Championship - mixed martial arts’ greatest stage - the man who speaks to the fighters after Short is a reminder that it’s not an impossible dream. The referee for the night is Daron “Detroit Superstar” Cruickshank, a fighter now with the UFC and not far removed from venues such as these.

While a dusty cage under an open canopy at a fairground may seem as far from the UFC as a driveway pick-up basketball game is from the NBA, Cruickshank said it's an essential level for the sport.

“The amateur level is where you hone your skills,” said Cruickshank. “You get comfortable in the cage, you get experience, and you just learn your craft.”

We’ve got Blood

At 8:15 p.m., the first fight of the night is finally underway, more than an hour behind schedule. Pete Trevino Jr., known as “Mr. Throw Down”, welcomes fans and the card-girl, Tatiana Marie, walks around the ring with the round cards high above her head.

Trevino screams his signature phrase into the microphone, “It’s tiiiiiiime to throw down!” and the action begins.


A man who went by the name David Horner, above, was the first fighter to bleed, but he would not be the last.

Courtney Sacco |

Not even a minute into the first fight and Trevino’s pink tuxedo coat - fresh out of the dry cleaning bag - is in need of another wash, allowing Trevino to deliver his other signature phrase

“Ladies and gentleman, we’ve got blood!” he screams, to the delight of the crowd.

Between bouts, Trevino explains to the fighters and crowd that the intent of his announcement isn’t meant to bring attention to the fighter's misfortune.

The blood is a badge of honor.

“That’s those guys’ hearts literally pouring out of them,” Trevino said.

A man who went by the name David Horner - making his octagon debut - is the man whose blood is all over Trevino’s lapel. He also happens to be the first to have his hand raised of victory. After having a cut above his right eye split open from a combination knee and punch to the face in the second round of his fight, Horner recovered and choked his opponent out in the third and final three-minute round.

The man with his eye swollen shut was announced as David Horner, but everyone in his corner screamed words of encouragement for "Alex." The man and his supporters declined to be interviewed after the fight, suggesting that not everyone willing to step in the ring necessarily wants it to be known.

Trainers on hand couldn’t give the man stitches, so they wrapped his eye and suggested he go to the hospital. He instead grabbed a 22-ounce can of Bud Light and made his way to the back row of the arena, watching the remainder of the fights through his left eye.

A hospital trip could wait.

The first fight the man saw through his one eye is between Sizemore and 21-year-old David Ratliff. Though the fights began behind schedule, Sizemore and Ratliff’s fight is rushed when a fighter in the match before them bails at the last second. The fighter had his hands taped, put on a pair of Short’s brand new $70 gloves, said he was going to the bathroom and never returned

Fuming, Short comes into the back and Sizemore and Ratliff both volunteer to step into the ring ahead of their scheduled slot.

“I’ll fight right now,” Sizemore said.

After the fight Sizemore would admit it wasn’t a lack of fear that made him want him want to step up. “My nerves were going, but I was ready to go…The nerves that fear, you gotta keep it to a minimum, but it’s what makes you a better fighter.”

Ratliff nodded in silent approval and Short’s satisfaction shines through his frustration.

“Let’s (expletive) do it,” Short said.

Celebratory pizza

Ratliff and Sizemore’s fight is over in the first round. Sizemore lands a series of kicks to the body before eventually getting the significantly heavier Ratliff to tap out with a rear-naked choke.

Primarily a striker, Sizemore is thrilled to land his first-ever submission victory. He jumps to the top of the cage as his brother screams in celebration from the stands. Mignon can finally breathe.

While many fighters grabbed a beer after their fights to wind down, Sizemore smiled at the thought of going home with Mignon, relaxing in front of the TV and having a whole Pizza Hut pizza to himself. Sizemore said he doesn’t drink, and said he couldn’t imagine a better way to wind down than with a “cheat meal” in front of him, and a victory behind him.

Ratliff is at the other end of the spectrum, but surprisingly upbeat after the loss. He made his way to his car with his girlfriend pushing their 9-month-old daughter, Arianna, in a stroller. They got in their car and drove off into the sunset during the night’s first intermission.


