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2016 STL MMA Regional Pro of the Year

By Brett Auten | Knuckle Junkies

You run out of superlatives when it comes to Rashard Lovelace.

In a short time, his dynamic outings in the cage have placed the 26-year-old in rarefied air in St. Louis MMA. Lovelace, who went 2-0 in 2016, was voted the STL MMA Regional Pro of the Year, beating out Luis Pena.

"He is one of the few fighters in the region that is 'must see TV,'" Travis Brown, of MMA Wreckage, said.

Lovelace's teammate at Hahn's MMA, Lance DeClue, can't argue with Brown's assessment.

"Just a phenomenal talent," DeClue said. "He is one those amazingly athletic, gifted guys."

Fighting for Autism's Brian Higginbotham had Lovelace atop his ballot.

"Rashard has proven himself big time this year," Higginbotham said. "He is one to watch as he climbs to the next level. A very humble man on a mission."

Lovelace started the year on what was a dynamic Shamrock FC: Mayhem. On a night of show-stopping finishes, Lovelace had one of the night's best when he KO'd Garrett Gross with a spinning elbow in the first round.

"One thing we were worried about going into that fight was that Garrett's a strong dude," DeClue said. "He had Rashard pressed against the cage at one point and Rashard was able to spin off. I think Garrett was shocked at how strong Rashard was, and that's coming up a weight class. We knew that it would be a tough test and he ended up blowing right through him."

The win, which came on March 12, 2016, was at the time Lovelace's third in 10 months, all of which coming to an end in the first round. Lovelace was fighting up a weight class to lightweight and came in at 153 pounds.

"That was the most rewarding to me," Kevin Hahn said. "There was a lot of hype going into that fight with Gross being such a tough kid with lots of fights and training at American Top Team. (Gross) had him against the cage early in the fight and couldn't get him down. Rashard went for a spinning fist and but was close enough that it turned into an elbow."

Garrett Mueller did a couple of things in June that no pro fighter, up to that point, had done. The Jefferson City product pushed Lovelace into the second round and he put him in uncomfortable situations. Mueller had Lovelace on his back early in the first and eventually passed his guard, and won the round.

Lovelace poured it on in the second, taking advantage of a fading Mueller. Lovelace landed stiff ground-and-pound midway through the second. Mueller couldn't answer the bell in the third due to a broken foot sustained early in the second, giving Lovelace the TKO win.

"Mueller was really tough and he challenged Rashard in some areas," Hahn said. "He got Rashard in a heel hook and I thought he showed some maturity there, working to get out."

Lovelace landed back in St. Louis after spending four years in the Navy, Lovelace began working at the Boxing Gym in the Central West End. Lovelace was basically teaching himself and when Hahn's gym opened up in Arnold he soon showed up. Lovelace went 7-4 as an amateur with the majority of his losses due to submission or ground and pound.

"I started off boxing as a kid and when I hit high school I kind of calmed down from it," Lovelace told KJ in 2015. "I was on the dive team in high school and that's like completely different than fighting. Once I got in the military I boxed while I was in there."

Far from a finished product, Lovelace has plenty of work left to do once on the ground. But every fight starts standing, and from his vantage point, that may be all he needs.

Voting on the 2016 STL MMA Awards came from a collection of area promoters, coaches, media members, and others. The panel consisted of Brett Auten (Knuckle Junkies), Matt Frazier (Knuckle Junkies) Steve Berger (Berger MMA/FitorFight), Travis Brown (MMA Wreckage), Jared Daniels Block (Modern Combat System/Gateway Fighting Series), John Davis (cutman), Rob Donaker (Shamrock FC COO/ matchmaker), Jordan Dowdy (Knuckle Junkies/2 Pros Know podcast), Sid Gee (cutman/coach), Kevin Hahn (Hahn's MMA), Brian Higginbotham (Fighting for Autism), Jesse Finney (Shamrock FC President), Kevin Engel (Shamrock FC commentator), Jeremy Johnson (Shamrock FC commentator), Sara Levin (, Craig Nasselo (cutman), Jimmy Range (Jimmy Range Photography), Mike Rogers (St. Charles MMA), Kain Royer (Academy of Courage) Patrick Smith (Cage Championships), Josh Stewart (Spire MMA Referee), Dr. Melvin Maclin (Fight doctor)