RFO Big Guns 23

Felony In Cleveland: A Strange Night Of Great MMA

Felony In Cleveland: A Strange Night Of Great MMA

FloCombat's own Duane Finley and Hunter Homistek endured a wild night of adventure at RFO Big Guns 23.

Mar 31, 2017 by Duane Finley
Felony In Cleveland: A Strange Night Of Great MMA
The setting sun cast a pink haze that mixed and swirled with the Rust Belt remnants of the industrial south side to set everything off in a blur of electric orange and the deepest shade of crimson. A stretched glance upward revealed the vibrant rejuvenation of a thriving downtown district that could be seen shimmering against the dark blue backdrop just down the way.

The corner where we stood was opposite by all measures and felt the way I'd always imagined the real Cleveland should feel. As a lifetime resident of the Midwest, I was no stranger to the grease streaks and sparks of carbon tips milling a smooth face to cast iron or the smell of slate-black clouds rolling out progress overhead. I was one coolant puddle away from feeling at home, and there was a sneaking suspicion it may be found before the night drew to a close.

Perched on the corner in the shadow of The Big Glow, I watched as bodies of all shapes and sizes began to file into the Masonic Temple across the street. Even for a night of regional fights there was a special energy kicking about, and it was shared by my counterpart and I. We'd put a combined nine hours of hustle underneath our respective tires to make the show, and neither Glow nor I had ever made a habit out of moving without purpose.

Just beyond the doors of the great hall across the street RFO Big Guns 23 was ramping up to play out, and a few special talents had inspired us to cross state lines and bear witness. We'd streamed several of the promotion's events before on FloCombat, and while those nights delivered the ruckus, this night brought us a strange and savage unicorn entrenched in the hallowed caverns of MMA folklore.

He was once called Krazy Horse, now The Felony, but no matter what Charles Bennett called himself, the lingering sense of mystery and adventure made the trek worthwhile from inception.

We had just started to shuffle across the street when a security guard materialized tall and steadfast like a Sentinel carved from a block of oak wood.

"How long you plan to be inside that building?" he asked with a nonchalance that offset his strict presentation.

"Less than two hours for sure," I replied quick, fast and off the top.

"Works for me," he volleyed before turning his focus to a group coming up behind us. "We don't call this place Believeland for nothing."

"We are going to be in there way longer than that," Glow said with the type of nervous twinge that comes with visions of a car being towed. "But I'm impressed with how quick you threw out that answer. Made him stop caring immediately and even I almost believed you."

"I'm not even sure he's security for that lot," I returned.

"This is going to be a great night," Glow stamped as we made our way through the massive double doors of the Masonic Temple.


After some quick banter and wristbands received at the check-in table, we made our way up the steps toward the belly of the beast. The first fights of the night had kicked off less than a dozen minutes prior, but already the familiar sounds of caged fury on a Friday night put the huge room's acoustics to the test.

We traversed a short foyer lined with merch tables and vending stands before joining the unfolding chaos in the large ballroom setting. Massive decorative ceilings stretched out and extended to give the room an opera house feel, but the thud of face-punching and the smack of shin bones slamming off quadriceps were going to provide the only music played on this night.

In near perfect harmony we entered the area down by the cage just as the crowd above us kicked up over a fully mounted ground-and-pound attack happening 20 feet to our left. And just like clockwork, a tall, suited man came zipping by as if he were on the Amtrak line, but Glow was able to just catch his arm before he cleared our sight line.

"Hey, Matt, we apologize for the last-minute notice but we wanted to let you know we were here."

RFO President Matt Trukovich had been rocking shows in the greater Cleveland area for years, and his ability to produce quality events helped him carve out a place as not only a promotion to watch, but one to fight for as well. The urgency plastered on his face told us he had a million little things that needed tending to, and we were simply thankful he was able to make some room for the evening.

"You guys are more than welcome to set up backstage or head up in the mezzanine if you want," he said. "Whatever you need, let me know."

No sooner had Turkovich stopped he was back among the hustle and bustle of the night. My rangy companion and I attempted to scan the scene cageside in hopes of finding a pocket to set up shop for the night, but no clear ground was visible for the taking. Instead, Glow spied a few empty seats in what was most likely used as a theater box on most nights, but had been converted into a VIP space for an evening of judo throws and rear-naked chokes.

