Here at the XFO we like to use the tagline, “every legend starts somewhere, that somewhere is the XFO.” XFO-55 took place last night at the UIC Pavilion and once again a number of legends were born…and one even ended.
The fight card we had put together for XFO-55 was tremendous to say the least but like every event we've hosted lately, things were incredibly difficult to keep together. Friday night at the weigh-ins, a number of fights were in jeopardy due to weight and medical issues but our fighter management team lead by our President and Match Maker Dan Lardy, fought through the adversity and did whatever necessary to get the fights approved by the State regulatory commission. We were able to salvage every fight except one due to a fighter no-show.
From the moment the doors opened, you could tell there was going to be something special about this night. This amazing card had been salvaged, fans were filing in at record pace and arena was buzzing with excitement.
First out of the gate was a battle between amateur fighters Mike Geiger and John Gutierrez. This back and forth slugfest had the fans on their feet from the opening bell and ended with Geiger’s hand being raised as Ray Flores announced he had won the unanimous decision. This set the trend for the rest of the night as the crowd was clearly fired up after this amazing battle.
In the third bout of the evening Jeremy Miller from Patriot MMA took on James Bailey for the XFO amateur bantamweight championship. After a few flurries by Bailey, Miller was able to get his opponent to the canvas and choke him out via rear naked choke midway through the second. Bailey was a very game opponent but in the end Miller took home the belt.
There were a total of 13 professional fights up next to delight the crowd. Devon Gonzalez and David Garcia kicked of that portion of the card with a crazy back and forth duel, which saw Garcia dominate the first round and Gonzalez flip the switch in the second to win by TKO due to referee stoppage.
Chris Conway and Jordan Wiggins were the second bout and one of the most anticipated fights of the night. Both fighters were very highly touted as amateurs and prone to standup wars, which is exactly what we expected. They didn't disappoint. Wiggins has an unorthodox striking style and a very long reach, while Conway is more of a traditional kick boxer focused on technique. That night technique prevailed as Conway’s hand was raised in victory after his TKO finish with just 13 seconds left in the first.
Next up was Alex Wiggs taking on Tim Cho in both their professional debut. 8 seconds after the opening bell referee Otto Torriero was pulling Alex Wiggs off Cho, sending Wiggins flying across the cage. After Cho threw a weak leg kick seemingly to gauge distance, a devastating overhand right by Wiggs had Cho unconscious before his stiff body bounced off the canvas in this highlight reel knockout.
Another great fight was next featuring Codie Kahler taking on Damian Norris from Midwest Training Center. Norris dominated the bout from start to finish dropping Kahler numerous times but not earning the finish. Kahler heads back to northern Minnesota to lick his wounds while Norris literally left the arena heading to O’Hare Airport to attend the Ultimate Fighter tryouts in Las Vegas.
The most talked about rematch in XFO history was next and most of the arena seemed to know the backstory. At XFO-51, Matt Paul and Ivan Garcia battled for nearly 2 rounds in a truly epic contest. It was literally back and forth until Matt Paul landed a number of devastating elbows that split Garcia’s forehead opening, which required staples to close. Paul was the victor but Garcia’s fans flooded Facebook calling for a rematch as they claimed the fight was only stopped because of the cut. 11 months later the rematch was on at XFO-55 and both men stepped into the cage to a thunderous applause. Matt Paul dominated the first round nearly stopping Garcia a number of times. Many had questioned Garcia’s heart after missing weight for the bout but no one asked that question again after seeing the amount of punishment he withstood during this fight. The second round signaled a turn of events as Matt Paul sipped after a clash against the cage. Garcia fell into Matt Paul’s guard and started dropping vicious shots on Matt Paul’s face. At 3:32 in the second round the referee pulled Ivan Garcia as he evened their fight series at 1 fight apiece. A visually devastated Matt Paul shook his head in disbelief as they announced Garcia as the victor leading everyone to question the possibility of a legendary tie breaking trilogy fight between these two amazing warriors.
