By Buckley Smith and Angus Argyle
As two gentlemen with little to no knowledge on the sport of Mixed Martial Arts, we came into this event with no expectations or predetermined ideas of what we were walking into.
What we came out with was a stunning view of a world not too many people get a personal insight into. We were privileged to witness a community of brotherhood and constant inspiration. The men and women involved with Canadian amateur MMA are individuals with integrity, heart, determination and more than anything, love for their fellow fighters.
The 2016 Canadian National Amateur MMA Tryouts (or “Road To The Worlds”) was put on by the CCA (Canadian Combat Alliance), Split Draw and IMMAF (International Mixed Martial Arts Federation), and was hosted in Lethbridge, Alberta from May 27th to May 29th.
It was a weekend full of intensity, hard work and the more than occasional drop of blood. It was a weekend full of a cast characters, ranging from a man who spent two years battling a brain tumour that crippled his meteoric rise to the top, to another individual who left Paraguay with his family to start a better life for them all and a better chance for what will almost certainly be a successful career in this sport. Even including a current UFC fighter and former Ultimate Fighter contestant, “Ragin” Kagan Johnson, who took the time to come back to his roots and offer up his knowledge and support to any fighters who wanted it.
And after three days of fights, some short and some that seemed like a marathon of blood and sweat, we are left with one thing: the 2016 Canadian National Amateur MMA team.
So without further ado, allow us to introduce you to your champions.
Kyle Francotti – 265 pound weight class (Champion Gym, Grand Prairie, AB)
Kyle Francotti, the former British Columbia strong-man champion, turned to MMA when his body was just unable to take the rigours of body building for the strongest man competitions.
“After that competition my body was so beat up, I wanted to try something different, so I started fighting and I loved it and stuck with it ever since,” said Francotti.
After ascending to the top of his weight class in all of Canadian amateur MMA, Francotti was struck with some devastating news on the eve of his title fight. An MRI taken the day before the fight revealed that he had a brain tumour and would be unable to compete.
“When I first got the news I just wanted to fight,” he said. “It was heartbreaking and it took me a few days to grasp the whole concept of what was going on.”
Francotti had just been blessed with a baby boy and now had to face the reality of his own mortality. Having to undergo a 14-hour surgery with only a 75% chance of survival he not only had to put aside his dreams of going pro, but really consider what was most important to him.
“You have to come to terms with a lot of things,” said Francotti. “I thought to myself ‘my son might not have a dad’ and that was hard.”
He stopped going to the gym completely and threw himself into being a father, spending upwards of 8 hours a day with his son. And after the long wait for surgery he says he finally found peace.
“When I did go for surgery I felt very at peace with where I was. I was very happy”
When we asked why he still wants to keep fighting, Francotti was very adamant that you have to love this sport to be in it.
“You got to do it for yourself. It doesn’t matter how many people you have on Instagram or Twitter or Facebook,” said Francotti. “And that’s what people care about too much these days.”
And although no other fighters showed up in his weight class, leaving him with a “free pass” (by no means has he not worked to get where he is), Francotti will now have a chance to go to Las Vegas and show the world why he was once one of the top fighters in his country.
Colton Cronkite – 205 pound weight class (Canadian Martial Arts Centre, Lethbridge, AB)
Colton Cronkite, grandson of a three time golden glove boxer, followed in his grandfathers shoes after winning his fight at the amateur MMA national championship following a submission of his opponent with an arm bar Sunday afternoon.
Cronkite, a native of Raymond, Alberta, who was sporting a cowboy hat and a huge smile after his match, is a freestyle fighter who does whatever it takes to eliminate his opponents.
“I just kind of feel out my opponents and go from there,” said Cronkite.
Cronkite has been fighting for two and a half years and he says he plans on fighting for as long as he can.
“We will see where she goes,” says Cronkite. “We will ride her till she doesn’t ride anymore.”
Following his weekend of fights and his eventual gold medal, Cronkite expressed relief.
