The Amateur Mixed Martial Arts phenomenon has not only had a significant impact on the NorthEast regional MMA promotions, but it has changed the way many young successful fighters are rising to the top of their weight classes. An interesting blend of the new style, where a fighter takes several Amateur fights, and the old style, where the fighter turns Pro right away, is now shaping up in the Pro Featherweight division here in the NorthEast. Things are busy and exciting at the top end, as many of the top ten ranked guys are fighting one another. Some of these top 145ers came into MMA directly as Pros while others had the benefit of having half a dozen Amateur fights as a tune-up.
Currently there is a real log jamb at the top of the Featherweight division amongst the Pro fighters. Rob Font, Sean Soriano, and Calvin Kattar are locked in a battle for top dog, and the picture changes every month or two, because each of these guys is winning against top level fighters. In fact, the best 145er in the region may very well be Dez Green; he is currently 9-1 and is ranked second at Lightweight, but he has actually made Featherweight (145) twice and Catch weight of 150lbs a few other times as well. Of these top four Featherweights, both Rob Font and Dez Green had the benefit of Amateur fights before turning Pro, while the other two, Kattar and Soriano, did not.
One indicator as to just how busy and successful these Featherweights have been is that the last three months (April, May, and June) the NorthEastMMA.net Fighter of the Month awards have gone to Font, Dez Green, and Kattar.
Let’s take a look at how these fighters got where they are.
I remember Font as a decent Amateur Lightweight fighter when he first started. I also recall seeing the development of his game when he was at his Amateur best, winning a five round unanimous decision against Joe Pingitore for the Cage Titans belt. In that Title fight it was clear to see that Font was not only greatly improved as a fighter, but he was definitely ready to turn his talents to the Pro level. His only loss came against Green, where he was soundly outwrestled, Since that time, we have seen that his wrestling and takedown defense is on the same level as his striking. He is currently ranked third at Featherweight with a 6-1 record.
Green snuck in the back door of the Amateur circuit. He had all three of his Amateur fights in just a few months (all wins), and with the new Amateur rankings due out in early April of 2012, he would certainly have been put into the top five. But Dez took his Pro debut fight on April first of that year and beat Font, which is still, to this day, Rob Fonts only loss. Since that time Dez has run his record to 9-1; he is ranked second at Lightweight since his KO of UFC veteran Henry Martinez. At just 23 years young, Dez has a lifetime of wrestling in his rear view mirror and an exciting MMA career on the horizon.
Kattar is the top ranked regional Featherweight. He is currently 14-2; he has not lost in more than three years and he is undefeated since his drop to Featherweight. Because Calvin began fighting in 2007, before Amateur MMA was available as an option in the region, he did not have the benefit of the Amateur career. Regardless, at just 25 years old and a veteran of 16 fights, Calvin is primed for a run to one of the big shows. His recent wins over Saul Almeida and Gabriel Baino have him at the top of the Featherweight pile.
Sean Soriano (8-0) is an old school fighter; no nickname, no Amateur fights, eight wins, six by finish, no losses, and a CFA Title. At just 23 years old, he splits his fight time between Florida and New England. His wrestling pedigree carried him through his first few wins and his Blackzilian teammates have helped him bring his game to its current level. His last two wins came against Victor Delgato and Elvin Brito, two of Florida’s best.
As we look further into the top ten Featherweights, Chris Foster (#4) and Saul Almeida (#7) had no Amateur fights, while Brian Kelleher (#5) and Erik Lee (#6) each had some Amateur fights. Foster has recently come back for three consecutive wins and has a fight scheduled with Font later this summer.
There are two other fighters worth mentioning who are making moves into the top of the Featherweight ranks. Ray Wood and Pingitore are two young up-and-comers who each had solid Amateur careers. “Joe Ping” banged out his amateur fights in southern New England, where he fought some tough competition, like Font, Brandon Fleming, and Will Chan. A solid striker from Rhode Island, he fought much of his Amateur career at 155, though he is much better suited for the 145ers. Pingitore has a Pro record of 4-0 and is now ranked tenth at 145 and is primed to move higher.
Wood first caught my eye during his Amateur career, which was mostly fought up in Maine, because he simply took fights against fighters with superior records on a regular basis. He was voted NorthEastMMA’s 2012 Amateur Fighter of the Year. He won his first three Pro fights, which earned him Honorable Mention as a Pro at 145. But his recent win over Canadian Lenny Wheeler will certainly put him well into the top ten when the rankings are updated. Ray is currently 4-0.
Today’s top young Amateurs are as talented as some of the regional Pros were just five or six years ago. And when these young athletes start their Pro careers, many of them have between five and fifteen Amateur MMA fights. What a great way to start!!!
Here’s a little tidbit on the topic; second ranked regional Lightweight Green, who has his first Amateur fight only a year and a half ago, was just signed by Bellator for the upcoming Bellator Featherweight Tournament.
While it is easy to see how fighters like Green, Wood, Font, and Pingitore used their Amateur careers to hone their skill sets, a winning records as an Amateur clearly does not guarantee a successful Pro MMA career.
It is clear to see that the current crop of top fighters is a mix of those who had Amateur careers and those that did not. But the future stars will all likely be coming up with Amateur fights under their belt. The successful ones will be those who use their Amateur fights to bolster their skill set as opposed to pad their Amateur record. And while Amateur MMA success often does not equate to future success as a Professional in the sport, it is hard not to be impressed by some of these young athletes.
You see, there’s this kid from Maine named Caleb Hall and he just won his third Ammy fight in a row…
Front-Page Photo Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports