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MMASF Notebook: Freeman vs Budnik

By Brett Auten | Knuckle Junkies

The days and nights are creeping closer to MMASF: Freeman vs. Budnik Saturday at the Center in Affton, an event bulging with some of the St. Louis-area’s top pros.

In all, eight pro fights and five amateur bouts will be on the docket.

Early this week, we talked with Zach Freeman, who shed some light on his main event fight with Mike Budnik.

In the co-main event, two names familiar to STL fight fans will meet in the co-main event. Sal Woods and Eric Irvin square off in an intriguing lightweight bout. KJ writer Jason Carr tracked down both and pieced together this fine preview.

The Center is located at 6727 Langley Ave, St. Louis, MO 63123. Tickets are $25 and can be bought at the door or for more information, call Jim Jenkins at 314-267-2204.

Having a Ball

A contrast of styles collide in the evening’s feature bout as the athletic and rangy Malshon Ball faces the technical dynamo that is Dan O’Connor. They are fighting at a catchweight of 120-pounds.

The 24-year-old Ball grew up in East St. Louis and varying parts of the city before moving to Jefferson City three years ago.

“It’s quiet,” Ball said of the state’s capital city. “It’s a nice place to raise kids. There’s not too much trouble. I can leave my front door unlocked all day. I don’t have to worry about my car getting stolen. it’s not like that in St. Louis.”

Ball was a three-sport athlete in high school and even qualified for the state wrestling tournament his sophomore and junior seasons.

He grew up following the athletic footsteps of his brother, Mike Foster. So when Ball finished high school, he went directly into Foster’s new passion; MMA.

Training in garages, backyards, and anywhere else they could deem fit, Ball started taking amateur fights by the boatload. Anywhere from 135 to 160-pounds, Ball was good to go. In all, he estimates that he had close to 60 amateur fights.

“We didn’t have a gym so we’d take fights in order to get practice in,” Ball said.

Ball stuck around the amateur ranks because he loved the gunslinger lifestyle.

“Amateur’s fight for something to prove,” he said. “Pro’s nick-pick fights. It has to be someone they know or someone they can beat.”

Ball has started off his pro career 2-3. He is coming of a March loss to Jonathan Martinez.

His fight with O’Connor was originally slated for 115-pounds. Ball stands 5-foot-10 and walks around at 145.

“I have really low body fat anyway,” Ball said. “Getting that small, all the weight a lose is basically muscle. It’s a struggle.”

Ball has respect for O’Connors submission game but as fight night nears, his confidence is rising.

“Dan is a tricky guy but I don’t fear him on the ground or on the feet,” Ball said. “There is only one man who can stop you and that’s God. I’m not really too fearful of one man, I’ve studied my craft and I feel my craft is superior to his.”

‘I took shots most wouldn’t take’

Sports was never Dan O’Connor’s thing.

“Zero sports. Instead, I got in fights. I was always small with the same mouth I have now,” O’Connor said.

The 31-year-old made his amateur debut in 2009, then he was little more than self-taught, learning his striking from books before finally getting some jiu-jitsu instruction and guidance from JW Wright. O’Connor then hooked up with Steve Berger, where he spent the rest of his amateur career and for all seven of his pro fights, where he built a substantial record of 5-2.

For his fight on Saturday versus Malshon Ball, O’Connor relocated to St. Charles MMA, where he’s been hanging his hat since a loss in May for Titan FC.

“There is definitely a difference in a lot of regards between the two gyms,” O’Connor said. “(SCMMA) is more strict, more focused on strength and conditioning for fighting. I’ve definitely added a few pounds of muscle.”

In the Titan fight, O’Connor squared off with one of the top flyweights in the world, Pedro Nobre (15-2-1). It was the first pro fight of O’Connor’s that went the distance but O’Connor paid the price. A massive hematoma sprung up during the fight and Nobre cruised to an unanimous decision win, but if any doubters questioned O’Connor’s resolve, they were answered.

“I took shots that most wouldn’t take,” O’Connor said. “I learned that I can compete at that level. He was just so big. I weighed 134 on the day of the fight, (Nobre) was 160.”

O’Connor is a true 115-pounder but finding other fighters down to make that weight is a tall task. His first four wins as pro were all via submission and his striking is often overlooked.

“My stand up is not as bad as people think,” O’Connor said.

Confident that he is more technical and better trained, O’Connor has also been around the block enough to know that anything can happen.

“Malshon is a scrappy, tough kid,” O’Connor said. “This could turn into a street fight. We could go back to our roots. He’s not as technical but he is tough. He’s not going to roll over and give it to you, you have to take it.”

