By Bruce Sayler
The first pictures of the new Sparta Muay Thai 55-pound world champion weren’t pretty ones.
Sam Rauch sat on a bench in his dressing room while being prodded and dabbed and taped and such by medical attendants almost an hour after his victory in the title bout Saturday night at the Butte Civic Center.
Blood still trickled from a nasty-looking cut above his left eye and dripped and spattered onto his shirt and legs. A knot bulged on his left thigh. He was tired, too.
The fight with Canadian Kolten Menzak was a war and it was the first Sparta Combat Sports League championship match in Montana. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000 fans approached rabidity when local favorite Rauch was announced and they likely enjoyed the battle more than the combatants.
“He’s tough,” Rauch boxing for his Grit martial arts center, said about Lethbridge, Alberta’s Menzak. “He’s good and he has a good coach. He came in tough.”
Urgency set in a couple of times for Rauch regarding the bout and the eve of it. The Friday night weigh-ins revealed he was not quite a pound over the limit, which would’ve cost him the title chance had he not made the weight within allotted time given him. Then, fight night — when Menzak’s high kick caught Rauch above the left eye in the second of what was to be a five-round tussle.
It wound up a narrow win for Rauch, 48-47 on all three of the judges’ cards for a unanimous decision. It was no thanks to the cut, which spewed blood immediately and re-opened seconds after being smothered with substance each time between every round.
“The cut was a pretty big factor,” Rauch said. “It messes with your speed, it messes with your eyes, it throws everything off.
“It wasn’t the performance I wanted, but that’s how it goes.”
The fight was the main event of the Fightforce-Bryan Deats-co-promoted USA vs. Canada card. A dozen bouts preceded Rauch’s. It was to be a 14-bout card, but the opponent for Butte’s Wes Ogan, Devante Kyse, suffered a seizure only minutes before their semi-main event match was to go on and was taken to the hospital, the ring announcer informed from the octagon.
As much and how soon and much the blood flowed from Rauch’s cut, he gave the impression during action that it concerned him little. He didn’t try to hide it behind his hands, nor circle away from Menzak. Instead, he often charged full ahead or stepped into the clash.
“It might’ve looked like it didn’t bother me, but it did,” he said. “I’ve been here before (bloodied in a fight). It was a problem. But, what can I say? I’m Butte tough. I should’ve used more technique and not out-toughed him. I didn’t set much stuff up.”
The crowd sensed Rauch was in trouble and when he sent Menzak into the cage netting in the third round with a stiff right hand, the crowd chant of “USA! USA!” rose in volume. Then, it looked like the match might not go to decision in the fourth round after a body shot from Rauch bucked the Canadian and sank him to the floor. The count of referee James Harmony reached nine and the round ended on signal before action resumed. Menzak might’ve been saved by the bell.
“I thought it was over,” Rauch said. “He stayed down at the end of the round and I thought the count got to 10. If he’s to continue, I thought he was supposed to get up (at the end of the round). I didn’t think he’d be ready to continue.”
Menzak proved physically strong and countered much of Rauch’s tactics inside. However, Rauch was ready to punctuate in the fifth and final round. He landed three punches and two kicks in rapid succession and closed his offense for the night with a grab of Menzak’s arm to pull him close for a crashing knee to the ribs.
Menzak’s kicks and jabs had somewhat kept Rauch at bay early in the fight and at critical stages. This time, though, Rauch was able to end the round with a flourish. It convinced the judges.
“He was strong in the clinch,” Rauch said of Menzak. “I couldn’t get him where I needed for my angles (on attacks). First-round knockouts are nice, but you don’t get many chances for those in world title bouts.”
After the fight and the decision was announced, Rauch took the ring microphone and thanked the large crowd for the support, then spent maybe a half hour or so greeting fans, including a crowd of children, talking with them and posing for pictures with them. He let them touch and hold his new championship bout.
Rauch shared his victory with Butte.
Bow, he said, he must heal and prepare for the King of Sparta tournament set for Denver on June 30. He said he may leave town for intense training before the high-caliber competition, and talked some about going to camp in The Netherlands to fulfill what he thinks will be required.
“I never got into my groove tonight,” he said. “If you had the performance you wanted every time, it would be easy. I need to get my training back to my level of competition.”
Butte entrants Andrew Huckeby, Branden Brisbo and Kadin LeCoure also won with highlight performances on the card, along with Kelly Merrick and Jeremy Darr.
A series of knees to the ribs from Bozeman fighter Christian Wallace finished Poplar’s Nikolas Ogle in the card opener, a 170-pound mixed martial arts contest. The end came on voice submission at 42 seconds of the second round. Wallace scored best early with a double-leg takedown he followed with pounding of Ogle. However, the Poplar athlete sprang from under late in the first round and used a hip toss to take Wallace to the mat. The round bell sounded before much more damage could be inflicted. Wallace then came out for the second round and trapped Ogle at the cage wall to pummel him with knees to the ribs.
The night’s first knockout ended the second bout. Jared Ferguson of Bozeman landed a roundhouse kick to the left side of Justin Reardon’s head. The Great Falls fighter crumpled to the floor and Ferguson landed a short series of blows before the referee was able to intervene and stop the fight at 54 seconds of the first round.
Kelly Merrick of Butte cracked the seal on the regular card with a 30-27 unanimous decision over Kaden Olhausen of Anaconda. Much of the fight involved trades of straight rights and lefts with occasional kicks mixed into the flurries. The match had two stoppages to let Merrick recover from accidental low blows. He topped all three judges’ cards on all three rounds.
