Early rain couldn’t stifle the action at Durham Central Park on Sunday, where a slate of ten jiu-jitsu bouts, fought in an MMA cage, kicked off with a short match. As the rain started to clear, Chapel Hill’s Mary Holmes locked an armbar on her opponent, Washington, D.C.’s Laurie Porsch, and gave the event an enduring shot of energy. From there, all the fights kept the intensity level high. Most of the bouts either ended quickly, with a sudden submission, or pushed the competitors into overtime.
The ConcussionCast Carnival, a live extension of the weekly Cageside ConcussionCast radio show and podcast, was intended to be a showcase of area MMA talent and a fundraiser to help Durham’s Triangle Jiu-Jitsu Academy and the gear brands Cageside MMA and Toro BJJ move into a new location in North Durham. Promotions for the event touted free seminars in women’s self-defense and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, food trucks, and low-key games to attract newcomers to the sport of jiu-jitsu.
As promised, the crowd wandered between noshing on acai bowls, learning self-defense techniques, playing cornhole, and sparring on an open mat. But the Carnival’s big draw were the super fights, which pulled competitors from across the region to grapple in the cage, matched individually for ten-minute-long, submission-only duels. If, at the end of the first round, neither fighter had managed to choke or joint-lock the other, a five-minute overtime would determine the winner by points, with scores given for gaining dominant positions or finding a submission.
Often, this yielded sudden victories. Nakapan Phungephorn, head instructor at Washington, D.C.’s BETA Academy, won with a quick heel hook over Neal Zumbro. Virginia’s Dave Porter escaped a guillotine choke attempt by Durham’s Cody Maltais and caught the Elevate MMA Academy head coach (read the INDY’s recent story) with a tight anaconda choke.
The first match to go into overtime was the explosive meeting of Brad Acosta and John Schell, both jiu-jitsu brown belts, for a match in the traditional jiu-jitsu uniform, or gi. After ten minutes of constant attacks, neither had managed to trap the other. When the buzzer sounded, both were visibly fatigued from the effort. In the second round, Schell took the victory by ratcheting Acosta’s jacket lapel around his neck and securing a choke.
The battle between professional MMA fighter D’Juan Owens and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt CJ Murdock was a style-versus-style showcase, with Owens favoring a more explosive and dynamic approach as well as gaining comfort with the cage’s confines, while Murdock played a more passive, patient game. Owens held off Murdock for the first round but succumbed to a second-round submission. The MMA fighter later joked that he would have liked to introduce a one-punch rule.
But the fight of the afternoon was unquestionably the main event. In a historic first meeting of two female jiu-jitsu black belts in North Carolina, Philadelphia’s Samantha Faulhaber fought Charleston, South Carolina’s Caitlin Huggins for a technical and subtle ten minutes, with Faulhaber locking a deep collar choke as the round ended. But Huggins held out and escaped the submission by the clock’s grace. In round two, Huggins slipped through Faulhaber’s guard and took mount to notch three points and a victory on the scorecard.
Based on the prevalence of jiu-jitsu T-shirts and the constant murmur of encouragement and advice from coaches and friends around the cage, it seemed like the crowd mostly consisted of active combat-sports enthusiasts. But by the time the event ended, with warm sunlight and a bright blue sky, it felt as though it had been the community celebration it set out to be. Kids flocked to take photos with Huggins and Faulhaber. Friends slapped hands and hugged, congratulating the competitors. It might have been a fundraiser for one gym to improve its facilities, but this carnival was a party for all comers.
Jeff Shaw, one of the ConcussionCast’s co-hosts, told me before the event, “I really hope the show is a bridge between schools, between the veterans of the scene and the new folks.” With the show’s first live event, that aspiration was met.