After spending the better part of the past decade covering the biggest events in the sport, dipping into the regional side required a crash-course education. The larger shows come equipped with a designated media section complete with extension cord strips and the amount of elbow room required to knock out write-ups on a healthy night of fights.

Regional shows rarely receive much coverage if any at all, and even if they did, the priority of the scene is make money by getting bodies in the door. Chubby and disheveled media types would only take up space in this world, and the space in question would be of the most valuable variety. Therefore, anything cageside is typically sold in table packages under the VIP tag, and for good reason.

A year prior, a more eager version of myself had crashed through a VIP table in Knoxville after catching my foot on a wayward production wire in a scene that played out like a tables, ladders and chairs match in a grindhouse professional wrestling show. With the horrific scene still fresh in my head, I allowed Glow to take the lead, and he wisely decided to pull up in the open seats of a theater box.

No sooner did we stake claim than the head of a young woman sitting in the same location snapped around. The ferocity in her eyes told me she thought us squatters in a section that belonged to her, therefore I quickly explained our stop would be the very definition of temporary.

"We apologize, young lady," I offered. "We run the site called FloCombat that is streaming this event and we are waiting for the owner to find us a place to set up."

Her eyes remained fixed on her potential targets and I was quite certain she wouldn't have cared if we were streaming a spaceship launch on a mission to Mars. She was 216 strong and not going to tolerate a drop of bullshit on the evening, but I continued to push the ice breaker the best I could.

"Who are you here to watch? It should be a good night of fights."

"I'm here to support J.T. Miller, and I don't know anyone else here tonight," she deadpanned.

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The tension volleyed back my way came in hot enough for me to look back to Glow for help, and just as I turned, a small group of her fellow J.T. Miller supporters arrived at the theater box. It was important we vacate in rapid-fire fashion so that's what we did, making sure to offer up a few more apologies upon our exit.

The tiny spitfire turned back to watching the early action unfold in the cage and would ultimately have a solid night all around. The fighter she was there to watch put on a short but action-packed showing, as Miller steamrolled an unfortunate soul with a lightning quick first-round finish.

After another brief encounter with Trukovich we were escorted to the backstage area, where Glow and I were finally able to dump off our backpacks and get to settling in for the show. A big-screen projector ran a crisp stream of the action onto a raised stage area beyond the cage, and just beyond the curtain which held the replays a large swath of fighters made foot traffic back and forth.

Another distinct charm of a regional event is the lack of dressing rooms, so fighters and their respective coaches simply mill about in the same areas. It just so happened the Masonic Temple had numerous dressing rooms open for use, but strangely enough very few fighters on the card appeared to be using them. A few were tucked away in the bowels of the temple like a scene out of Spinal Tap, but the majority decided to hang out in the stage area where Glow and I had decided to post up.

We were five fights into the night when the need to locate Charles Bennett took over. In a career laced and laden with controversy and fights beyond the fight, "The Felony" had more than earned his reputation as a wild card that could get things jumping in a heartbeat. The chance to encounter that frenetic energy up close was the exact catalyst for our entire excursion, and the time had arrived to seek out the man who once famously knocked out Wanderlei Silva in a backstage scuffle in Japan.


Glow's keen eye is legendary, but after several sweeps of the grounds and basement corridors there was no Bennett to be found. Yet, just before frustration could set in, I noticed a man walking through the crowd in street clothes who just happened to also be wearing MMA gloves. We'd located Bennett in all his glory, and oh what a glorious sight it was.

Where other fighters on the card were hovering about in fight shorts and a tee shirt, Bennett was wearing jeans and work boots with a hooded sweatshirt zipped up to the top. A pair of earbuds dangled down the front of said sweatshirt and his phone was constantly perched up by his face. After several trips around the cage snapping pictures and laughing loudly at random, the notorious veteran pulled up a piece of floor by the VIP tables on the stage area.

"I'm going in," I nervously chimed over to Glow.

"You got this!" he shouted with loose confidence.

After a beer vendor made her way out of the area, I made a beeline over to where Bennett was sitting and pulled up on a step directly to his right. Upon sitting down, I looked over to him, established firm eye contact and set about introducing myself. Yet, before any words could escape my lips, the embattled fighter stood up and made a drastic slide 15 feet to the left to get away from me.

To say I was baffled would be an understatement, but at the same time, I found fulfillment in Bennett living up to every bit of the erraticism he's known for.

