By Harold E. Kemp
George Sullivan admits to being among those who were less than impressed with Julian Lane’s antics on “The Ultimate Fighter 16” reality show. However, when Sullivan steps into the cage Saturday night to defend his Cage Fury Fighting Championships welterweight title against Lane at the Borgata Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, he plans to think like a fighter and not a psychologist.
“I don’t fall for all that (crap),” Sullivan said of the emotional Lane’s infamous outbursts. “I just want to fight him and I don’t really care about his character. I know a lot of fans want to see me beat him up and knock him out, and I like that they’re on my side. I think he’s impressive (as a fighter), but I think he’s a head case, which has been his downfall.“
The Sullivan-Lane main event will be one of three title fights and 14 bouts overall for CFFC 19. In the other title fights, Sean “Shorty Rock” Santella will defend his flyweight belt against Anthony Figueroa, while unbeaten Artur Rofi will battle Lester Caslow for the vacant featherweight crown. The fight card has drawn so much interest that the event has nearly sold out, according to CFFC President Rob Haydak. In response, Haydak has expanded fighter bonuses to include $250 for undercard fighters who win in the first round. Main card fighters can earn $500, and the main event fighters could potentially take home $1,000. “Certainly no one is going to retire off of these bonuses, but as a regional promotion, we try to take care of the fighters as much as possible,” Haydak said. “It’s simply an extra incentive to finish your opponent.”
Sullivan, who will be defending his belt for the second time, and Lane are both accustomed to finishing opponents. Lane, nicknamed “Night Train,” had originally signed with CFFC before getting the call from the UFC to appear on TUF 16. The 25-year-old from Mansfield, Ohio, has had an impressive start to his professional career, compiling a 4-0 record, which includes three submission wins via guillotine and a TKO. He has never been past the second round as a pro. He also had 13 amateur fights, going 7-6. Unfortunately, Lane stood out among the TUF 16 cast mostly for the wrong reasons. Sporting a distinctive red mohawk, Lane won his first fight by decision to get into the TUF house. He then lost his second fight, a decision against Bristol Marunde, whom he picked to fight, and was eliminated from the tournament. He is probably best remembered for being involved in several well-chronicled emotional outbursts, including challenging teammates to a fistfight. The TUF fights are considered exhibition bouts and did not count on Lane’s record. Probably more of a natural lightweight, Lane will move up in class –- figuratively and literally — against the experienced and dangerous Sullivan. “I just think it’s an exciting fight,” Sullivan said. “I’m a little insulted that he’s coming into my weight class thinking he can do what he wants. It makes me a little more angry and a little more motivated to beat the (crap) out of him.”
Sullivan, a 31-year-old Kurt Pellegrino protégé fighting out of Belmar, NJ, has been beating up opponents with regularity over the last three years. He has won seven of his last eight fights, including three straight in the CFFC cage. A purple belt in jiu jitsu, Sullivan is just as comfortable on his feet, having knocked out seven opponents. He KO’d Greg Soto in the first round last April to claim the crown, and followed that with a five-round decision win against Tenyeh Dixon. Sullivan said this has been the best training camp of his career and he has never felt better. A new boxing coach improved his standup game, and a nutritionist has helped him cut weight more effectively. “I love Cage Fury,” he said. “Other than the UFC, I don’t want to fight with anyone else. Just keeping that title, being called a champion with them, that’s what makes me want to fight.”
Santella is another CFFC fighter on the brink of getting a UFC call. Fighting out of AMA in Whippany, Santella is 11-3-1 and has won three straight since moving down to flyweight. Eight of his wins have come by submission. Hailing from San Jose, Calif., Figueroa is 7-6-1, including a 3-3 mark in Strikeforce. Three of his wins have come by KO, but he has also been submitted five times.
Rofi (5-0) will look to stay unbeaten when he fights Caslow (8-6) for the featherweight crown. Rofi has four straight submission wins and has never been the distance. Caslow won his last fight, but has dropped four of his last six contests.
Brandon Becker (4-0, 2 subs, 2 KOs) puts his unbeaten record on the line when he faces Brian Nelson (3-2) in a main card welterweight matchup. Sylvain Bynum (5-3) and Andy Main (5-1) highlight the undercard.