If things go as planned, O’Connor/Ball could steal some thunder from the card’s bigger names.

“It should be a fun fight for the fans. I believe there is just one decision in our two pro fight careers,” O’Connor said. “I just hope he’s training at a real gym and not in some garage with his brother. I want tough opponents. I want to fight guys who will find holes in my game.”

‘I’m not a civilian’

It was only a matter of time before Jason Powell flipped the switch to becoming a pro.

He just had to figure out how to keep out of his own way.

“Mentally, I was just not ready,” Powell said “I was dominating a lot of fights and then making a simple, mediocre mistake and losing. It was frustrating and I don’t like disappointing friends and family and coaches and a lot of people were like, ‘What happened? You were killing that guy.’”

Powell grew up at Ft. Leonard Wood, just south of Rolla. He was a standout baseball player in high school who then entered the Army after graduation. He did two tours of duty in Iraq and also a tour in Afghanistan. Returning from service, Powell dove into MMA, racking up over 25 amateur fights.

But it was the battle of transition that became his most difficult opponent to put away.

“Becoming a civilian was a lot harder for me than I thought it was going to be,” Powell said. “Getting out of the Army changed my life and turned it upside down. It’s funny how people say, ‘You don’t know what you got until it’s gone.’ I wanted to get out of the Army and then once I got out, like two months later, I was like, what did I do? I don’t belong out here, I have a different mentality. People who know me know that I’m not a civilian. I don’t do well out here. It’s been rough. I don’t make as much money now and that’s a big stress. When I was in the Army nothing stressed me out. I was in combat and was like, ‘Let’s do this.’ Finally, I was like, ‘What is wrong with you, dude?’ You’ve dealt with much worse than this. Get your head out of your ass and get moving or all of this is a waste. I’m a good fighter.”

This will be Powell’s first fight since October. Aside from a little injury, he has kept up on his training and has embraced wholeheartedly his coaching role at SCMMA. The time away allowed him to vastly improve his stand up and sharpen technique.

He makes his pro debut Saturday against Mateo Collazo, who will also be making his pro start.

“I don’t know a lot,” Powell said. “There’s no video. Honestly, I think it’s because he’s the most hated guy in St. Louis. I’ve had so many people message me on Facebook and be like; dude, wreck this guy.”

The bout was originally supposed to be at 145, but both fighters agreed on a 150 catchweight.

Odds and Ends

Pro debuts and layoffs are some underlining threads for the night. Not only is it the pro debuts for Powell and Collazo, but Fazlo Mulabitinovic makes his pro debut against Nick Dioneda. Rounding out the main card will be John McLaughlin faces Matt Murphy. Clay Mitchell and Matt Helm make their pro debuts, though the two just fought as amateurs in March.In that meeting, Mitchell put together one of his finest outings of his career and earned the second round TKO.

The colors and logos of Granite City and St. Charles will be dot the arena come Saturday. The five fighting for CMMA will be Woods, Dioneda, McLaughlin, and Jordan Dowdy.SCMMA will represent with four pros, Freeman, Meredith, Helm and Powell along with amateur Josh Augustine.

Adam Meredith fights for the first time in 2014 when he faces Joel Blair. Blair has jumpstarted his career of late. This will be his fourth fight in 10 months. He is 2-1 with nice decision wins over Jake Buehler and Luke Nelson. Blair’s only loss came in January to Scott Futrell. Some pegged Meredith to be a top prospect after an amateur career that saw him fight a who’s who. Meredith has fought twice since September, 2012, going 1-1.

Jenkins Podcast

In August, we sat down with Jenkins talk in detail about the show on our podcast; KJ: Unfiltered.

Take a listen as Jenkins discusses several of the bouts on the card and much, much more.

Here is the full fight card (card subject to change):

Main Card, Professionals (first fight 7pm)
Mike Budnik vs Zach Freeman
Sal Woods vs Eric Irvin
Malshon Ball vs Dan O'Connor
Joel Blair vs Adam Meredith
Clay Mitchell vs Matt Helm
Nick Dioneda vs Fazlo Mulabitinovic
Mateo Collazo vs Jason Powell
John McLaughlin vs Matt Murphy

Amateur Prelims (first fight at 530pm)
Brendon Seidelman vs Jon Rosener
Jordon Dowdy vs Randy Porter
Ricky Bell vs Irfan Mulabitinovic
Chris Seip vs Ace Anderson
Zach Allen vs Josh Augestine

MMASF: Freeman vs Budnik
Saturday, September 20th
Center St. Louis, Afton, MO