An established star kept a tight grip on his championship belt, while a new champion was also crowned as Lion Fight 37 showcased a massive night of action at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut. For the video highlights of the event go here.
Airing live on AXS TV Fights in the United States and throughout Canada, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East on Fight Network, “Smokin” Jo Nattawut (63-7-2) held onto his super welterweight title by the slimmest of margins as he got past Thai legend Petchtanong Banchamek (345-52-1), taking a razor-thin unanimous decision 48-47 on all three judges’ scorecards.
The two fighters mirrored each other throughout the bout as they exchanged leg and body kicks early on and then moved into more of a punch-and-elbow striking battle. Nattawut clipped Petchtanong’s chin in the late stages of the fifth – a telling blow that swayed the final round in his favor.
While the main event was a strategic clash of savvy veterans, the co-main event was a go-for-broke slugfest between undefeated American sensations Chip “The Surgeon” Moraza-Pollard and Paul “The Reaper” Banasiak, and an instant classic was the result.
A veteran of MMA circles, Moraza-Pollard has found a new life in Muay Thai and the career switch has paid off. The Plymouth, Massachusetts, product got out to a quick start and then finished the fight in blistering style with a head-kick knockdown that paved the way to a unanimous decision (49-45, 48-46, 49-45). With that verdict, Moraza-Pollard (5-0) became Lion Fight’s inaugural cruiserweight champion.
Although he fell behind early, Banasiak (5-1) rallied in the middle round by using all of his five-inch height advantage particularly with crunching knees in the clinch. Both fighters, sensing a close decision was in the works, went after a finish in the final round. Moraza-Pollard brought the already frenzied sold-out crowd to its feet as he cracked Banasiak with a right kick to chin with 12 seconds remaining in the fifth. Yet stunningly, Banasiak, who fights out of East Hartford, Connecticut, made it to his feet just before the bell to the force the fight to the judges.
Surging lightweight Amine “The Freak” Ballafrikh (9-4) continued his upward climb as his leg-kick attack wore down Florida rival Johncy Lindor (2-1). The Morocco-born, Virginia product ended the bout at 2:23 of Round 3 with a final blast that Lindor couldn’t recover from.
Canada’s Eric Rocha (4-3) made an impressively quick first impression in his organizational debut. The Toronto, Ontario, native dropped Virginia’s Alexander Olave (4-4) with a bullet right hand just 12 seconds in, and then ended the proceedings at 45 seconds of the first with a third knockdown – this one a crushing elbow strike to the head.
Boston product Steve “Put ‘Em To Sleep” Walker, who had a huge throng of supporters in the stands, didn’t disappoint in his pro debut. Walker blasted fellow first-time pro Lewis Rumsey with head kicks and then rained down punches and elbows before the referee ended the bout via TKO at 2:04 of the first round.
The main card opened up with an exciting tilt between young super lightweight prospects. Geoffrey Then (2-0), who hails from nearby Danbury, Connecticut, used fast-paced combinations and hard rights to pull away from valiant late replacement Soap Am (3-1-1) by unanimous decision (48-47, 50-45, 49-46).
Pro Prelim: Keeman Diop (1-0) def. Trevor (0-2) – TKO, 1:15 of Round 2
Jurrell Laronal def. Matt Brady – unanimous decision
Pat Kirby def. Mike Colon – unanimous decision
Harry Milliken def. Slawek Gubernat – unanimous decision