AFL Cagefights brings knockouts to Cassville

Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Barry County Fight Club MMA fighter Stephen Hunter, right, treats opponent Austin Fisher to a Southpaw punch in a featured Adrenaline Fight League cagefight Saturday night at Cassville’s Crowder campus. Hunter, who wrestles on the Cassville wresting team, won the fight. Hunter won the fight with a 26-second technical knockout. Appleton Event Photography/Special to the Cassville Democrat

2 Cassville gyms take victories at MMA event

Crowder College Cassville was teeming with activity Saturday evening when hundreds turned out to see an Adrenaline Fight League (AFL) Cagefight at the campus, the first event of its kind to come to the community in nearly a decade.

The event, brought by Springfield-based Fight Promoter Eric Stevens, featured 18 MMA fighters, six of whom were locals.

Ten-year-old Faith James, left, representing RWTB Family Martial Arts Center of Cassville, wrestles with opponent Haley Allen in a youth Jiu Jitsu superfight Saturday evening at the Cassville Crowder campus. Appleton Event Photography/Special to the Cassville Democrat

MMA, or mixed martial arts, is a full-contact style of open combat fighting that incorporates techniques from other combat sports and martial arts, such as Jiu Jitsu, kickboxing and karate.

Local fighters Steven Hunter, Ricky Swearingen, Anthony Lupica, Cal Tolbert, Faith James and Truman Burbridge each competed, with Lupica squaring off against against Brandon Sanders for the Featherweight Title, and Steven Hunter against Austin Fisher in the featured fight. The combatants duked it out inside a 27-foot, metal hexagon cage, with special lighting and smoke effects adding to the excitement of the event.

Backstage, Coach Aaron Kimball, of TCB Fight Factory in Rogers, Ark., a sister club of Barry County Fight Club (BCFC), carefully wrapped 19-year-old Steven Hunter’s hands to prepare him for his first big amateur fight.

Coach Aaron Kimball of TCB Fight Factory, near Rogers, Ark., gives his fighter Cory Raltson last-minute tips before he enters the ring Saturday night in an AFL Cagefight event. Julia Kilmer/

“I’ve been training since I was three,” Hunter said, later winning his fight with a 26-second technical knockout.

Hunter’s father, J.D. Hunter, owner of BCFC and a local bail bondsman and bounty hunter, was feeling some fatherly anxiety about his son’s fight.

“This is the most nervous I’ve ever been,” he said. “We had a deal where Steven would graduate high school before he’d fight, but he’s earned the most wins on the Cassville wrestling team and wanted to show his skills for the home team because most of the time, these fights are out of town. This is the first time in seven years there has been a fight event here.”

The BCFC has been in existence since 2005 and has won 72 state titles in the last decade. All of its fighters representing at the event, Lupica, Hunter, Tolbert and Swearingen, celebrated victories, with Tolbert winning the Knockout of the Night award, Lupica taking the 125-pound Flyweight Title and Swearingen winning in 27 seconds in his fight against Holmes.

Ten-year old local fighters Truman Burbridge and Faith James also competed in a youth Jiu Jitsu superfight, both taking wins on behalf of RWTB Family Martial Arts Center in Cassville.

“MMA fighting requires the same amount of dedication and sacrifice that goes into any other sport,” Kimball said as he wrapped Hunter’s fists. “Sometimes, it gets portrayed as street fighting. People have more awareness now, and the sport is getting the respect and recognition it deserves.”

According to Stevens and Kimball, MMA fighting is open, hand-to-hand combat and it has rules and guidelines, but otherwise, it’s all-out fighting.

“It’s as real as it gets,” Stevens said.

The fights, which usually occur only in bigger cities and markets like Springfield, came to the Cassville community for the first time to show appreciation for local fighters, Stevens said.

“Every one of these fighters have traveled to Springfield to fight for me on a regular basis,” he said. “So this is an appreciation event. It’s a big risk for a promoter to come to a small market and do a show but I did it because these guys fight for me on a regular basis. J.D. Hunter also did a lot to help.”

Stevens said he was pleased with the turnout, which was higher than expected.

“We sold about 600 tickets, and were expecting about 300,” he said. “I’m happy there were this many people here. Our shows normally average about 2,000-3,000 in huge venues, and utilize venue workers. Here, we’re doing 100 percent of it ourselves.”

Stevens said there are many misconceptions about the sport.

“People think cagefighting is backyard brawling,” he said. “A lot of people won’t come because they think it’s something shady, but it’s athletes competing in a sport — they’re trained fighters, not street thugs. We have referees and judges.”

The events are also sanctioned by a state-licensed body.

“We have doctors and EMTs on-hand during fights, and all fighters are given a thorough medical exam before the fights,” Stevens said. “We also provide fighters with medical insurance, which we’re not required to do, and we do blood testing for Hepatitis and HIV.”

Stevens thanked local businesses for their support.

“Over 25 businesses helped support the event,” Stevens said. “We had more sponsors here than at any other event.”

Stevens, who has been in the business six years, said he would like to bring shows to smaller markets more often.

“MMA is one of the toughest sports out there,” he said. “These guys train 5-6 days a week. The Flyweight class, which are 125 pounds, are the best weight classes to watch because they’re fast and the fight lasts longer. With the bigger guys, they knock each other out and the fight’s over.”

Stevens, who brought his family and three-week old daughter, said his shows are family-friendly and the majority of those attending were local families.

“If someone is belligerent, we kick them out, and no profanity is allowed in any of the music,” he said.

There were also no alcoholic drinks allowed in the Cassville event, which local officers were on-hand to enforce, and Stevens reminded the crowd to adhere to the rules during a break.

Stevens plans to return to Cassville for another cagefight, which is tentatively scheduled for October.

Fight teams represented at the event included: Barry County Fight Club and RWTB Family Martial Arts Center, Team Fusion, TCB Fight Factory, Infinity Martial Arts and Animal House Gym.

For more information about future events, call 417-448-0758 or visit

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