HANCOCK - If Bridgefest crowds looked a little sparse along the waterfront Saturday night, it's likely because 1,300 people flocked to Houghton County Arena in Hancock to catch the first-ever cagefight in the county.
The Lift Bridge Brawl, Upper Peninsula Cagefighting's seventh event since starting in December 2010, featured 11 mixed martial arts fights and four Muay Thai fights, including 13 fighters from Houghton County.
"I think it went awesome. It was amazing. The crowd here blew our expectations out of the water. They obviously really enjoyed it," said Lydia Kauppi, UPC president and Copper Harbor native.
Stephen Anderson/Daily Mining Gazette
Jeremy Nelson from Marquette, left, lines up a kick against David Herline, from Muskegon, Mich., during their Muay Thai cagefight in Saturday’s Lift Bridge Brawl. Nelson won by knockout 2 minutes, 18 seconds into the first round.
"We try to be as absolutely legitimate as possible, from sanctioning to how the fighters are treated, how the coaches are treated. We really try to focus on that," she added. "It's always great when the guys get in there and hug each other after because it makes the crowd understand that it's a sport. We couldn't be happier."
Ring announcer Casey Ford from Marquette's ESPN 970 introduced each fighter and pumped up the crowd, Double Trouble DJs cranked the music, three ring girls circled the cage holding up a sign for each of up to three 3-minute rounds in each fight - and the fighters delivered, eventually.
The first seven fights each wrapped up in the first round, some less than 30 seconds after referee Jeff Nass even signaled to start the fight, but the action eventually picked up as the main event approached.
In the first seven fights, locals Tyler Frederick, Dan Duefrane and Stewart Krumm, all representing the Karp's Elite MMA gym in Hubbell, were among the winners.
Finally, in the eighth fight of the night, Jodi Butkovich, representing Kettlebell Combat Conditioning gym in Houghton, took a fight into the second round before losing to an armbar by Jonas Flok from Sturgeon Bay, Wis.
That fight led to a 10-minute intermission before the first and only women's fight of the night between Hubbell's Staicee Karppinen and Marquette's Morgan Hatch. The fight went well into the second round as the crowd chanted, "Staicee, Staicee," but Hatch got the best of Karppinen by technical knockout 1:43 into the second round.
"Morgan is a great opponent. ... Unfortunately I didn't come out on top tonight, but obviously in my hometown, everybody thinks I came out on top no matter what," Karppinen said. "I still feel great, and I'm still walking away with a smile on my face."
Several fights later KCC's Mike Verbeke got the best of Karp's Thomas Babakitis, which kicked off an exciting conclusion to the night.
Detroit's Labron Oldham and Marquette's Jeff Martin were the only fighters to go the entire nine minutes, and a split decision by the judges gave the fight to Oldham.
Then the two co-main event fights delivered on expectations. Travis Karppinen, who started Karp's Elite MMA gym and entered with a 4-1 record, took out KCC's Jay Batzel in 51 seconds with a guillotine choke.
"I feel complete and satisfied," said Travis, Staicee's brother. "Fighting is truly a chess game and I consider myself four steps ahead of my opponent. ... I saw cagefighting on TV and I said that's what I want to do. I lost once in Baraga on Sept. 10 by unanimous decision ... and I told myself I'd never lose again."
Travis expects to have four other fights in the next four months, including his professional MMA debut on Oct. 6, five days after his 21st birthday.
Marquette's Brian Solander, who entered with a 5-1 record, capped off the night by getting the best of Iron Mountain's Matt Hallock, who entered with a 4-1 record.
"Houghton County was definitely a success and we'll be back in this area for sure," said Kauppi, who said September is a possibility for the next local fight.
For more information, including full results and for updates on future fights, visit upcagefighting.com or facebook.com/UpperPeninsulaCagefighting.