“Mostly relief. It has been a lot of hard work, with back to back fight camps. So I’m pretty relieved all the hard work paid off.”
When asked about what he has to say for his opponents waiting in Las Vegas, Cronkite remained humble and said two simple words.
Filip Laporcak – 185 pound weight class (Straight Blast, St. Catharines, ON)
Filip Laporcak, a native of Niagara Falls, Ontario, came into this tournament with an undefeated record.
And after his fights this weekend, his undefeated record remains intact. When asked what this means to him, Laporcak had this to say.
“It’s just experience. Just being in there and getting better each time, and learning something new each time. The undefeated record doesn’t mean much to me.”
In his final fight of the weekend, Laporcak went up against Colton Boxall. And going into the third round the fight truly seemed like it would go the distance.
But at 0:59 of the third round, Laporcak caught his opponent in a weak moment and was able to lay down enough of a beating to earn the victory by TKO.
Following the fight Laporcak said he was relieved.
“I’m very happy. A lot of hard work paid off,” he said. “That guy was tough and I’m just happy to be on Team Canada.”
And all I can say to his opponents waiting in Vegas is be ready, because as Laporcak says,”I’m coming for gold. That’s it.”
Alexander Martinez – 170 pound weight class (Champion Gym, Grand Prairie, AB)
Originally from Paraguay, Martinez is a two time national champion who represented Canada in last years Las Vagas world championships, eventually losing in the final to the American William Starks.
He currently fights out of Grand Prairie, Alberta with Champion Gym coached by his father, Luis Martinez and Bill Mahood.
Martinez and his family moved to Canada seven years ago when his father realized he’d have better opportunities in Canada.
Already an owner and operator of martial arts centre in Paraguay, Luis brought his dreams with him along with his son as his prodigy when he realized Alex shared his love for competitive fighting.
“Fighting for me is like second nature, we all fight in life some way,” Alex said. “I just do what I love.”
So now following his second straight victory at this tournament, after defeating Forrest Cable by a split decision in a fight described by many as “a true war”, Alex now has a chance to go back to Las Vegas to show the world what he can do.
“I just want to be the best I can,” said Alex. “I want to do what’s biggest, like the UFC, I have my goal and that’s what I’m working for.”
John Nguyen – 155 pound weight class (Dynamic MMA, Calgary, AB)
John Nguyen has been fighting for three years now, and says he started the sport almost out of necessity.
” I always got into street fights when I was younger and I just had to learn how to defend myself,” said Nguyen. “so i joined Vince (his coach) and ever since then it’s funny, I haven’t gotten into one street fight.”
But despite his reasonings for starting, Nguyen now plans to take it to the top.
“I just want to take it as far as I can go.”
And if fighting doesn’t work out, he says he would love to get into coaching MMA.
“I always love to share my knowledge with people,” said Nguyen.
But for now, that isn’t something he has to think about. As he is now number one in his weight class in Canadian amateur MMA and has earned the chance to go to Las Vegas to represent his country and hone his trade.
“I’m tired man, but I’m so excited as well,” said Nguyen. “It feels so good to know that I can compete at this level, and I am just so excited for the Worlds.”
When asked what he needs to do before then, Nguyen simply said staying fresh and injury free will be the key for him.
And if his fights weren’t enough warning to his future opponents, maybe the two words he had for them will be enough.
Ben Fehr – 145 pound weight class (Canadian Martial Arts Centre, Lethbridge, AB)
Ben Fehr, a native of Lethbridge, started fighting in 2011 after watching a “Rumble In The Cage” event.
“I saw that and I just thought to myself ‘I can do that’, so I started training,” said Fehr.
Due to a lack of fighters in his weight class, Fehr was left with one fight all weekend, and was matched up against an opponent who was making his debut in the octagon, Jimmy Sanchez.
His opponents inexperience showed (not to say he was not a talented fighter), as Fehr won the fight by guillotine choke at 1:24 in the first round.
