Matt MacGrath called it the biggest win of his career.
Headlining Saturday’s Elite 1 MMA Unstoppable card at Casino New Brunswick, MacGrath was in tough against Mark Holst (11-5), an MMA veteran from Ontario who has fought in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
But past accolades were thrown to the side as Charlottetown native MacGrath (12-8) dominated Holst, repeatedly taking him down and using smothering top control to win a 29-28 unanimous decision on all three scorecards in the welterweight bout at Casino New Brunswick.
"I just turned 33 a couple weeks ago and I just think everything is really finally coming together and we’re going to make a run here," MacGrath said.
"I knew Mark Holst’s striking was really good, his ground I really had to watch his hips on the ground. I was confident coming into the fight I could win. I thought before the fight I might have finished it. I felt I dominated it, I think he only had control for about 30 seconds the whole fight."
Round 1 saw MacGrath shoot and quickly take Holst to the ground. He wasn’t able to deliver a lot of damage from his opponent’s guard but he stayed busy enough to keep the fight on the mat for most of the frame and peppered his opponent with shots to control the round.
Holst turned it on in the second round, as after another MacGrath takedown, Holst was able to scramble and end up in half guard and then into mount, where he was able to do some damage.
MacGrath continued to show wrestling dominance in the third round, securing more takedowns and top control. An interesting exchange saw both fighters going for heel hooks during a scramble and while Holst briefly got on top, MacGrath used a kimura attempt to regain top position and end up in Holst’s guard.
"He’s very good, he’s got some really good wrestling and judo. I knew about that but there’s nothing I could do about it," Holst said in his locker room following the loss.
"That’s what got me hesitating in throwing. Every time I got close I got taken down. I was just trying to be cautious with my punches and my striking and I still got tied up and taken down."
The main event was originally supposed to have seen MacGrath challenge for the welterweight title against Richard Arsenault (8-1), but the champion had to pull out of the bout due to injury. MacGrath is looking forward to his eventual title shot.
"I had a lot of confidence against Richard before this but this obviously helps," he said. "No disrespect to Richard but I think this was a really tough fight for me. It’s a little different strategy but I think I’ll definitely come out on top against Richard."
■ In the semi-main event, Dan (The Hitman) Fowler (6-5) of Moncton easily beat Todd Westcott (1-4) of Moncton in a 185-pound bout.
Shortly after the opening bell Fowler threw a strong right leg kick, then followed it up with a double leg takedown that landed him in Westcott’s half-guard. Fowler quickly moved into side control where he latched on a head-and-arm triangle that put Westcott unconscious for the submission win at 1:20 of the first round.
"I’ve been training with (Gracie black belt) Shane Rice at Victory Jiu Jitsu and he’s brought me a long way, I can’t thank him enough. It feels like I’m a complete fighter now instead of a one dimensional standup fighter," Fowler said.
"I knew (Westcott) was a brawler. I knew he could take a punch. He swings hard, all it takes is one punch and it’s putting me in a world of hurt. I just made sure it didn’t go there. I wanted to control the fight, take it where I’m most comfortable which now is on the ground. I knew once it got to the ground the fight was over."
In other professional fights:
■ Mike Thorne (1-0) of Fredericton defeated Brandon Chaisson (0-1) of Charlottetown via submission at 3:10 of the third round in a 145-pound bout.
Thorne was able to mount his opponent in all three rounds, but wasn’t able to put away the game Chaisson from the position. Interestingly, it was in the third round after Thorne’s mount got reversed that he ended the bout, locking on a triangle choke as the fighters rolled that caused Chaisson to tap out.
"In the second round I had so much control on the top I lost respect for his ground game. I knew he was tired and I knew he didn’t want to be there because his coaches kept telling him to get up. In that third round when I had full mount he was bucking on the cage real hard and I kept adjusting so he didn’t have the cage for leverage," Thorne said.
"I anticipated the triangle when he rolled me, I was setting up for it and I’m lucky it worked out because if he had popped his arm over it would have been a different story."
■ Maverick Cowx (1-0) of Cole Harbour, N.S. defeated Joshua Allen (3-1) of Charlottetown at 2:31 of round 1 via TKO in a 170-pound bout.
Cowx appeared to be in trouble after Allen scored a takedown and hopped immediately into mount. However, a beautifully-timed switch saw Maverick end up in his opponent’s guard, avoiding any major damage. Cowx finished the fight after landing a huge knee to the body, taking his turtled opponent’s back and raining down left hands until the referee was forced to jump in and end the fight.
"It went pretty good. I wanted to stand up a little bit more. He came at me pretty quick so I ended up wrapping him up, taking him down. I knew he was a strong wrestler so I kind of wanted to avoid it," Cowx said.
"Once I got a hold of him I felt I was a little more physically powerful than him and we just stayed (on the ground) and got it done."
■ Matthew Desroches (3-0) of Charlottetown defeated Brian Mazerolle (1-5) of Hampton at 0:01 of the second round via TKO in a 185-pound bout.
A high-paced first round saw both fighters swinging for the fences, but Desroches taking controlling with more shots landed and better cardio. Desroches staggered Mazerolle near the end of the first round and the fight seemed to be in danger of being stopped, but the bell sounded to end the first round. However, Mazerolle didn’t answer the bell for round 2 and the fight was declared a TKO win for Desroches.
"At first I believed the way the ref had gestured to me that the end of the round was over. I don’t know if he surrendered in his corner or not but after I started getting ready for the second round the ref came and told me it was over," Desroches said. "It’s kind of a relief, I guess as everyone would think of it. The quicker the better."
■ Morgan Rhynes (2-0) of Charlottetown defeated Jon Foster (0-1) of Hantsport, N.S. at 4:46 of round 1 via TKO in a 135-pound bout.
The bout started off fairly evenly, with both men landing solid shots and Foster trying to apply a standing guillotine for the finish. But after Foster fell to the ground after missing a strike, Rhynes was able to pounce, landing in half guard, where he was then able to rain down straight elbows that Foster had no answer for, forcing the referee to jump in and stop the fight.
"The game plan was to keep it standing, if I went to the ground hit him with a couple shots and then right back up. I knew his ground was excellent and my best chance of winning would be keeping it on the feet," Rhynes said. "Elbows is something I love to throw. That’s how I stopped my last fight with the elbows – I’m pretty comfortable doing that."
The card also featured three amateur bouts:
■ Ryan Cameron (2-0) of Fredericton defeated Tyler Bridges (0-2) of Summerside by submission at 1:10 of the second round in a 170-pound bout.
The first round saw Cameron impose good crisp standup to take an advantage, slowing down his opponent with more effective striking. In the second round, Cameron showed patience by not panicking when he was put on his back, instead locking on the fight-winning triangle choke that Bridges tried unsuccessfully to fend off.
■Luke P. Noel (3-6) of Kedgwick defeated Justin MacCallum (0-1) of Moncton at 2:55 of the second round via TKO in a 135-pound bout.
MacCallum showed good takedowns and smothering top control to win the first round. In the second, however, Noel dropped his hands and goaded his opponent in, then caught him with a left high kick and a strong left hand to follow up and force the ref to jump in and stop the bout.
■ Trent Moses (2-0) of Fredericton defeated Cass Jacques (2-5) of Quebec at 2:35 of the second round via submission.
After a first round in which Moses dominated with a couple takedowns, good top controlling and a relentless standup attack, Jacques was put away in the second after a Moses takedown where he worked to side control and then mount, eventually taking Jacques’ back and locking in a rear-naked choke.