---- — SALEM, N.H. — Rodrigo Almeida’s long-awaited return to the cage was successful in Combat Zone March Madness on Friday night, but he had to shake off some ring rust and calm a case of nerves before dispensing with Christian Rivera in the first round.
“I had the butterflies and I have never felt that way before a fight,” said Rivera, a Woburn resident representing Team Intenze in Lawrence, after he forced Rivera to tap out at 2:06 of the first round of their 165-pound match in the Sports Club at Rockingham Park. “I definitely felt some ring rust, too.”
Almeida, who is nicknamed The Young Lion and is a rising MMA star, improved his pro record to 9-2-0 in his first fight in 18 months after being sidelined by a broken ankle that required surgical reconstruction and extended rehabilitation. While he said that his old injury presented no problems, the drama surrounding his fight did.
His originally scheduled opponent, Josh Parker, scratched the night before due to an ear infection and Rivera, of Fishermen’s Den in Gloucester, was a last minute replacement on fight day.
“I didn’t get any sleep at all because I had trained so hard for so long to come back and then I didn’t have a fight,” said Almeida. “I prayed all night for this fight, and my prayers were answered.”
With Alemida the superior fighter in all aspects, the outcome of the match was never in doubt. The only surprise was that it lasted as long as it did before Rivera was dropped to 5-14-0.
“My boxing trainers did a lot of work with me. I wish I could have used my more of my stand-up game,” Almeida said. “But it feels great to be back, and to get the win. I feel so good I’m going to fight again next week, and I’ll go anywhere my manger gets me a fight.”
In the main event, seasoned veteran Ryan “F2 Darkness” Hodge took just 49 seconds to knock Cody Anderson from the undefeated ranks when he dropped him on his back and submitted him via rear naked choke hold.
Harold wins in dominant fashion
Former Austin Prep and UMass Dartmouth football great J.T. Harold of North Andover came in to the cage with the partisan home crowd chanting his name to start his welterweight fight against New Jersey’s Jesse Schneider. Round 2 shifted decidedly in favor of Harold (2-0) as he drew blood and dominated before submitting Schneider (0-2) by rear naked choke hold in 1:57.
Another pair making their career debuts, Josh Batchelder and Groveland’s Dan Dinan, fought an even two rounds before Dinan got his opponent to tap out via an uma plata shoulder hold in a spirited third round that got the crowd cheering and Batchelder requiring medical attention in the cage.
At 170 pounds, Peter San Antonio from North Andover and Andrew Tripp from Team Irish in Maine brought it up another notch. Tripp was cautioned by the referee for kneeing his opponent in the face. San Antonio repeatedly executed defensive techniques to gamely hang in to the finish despite being bloodied and battered. By unanimous decision, Tripp remained undefeated at 4-0 while San Antonio slipped to 7-5.
agateHed:Combat Zone March Madness Results
185:@zzAgate:agateText: Ryan Hodge (Gainesville, Fla) def. Cody Anderson (Billerica), rear naked choke, :49 Round 1
agateText:205: @zzAgate:agateText:Dirlei Broenstrup (Ludlow) def. Cody Lightfoot (South Berwick, ME), TKO, 3:26 Round 1
agateText:165: @zzAgate:agateText:Rodrigo Almeida (Woburn) def. Christian Rivera (Gloucester), tap out, 2:06 Round 1
agateText:145:@zzAgate:agateText: Ray Wood (Bucksport, ME) def. Walter Smith Cotito (Milford, NH), TKO 4:20 Round 3
agateText:145: @zzAgate:agateText:Joey Gomez (Hollis, NH) def. John Santos (Derry, NH), KO 1:53 Round 1
agateText:125: @zzAgate:agateText:Ernesto Ornelas (Portland, ME) def. Jimmy Alexander (Gainesville, FL), tap out, 4:29 Round 1
155: @zzAgate:agateText:Dominic Cofone (Westbrook, ME) def. Matt Denning (Lewiston, ME), unanimous dec.
agateText:175:@zzAgate:agateText: Dan Dinan (Groveland) def. Josh Batchelder (Greenville, NH), tap out 2:08 Round 3
agateText:135: @zzAgate:agateText:Jordan Pope (Derry) def. Cody Sargent (Portsmouth, NH), triangle arm bar 1:01 Round 2
agateText:170: @zzAgate:agateText:Andrew Tripp (North Waterboro, ME) def. Peter San Antonio (North Andover), unanimous dec.
agateText:185: @zzAgate:agateText:Cheyenne Vasquez (Lawrence) def. Jacob Cameron (Bangor, ME), TKO :21 Round 1
agateText:170: @zzAgate:agateText:JT Harold (North Andover) def. Jesse Schneider (Bloomfield, NJ), rear naked choke 1:57 Round 2