BySascha Matuszak, writer at
Sascha Matuszak

The pink skies of autumnal Minnesota held a lot of promise for the fighters competing at RFA 45 last Saturday night -- the penultimate card before the RFA merges with Legacy FC to create the new Legacy Fighting Alliance. Four men fought for belts in the featherweight and middleweight divisions, but they weren’t the only ones with big goals that night.

Caleb Merth was set on beating Sean Strube and celebrating by turning pro. Linsey Williams and Akeela Al-Hameed, a pair of dominant female fighters, also planned on joining the professional ranks following the event in Mystic Lake.

Fourteen-fight veteran Dan Moret was expecting to cap a great run at the regional level by winning the RFA featherweight title; the belt, and a fifth-straight win, would surely be enough to earn a trip to the big leagues. Both headliners Chase Waldon and Gerald Meerschaert were also in pursuit of a UFC contract.

Things would not go as planned for all of them. For every dream that came true, there was one shattered.

Bantamweight dropped a close split decision. In the dressing room following the loss, he and his coaches tried to understand what had happened. He had done everything right, his ground game -- which he had no confidence in going into the fight, despite many after-hours sessions on the mat -- held up, and almost won it in the second round. Merth went strike-for-strike with , who had man-handled opponents on the feet until now.

“I was so sloppy,” Merth seethed toward the space between his feet. His coaches murmured to him, trying to soothe him as other fighters warmed up on pads nearby.

In the next room, Strube was telling everyone who would listen that Merth had hit him harder than anyone had before, that this had been the toughest fight of his life, and that he was elated to get the win. And while one of them will most likely turn pro, maybe on an LFA main card next year, the other must return to the mat to try and get it right.

Akeela al-Hameed is built like a comic book heroine. When she stepped in to fight Bonnie Stoehr, it looked unfair.

Stoehr was not quick enough to dodge, or land clean; Akeela looked confused at times, like a young lioness about to make her first kill. After a particularly harsh exchange, Bonnie’s mom yelled out from the crowd, “Bonnie! Can you hear me?”

“Yes, mom,” the bantamweight replied.

It was a light moment in an otherwise dark few minutes for the Stoehr clan. Al-Hameed easily took the unanimous decision, and now hopes to make the jump to professional mixed martial arts.

fought Bri Brassaw at 115 pounds.

The fight took place against the cage, both women struggling for position and grinding sharp bones into the other’s face. Linsey, known in the cage as “Wonder Woman,” won the positional war, but couldn’t break Bri, who managed to land a textbook , but not much else. When the decision came, it was unanimous for Linsey, who later announced via Facebook “6-0, time to go pro!”

During the fight, Linsey’s mother screamed at the cage and turned to friends for reassurance that, yes, Linsey was winning, and no, she was not hurt after being thrown onto her head.

In the locker room after the fight, Linsey is bouncing and giddy. After a shower and a change of clothes, she quickly switched gears to prepare for her boyfriend Dan Moret’s fight, a co-main event against RFA Featherweight Champion Raoni Barcelos.

Down the hall, Bri’s coach listed out a bunch of explanations as to why Bri lost: short notice, her first cut to 115.

“I don’t need excuses,” she growled.

As the sun set, the sky became pitch black, only a thread of silver remained from the waning moon. Fighters on the main card all believed the new moon came for them.

Watching fight was like stepping into Jose Aldo’s fantasy world.

Barcelos, a short, powerful, balding Brazilian, squared off with Moret, a blindingly white, taller southpaw. But unlike Aldo’s 13-second defeat to Conor McGregor at UFC 194, in this dream, the southpaw is too slow and never connects with that devastating cross.

Instead, each exchange chips a little away from Moret’s armor until a second round left hook knocks him out cold. Aldo at least landed one good hook to McGregor’s brow, even drawing blood, as he fell unconscious to the mat; Moret looked very much like Aldo did that night, prone and shocked, then resigned. And yet, when they stood there in the middle of the cage during the official result, you could see the defiance begin to slowly spread its heat through Moret’s chest.

This was to be Moret’s breakout fight, the one that finally took him to the promised land of the UFC. He’s a teacher and respected member of the Minnesota martial arts community, always kind, always hard working, always dedicated. And witnessing this opportunity, tailor-made for him, get blown away, so emphatically hurts. Bad.

But unlike Aldo’s failed attempt at silencing McGregor 11 months ago, Moret was game until that second-round hook landed. He did a lot of things right.

Had one of his lefts landed clean, everything changes. Maybe with just one more tool in his MMA belt, one more technique, he could have surprised his opponent and left with the belt. But these questions can only be answered with more hours in the gym, more main card appearances. For now, Moret will have to stay ready and be able to make weight. Perhaps a last-minute appearance in the Octagon is just a phone call away; Nate Diaz answered Dana White’s short-notice request to face McGregor, and look what it did for him.

RFA alumnus made waves this summer with a barnburner against headliner after Michael Chiesa withdrew at the last minute. Now Vannata’s been booked for a second time, at UFC 206. Maybe Moret will receive a similar opportunity soon.

The RFA 45 main event was even more devastating because was never even in it. He was blitzed all over the cage by until he fell to an arm-triangle choke just 1:44 into the first round.

The difference was so clear between Meeschaert, who spent the entire post-fight interview listening to his coach Duke Roufus make the case for him in the UFC, and Waldon, the number one middleweight in Minnesota. But not all of the results were as crystalline.

There’s a very thin line between someone picking up a shattered dream to take it back to the gym, and someone passing across a threshold into the next level as an athlete. The pending RFA-Legacy merger is about just that: consolidating the regional circuit as much as possible, so the vast and varied nebula of combat sports can have a clear path for stars to travel.

Even when that path is muddied by an unseen left hook, the perspective of one judge, or the countless other small things a fighter carries into the cage on any given night.

RFA 45 Results:

  • Gerald Meerschaert def. Chase Waldon via submission (arm-trangle choke), R1 1:44
  • Raoni Barcelos def. Dan Moret via KO (punches), R2 0:51
  • Chad Curry def. Frank Schuman via TKO (punches), R1 3:06
  • Ben Neumann def. Jordon Larson via submission (d'arce choke), R2 4:01
  • Bobby Lee def. Demion Shehan via submission (armbar), R1 2:00
  • Mitch White def. Anotnio Sanchez via submission (guillotine choke), R2 0:54
  • Blake Bilder def. Charles Anozie via unanimous decision
  • Linsey Williams def. Bri Brassaw via unanimous decision
  • Cameron Gilliam def. Davon Staples via submission (armbar), R1 2:58
  • Sean Strube def. Caleb Merth via split decision
  • Vanyu Xiong def. Victor Cabadas via TKO (punches), R1 2:45
  • Sean Stebbins def. Robiel Tesfaldet via split decision
  • Akeela al-Hameed def. Bonnie Stoehr via unanimous decision
  • Anthony McIntosh def. Jay Paulson via submission (rear-naked choke), R1 2:33
  • Joel Bauman def. Mike Waltz via unanimous decision
  • Calyn Hull def. Dan Puccini via TKO (punches), R1 2:09
  • James Krause-Simmons def. Austin Hancock via submission (rear-naked choke), R1 2:35


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