HANCOCK - The beer was flowing all fight long at the Upper Peninsula Cagefighting's Canal Conflict Saturday, but at the end of the night it was Kool-Aid everyone was talking about.
With the UPC back for round 2 after a successful event three months ago at Bridgefest, the crowd at Houghton County Arena was treated to the best fight last in the main event, when Michigan Tech student Mike "Kool-Aid" Verbeke won a scintillating 215-pound matchup with Gustavo Corrubius (Green Bay, Wis.). Treated to chants of "Kool-Aid" during introductions from the partisan crowd, Verbeke received the loudest applause of all when he locked Corrubius in an armbar 1:36 into the second round to earn the submission.
"Someone told me before it started that (Corrubius) had a good chin, so I kept my distance and used my reach," Verbeke said. "He was throwing some nice punches with power, and he did catch me one in my eye. It didn't drop me but I kept my distance. I learned in the first round he did have that good chin, so in the second round I made it look like I was coming in to strike and got the takedown easily."
Michigan Tech student Mike Verbeke (top) locks up opponent Gustavo Corrubius with an armbar to earn the submission midway through the second round in the 215-pound fight that served as the main event at the Canal Conflict at Houghton County Arena in Hancock Saturday. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
Jodi Butkovich, a Calumet native, catches opponent Constantine Cross’ kick and takes him down in the first round of the 145 pound fight Saturday. Cross submitted to a rear naked choke hold moments later. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
With Verbeke controlling Corrubius on the mat, chants of "Kool-Aid" started in earnest once again.
So how did Verbeke earn that particular nickname?
"Well in high school I wrestled heavyweight, and I was pretty big," Verbeke said. "And one day I was wearing all red, and just burst into the locker room and screamed 'Oh Yeah!' It has stuck with me ever since freshman year."
It was precisely Verbeke's wrestling background that gave him the advantage in the fight.
The 21-year-old Tech student - who first got into mixed martial arts just over a year ago - took third place in the Michigan state wrestling finals as a heavyweight. But Verbeke kept on his feet the whole first round, trading punches with the shorter, but powerful, Corrubius.
"If I can strike with an opponent, I am going to do it, because that's the only way to learn," Verbeke said. "I have wrestling experience, but I need cage experience. Plus I like to strike. I know I can wrestle with anyone, but if I want to be a good fighter I have to work on all aspects."
Still, once he decided to take him to the mat, the match was as good as over. Corrubius struggled for about 20 seconds before Verbeke put himself in position to lock in the armbar.
"Wrestling just comes naturally to me," Verbeke said. "Especially against these guys who are here to strike. I knew I could take him down any time, but I wanted to get more cage experience."
It was a strong end to the night that was marred with three injury pullouts and two fights that were cancelled before the combatants even took to the cage.
Other local winners included Jedadiah Loveless (Laurium) at 155 pounds, Tylor Frederick (Tamarack City) at 185 pounds, Jodi Butkovich (Calumet) and Brandon Mukavitz (Houghton) in a 12 second knockout at heavyweight.
For those interested in learning more, Verbeke trains and teaches at Kettlebell Combat Conditioning in Houghton.
"We do self defense classes, yoga and cardio as well as mixed martial arts," co-owner George Williams said, adding that Facebook was the best place to learn more.