NEF Fight Night IX was barely ten hours old when my e-mail and telephone began lighting up, and I knew I had missed something special. The calls came in from both sides of the fence, and phrases like Fight of the Year, he got robbed, and toughest guy I’ve ever seen were being used like a hurricane on The Weather Channel. At the center of it all was the Main Event that featured Buck “Knuckles” Pineau and Isaiah Queen.
NEF IX, Biddeford, ME appeared to be your generic all-Amateur MMA event featuring eight or so regionally ranked fighters. Lightweight Dominic Cafone improves to 4-1 as he would hand Kris Kramer the first loss of his early career. Middleweight Matt Bordonaro beat Crowsneck Boutin to stay in the top five at Middleweight. Valerie Aspaas flew in from Western New York to hand local favorite Maria Rios her first loss. Maine fighters Elias Leland, Kevin Smith, and Brandon Bushaw each scored wins. I heard that Young’s MMA went 3-0 on the night. All-in-all, this seemed like an ordinary night in the MMA Maine. Then came the Maine Event!!!
Pineau trains out of Chois MMA. He brings with him a 6-2 record, the #1 regional Middleweight ranking, and several hundred Maine MMA fans. He looks across the cage at Isaiah Queen, training out of Team Anubis, who lives just over the state line in Dover, NH. He has just one defeat and is ranked fourth at Middleweight. We were expecting a good battle; we got a Fight of the Year.
Queen seemed to dominate round one from bell to bell. He scored a solid combination right away that dropped Buck Knuckles; he scored four takedowns and maintained complete control from the top for the whole round. Toward the end of round one, Buck Knuckles rolled to the mat in obvious pain and Isaiah Queen backed off. The ref, Jimmy Bickford, traded a few words with Buck as Buck waved Isaiah, who was still standing, back into his guard, and Isaiah finished the first round domination. Buck Knuckles had to be helped back to his stool by his coaches, his leg or knee obviously injured to some degree.
Did Buck “Knuckles” verbally submit to the ref in this round? Should a fighter back off when the opponent cries out in pain and obvious injury? Did the ref miss the verbal submission call?
Buck hobbled out to start the second round. He collapsed as soon as Isaiah engaged, and Isaiah took the top position. Isaiah landed strikes and had the back looking RNC for the first 45 seconds, but Buck Knuckles swept to the top rather quickly and controlled the rest of that round from the top, including an attempt at a leg lock and some legit G&P. Buck’s leg isn’t looking any better in between rounds.
Off the clinch to start the final round, Buck crumbles to the canvas and Isaiah takes the top mount, landing some serious strikes as Buck tried to climb the cage. Isaiah takes the mount but Buck sweeps and controls the final two minutes (of the three minute) third round from the top, including some of the most accurate G&P toward the end.
In the end, all three judges scored this fight 29-28 for “Knuckles”. Personally, I thought that the first round looked like a 10-8 for Isaiah Queen, and the next two 10-9 for Buck. My score would then have been a draw, 28-28. But I was not watching the fight live; I was watching a home made video. I still think that, in round one, when Isaiah scores four takedowns to none and landed all the significant strikes on the feet, plus blows out the knee of the opponent, then a 10-8 round is warranted. But expecting three MMA judges to recognize a 10-8 round when one is presented is like asking Moe, Larry, and curly to get along for fifteen minutes without slapping one another.
So I guess the controversy here lies in one of two areas; the possibility of the 10-8 round one and the alleged verbal submission.
Here is what some cage side folks thought:
John Raio was sitting cage side for the fight. He is a friend and teammate (of sorts) of Buck Knuckles. “Buck has the heart of a Lion. This was the most exciting fight I’ve ever seen live!!!” said Raio. John also said that Isaiah won the first round and Buck won the second and third rounds. When asked if Buck verbally submitted, John said “No way”.
Dominic Fiandaca from Team Anubis was cornering Isaiah Queen. Dominic pointed out three things:
1. He felt that Buck verbally submitted and that is why Isaiah stopped fighting; Isaiah is not the type of guy who keeps beating on an injured man.
2. Dominic also believed that Isaiah won rounds one and two, and this should have given him the win.
3. Dominic mentioned that one of Buck’s coaches, who was sitting cageside, is one of the Maine Commission, and this is a conflict of interest.
