MOSUL, Iraq - Soldiers from 3rd "Greywolf" Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division crowded the regulation-style mixed martial arts ring at Forward Operating Base Marez, Sept. 5, patiently waiting for the first ever MMA event in Iraq to kick off.
Dubbed "Fight Night for Heroes," the mixed martial arts event brought fighters from all over Iraq and professional fighters from the U.S. to compete in 17 fights, including one female bout, one exhibition bout, and three professional bouts.
This was the first International Sport Combat Federation sanctioned fight ever in Iraq. The Greywolf Brigade helped coordinate and host this event to honor the heroes of the Armed Services who have and are currently serving.
The event itself was masterminded by Marine 1st Lt. Lee Stuckey, who was assigned to the Greywolf Brigade information operations section in early 2009, and Monica Sanford of Devildog Productions, L.L.C. Stuckey began an MMA training program at FOB Marez while he was serving with Greywolf Brigade. Shortly after his arrival to Iraq, he started coordinating the event with Sanford, owner of the mixed martial arts club at Camp Lejeune, N.C. where he was a member.
"I couldn't have done it without Lt. Stuckey. He called me after a week of being [deployed to Mosul] and said 'Do you think we could bring an event here' and now we are here," said Monica Sanford, owner of DevilDog Productions.
Extreme Couture G.I. Foundation was the main sponsor of the event which brought representatives from Fight! Magazine and Owned Entertainment to document the bouts. ISFC pro fighter Andy Roberts joined the fight card and the event also drew in Kim Winslow, the only female referee in the Ultimate Fighting Championship organization. Andrew Foster, executive director for the Georgia Athletic and Entertainment Commission, was also on hand as the official event supervisor.
Before the event started, attendees bowed their heads in reverence as the names of their fallen brethren were read to honor their memory. Immediately afterwards, the U.S. flag and Greywolf Bde. guidon were posted and every Soldier in attendance proudly and loudly sung the national anthem to ring in the start of the competition.
Fifteen Greywolf Soldiers suited up to fight in the FOB Marez amphitheater outfitted with an ISFC regulation ring and concert-style seating for the mass amount of spectators. The excitement in the crowd grew in anticipation of the first fight and the waves and winks from the ISFC ring girls, Starr and Lauren.
The event branded some of the most memorable moments, not only for the Greywolf Soldiers, but for the ISFC. Six of the fights produced winners from 3rd Brigade and an ISFC knockout record was set by Petty Officer 1st Class Mike Brown six seconds into his fight against Igor Taskivoiski, a civilian contractor from Macedonia.
"This is good for the morale of the soldiers," said Sgt. Antoine Griggs with the Ninewah Operations Center Transition Team. "This is a little bit more exciting because this is what Soldiers do, fight and get rid of stress."
In one bout, Corporal Joshua Beecher, from A. Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, bested his opponent by unanimous decision after a grueling three rounds of battle with his opponent, Jeremy Bishop with the 84th Engineer Brigade.
Beecher got into a street brawl slugfest with his opponent. They stood toe-to-toe and pounded away at each other hoping the other would fall.
"I feel really good. All in all it went well for me," said Beecher. "This is probably the coolest thing I've done since I've been in Iraq. I'm really fortunate that they put this together. This has just been an awesome experience."
Two bouts later, 1st Lt. Serenity Nelson "injected the venom" against her opponent in a unanimous decision after three rounds. She punched, kicked and grappled her way through her opponent, Staff Sergeant Maegen Stewart from the 84th Engineers.
At one point, Nelson almost locked in an arm bar to secure a technical knockout but ran out of time as the round ended. This bout was dubbed by some as the most exciting fight of the night.
"[Lt. Nelson] did very well," said Sgt. James Petrosky, her training partner. "When she rocked her opponent in the final seconds of the last round, she hit her with a good straight right. I was proud of her. She hurt her [opponent]."
The only exhibition bout listed on the fight card pitted ISFC pro fighter and friend of Stuckey, Andy Roberts, against Spc. Miguel Luzunaris from A. Co., 1st Bn. 12th Cav. Regt. Luzunaris and Roberts agreed to fight each other when their opponents were unable to appear for the fight.
Though Luzunaris is not a pro fighter, he managed to last almost an entire round before Roberts finished him with a rear choke forcing the tap out. Ringside officials declared both Roberts and Luzunaris winners of the bout.
Roberts was thankful to Luzunaris for taking the fight and encouraged him to continue his training. He was also excited about having the opportunity to come to Iraq and be a part of this landmark event.
"I knew too many Marines who come here a year to serve. I figured I could come for a week and do this," said Roberts. "You guys fight for real. [MMA] is a game. What you guys do every day is for real."
In the first pro bout of the night, Sgt. Junior Aleman of B. Co., 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, pounded his opponent, Marine Sgt. Robert Vasquez into submission scoring a technical knockout for his professional record.
After his victory, he took hold of the Bulldog Company guidon and proudly held it high as he circled the ring. When asked what he had to say to his unit after his victory, he simply replied, "I'm a Bulldog baby!" which ignited his unit members into cheers and accolades.
The final fight of the evening was a professional bout between Army Cpt. Jason Norwood and Marine Sgt. John Walsh. In an epic battle, Norwood bested Walsh by knocking him out late in the first round.
Norwood, a true sportsman, helped his opponent to his feet after securing the win. The two shared comments of appreciation with each other for having the opportunity to fight each other.
Other Greywolves that participated in the event were Staff Sgt. Thomas Blair with A. Co., 1st. Bn. 12th Cav. Regt., Pfc. Ricky Cotton with 3rd Bn. 8th Cav. Regt Sniper Section and Pfc. Travis Goff with B. Co., 3rd Bn. 8th Cav. Regt., Cpl. Justin Whiteman with 3rd Bde. Support Bn., Sgt. Corey Stevens with A. Co., 1st Bn. 12th Cav. Regt., Staff Sgt. James Courter with 3rd Bde. Personal Security Detachment, Staff Sgt. Jeremy Butler with G. Co., 2nd Bn., 82nd Field Artillery Regt., Staff Sgt. Gary Clark with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2nd Bn., 82nd Field Artillery Regt., Sgt. Kevin Zuniga with 3rd Bde. Personal Security Detachment, and Sgt. Bryan Schulze with B. Co., 3rd Bn., 8th Cav. Regt.
At the close of the event, Maj. Gen. Robert Caslen, the commander for Multi-National Division - North, and Command Sgt. Major Ray Leota addressed the Greywolf brigade and expressed their pride in being able to serve with great service members such as these Cav Soldiers.
"It's great to be here with all of you tonight. I think if anybody in the U.S. wants to see what's right with [our] country, they can see it right here with all of you," said Caslen. "You stand in the gap between the evils that are out there and the values that we stand for. Those values were in abundance tonight."
Before retiring the colors for the evening Col. Gary Volesky, commander for the Greywolf brigade, and Command Sgt. Maj. James Pippin, the brigade command sergeant major, took a moment to honor the event coordinators, ringside official, referees and ring girls for their contributions to a historical and entertaining event.
In the end, both competitors and spectators were grateful to be a part of the event. It was a historic moment for the Greywolf brigade and the ISFC, creating lasting memories and great fighting moments for the world of MMA and 3rd Bde, 1st Cav.
This work, Greywolf Brigade hosts first MMA event in Iraq, by SGT Christopher Kozloski, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.