Fists flew, bodies collided and blood splattered last weekend at the Real Cariari shopping mall in Heredia, north of San José.
Mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters from across Latin America arrived to wave their country’s flag and test the strength of eight Costa Rican MMA ring representatives in Fite Nite Defensa Nacional on Saturday evening, July 18.
With lights low, thousands of dedicated fans rose from their seats at the beginning of the event as their home-country favorites exited the locker room all together and took center stage.
As the announcer described the matches to follow, the eight Tico fighters cast intimidating shadows onto the mat as they shifted their weight from one leg to the other, firing fierce stares toward their international opponents on the opposite side of the ring. Boos and whistles rang out from the crowd as the foreigners’ names were announced, but, upon the first mention of Costa Rica, the crowd roared in support.
MMA, a bourgeoning sport in Costa Rica, usually combines boxing, Brazilian ju- jitsu, wrestling and some Asian-based martial arts. Athletes select the most useful maneuvers from each form and incorporate them into a three round, 15-minute fight.
International competitors began the night with explosive takedowns and ferocious strikes, dropping the Ticos to a 0-2 start. But Costa Rica’s national contestants resiliently battled back to win five of the last six fights and defend the country’s pride by posting a 5-3 record for the evening.
Costa Rica split four matches against Panamanian fighters, went two-for-three with Guatemala and swept the lone Peruvian. Sivianny Chacó, a Tico who won his debut fight on Saturday at 170 pounds in a mere 15 seconds, said he was not surprised by the outcome.
“I never had any doubts Costa Rica would come out on top tonight,” he said at the end of the night with a celebratory cerveza in his hand. “Panamanians can inflict a lot of damage because of their speed. The internationals fought hard, but we Costa Ricans … we have heart. We don’t give up.”
A lack of freestyle wrestling knowledge left Costa Rica trailing after losing the two opening fights to Panama’s Leonardo González (185 lbs.) and Alberto García (185 lbs.)
But after two pounding losses against Panama, victories by Costa Ricans and AthleticAdvanceAcademy representatives Javier Valenciano (160 lbs.) and Ariel Sexton (155 lbs.) highlighted “Tiquicia’s” comeback win on the evening.
“Winning is never easy,” Sexton said. “Panamanians are strong, real strong, but this is our house and we gotta represent.” Valenciano gave Costa Rica its first victory of the night in the Defensa Nacional portion of the show.
Both Valenciano and his opponent, Alejandro Rodríguez of Guatemala, came out rather tense, but a little spectator encouragement seemed to loosen them up. “Más arriba, más arriba,” rang out from the Costa Rican corner of the ring while chants of “Javi, Javi,” echoed from the nearby bleachers.
Shortly after the shouts, a double-leg takedown by Valenciano followed by a flurry of fists forced the referee to call the match in favor of Valenciano after two minutes and 48 seconds had elapsed.
With Costa Rica up four wins to three, Sexton was pitted to seal the event for the Ticos in the night’s final fight against Panamanian and Greco-Roman wrestler Humberto Brown (155 lbs.).
Sexton appeared dazed in the first round as Brown pulled, twisted and tossed the Canadian-Costa Rican to the ground with ease. Brown dominated upper-body clinches and maintained full control of Sexton on the ground.
But like the lone gladiator poised to defend his country’s honor, Sexton entered the second round determined to accomplish his goal.
In round two, the 27-year old reversed a Brown takedown, pummeled the Panamanian until the official stopped the match and secured the night for Costa Rica.
“He’s really strong up top,” Sexton said. “I wanted to feel him out and I knew if I could get him on the ground and get on top, I would be alright.”
Fite Nite will continue Sept. 19 with Night of Champions, a competition that will feature boxing and an MMA tournament. In last Saturday’s event, Costa Ricans Julio Brenes (145 lbs.) and Luis Brenes (135 lbs.) qualified for the September tournament.n