What makes this event so unique isn’t just the debut at the City Center, but rather that some of these fighters are getting their first chances to compete in front of their hometown crowd. Currently, promoting a professional mixed martial arts event is legal in 48 out of 50 states, with the two holdouts being New York and Connecticut. This does not include amateur level bouts, which is why Kaged Kombat is allowed to promote here.
The newly-created middleweight title will be up for grabs as 2006 Saratoga Springs High School graduate Scott Holzwarth takes on Justin Pierpont. Holzwarth says he got the itch to begin training when he needed an outlet following the completion of his high school athletic career.
“I started training jiu jitsu and kickboxing six years ago, beginning the summer I graduated high school,” said Holzwarth. “I could no longer play football like I did in high school and I needed something else to do. I saw the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championships) fights on television and one night there was a commercial for Empire Martial Arts, which is where I train now. I started training and I haven’t stopped for the last six years.”
Holzwarth has previously fought for the Burlington Brawl promotion based out of northern Vermont. His last fight was a knock-out win over Simone Spano. As for what keeps him fighting, Holzwarth says it’s a desire to see his years of training pay off.
“I enjoy the training and testing myself,” said Holzwarth. “I try to make all the hard work worth it.”
Competing in front of a crowd in his hometown of Saratoga has Holzwarth excited, but his hopes of turning professional hinge on the outlook of professional MMA being legalized in New York.
“I’m all for the legalization of MMA as long as they regulate it correctly like they are in all the other states,” said Holzwarth. “There’s no reason that we can’t have this economic generator right here in our state as well.”
The promoters themselves echo Holzwarth’s sentiment about fighting here in New York, and hope to bring both MMA events and more revenue to the state.
“We are thrilled to hold our event in Saratoga Springs and invest our dollars locally. I think Kaged Kombat is going to be a wonderful edition to the vibrancy of our downtown,” said Chad Beatty, co-owner of Kaged Kombat. “
Competing for the super heavyweight title is another local fighter named Dan Ladd, who after starting his career 2-0 has found himself competing for the gold against Kentuckian Marty Doll. The 2009 Schuylerville High School graduate has previously compete for the Kaged Kombat promotion, winning his last fight in under a minute to earn his spot on the card.
“My first fight I really grinded out a victory against a guy who was 4-0,” said Ladd. “The fight could have been stopped several times but he kept grabbing the cage when I tried to apply a choke. I won my second fight in 46 seconds and now here I am fighting for the super heavyweight title.”
The designation of super heavyweight generally applies to boxing, where it is the amateur equivalent to the professional designation of heavyweight. While it might conjure the image of slow, lumbering fighters, Ladd says his athleticism is what sets him apart in his division.
“You’d think at my weight class there’s not much athleticism, you know? We’re all really big guys,” said Ladd. “I’ve always been fast, and for a long time I was one of the smaller guys in my weight class. Now that I’m one of the bigger guys, I haven’t lost my athleticism and that speed is my biggest advantage.”
When asked what keeps him motivated to fight, Ladd answers that the rush of entering the cage fuels his own personal determination to see his hand raised at the end of the fight.
“The biggest thing is that as soon as you walk in and you hear the gate close behind you, you know it’s real. There’s nothing left to do but find out who the better man is that day,” said Ladd. ”I’ve always been really competitive; it could be playing Monopoly or it could be a fight. The point is I have to win. I have to be the best.”
The fact that the show is in Saratoga Springs isn’t lost on Marvin Maldonado, the 135-pound Bantamweight fighter who has lived and trained in the Saratoga region for years. He’ll be facing Hector Funes of Patchogue, New York, in his fourth official appearance for Kaged Kombat.
“I’m very excited and there are a lot of people who are very excited to come to my fight, where they may have wanted to in the past but have been too far away,” said Maldonado. “Most of the time it’s a two and a half hour drive, so they can’t make the trip. Now it’s only five or so minutes away and I just can’t wait.”
Maldonado says he was pleased with how he’s been fighting, but looks to improve even more.
“I’ve been working on my takedown defenses, as I’m going to try and keep the fight upright where I feel more comfortable,” said Maldonado. “I know my opponent has a wrestling background and so I definitely want to avoid going to the mat.”
Making his debut in the fighting world, P.T. Ortiz holds a much less intense day job as a local acoustic musician. The Queensbury-native is set to face Juliano Zanetti in the 155-pound division, and hopes to make an impact in front of the New York crowd. He’s spent his time training in jiu jitsu, amateur wrestling and boxing to prepare.
“I’m feeling very confident. I’ve trained five to six hours a day the last couple months preparing for this fight,” said Ortiz. “I was supposed to make my debut at an earlier event but I was injured. I’m definitely ready this time and I’m looking forward to it.”
The newcomer is healthy and hopes to continue fighting in front of his family and friends for years to come.
“I always thought my first fight would be here in Saratoga, so when I had to drop out of my original fight [in Vermont], this kind of worked out. A lot of people I know are going to be there to support me, and it’s even got some historical significance being the first MMA card here.”
Also on the “Night of Champions” card are bouts between 120-pound female fighters Heather Lynn and Paige Matheson; Mike Lopez taking on Ryan St. Andrews; and Mike Dorsey facing Kevin Leonard.
“These young men and women are skilled athletes who train harder on a weekly basis than most people train in their lives. They are finally able to showcase their skills locally in front of their friends and family,” said Beatty.