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Mixed Martial Arts League Makes Stop in South Windsor

The American Mixed Martial Offense (AMMO) fight league hosted a grappling tournament Saturday at Nomads Adventure Quest.

For many, the phrase “mixed-martial arts” evokes images of two people pummeling one another into bloody submission.

But, for its participants and legions of fans, the sport means much more than to be simplistically boiled down to a barbaric boxing match with no gloves and fewer rules.

Indeed, at a grappling tournament sponsored by the AMMO (American Mixed Martial Offense) fighting League at Nomads Adventure Quest in South Windsor, there was no blood and nothing but respect between the competitors.

Grappling is one of two aspects of mixed-martial arts; striking is the other. Striking involves mostly kickboxing and martial arts like jiu jitsu and tae kwon do, while grappling is not unlike wrestling.

The grappling tournament on Saturday was, essentially, a slightly more intense version of a high school wrestling match. The bouts were 6 minutes long and were scored on a points system, unless one of the competitors stopped the match by submitting (tapping out) to the other grappler.

On Saturday, there were no bloody scenes, let alone the infamous octagonal ring that plays host to bigger MMA bouts. Instead, mats were laid out along the gymnasium floor, giving way to a far more subdued scene.

The low-key atmosphere didn’t matter a bit to the grapplers, who gave everything they had at the event.

“I love it,” said North Haven resident Justin Hirth, who finished third in the No Gi finals. “It’s like chess with people; it’s very dynamic. No fight is ever the same.”

The 50 or so competitors on Saturday came from all over the state, including South Windsor, Manchester and Branford, to take part in the tournament. And they all had different stories to tell.

“We get lawyers, computer people, engineers,” Hirth said. “They’re not all cavemen.”

Hirth, for his part, is a technician for AT&T. Manchester resident Ross Hennessey, 19, is a cook, while Matt Wheeler, 22, who is also from Manchester, is a student at Eastern Connecticut State University. Both Hennessey and Wheeler were competing in the Absolute (no weight class limitation) division at the end of the day.

“I love competing,” Hennessey said. “Win or lose, you put it all out there.”

Wheeler said that he initially got into the sport to get in shape for baseball. Now he’s hooked on MMA.

Both Hennessey and Wheeler, who wound up placing behind Branford’s Blair Tugman in the Absolute Division, have aspirations of continuing on in their MMA careers.

Which is precisely the goal of AMMO co-owner and promoter Sam Romanella. The fight league is just in its first year and Romanella hopes to eventually get 200 competitors at his events.

“We want to establish grappling in Connecticut on a monthly basis,” said Romanella, noting that AMMO’s next tournament is at Connecticut College in New London on Aug. 18. “Everybody today got a chance to grapple more than once, and most went four or five times, which is unheard of in the grappling community. …

“At the end of the day, I want to bring an event to the MMA for the grappling community like no other.”

Romanella’s hope is that, by giving competitors more than one chance to compete at a tournament, the quality of the bouts will eventually improve, as grapplers become more accustomed to the competition.

And Romanella was thrilled with the reception his fledgling league received n South Windsor.

“It’s a great turnout,” he said. “The greatest part is we got the word out that we’re a league to be contended with here and that we take care of our athletes.”

For more information, visit www.ammofightleague.com.

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