Ultimate Athlete is widely considered to be the "next big thing" in the sport of MMA. The last three bouts were going to feature Pride/UFC level fighters. MMA media and other sources are already trying to calculate the damage this incident may have had on the acceptance of MMA as a legitimate sports form.
CABOZON, Calif. March 16 -- Rick Slaton, all 6'1" 235-tattooed pounds of him, implored his fellow motorcycle "club" members, the Mongols, to "stop fighting." But Slaton's pleas yielded little response from the marauding mob. It was too late; the riot was on.
Slaton and Russian Leo Pavlushkin entered the ring as the seventh scheduled fight on an already exciting Ultimate Athlete: "The Gathering" card, and the energy in the nearly sold-out Casino Morongo Events Center picked up. The Mongols -- anywhere from 70 to 100 deep depending on who you speak with -- eerily belted out a "club" song before the fight started. Sadly, they'd soon start belting innocent ticket holders and a noticeable, yet undermanned, security force as well.
As the fight progressed, both exchanged sloppy strikes until an illegal groin shot dropped the Russian to one knee. Before he could return to his corner the first half-full cup of beer came flying towards the ring, then another and another. The poor people being pelted at ringside turned around and stood to see who was showering them with $6 beers. One misfortunate soul picked up cup and fired it back. That was the beginning of the end.
Mongol members made their way towards ringside from their bleacher seats, and cups of beer came flying like artillery ahead of an advancing army. Three members of the gang stood face to face with one unlucky guy who happened to be seated in the section where much of the violence was unleashed. Two more of the leather-jacket clad hoodlums walked from their position in Slaton's corner right past the ringside media seats.
Before they could reach their cohorts, one Mongol threw a haymaker and from that point on it was a free for all. The bikers poured into the section at ringside, stomping, punching and pummeling anyone they could get their hands on. At least one person was stabbed, only 10 feet from the seats assigned to media at ringside, while others had large gashes on their head that required medical attention from being pounded with chairs and boots.
The Mongol horde got no further than ringside; luckily most people had retreated to the opposite end of the arena by that time. A slow-moving security contingent attempted to mix it up, but they were largely ineffective in stopping the gang. By that time, Slaton had made his pleas to his "brothers," but his rooting section had largely cleared out.
Within minutes a drove of riot-gear clad San Bernardino Sheriffs poured into the Events Center, some with M-16's in toe. Quickly, the authorities cleared out the side of the building the Mongols had occupied. What was left was nothing more than puddles of beer and blood mixed together in some sort of gruesome concoction.
The remaining three fights on the card -- Bobby Southworth vs. Brian Foster, Joe Hurley vs. Steve Berger and John Marsh vs. Aaron Brink -- were cancelled and the arena was completely cleared out.
Those smart enough to avoid the parking lot immediately afterwards missed nearly 100 police and Sheriff officers encounter the bikers outside the arena. Unconfirmed rumors had shots being fired between the gang and the authorities, but for nearly an hour the parking lot and the venue were on lock down. Most of the fighters and media were ushered backstage to the trailers that served as pre-fight warm up areas on the bitterly cold winter night. Everyone was finally escorted back to the finally peaceful parking lot around 11pm.
The incident is the worst of its kind in American mixed martial arts history, and it will take some great P.R. to prevent any detractors from dropping a serious hammer on the sport. Clearly, the blame goes to a group of thugs who belong locked up behind bars, but Ultimate Athlete must be held accountable as well. There must be some sort of official police presence on hand for the safety of the paying public, and UA clearly missed the boat and paid the price for their oversight.
Clyde Gentry, matchmaker for UA, had this to say: "The show up to that point was leading up to be one of the most spectacular, action-packed mixed martial arts events and the only thing in the back of my mind I was thinking, 'This show is going to be something that everyone is going to remember.' But, unfortunately, I got my wish but for all the wrong reasons. It's unfortunate what happened. As far as the security, we felt that we had enough security. We had over 45 security officers, and to have something like this is very unfortunate. I don't think it's fair to the fans; I don't think it's fair to the fighters, obviously. I feel really bad we weren't able to present the last three fights, which I felt were fights that really meant something. It's unfortunate. The only thing we can do is regroup and move forward like we've always done.