Hmmm? I checked into this, and indeed, Jon Pinette is one of the coaches at Chois, and he was seated cageside for this fight.
Chris Young, from Young’s MMA, was one of the first to call me on the phone the following morning. He described the fight as the most inspirational fight he has ever seen, and Chris has been in this game for a dozen years as a fighter, coach, gym owner, and corner man. He said something along the lines of “the most amazing fight I have ever seen”. He favors neither fighter. When asked if he thought that round one was a 10-8 for Isaiah, he said “Yeah, that was a 10-8.” But Chris also added “I don’t really care who got the win. Buck fought on one leg for most of that fight, and that’s the story. Buck is the man. Buck is the man!!!”
Western Mass writer CityBoy called the fight 29-28 for Buck “Knuckles”. Now CityBoy is my good pal; he and I have sat elbow to elbow at fifty or more events over the years. (He still owes me a cheeseburger from the Ray Wood v Soap Am fight.) I also know that CityBoy wouldn’t know a 10-8 round if you came up and kicked him in the ho-ho’s with one.
Kevin “The Ref” MacDonald, one of the most respected opinions in the MMA game in New England, was cageside for this one. I asked him his thoughts on the verbal submission aspect of this fight. Here’s what Kevin described as a verbal submission:
“A verbal submission is when a fighter who is in trouble yells, cries out, or verbally tells the ref to stop the fight.” Kevin went on to say “When Buck fell, clutching his knee, he was not being struck or being placed in a submission hold. If Isaiah had just landed a single strike while Buck was yelling in pain, the ref would have had to stop the fight.”
Kevin asked three questions regarding the alleged verbal submission:
1. Was Buck in a submission hold? No.
2. Was Buck being struck at the time of the alleged verbal submission? No.
3. Was Buck in any immediate danger? That is a judgment call by the ref.
In short, Kevin backed up the ref, Jimmy Bickford, in this case.
I ended my evening of MMA interviews by going right to the source; Buck Knuckles. I spoke to Buck about twenty one hours after the fight. He had his knee in a brace but did not yet know the extent of his injury. “I hurt it (the knee) early in the first round,” Buck told me. “But it was later in the round that it popped out,” and that’s when he rolled over in pain late in the first round. “Jimmy (ref) asked me ‘Are you done?’ and I waved Isaiah in.” The cage doctor examined the knee between the first and second rounds and told Buck that the fight is over. “He told me he was gonna stop the fight, and I said no you aren’t,” said Buck, and they allowed the fight to continue.
“Isaiah is a class guy,” said Buck, referring to Isaiah’s stopping briefly when he thought Buck was seriously hurt.
I don’t think that there was a conflict of interest issue with Pinette and the outcome. I just think that MMA judges don’t recognize a 10-8 round when they see one
I think the real story here lies not in the controversy but in the heart and courage of “Knuckles”. This was an Amateur fight between two of the regions top Middleweights, and, regardless of the outcome, they are each among the top Middleweights upon the conclusion of this fight. This is a story of Buck Knuckles simply being unwilling to give up on a fight in front of his home state, despite incurring a knee injury late in the first round.
Buck Knuckles began his Amateur MMA career at 4-2. In his last three fights, he took on Mike Rodriguez (who was ranked #1 at the time), Allan Josselyn (who was not only ranked second at the time but had also beaten Buck earlier), and Isaiah Queen (who was ranked fourth). Buck Knuckles is now 7-2 and ranked first amongst the Middleweights. If Buck had lost this fight he would be 6-3 and ranked in the top two. These are Amateur rankings, and in the long run it really doesn’t matter. What matters most is that Buck is using his Amateur career to challenge himself and improve his overall skill set, and that is what this game is all about. Buck and Isaiah will grow from this fight and that’s the important thing
I have often referred to Cage Titan’s founder Mike Polvere as the one legged man in an ass kicking contest. Move over Mike, Buck “Knuckles” IS a one legged man in an ass kicking contest. Last year’s Amateur Fighter of the Year, Ray Wood, also needs to make some room, as Maine has another favorite fighter; Buck “Knuckles”!!!
Front-Page Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports