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MMA event looks to build on last year’s success

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May 13—Mixed martial arts’ return to 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial Arena won’t feature the same kind of hyper-local matchups that last year’s event did, but there’s still plenty to attract fight fans, according to the card’s promoter .

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More than half the scheduled combatants for 247 Fighting Championships’ Flood City Fight Night 2 hail from within 75 miles of Johnstown, including St. Michael’s Joe LaRocca, who will be making his debut at 135 pounds and Daniel Albright, a Chestnut Ridge graduate who fights out of Altoona’s Gorilla House Gym.

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The event, which is set for 7 pm Saturday, will feature about nine amateur fights and looks to build on last year’s Flood City Fight Night, which was the arena’s first MMA card in seven years.

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It was considered a huge success by 247 owner Ryan Middleton, with a large and enthusiastic crowd turning out to support local fighters such as Tanner Cahill, Cory Berchick, David Krouse, Albright and former Pitt-Johnstown All-American wrestler Chris Dempsey.

“It was kind of a no-brainer,” Hunter Homistek, general manager of 247 Fighting Championships, said of returning to Johnstown. “The first Flood City Fight Night was a success.

“I just watched them again, and – the fights themselves – it was an insane performance, top to bottom from all of the athletes there.

“Everything about it was great. Johnstown is a hard-working town that likes fights. There’s a strong wrestling base all throughout Johnstown.

“We felt they’d be craving another MMA event, so we’re coming back for them.”

Cahill, who has a large following, was originally scheduled to fight on Saturday, but the deal fell through.

“I’m sad to inform everyone who was coming out to watch me fight in Johnstown that I am no longer on the card,” he posted on Facebook. “@247fightingchampionships worked their tails off trying to find me an opponent. I am looking to fight on the next available card, and stay tuned for a professional grappling debut coming soon!”

The Mat Factory, located in Westmoreland County, has strong ties to the Pitt-Johnstown wrestling program, giving it a fan base in the area, and Gorilla House fighters will bring fans from Altoona, so Homistek isn’t worried about not having the same Cambria-Somerset presence as last year.

“We would love to see more local guys on the card, but for various reasons, it didn’t work out. Guys get dinged up in practice, they don’t like specific matchups, things like that,” Homistek said. “Live MMA sells itself. Some people want to see guys punch each other in the face no matter who it is.”

The headline fight will match the Mat Factory’s Julian Flenory (3-0) vs. Gorilla House’s Sheldon Neighoff (4-5).

“That’s the fight, for me, that has the most buzz,” Homistek said. “I think it’s going to be so freaking fun.”

Flenory has been a force, needing just 1 minute, 52 seconds of combined fight time to knock out his three opponents, including 16 seconds in his last fight.

“No one knows how good he is,” Homistek said. “Is he just getting easy matchups or is he this dang good? We think Sheldon is going to be the guy to get it out of him.

“Despite being 4-5, he’s very dangerous, especially early in the fight.”

Albright, a two-time District 5 wrestling champion for Chestnut Ridge, is 2-3, but is coming off a split decision victory over the Mat Factory’s Cody Gamble. If Albright can defeat the Mat Factory’s Justin Pippens (2-0-1), it could set up a bout with Flenory.

LaRocca, a 2017 Forest Hills graduate, will be making his debut. He’ll face another newcomer, Elijah Davis of Vandergrift, at 135 pounds.

LaRocca said he didn’t play any sports in high school because he had a caved-in chest that required surgery. While in college at Indiana (Pa.), he started going to Elite Combative Systems to lift weights and decided to try his hand at MMA about a year ago.

“It was kind of something to do,” he said.

“I thought it looked fun.”

LaRocca enjoys jiu jitsu, but would rather exchange punches with Davis—or anyone else.

“I like brawling a lot,” he said. “I like standing there while someone hits me, and I hit them. That’s definitely the most fun.”

He’ll get to have that “fun” close to home.

“I’m pretty excited,” he said. “It’s kind of neat that it’s in Johnstown. A lot of my family is around here.”

Homistek anticipates a strong showing of support for LaRocca.

“I expect that place to be rocking for him,” Homistek said. “I think he’s the kind of guy that will be able to handle it.”


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