Valentin wins MMA debut in North Tonawanda

NORTH TONAWANDA – Andy Valentin’s first time in the octagon will be a memorable one as the first-time fighter won by a majority decision Saturday at TNT Fight Series’ Ring to Cage event at the SportsPlex Arena.

“It felt amazing,” the Elevation Combat product said after defeating Jeremy Merrick. “It really did. I was just trying to keep everything in mind. Once we touched gloves, everything went out the window. After the first round, everything came together. I managed to get my wits about me and go to my gameplan.”

The action picked up in the second round as Merrick looked to be the aggressor and took Valentin down. However, that turned out to be a blessing for Valentin as he began to look more comfortable in the cage. Even though he was on his back, Valentin controlled the action, throwing several punches. Valentin soon got a reversal and took the top position and stayed there to win the round.

“It happened and it was over with,” Valentin said about the takedown by Merrick. “Now it was my turn.”

“Andy is extremely comfortable standing up or on the ground,” Elevation Combat owner David Harriger said. “When he got taken down, we told him to turn into him. (Merrick) did a Jiu Jitsu match against my fighter and that is a recipe for disaster.”

In the final round, Merrick wanted to take the match to the ground, and Valentin was happy to oblige. It was Valentin who got the takedown this time and stayed on top with some impressive ground and pound to highlight the round and take the victory.

“Andy just took it to him,” Harriger said. “He didn’t back down. He did exactly what we told him to do. He stayed inside and kept the pressure on him.”

“If I took the third round, I knew I would take the fight,” Valentin said. “I knew he was trying to get a submission. I just wanted to land punches and not let him get up. It feels fantastic. Now we get ready for the next one. I want another one.”

Unfortunately, Elevation Combat did not get a sweep as Justin McGowen was stopped in the second round after fracturing his hand early in the first round against Jesus Velez.

In the early going, Velez came out strong with several hard punches. McGowen took every punch in stride.

“He didn’t hurt me,” McGowen said of the punches. “I could have kept taken them and beat him in the third because he had no stamina. I knew I could take his punches. I had no problem taking those.”

Midway through the round, Velez tried taking the match to the ground and when he took McGowen down, McGowen fractured his hand on the fall as he reached for the cage. McGowen finished the round, but knew something was wrong with his hand.

“I showed Dave and the ref saw it,” McGowen said. “The ref called the doctor in. It was hurting bad. The ref wanted to stop and I wanted to fight so the doctor let me fight.”

However, early on, it was evident McGowen couldn’t protect himself, forcing the ref to call an end to the fight.

“I thought I could have had him stamina wise,” McGowen said. I would have had him. I injured my finger and there was nothing I could have done. I will never give up. I don’t care if I can’t walk or can’t punch. I will never give up. I understand it. They stopped it for my protection. I’m not getting paid so don’t ruin my life for it.”

“Injuries happen,” Harriger added. “He couldn’t protect himself or make a fist. Justin went in and was scrambling good and started throwing punches. I told him when the warmups started that I needed crazy Justin to show up and he did. He wasn’t afraid.”

Kinetixx Combatsports out of Jamestown went 0-2 on the evening. Both Joe Goyette and Dylan Freedman were unsuccessful in their bids for a title bout. Both fighters lost by decision.

Goyette gave Peter Mazzeo all he could handle. And despite Mazzeo sporting a swollen and cut eye, he was declared the winner.

Freedman, meanwhile, was the main event of the night and the fight did not disappoint. Facing Tony Norton, Freedman and the hometown fighter went back and forth, trading rounds. Freedman put Norton in a few guillotine chock holds to no avail, and Norton showed off his Muay Thai and ground and pound game to win the judges over.