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Fight Hard MMA: The Return - Preview

By Matt Frazier | Knuckle Junkies

After a two year hiatus, Fight Hard MMA returns to the Gateway City on March 9. Kenny Nowling and the crew are back with a 10-fight pro/am event at the Chaifetz Arena on the St. Louis University Campus in downtown St. Louis.

Known for putting on some of the largest events in the Midwest, hosting free ticket events at the Family Arena, Fight Hard has put together some of the region's biggest match-ups. Fans will remember that epic clash between Rob Washington and Zach Freeman, the last local fights for Lance Benoist, EJ Brooks, and Justin Lawrence before the trio signed with national organizations, and just about every Luke Gwaltney fight. Notable alumni Benny Alloway, Mike King, Josh Sampo, Alp Ozkilic, and Abel Trujillo are just a few of the names that have passed through the Fight Hard cage on the way to the UFC.

Headlining the night is a rematch of one of the classic Fight Hard scraps when Charles Johnson and Demetrius Wilson run it back. The two met as amateurs in April of 2015 with Wilson getting the nod from the judges and winning via unanimous decision. Since that time both fighters have made a bit of a name for themselves on the regional stage, setting up a highly anticipated rematch.

After an outstanding amateur career, Johnson (7-2) went pro in the summer of 2016 and the former track star hit the ground running taking his record to a perfect 5-0 record before first tasting defeat. He would rebound with an impressive first-round stoppage at LFA 42 setting up an LFA flyweight title eliminator with Brandon Royval at LFA 48 where he ultimately came up on the short end of a close decision. Back in front of his home fans for the first time since September of 2017, Johnson is a familiar name to the fans of Fight Hard MMA having competed for them several times as an amateur and once as a pro.

Wilson (6-3) has quietly put together an outstanding professional resume logging multiple fights with LFA and Victory FC as well as Shamrock FC and other big regional promotions. After starting his career 5-1, Wilson hit a bit of a rough patch, losing two out of the last three. There's plenty on the line for these two flyweights, and whoever takes home the win will have another solid notch on their record. If Johnson can keep elusive while scoring points, he can cruise to a decision, but look for Wilson to make the fight ugly and turn it into a tactical ground battle.

Slotting into the co-main event position is an intriguing lightweight match-up. Johnson's teammate Lucas Clay from St. Charles MMA will face Cody Carillo. Clay is looking to rebound from the first loss as a pro, an epic back and forth encounter with Trey Ogden in December. Clay started to build a bit of a buzz for himself when he hit a rare buggy choke against Brant Moore in the March of last year, the young lightweight would follow that up in June with a fight of the night performance win over Mike Breeden at LFA 42. The loss in December puts Clay at 4-1 and back on the climb. Thirty-six-year-old Carillo is a veteran of over thirty professional fights dating back to the start of his career in 2011. During that time he's faced some of the best out there including James Vick, Jake Lindsey, Marcio Navarro, and Yuri Villefort among others. Surprisingly enough, not many of Carillo's bouts go the distance, setting up what could be an exciting couple rounds of action.

A special treat for the fans, Charles "Crazy Horse" Bennett will be in action against Chuka Willis. A quick Google search of Bennett will show you he's done just about everything in MMA, fighting for both Pride FC and Rizin in Japan, multiple time King of the Cage vet, EliteXC, and many more promotions too numerous to list. Bennett's opponent is a real talent himself and will be more than a handful for the Bennett, a veteran of 70 professional fights. The "Lion King" Willis has built an impressive resume for himself having competed for RFA, Bellator, Victory FC, and World Series of Fighting in the span of just 15 fights. Local fans will remember his memorable match-ups with Jake Roberts and Travis Draper.

Lightweights Elmar Umarov and Carl Jefferson will tangle. Umarov out of SCMMA was once considered one of the best rising talents in the St. Louis area, but bad luck with finding fights has seen Umarov only register one professional fight since turning pro in 2017. Fighting out of Springfield, IL, Jefferson will be making his professional debut. Jefferson is tough, good on the ground, and has no quit. This could be a show stealer if both fighters bring it. We give a slight edge to Umarov on the ground, but on the feet, it's pretty even.

Rounding out the main card is bantamweights Garret Armfield and Sharky Slyter. Slyter is a solid wrestler out of Kansas City and is about as tenacious as they come. At 4-2 he's been in there with some of the best bantamweights in the Midwest and has registered wins over the likes of Kendrick Latchman and Demario Cade. Slyter is a big step up in competition for Armfield who's made a bit of a name for himself fighting out of southwest Missouri and presenting Springfield Fight Club. Armfield has some solid skill on his feet and has won his first two pro fights via TKO. This is a classic wrestler versus striker match-up and will come down to who can impose their will on the other.

An interesting father/son combo will highlight the preliminary card as "Bad News" Bo Kunz will share the card with his son Austin "Short and Crazy" Cornell. Kunz will face Jacob Zogg in a heavyweight bout while Cornell will take on Richard Jones from MCS. Gaston Marabotto, a tough as nails lightweight from Watson Martial Arts will be making his pro debut against Kevin Brown.

Tickets for Fight Hard MMA "The Return" are available through or by going to the Chaifetz Arena box office.

Full card: (Subject to change)

Charles Johnson vs Demetrius Wilson
Lucas Clay vs Cody Carrillo
Charles Bennett vs Chuka Willis
Elmar Umarov vs Carl Jefferson
Garrett Armfield vs Sharky Slyter

Bo Kunz vs Jacob Zogg
Jamese Taylor vs TBA
Gaston Marabotto vs Kevin Brown
Richard Jones v. Austin Cornell

Fight Hard MMA "The Return"
Saturday, March 9th
Chaifetz Arena, St. Louis, MO