I looked over to Glow for confirmation but my partner in crime was doubled over in hilarity at the insanity of the interaction.

In that moment, we decided the coveted one-on-one interview we'd built up in our minds to be an instant classic simply wasn't going to happen. And while that was certainly disappointing in the moment, something told us we were far from finished with our Felony experience on the evening.

Plenty of time remained before Bennett's main-event showdown with Cody Stevens, and what a great night of fights it was. Cleveland-based Strong Style Gym had a hell of a showing at RFO Big Guns 23, as every fighter they sent to the cage emerged victorious, oftentimes in quick and brutal fashion.

Other highlights from the night featured strange wrinkles like local favorite Brandon Odom pulling off a strong comeback in his 29th fight as an amateur then vowing he needed to turn pro because, and I quote, "It's time to get paid for this shit." Glow and I agreed with Mr. Odom in the moment, yet neither of us could recall if we'd ever seen a fighter with that many amateur tilts in any promotion.

The answer was no, but the chaos would quickly resume and leave such questions in the proverbial dust.

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Rising bantamweight stud Max Meese notched another dominant showing on the FloCombat stage as he battered and tapped Robert Presley in under two minutes of work on the night to pick up his second victory in as many fights. Immediately following his win, Glow and I caught the talented young fighter in the foyer and stressed the importance of getting his self-promotion rolling on social media platforms.

We told him to get a Twitter account, and I'm happy to report the young Meese followed through less than 24 hours later. It was a strong play for a kid who fight fans should keep an eye on in 2017, because FloCombat will definitely be featuring his fights in a much larger role going forward.

Another excellent showing on the night came from Luka Strezoski, who is the teammate of current UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic. He faced a game Dequan Townsend and put the Michigan native away with a nasty leg lock in the opening frame. There's no doubt Strezoski has either UFC or Bellator in his immediate future, and what he showed at RFO Big Guns 23 could very well earn him that caliber of opportunity.

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And while each and every fight delivered, everything built toward Charles Bennett stepping into the cage in the main event. By the time his music hit and Bennett came trickling out of the tunnel, Glow and I had set up shop on the apron of the cage directly in "The Felony's" corner. Bennett more than took his time getting to the cage, and then decided to work a jazzercise floor routine while he waited for Stevens to make the walk as well.

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I listened as Bennett's coach threw out random instructions and from the wild-eyed smiles the fighter returned in that direction, I figured we were in for a large dose of chaos. And while that turned out to be largely untrue, as Bennett put on a performance best described as uninspired, there were still flashes of what made him a fighter to watch in the first place.

Early in the opening round, Bennett unleashed a power slam that seemed to nearly put Stevens through the canvas, then proceeded to further display his raw power by effortlessly sweeping his opponent with his back on the canvas. Nevertheless, it was Stevens who stuck to a strong game plan as the Ohio native clearly claimed the first two rounds.

Going into the final frame, Bennett's coach took a more reserved approach, which left a window for the FloCombat squad to step in and offer some inspiration. With Bennett leaning against the cage in my direction, I began to give him the pep talk he so desperately needed.

"Come on now Charles, the openings are there. Let your hands go, man," I shouted as Bennett dug his fingers into the chain links.

"I'm tired as f*ck, man," he replied while he continued to slouch down against the cage.

I threw a few more words of encouragement in his direction but it wouldn't make a difference, as Stevens once again dominated the action in the round. The end result was a clean sweep on the judges' scorecards and an effort that left Bennett laying on the canvas with his feet propped up over his own head.

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Less than a half hour later, the entire venue was cleared out, and we started to make our way back to where we had parked. Glow and I bantered about the chaos of the evening and how very little had turned out remotely like we figured.

Stepping out of the massive double doors the vibrant colors of the setting sun had vanished and the thin orange veil of city lights cast an eerie glow over the industrial park. Two steps into the crosswalk, the iron rail figure of the security guard we'd encountered earlier once again materialized out of thin air like and was standing directly in our path.

"That was just under two hours like you said," he laughed.

"I'm usually pretty close on time," I replied.

"I told you this was Believeland, but I got a feeling that's some bullsh*t."

"Oh, the best kind of bullsh*t," Glow chimed in and a mutual laugh was shared as we reached the sidewalk on the opposite side.

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