Unfazed by the crowd noise as he stepped into enemy territory Saturday in Hartford, Bruce Boyington did what champions are supposed to do, handling his business in one of the region’s most entertaining title fights in recent memory.
The Brewer, Maine, native successfully defended his CES MMA World Featherweight Title live on UFC Fight Pass in the main event of CES MMA 56, defeating the overwhelming crowd favorite Dan Dubuque of nearby Waterbury by split decision, 47-48, 49-46, 48-47. Boyington has now won his last three, improving to 17-11, while Dubuque drops to 8-3 with his first loss in five fights.
The Boyington-Dubuque main event highlighted a tremendous lineup on Fight Pass, which also featured the CES MMA debut of Milford, Conn., lightweight Nick Newell (15-2) and the return of electrifying welterweight prospect John Gotti III (4-0, 4 KOs) of Oyster Bay, N.Y. Both won in impressive fashion as Newell submitted Antonio Castillo Jr. (10-12) 2 minutes, 6 seconds into the opening round via rear-naked choke while Gotti III remained unbeaten with his fourth consecutive first-round stoppage by slamming David Espino (3-3) to the canvas 96 seconds
The main event – a regional crossroads battle between Boyington, the cagey, 40-year-old veteran, and the relentless up-and-comer Dubuque – lived up to the hype with the champion and challenger standing toe-to-toe for five hard rounds.
Boyington’s taekwondo allowed him to establish an early pace as he sent Dubuque to the canvas in the opening round with a roundhouse kick to the midsection and followed with a hard overhand right upstairs. The champion continued to come forward and apply pressure, bruising Dubuque’s left leg with hard kicks that temporarily slowed the challenger’s progress.
Having out-boxed Antonio Castillo in his previous bout at CES 55, Dubuque leaned heavily on his standup to charge his way back into the fight, but fatigue eventually set in on both sides. The fight got sloppy at the halfway point, but remained wildly entertaining, whether the two were on the ground, in the clinch or standing in the center of the cage trading blows.
Boyington’s versatility and adaptability was the difference. In addition to his taekwondo, he scored more takedowns and was simply more aggressive by pressing the action for the duration of the fight. In his aforementioned win over Castillo, Dubuque widened the gap by utilizing his jab, but failed to do so against Boyington. The champion kept his foot on the pedal and came out on top during the majority of the exchanges, also mixing in uppercuts and elbows whenever he didn’t enough space to launch his kicks.
Also on the main card, Waterbury welterweight prospect Jesse James Kosakowski (4-0) remained undefeated with his fourth submission victory in as many fights, submitting the hard-charging Ryan Jett (4-6) of Charlotte, N.C., via armbar 1:22 into the opening round. Jett caught Kosakowski with a right hand within seconds of the opening bell and the unbeaten prospect appeared dazed, but he quickly transitioned while on the canvas and caught Jett, forcing his opponent to tap. Jett immediately rose to his feet protesting the stoppage, but replays clearly showed he tapped with two fingers, sealing Kosakowski’s fourth consecutive win.
The relentless Jessy Miele (8-3), also from Waterbury, put on a striking clinic in the later rounds against former UFC featherweight contender Elizabeth Phillips (7-7) of Spokane, Wash., earning a 28-29, 30-26, 29-27 split-decision win. Phillips got off to a solid start, but ran out of steam early while Miele piled on with a non-stop barrage of overhand lefts and rights to batter her opponent in what was arguably the most entertaining bout on the main card aside from the headliner.
Heavyweight Parker Porter (9-5) of Hartford, one of the few active fighters who participated in CES MMA’s inaugural event in 2010, returned to his home state with a dominant win over Colorado’s Kevin Sears Jr. (8-6), earning the submission with the kimura at 2:29 of the second round.
New Haven female atomweight Marisa Messer-Belenchia (3-0, 1 KO) highlighted the preliminary card with a third-round knockout win over Idaho’s Stephanie Hernandez (0-1), earning the stoppage with unanswered strikes at the 4:46 mark. Middleweight Hugh McKenna (2-4) of Syosset, N.Y., submitted Jesus Cintron (0-8) of Hartford via arm triangle choke at 1:38 of the opening round and bantamweight Jornel Lugo (1-0) of Miami won his pro debut against Joshua Oxendine (0-1), submitting the Pembroke, N.C., native via guillotine choke at 2:59 of the opening round. Also making his pro debut, bantamweight Ashiek Ajim (1-0) of Long Island earned the win over Will Smith (1-1) of Springfield, Mass., by unanimous decision, 29-27, 28-27, 28-27.