American Top Team is back in the game after last week’s episode, which saw Hayder Hassan snap the Blackzilians’ winning streak at four with a first-round stoppage of Andrews Nakahara.
The scoreboard still reads 100-50 in favor of the Blackzilians, but ATT could level the score with another win in tonight’s 50-point fight, which will be the first bout contested at their training center in Coconut Creek, Fla.
It’s two days before the season’s sixth bout, and the Blackzilians’ coaching staff meets to select their next fighter. Rashad Evans believes that Jason Jackson is the hungriest fighter on the team, with Vicente Luque coming in a close second. The coaches assemble their squad to reveal their decision and also give a bit of a pep talk for the fighters, who owner Glenn Robinson feels have lost some of the fire they had at the start of the season.
“I saw hunger on day one,” says Robinson. “Yesterday, I look around the room and I see, ‘I’m a little sore, I’m a little this.’ So, do you not want the opportunity to be in the UFC?”
Robinson tells his guys that Jackson actually asked him for the opportunity to fight on ATT’s home turf, because he wants the challenge and pressure of trying to bring the series back home. Jackson says the Blackzilians are like family to him, since the team took him in at a time when he was “lost, as a person and as a fighter.”
Over in Coconut Creek, Dan Lambert and the ATT coaches are preparing to send one of their more seasoned competitors into the cage. Team captain Nathan Coy is considered, but they ultimately decide to go with Marcelo “Grilo” Alfaya, a 13-year veteran of the sport from Porto Alegre, Brazil, who has been with ATT for five years.
“He’s very good on the ground. He’s got good wrestling. He’s got knockout power,” says Lambert. “He’s as tough as he is crazy, and he’s a scary guy.”
At the official weigh-in, Jackson hits the scale at 170.5 pounds while Alfaya looks on menacingly in a hoodie and sunglasses, muttering “you can’t beat me.” Alfaya comes in at an even 170 pounds, and the fight is on.
Jackson, a rangy striker, tells his teammates that he’s unconcerned with Alfaya’s perceived advantage on the ground and that he’ll fight the Brazilian anywhere.
“I know I have enough cardio to break him,” Jackson boasts. “I’m going in there and I’m gonna fight with my heart.”
Meanwhile, American Top Team watches tape on Jackson, trying to identify holes in his standup game. ATT has another advantage: Hassan has first-hand knowledge of Jackson’s skills, having fought and beaten him in 2013.
“His biggest error, which Marcelo is gonna be able to capitalize, is he relies a lot on his reach,” says Hassan. “He’s a tall guy, and so when he throws his right hand, instead of dipping hard, he keeps his head up... If [Marcelo] rips that right hand over the top, it could be a short night for Jason Jackson.”
On fight day, the 170-pounders walk to the Octagon with the sound of drums and dueling chants filling the ATT gym.
Round one begins with Jackson landing an inside leg kick and then sending a straight right hand through Alfaya’s mitts. Referee James Warring calls time to retrive Alfaya’s mouthpiece from the canvas, prompting the ATT corner to question if the Brazilian is “flat.” The ref issues a warning to Alfaya, and the fight resumes with Jackson sticking more long jabs. Alfaya is trying to jab back but can’t quite find his range on the taller man, who cuts angles around the outside to dodge punches. After two minutes of chasing, Alfaya opts to shoot for Jackson’s legs and winds up pushing him against the cage. Jackson withstands the first takedown, but Alfaya is tenacious and uses an over-under bodylock to drag him to the mat. Jackson bounces right back to his feet and circles away, and the fighters reset in the center midway through the round.
Jackson catches the incoming Alfaya with a short, sharp counter left hand, circles away and tacks on a few jabs. Alfaya is pressing the action, keeping Jackson close to the cage, but not really letting go of his hands. Jackson’s offense is a little straighter and cleaner, but also not very active, and referee Warring calls for action with one minute left in the round. Alfaya shoots for a high double, then opts to pull guard instead, but Jackson escapes to his feet as the Brazilian grabs for a heel hook. Alfaya follows and holds Jackson on the fence for the final 30 seconds, working for a takedown which doesn’t materialize. It looks like a 10-9 round for Jackson, and the ATT corner agrees.
“Don’t let him play anymore. You have to stand in front of him,” coach “Conan” Silveira tells Alfaya on the stool. “We have to win this round.”
Alfaya scores with a straight left hand at the start of round two, cutting off a Jackson hook. Jackson lands a loud leg kick, then has to bail out of the pocket as Alfaya returns fire with heavy punches. After Jackson connects with a couple solid jabs and right hands, Alfaya’s output slows and he begins to look tired. Jackson is on his bicycle now, jabbing off his back foot and dipping away when Alfaya comes alive with his overhand bursts. Two minutes into the round, Jackson is literally working circles around Alfaya, touching the Brazilian with long strikes which leave him standing in the center of the cage. Alfaya, much to the displeasure of his coaches, drops his hands to his waist and walks forward on Jackson, hoping to draw him into a brawl.
Jackson continues to work from the outside, mixing in some long jabs to the body. With one minute to go, Alfaya shoots a double-leg against the cage, can’t get it and tries a sacrifice throw. This time, Jackson stays on his feet, and the welterweights meet back in the middle with 30 seconds on the clock. Jackson hits Alfaya with a left hook and a hard kick to the body before time expires. Referee Warring tells the fighters to keep their gloves on, in case of a draw, but Jackson should have this in the bag.
There is a decision, and the Blackzilians seem to know which way it’s going, chanting “let’s go home” before the scorecards are read. The judges score the bout 19-19, 20-18 and 20-18 for the winner by majority decision, Jason Jackson.
With their fifth win in six fights, the Blackzilians take a lead of 150-50 on the scoreboard and bring next week’s bout back to their training center.