Ring-girl Tatiana Marie waits to enter the cage for a fight at A2 Fest on Friday, July 12.

Courtney Sacco |

Back at the cage, Trevino hopped up and down shadow boxing as if it were he who would get in the ring after the break.

“These guys do it for pride for honor. Because they love it,” Trevino said. “That’s why I love this, the same reason I love watching Little League baseball. These guys are out here for no other reason than love of the sport.”

The intermission is over and more fighters wait to have their name called. Marie makes her way up the stairs and around the ring, while another set of fighters follow soon after.

The fighters and fights of the Michigan Combat League at A2 Fest:

Pete Cunningham covers sports for He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @petcunningham.



Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 4:34 p.m.

Someone of you have no idea what you are talking about. This sport take time and a lot effect to do. It's hard work and some of us take it 100% serious. MMA is not some backyard street brawl. Go into a real MMA gym and see for yourself. Some of this gyms keep kids off the streets and teach respect. These good Gyms have men and women from 15 years old to 60 years old. Don't trash something if you have never done it.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 2:15 a.m.

Since this is still front page material, how about some coverage on the fact that most (if not all) of the bands didnt get paid by the promoter of A2 Fest, and that the headlining bands were forced to play 15 minute sets due to the incompetence of the promoter?


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 3:51 a.m.

There goes the bonus.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 2:01 p.m.

MMA is a legitimate sport. If you don't like it, don't watch it.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 12:45 p.m.

MMA: Leading the charge against propitious human biological and cultural evolution, one fight at a time.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 11:48 a.m.

This "sport" is barbaric.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 9:04 a.m.

"These guys do it for pride for honor. Because they love it," Trevino said. "That's why I love this, the same reason I love watching Little League baseball." Oh Please! I guess this guy "loves" the irate fathers who attack the umpires too. Maybe he'd enjoy Little League baseball even more if the kids used their bats on each other. Actually, I feel sorry for these "fighters" - if that's all they've got to win admiration or gain a sense of achievement; they are flat broke in the intellectual / spiritual department. What a way to "spend" your youth and athletic abilities.


Sat, Jul 13, 2013 : 11:30 p.m.

Penultimate was used correctly here.

Lauren Erickson

Sat, Jul 13, 2013 : 11:21 p.m.

Yeah.... NOT!

Keith Hafner

Sat, Jul 13, 2013 : 10:49 p.m.

"Penultimate" means 2nd to last...not "last" or "ultimate."

Pete Cunningham

Sat, Jul 13, 2013 : 11:54 p.m.

Good catch. Spell check did me wrong on that one. The change has been made. Thank you.


Sat, Jul 13, 2013 : 9:02 p.m.

At high levels, MMA is no less technical and honorable a sport than football or hockey. Most people just don't know what they are seeing so it looks like a "brawl". Jiu jitsu, muay thai, boxing, tae kwon do, and wrestling are all legitimate sports. MMA just puts them together.


Sat, Jul 13, 2013 : 8:16 p.m.

So, back street brawling is now a spectator sport. And some people think pro football and pro hockey are too violent.

Pete Cunningham

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 7:34 a.m.

There's nothing wrong with that.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 12:42 a.m.

OK Pete. I guess to me when I watch it seems like it is two people wailing on each other. But everyone has their own tastes and I respect that so i'll try be more considerate. I guess I'm just old fashioned and like my hockey, football and baseball.

Pete Cunningham

Sat, Jul 13, 2013 : 11:50 p.m.

Mixed martial arts is as much like a street brawl as a game of HORSE is a basketball game. . The sport isn't for everyone and is very violent, but these aren't just two untrained wahoos swinging away. These people train and are very skilled at a highly technical test of mental and physical ability.

An Arborigine

Sat, Jul 13, 2013 : 8:02 p.m.

Sad, are these the jobs the governor is creating?

An Arborigine

Sat, Jul 13, 2013 : 10:17 p.m.

@Not, huh?

Not from around here

Sat, Jul 13, 2013 : 10:09 p.m.

FYI, I saw the governor eating a bucket of live baby ducks, wandering down stadium blvd with a crowbar making potholes. Don't you think should get right on that?


Sat, Jul 13, 2013 : 6:41 p.m.