ATLANTIC CITY - Vineland High School graduate Bryan Danner didn't waste any time making a statement in his first professional mixed martial arts bout Friday night.
Fighting in the opening bout of the World Cage Fighting Alliance's Pure Combat card at the Adrian Phillips Ballroom at Boardwalk Hall, the 20-year-old Millville resident scored a first-round knockout over Daniel Tavares of Gloucester Township.
Entering the cage to a loud ovation from the local crowd, Danner pressured his jiu jitsu-savvy foe from the opening bell. Using his wrestling background to force the 26-year-old along the fence, Danner also relied on a strong Muay Thai clinch to neutralize Tavares.
"I could tell that he knew I was stronger in the clinch right away," said Danner, a semifinalist in the District 31 high school wrestling tournament in 2007. "Once we got into the clinch, I knew he would try to take it to the mat. I just made sure to stuff the takedowns."
With Tavares, a fourth-degree Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt, unable to take the fight to the ground, Danner proved to be the better fighter in the standup game. The Cumberland County College student mixed in potent combinations with buckling leg kicks. It quickly became apparent that Danner owned the striking advantage.
"By the way he was standing, I could tell that he didn't want to throw with me," Danner said. "When I saw that, I knew I could win the standup. He is a jiu jitsu fighter and likes to show his ground skills. So I expected him to pull guard, but he chose to trade with me."
The end of the fight came at 1 minute, 48 seconds of the first round, as Danner followed a heavy body shot with a monstrous right hand that floored Tavares (0-2). Danner immediately pounced on the fallen Tavares, but the referee quickly halted the bout. The huge right hand not only ended the fight, it gave Danner his first professional victory.
"To be honest, it was so surreal," said Danner, who trains under Al Buck and Alex Sholomisky at the Evo Fight Club in Millville. "I honestly didn't think I had knockout power. But when (Tavares) couldn't take me down, I knew I had a chance to land good punches.
"I didn't even feel it (the knockout punch) land. I just remember thinking as he fell down, 'Man, that must have landed flush.' "
After the referee signaled the end of the fight, the energetic Danner quickly perched himself atop the cage and stared into the crowd at the hundreds of local fans who came to show support. As he made eye contact with the people who watched him evolve from a high school wrestler to professional fighter, Danner let out a loud, victorious scream. The dream of launching his pro career had been attained.
"To do this in front of my hometown fans was awesome," said Danner, who expects to fight again in May. "We train so hard at Evo Fight Club, and to score a big knockout win in my first fight was great. To do it here made the experience even better."
Punchlines: Danner's stablemate Patrick White, a Rowan University graduate, lost his debut fight to Anthony Leone (3-0) via first-round submission (rear naked choke). ... Toms River featherweight Lester Caslow and Joey Camacho of Sparta engaged in one of the better contests of the night, with Caslow stopping Camacho on strikes in round two. ... World Cage Fighting Alliance officials reportedly were more than pleased with the near sellout at the 3,200-seat facility.