Bozeman heavyweight Colton Rue-Zindell ended his match with Butte fighter Shawn Kolczak at 1:40 of the first round via submission. The bigger Rue-Zindell forced Kolczak to the mat with a double-leg takedown, then unleashed lefts — both in punches and knees — on the ground-and-pound that brought the end.
Jeremy Darr of Butte won at 205 when the corner of Lethbridge contestant Ryan Horwood called for an end after two rounds were completed. Horwood looked to have grabbed a slight edge at the end of the first round with a flurry of punches. However, Darr used a back-trip takedown to deflate the Canadian fighter a little and seized the advantage gained to meticulously take over the bout. He bloodied Horwood’s nose with a straight right hand and continue to pepper the Lethbridge fighter’s face until the round was finished.
A hometown favorite, Kadin LeCoure of Butte, outboxed Joe Boersching of Bozeman on all three judges’ cards, takinga 30-27 unanimous decision. Two big moments for LeCoure were a left-right combination in the second round that bobbled Boersching’s head, and then a flick of three straight jabs to the Bozeman boxer’s face in the third. LeCoure tried to respond to loud “Kadin! Kadin!” chants from the Civic Center crowd, but Boersching was slick and crafty enough to avoid the bigger shots LeCoure threw. It was a good bout.
Branden Brisbo of Butte won on at technical knockout at 155 pounds when opponent Dallas Swain of Watford City, North Dakota, was unable to continue. Brisbo seemed to have an edge in the fight and Swain looked to hurt his wrapped right foot while attempting a kick. He grimaced and limped as he backed away and Brisbo attacked him at the meshing. Brosbo landed several hard shots in a flurry until Swain pulled him to the floor. There, however, Brisbo continued the two-handed assault and referee Dave Evans called an end at 3:36 of the second round.
Spur Roundstone of Billings rallied to win the Fightforce heavyweight championship with a submission gained from Anacondan Chris LaTray at 3:49 of the second round in their MMA match. The first round was all LaTray as he tipped Roundstone over and then worked the ground-and-pound for the entire round. Roundstone fell over backwards early in the second round and LaTray pounced. After action stalled the referee ordered both athletes to their feet. Roundstone landed a good right hand then tried a takedown, but LaTray countered and was back on top throwing punches on the Billings fighter. Roundstone, however, managed to roll LaTray over and after a few punches and big knee to the side, stretched he Anaconda across to gain the looked-to-be Americana submission and the championship belt.
Four low blows, all absorbed by Andrew Huckeby, slowed the Butte 155-pounder’s bout with Canadian Cole Shanks. Huckeby recovered to come out a 30-26 winner on all three judges’ cards. Huckeby effectively dunked under punches or combos thrown by Shanks to execute takedowns that put the Lethbridge fighter on the mat repeatedly. After using a bear hug and double-leg for the maneuver, Huckeby clinched the win with a trip as he caught Shanks’ right leg in the air on an attempted kick, then swept his left leg from under him. Looking to score big late, Huckeby let Shanks to his feet just before the end and belted him with a hard right in a good-scoring flurry.
The right hooks of Anaconda’s Eric Hempstead ended his heavyweight boxing match with Harlem’s Warren Brockie at 1:44 of the first round. He delivered the first to Brockie’s jaw in the first minute of the fight and put the Harlem boxer on the canvas. Hempstead floored his opponent again seconds later, trapping him against octagon net for hook to the body that collapsed the fighter. A right to Brockie’s head, ended the fight on the three-knockdown rule.
Exhibition — 170, MMA — Christian Wallace, Bozeman (Montana MMA-Bozeman) over Nikolas Ogle, Poplar (Poplar Combat), submission, 42 seconds, first round.
Exhibition — 170 MMA — Jared Ferguson, Bozeman (Montana MMA-Bozeman) over Justin Reardon, Great Falls (Montana MMA-Great Falls), knockout, 54 seconds, second round.
140, kickboxing — Kelly Merrick, Butte (Grit) over Kaden Olhausen, Anaconda (Goosetown Training Center), unanimous decision, 30-27.
Heavyweight, MMA — Colton Rue-Zindell, Bozeman (Montana MMA-Bozeman) over Shawn Kolczak, Butte (Goosetown Training Center), submission, 1:40, first round.
205, MMA — Jeremy Darr, Butte (Streets of Butte), over Ryan Horwood, Lethbridge, Alberta, retirement, end of second round.
190, boxing — Kadin LeCoure, Butte (Montana Golden Gloves), over Joe Boersching, Bozeman (Montana MMA-Bozeman), unanimous decision, 30-27.
155, MMA — Branden Brisbo, Butte (Streets of Butte), over Dallas Swain, Watford City, North Dakota, technical knockout, 3:36, third round.
Heavyweight, MMA, Fightforce Heavyweight Championship — Spur Roundstone, Billings (Grindhouse), over Chris LaTray, Anaconda (Goosetown Training Center), submission, 3:49, second round.
155, MMA — Andrew Huckeby, Butte (Streets of Butte), over Cole Shanks, Lethbridge, Alberta, unanimous decision, 30-26.
Heavyweight, boxing — Eric Hempstead, Anaconda (Goosetown Training Center), over Warren Brockie, Harlem, technical knockout, 1:44, first round.
165, MMA — canceled, Devante Kyse, Belle Fourche, South Dakota, vs. Wes Ogan, Butte, medical reasons regarding Kyse.
155, Sparta Muay Thai World Championship — Sam Rauch, Butte (Grit) over Kolten Menzak, Lethbridge, Alberta, unanimous decision, 48-47.