Nothing felt real for Gunnar Romatz until he landed a solid punch to the side of opponent Berring West’s face.
“It just felt awesome,” Romatz said. “That’s when I knew, this is it, this is real, this is time to go to work.”
While the match-up was just one of the eight Mixed Martial Arts, MMA, fights during the Peninsula Fighting Championship Saturday, for the Soldotna-fighter it was the reward after four months of running his body through rigorous, draining fighting technique at Redemption MMA in Soldotna.
Romatz and the fight’s promoter Isaac Koselar, owner of Redemption MMA, wanted more than entertainment at Saturday’s event. They wanted to change the community’s perception about the fighters and the sport.
“I want people to start realizing that Mixed Martial Arts is not just like a knucklehead kind of thing,” Romatz said. “I want people to realize that it’s a sanctioned sport, it’s an actual sport. It takes dedication, blood, sweat and tears to achieve things in this sport. Like any other sport.”
Romatz won his fight by technical knock-out in the first round.
“It was the hardest thing and biggest accomplishment thus far in my life,” he said.
Gaeden Ames, another first-time fighter from Soldotna felt that rush as well when he beat Austin Childers during the first fight of the evening.
Things did not seem to go well for Ames during the first round of the fight — he spent a lot of it on his back — however during the second round he ended up on top of his opponent and landed several solid elbows, one of which opened up Childers’ head, leaving smears of blood on both fighters.
Typically, that much blood would have left Ames squeamish.
“I’m such a huge germaphobe, that would have freaked me out,” he said. “But, in that context, I was pretty happy to be slathered in blood. Germaphobe-ness definitely comes in second to winning a fight.”
Both Romatz and Ames said they had plenty to work on now that they’ve gotten their first fights out of the way.
For Koselar, the two are just part of a new wave of fighters and fights he is hoping to bring to the Kenai Peninsula.
“Our sport down here is so delicate,” he said. “We live in the shadow of people that kind of destroyed it for us. I used to fight down here myself and I stopped because I was embarrassed to be part of the organization.”
After the former fight promoter left, Koselar said, he stepped in to build up the sport’s reputation. He estimates that close to 1,000 people showed up for Saturday’s fights and thinks he knows why.
“I dress the ring girls, I don’t let the fighters misrepresent themselves,” he said. “I don’t allow that, I don’t allow grudge matches ... we’re trying to put a professional thing on and we have to represent well.”