By David Pan Weekly Herald sports editor
LYNNWOOD — Talk about a smashing debut.
Firen Towanda was seconds from the start of her first mixed martial arts fight.
Towanda, 22, has wrestled since she was 9 years old. Less than six months ago, the Virginia native who now lives in Olympia decided to take up mixed martial arts, in part because her boyfriend Matt was into the sport.
Now Towanda was trying to steady herself before a packed crowd at the Ax Fighting 39 event Aug. 18 in Edmonds Community College’s gym.
“I was shaking with adrenaline and super nervous,” Towanda said.
Towanda’s opponent in the 120-pound MMA bout was Julia Jones of Lake Stevens. Towanda had heard that Jones had done some muay thai, a combat sport that uses stand-up striking along with different clenching techniques.
“I didn’t want to stand up with her because of that,” Towanda said. “Muay thai and wrestling are usually opposite.”
Turns out wrestling easily trumped muay thai.
Towanda used grappling skills to gain the upper position on Jones and then proceeded to pummel her opponent with punches, scoring a stunning knockout 48 seconds into the first round.
“I definitely wanted a knockout, and that’s what I got,” said Towanda, who trains out of the United Training Center in Lacey. “I’m so excited and surprised too. It’s my first fight. It was short and sweet and awesome. I wish her luck in the future.”
Jones spent several minutes on the canvas being tended to but eventually left the ring and went to the hospital to be evaluated. Jones was sent home, according to Ax Fighting representatives.
Towanda’s nervousness went away after the first contact with Jones. Towanda missed her initial punch but then connected with a kick.
“I’m like, ‘OK, I’m actually fighting now,’” Towanda said.
Seconds before she was thinking to herself, “Is this happening?
“But once I got that first kick in, that first contact because the punch didn’t connect … it was all right.”
Towanda was more concerned about her game plan rather than what Jones was attempting to do.
Towanda said her coach told her: “’Don’t worry about what she’s going to do. Just do what you do,’ and that’s what I did. It was unreal. … I’m a wrestler, so I was going to take her down, get the mount and do some punches.”
In practice, Towanda never went full out when throwing punches so she was uncertain of how much power she packed.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Towanda said.
She does now.
Towanda had a large contingent of family and friends in attendance. Not all were excited, though.
“My sister doesn’t want me to fight,” Towanda said. “She’s scared. She said, ‘You could be that girl. You could be the one knocked out.’ I was like, ‘It’s OK.’ The way I train, even if I get knocked out, you wake up.
“I just told her. ‘Don’t worry. I’ll always be the one doing the knocking out.’”
Towanda and Jones were the only female MMA bouts of the night, but Carissa Painter (Finish First MMA) won a decision over Emily Hie (Rock Solid MMA) in a 120-pound kickboxing fight.
Painter, 18, improved to 2-0 against an opponent she said outweighed her by about 10 pounds.
“She had quite a few more pounds on me, but you know size doesn’t matter,” said Painter, who is from Lacey. “To me, it’s all about skill, technique and endurance – and if you don’t have that, you’re not going to win.”
Painter started kickboxing about 18 months ago, picking up the sport just out of the blue. The 2012 North Thurston High School graduate had no prior MMA experience. “It’s just a really competitive sport,” Painter said. “It keeps me in shape all the time. No being lazy. No being a couch potato, sitting on the couch just eating snacks or anything. I’m very active.”
Painter said that her conditioning provided an edge, especially in the third round. “I trained really hard for this,” she said. “I wanted to be over-prepared and not get tired in the ring.”
While Painter and Towanda are newcomers to MMA, for Jeremie Montgomery, Saturday’s 145-pound MMA bout was his sixth fight. Montgomery, a 28-year-old Everett resident from Alderwood Mixed Martial Arts, scored a technical knockout over James Pollard (House of Stone) at 1:15 of the second round. The referee halted the bout after a punch by Montgomery sent Pollard to the ground and Montgomery followed up with a series of blows.
Pollard had the height advantage over Montgomery by at least a couple of inches.
“I was just listening to what my coach said. He said to close the distance,” Montgomery said. “After I found the guy’s range – he was a bit taller than me – he was wide open for the overhand right. I just connected.”
Montgomery knew that the punch was the start of the end of the fight.
“As soon as I felt that I knew that the guy was out or TKO,” he said. “I just made sure to finish him off.”
Though he’s had six fights, Montgomery only started with MMA about two years ago. He spent seven years in the Army and after his last tour in Iraq he found himself bored.
“I needed something to occupy me,” Montgomery said. “I’ve always loved fighting ever since I was a little kid. I always wanted to do it. It seemed like the natural thing to do.”
Montgomery enjoys the training and the family atmosphere at the gym he attends.
“You put in a lot of time for maybe 15 minutes of fame out there,” Montgomery said. “I like to train.”
In the second to last bout of the night, Steven Rickords from TriCity Kickboxing had to be taken out of the ring on a stretcher with his neck immobilized. Ax Fighting representatives said that Rickords was OK and had been released from the hospital.
For completed results of the Aug. 11 card, see Cage Wars/Ax Fighting on Facebook. Information about future events can be found at www.axfighting.com.