Ever the good sport though, Fehr could be seen sitting beside his opponent during the mandatory medical checks offering advice for the mans future in MMA as well as encouragement for his respectable (albeit brief) showing in his debut match.
Fehr, a man of few words, had little to say after his fight.
“I’m just pumped man. Just ready to go to Vegas. And I hope they’re (his upcoming opponents) are all ready too.”
Sambath Khun – 135 pound weight class (Hayabusa Training Centre, St. Albert, AB)
By appearances (no offence Sam, if you’re reading this!), Sambath Khun is not the first man you would expect to step into the octagon and emerge the champion.
Slight of figure, even by his own weight classes definition, Khun lasted a gruelling three rounds with his opponent, despite a less than ideal start to the match.
“I got a little careless at the start of the fight, and that’s where I got clipped,” said Khun. “But I felt like the key to that fight was staying relaxed and being patient.”
And his patience was rewarded, as the judges awarded Khun the match by unanimous decision.
“A bit of my face hurts but I’m happy to have a fight like that. Sometimes we have fights where we look really good but we don’t really test ourselves till we are in the heat of battle. I hope I don’t have too many of those, but I’m happy to have it, to experience a war like that and come out victorious.”
And what a war it was, as from the first minute on Khun was seen gushing blood from his face and as the fight dragged on it became hard to tell who’s blood was all over the two fighters.
And while many of the other fighters had very few words for their future opponents, Khun had plenty to say.
“Be ready because I’m (expletive) going to give them everything i have. I’m going to throw everything including the kitchen sink at these sons of (expletive). So be ready.”
Jarret Vornbrock – 125 pound weight class (Warrior Strong MMA, Grand Prairie, AB)
Jarret Vornbrock, a native of Yellowknife, was another fighter who came into this tournament with an undefeated record (4-0).
And due to the lack of fighters in his weight class, he had a single fight to get through, and his record remains intact following it.
What started out as a flurry of arms and legs, developed into a surprising (for his weight class) battle on the ground.
But after three gruelling rounds, the judges awarded Vornbrock the victory by unanimous decision.
“I feel on top of the world man. That was a tough fight. I honestly didn’t know who had it, it was up in the air till the end,” said Vornbrock. “I was a little bit nervous because you never know when it’s in the judges hands, it can go either way.”
For Vornbrock, who is the owner of a degree in environmental science, representing his country in Las Vegas holds an extra special meaning.
He says he was inspired to start fighting by watching Canadians like George St. Pierre and wanted to be that next guy.
“I saw GSP fight when i was really little and I thought ‘Wow I could be like this guy. This guy has the same kind of attitude as me and he really loves the sport that he’s in.'” said Vornbrock. “When I saw him I thought I could be this next guy for Canada.”
And now that he is a part of Team Canada going to the World Championship, Vornbrock is one step closer to being “that next guy for Canada”.
Brittney Allan – Female class
Brittney Allan, 27, began participating in martial arts as a means of filling her time when she was not playing hockey.
Born in Sudbury, Ontario, Allan first got into kickboxing as her initiation into martial arts. But soon she began taking an interest in grappling, and from there the only place to go was mixed martial arts.
Due to a lack of female competitors at the national tryouts, Allan only had a single fight to get through to get to the World Championships in Las Vegas, Nevada.
And through one round of that fight, things were not looking so good for Brittney.
“I really didn’t do very well in the first round,” said Allan. “But I came out stronger in the second round.”
Allan said she was able to find some weaknesses in her opponents style, and exploited them for the win and a chance to represent her country at Worlds.
Here is to hoping we see more of that second round Brittney in Las Vegas, and her ability to adapt to opponents styles and exploit their weaknesses definitely will not hurt her chances!
So folks, there you have it, your Canadian National Amateur team for 2016! Congratulations to all the fighters and best of luck in Las Vegas! Canada knows you will do us proud!