Mike Marrello, the 16 time XFO Veteran and former Ultimate Fighter contestant came to the cage to take on last minute substitute fighter from Colorado, Rocky Johnson. Johnson took the fight on short notice after Marrello’s original opponent backed out just 4 days before the event. Marrello won in dominating fashion extending his record to 12-5-1. Moments later he announced his retirement in the cage putting an end to this legendary career.
Another last minute fight was put together which pitted 11 time XFO Vet Danny Aguirre against Iowa’s 14-fight veteran Nic Cox. The amazing Aguirre put on a truly legendary performance toying with Cox in the first and landing a devastating flying knee TKO victory at just 1:37 in the first. The question we keep asking is there anyone outside of the UFC that can handle the speed, size and agility of Danny Aguirre? If there is, we certainly haven't found it.
One of the most anticipated fights of the evening pitted California fighter and Chicago native Pearl Gonzalez taking on the very tough Michigan based fighter, Nikki Duncan. The insane amount of Gonzalez fans in the crowd were as loud as we’ve ever heard and helped Pearl earn a difficult unanimous decision victory over a truly game opponent.
The fans in the arena were still on their feet as another hometown hero’s name was announced over the loudspeaker. Rafal “the Polish Punisher” Skibinski made short work of his opponent Chris Skoglund with a slick display of jiu-jitsu after securing a guillotine win at just 1:02 of the contest.
At this point in the night we weren't sure how things could have gotten any better but the legend of 3 more fighters were about to grow.
Fan favorite Joey “the Real” Diehl needed just a handful of minutes to defeat his opponent Matt Murphy taking his record to 9-6. Diehl has won 6 of his last 7 bouts and is one of the most exciting fighters in the country.
The legend of Team Top Notch fighter Mike Santiago continued to grow as he took on 15-fight veteran Shelby Graham in our co-main event of the night. Santi was all over Graham from the opening bell and dominated the entire two and a half minutes of the fight before earning the submission victory by straight-arm bar. Santiago is another fighter to watch after picking up his fourth straight submission victory.
This arena was buzzing with anticipation for the main event. Drew McFedries was a bona fide superstar with the UFC from 2006 to 2009 where he competed a total of 9 times and earned 2 knockout of the night bonuses. We were thrilled when we learned McFedries was going to try and make it back to the UFC, and instantly offered to help him on this journey. Around 11 pm last night, the time had come to see if one of the most feared strikers in MMA history was still on point or if he had lost anything after a few year lay off. Any doubt was immediately set aside when the initial bell rung and a look of sheer ferocity came across McFedries face. Less than one-minute later, his opponent, local journeymen and veteran of 48 professional fights Bill Hill slumped over in a heap with doctors hovering over his body as he lay on the canvas. A flurry of right and left hooks kept Hill on his feet as he faded in and out of consciousness before eventually his knees gave out. The referee quickly stepped in and ended the one sided beat down after just 56 seconds in the first round. After checking on his opponent, McFedries told Bill Hill, “good fight” and Hill’s response was, “good punch”. Clearly it wasn't just a single good punch, it was about a dozen that put away Hill and cemented the ever-growing legend of XFO fighter, Drew McFedries.
Drew McFedries def. Bill Hill via TKO / Rd 1
Mike Santiago def. Shelby Graham via armbar / Rd 1
Joey Diehl def. Matt Murphy via RNC / Rd 1
Rafal Skibinski def. Chris Skoglund via guillotine / Rd 1
Pearl Gonzalez def. Nikki Duncan via UD
Jeremiah Denson def. Mike De La Vega via guillotine / Rd 1
Danny Aguirre def. Nick Cox via TKO / Rd 1
Mike Marrello def. Rocky Johnson via UD
Ivan Garcia Jr. def. Matt Paul via TKO / Rd 2
Damian Norris def. Codie Kahler via UD
Alex Wiggs def. Tim Cho via KO / Rd 1
Chris Conway def. Jordan Wiggins via TKO / Rd 1
Devon Gonzales def. David Gonzalez via TKO / Rd 2
Jeremy Miller def. James Bailey via RNC / Rd 1 (a)
Isreal Lopez def. Nowa Blabuh via RNC / Rd 1 (a)
Mike Geiger def. John Gutierrez via UD (a)
Photos courtesy of Michelle Keim Photography