Something Fishy in RI; Part II
From Old School
In December of 2012, Don Carlo-Clauss and his Team Bombsquad (Ithaca, NY) descended upon Atlantic City, NJ for a Cage Fury battle with New Jersey native Chris Liguori. Carlo-Clauss brought a 7-5 record to the cage that night when he faced NJ Local Fighter Liguori, who is a UFC and Elite XC veteran. Just behind the press table was the Blue Corner seats, where the family and close friends of the Blue Corner fighter could sit during their fighter’s time in the cage; then they would get up and go back to their seats and a new group would take those seats. Don Carlo-Clauss beat Chris Liguori so decisively that even his own family, sitting right with me, was sure that their boy lost all three rounds and were content that he lost the fight. When the decision was announced and Liguori’s hand was raised, Liguori’s family was surprised and even the New Jersey crowd booed the decision. Liguori had then UFC World Lightweight Champ Frankie Edgar working his corner, and Frankie Edgar’s guy was just not gonna lose a decision that night in New Jersey!
Mixed Martial Arts is not yet legal (sanctioned) in New York, so teams like the Bombsquad have to travel each weekend so that their fighters can compete. They have become accustomed to being the bad guy and all that comes along with that title. I have seen Team Bombsquad fighters win and lose from New Jersey to Maine, and several places in between. I have seen their fighters fill in on short notice, fight out of their weight class, and cut weight by turning up the heat in the van on the way to an event that is eight hours from home. These boys don’t want special treatment or favorable judges’ decisions; they are warriors who just want to compete on a level playing field.
Last weekend at the CES Far Beyond Driven show at Twin Rivers Casino in Rhode Island, Don Carlo-Clauss lost yet another decision to a local fighter; this time it was Rhode Island Local Fighter Mike Campbell. The fight was very close, one that could have gone either way. (This writer had Don Carlo-Clauss winning by a slim margin.) The unanimous decision was announced with the third judge calling all three rounds (30-27) for Local Fighter Campbell. “I know that being the out of town fighter I didn’t do enough to clearly win the fight on all judges cards, but the 30-27 was out of control,” said Carlo-Clauss.
Another Bombsquad fighter, Ahsan Abdulla, fought (and clearly beat) Rhode Island Local Fighter Joe Pingatore; he even dropped Joe Ping with strikes in the first round. But the Rhode Island judges gave Joe Pingatore the decision win; one judge even called all three rounds (30-27) for Joe Pingatore.
In total, there were four fights on that fight card that went to the judges’ decision, and all four went in favor of the Rhode Island Local Fighter. I met with Team Bombsquad Manager Ryan Ciotoli, his fighters, and crew in the locker room after the fights. We talked about the whole landscape of the Rhode Island MMA judging and Ryan had this to say; “We’re not ever coming back to Rhode Island. We want to put on exciting fights with fair decisions for our efforts.” When I spoke with Ryan a few days after the event, he confirmed that after thinking about it for several days he and his Bombsquad team will never return to Rhode Island.
I have a relative (an uncle) who is a Professional umpire. I asked him just how long it takes for an umpire to make it to Major League Baseball. He told me that it would take around 15 to 20 years. That would include several years of proving yourself in high school baseball; then the best of the group may advance to college umpiring. There are summer leagues and weekend seminars that can help improve a budding umpire’s skill set. The cream of that crop will be chosen to work single-A ball for a few years and hope to move on to double-A and then triple-A ball. Several years of triple-A ball, with careful examination and scrutinization, is a must before the best of the best make it to the Big Leagues. It appears to me that only the worst of the worst become MMA judges in Rhode Island. MMA is the most dangerous sport out there right now, and yet it has the least skilled refs and judges. Why are there unethical judges and unskilled refs working Professional MMA fights?
Right now, CES is the only MMA promotion operating in the great state of Rhode Island. Team Bombsquad, which is one of the top two MMA schools in the NorthEast, will not be returning to Rhode Island. Bombsquad has more ranked fighters right now than any other school in the NorthEast, and more than a few dozen up-and-comers on the horizon. Promoters from Maine, Massachusetts, and NH rave about Team Bombsquad and how valuable the team has been; Bombsquad has fighters who will fill in last minute, Pro or Amateur, at almost any weight class. I have also heard from several other MMA schools over time who have expressed similar sentiments about CES, because, being a non-Rhode Island school, they feel that their fighters cannot get a fair shake from the judges in Rhode Island.
