After winning his pro debut in the first Fight for Wrestling mixed martial arts event at Mott Gym more than a year ago, Cal Poly student Mike Gahan grew out a vintage Billy Ray Cyrus mullet to bring with him to the ring the next time.
It must have been more frightening than funny.
“I grew the mullet out for all purposes of fighting with it,” said the Santa Barbara native, “but I haven’t had a fight in over a year.
“I’ve had two promotions cancel on me and two opponents back out literally the day of the fight. So, I thought maybe the mullet was bad luck. No one was fighting me with the mullet.”
Saturday at the Madonna Expo Center, the hometown favorite appeared at the local return of Fight for Wrestling with a familiar close-cropped haircut, but even though his physical appearance wasn’t much different than the first time he fought in San Luis Obispo, Gahan’s fashion and fighting style had certainly progressed.
Ditching the usual black for flashy multi-colored tights and wearing a bug-eyed, steely stare, the 24-year-old Gahan overwhelmed Las Vegas fighter Johnny Medina — a grappling specialist making his professional debut — from the opening bell with a flurry of punches and kicks.
“I like to go out there, land the first punch, take control of the ring and let him know he’s going to be in a dogfight,” said Gahan, who is training with Hawaiian Kempo expert John Hackleman at The Pit in San Luis Obispo.
“I’ve developed as a fighter, and I’m still working on my wrestling, but as long as my standup’s working for me, then there’s no need for me to go out and risk it, especially against that opponent, who apparently won some Jiu-jitsu grappling tournament.”
In what had to be the most crowd-pleasing fight out of seven charity bouts put on to support the wrestling programs of Cal Poly and Cal State Bakersfield, the 5-foot-9, 145-pound Gahan opened a cut on Medina’s face near the end of the first round and continued pummeling him early in the second to win by TKO.
Gahan’s was a high-energy style that excited promoter Craig Tobin, who put on two Fight for Wrestling cards in Bakersfield after the first event at Cal Poly was organized by Mustangs alumnus and World Extreme Cagefighting co-founder Scott Adams to raise money for Mustangs wrestling.“The first time I saw him at Poly, I liked the kid,”
Tobin said of Gahan. “And I keep telling Scott, ‘Man, you got to get that kid for our cards.’ ”
As far as there being a return to the Central Coast for Tobin and Fight for Wrestling, the Bakersfield businessman said he was 50 percent certain he’d be back.
With cautious estimates putting the attendance at more than 1,000, the event is unlikely to be a big money-maker for the wrestling programs it is aiming to help, but with little time to promote this event after it was initially canceled over the summer and later moved to Madonna, Tobin said he was satisfied.
“Everyone I’ve talked to is happy with it,” Tobin said. “My campaign is all about awareness, and I think we put together a good show.”
There was less star power this time around. San Luis Obispo County sheriff Ian Parkinson was announced as a celebrity guest, but the first show featured Chuck Liddell, Lou Ferrigno, Urijah Faber and Stephen Neal.
Though there were fewer autograph lines, there was still plenty of action.
Former Cuesta College wrestler Preston Scharf, an Oxnard native and Oceano resident, also competed at the first Fight for Wrestling when he tapped out to a triangle choke.
Scharf returned with a vengeance Saturday, knocking Joshua Thornburg out cold with roundhouse punch 19 seconds into the first round.
Also training out of The Pit, Scharf circled the ring a few times after the haymaker and jumped up and down to the rousing cheers of his supporters.
Things did not go as well for Cruz Gomez, the owner of The Pit and the main event winner of the first Fight for Wrestling.
Gomez floored Darren Crisp Jr. of Visalia with a punch late in the first round but couldn’t put him away before time expired.
After the fighters appeared to exchange low blows in the second round, Crisp took control, winning with a kick to the body for the TKO.
Both Gahan and Gomez said they were still waiting to line up their next fights, but Gahan said he plans to continue competing after he earns his viticulture degree from Cal Poly next summer.
“I want to keep at it,” Gahan said, “and the sky’s the limit as far as I’m concerned. I’m young, and I know if there’s a time, now’s the time to do it.
“I’m going to keep fighting as long as I can and really try to make a name for myself and go after that UFC 145 title some day.”