It’s always great to see the home town guy win, but when the out-of town fighter stands very little to no chance of getting the judges’ decision, this is bad for the sport in that state. “Look,” says Don Carlo-Clauss, “I expect the local guy to have a slight edge from the judges. But When Mike Campbell walks out (to the cage) wearing a CES jacket, I know what I’m up against.” Ryan Ciotoli added “The Rhode Island Commission is hurting CES. They are chasing away good fighters and schools. Also, they are encouraging boring fights; when Marc Stevens (NY) beat Abe Pitrowski (RI), Marc did it by taking Abe down and holding him there for all three rounds, and that’s not an exciting fight. But Marc chose a good strategy (for fighting a RI Local Fighter in RI), because if you keep it standing, the judges in Rhode Island are gonna give the decision to the Rhode Island fighter. That makes for boring fights.”
The implications of categorically giving decisions to the Local fighter are more than meets the eye. The out-of state fighter has travel expenses that the local fighter does not have. In the case of Don Carlo-Clauss, he was fighting for two and two; that’s two thousand dollars to fight and two thousand dollars more if he wins. When a commission’s judges virtually assure that the out-of-stater will not get the decision, they are in essence, robbing him of the potential $2,000 extra win bonus.
Another thing that the out-of-stater does not benefit from is personal ticket sales; the Local Fighter can pick up a few thousand extra dollars in ticket sales commission, while the out-of-stater cannot. Why would any out-of-state fighter want to bring his talents to Rhode Island?
When Carlo-Clauss was robbed in the Liguori decision in December of last year, he lost the opportunity to go to a bigger promotion. (Beating a fighter like Liguori presents those types of opportunities.) Carlo-Clauss then went on to beat John Ortolani via TKO and Bellator veteran Jacob Kirwan via decision. Then, Carlo-Clauss loses a close decision to WEC veteran Mike Campbell. If Carlo-Clauss gets the decision win against Campbell and Liguori, that would complete a four fight win streak, including wins over a UFC veteran, a Bellator Veteran, and a WEC veteran. Don Carlo-Clauss would have a record of 11-5, not the 9-7 that he has. Ryan Ciotoli also told me of a few other close calls that went the other way for Don early on in his career. “He could easily be 15-3,” said Ryan. “If that’s the case, he would be under contract with one of the bigger organizations.” This is just another reason that Ciotoli’s Bombsquad fighters are not coming back to Rhode Island. “We have a few fighters signed to fight one more time in Jersey,” he said. “Then, I think we’re done there as well.”
Ryan talked about the fair decisions that happen in New Hampshire and Maine, and how well his Bombsquad fighters are treated in those states. “We love NH and Maine. We’ve actually received fair decisions in those two states. We love fighting there, and we feel that we can bring exciting fights and get a fair decision.” Ryan does not feel the same way about New Jersey and Rhode Island. “In new Jersey, each judge is connected to a school; Serra’s or Renzo’s or one of them. Their guys will always get the nod and we never will. In Rhode Island, CES is a good organization, but we can’t get a fair decision from the RI Commission, so we’re not coming back. CES needs to get to the commission and put a stop to it.”
Carlo-Clauss confirmed. “Anthony Leone beat Claudio Ledesma (in New Jersey) for all three rounds; he won all three decisively. But then he won only by split decision with one of the New Jersey Judges calling it a 30-27 for his opponent…”
I know the Bombsquad boys real well by now, and I know that they don’t want favors from the MMA judges; they just want honest decisions for an honest effort by their fighters.
Right now in Rhode Island there is one MMA promotion with fewer and fewer MMA schools willing to play in their sand box; and that number gets smaller and smaller with each event that they hold. I have also noticed that the crowds are getting smaller and smaller at the last few shows (but there could be other factors at play). It’s possible that CES will soon resemble a local MMA smoker featuring only Rhode Island fighters. And I don’t know of any other MMA Promotions kicking down the doors to get into Rhode Island. My uncle (the Professional Ump) says “This sounds like boxing.” We all know where boxing is headed.
Is the Rhode Island Commission doing the Rhode Island promotions any real favors by categorically giving the Rhode Island Local Fighter the decisions? Will Bellator and the UFC risk bringing their promotion to the Ocean State? What if CES leaves the state? How many more MMA schools are gonna boycott Rhode Island in favor of fighting in other New England states?
On September 22, 2012 on the Indian Reservation in Irving, NY, Team Bombsquad will have several fighters on the Gladius fight card; Gladius is one of the newest MMA promotions coming to the NorthEast. If you hear a sucking sound along the Rhode Island border, it may just be the sound of MMA schools pulling their fighters out of the Ocean State. NorthEastMMA.net, CES, Kevin the Ref, and the rest of the MMA fans need to put pressure on the Rhode Island commission to fly right before it’s too late…..