Photo submitted Tommy Marcellino, right, has his hand raised after defeating Jeremy Ross, left, by unanimous decision for the Reality Fighting lightweight title Friday in Uncasville, Conn.
By ADAM SHINDER
Surrounded by friends, family and supporters, clutching his newly-won Reality Fighting lightweight championship belt in his hands, Amsterdam's Tommy Marcellino could feel the sum of his experiences from adolescence to the present day all laid out before him.
"I've been working so hard and so long for the same goal," Marcellino said Monday. "You see guys do things for a little while, but I've been doing combat sports since I started wrestling and boxing as a pre-teen. In middle school, I was doing combat sports, and I really feel like my whole life leads up to my fights. So, winning a title like that means a lot to me."
Marcellino left little doubt in the main event of Reality Fighting 52 at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. Brought in to fight Jeremy Ross as a replacement on a month's notice, Marcellino (7-2) nearly finished the fight in the first round and kept pressing Ross until the final bell, winning the title by a five-round unanimous judges' decision.
While Marcellino certainly would've liked to end the fight in spectacular fashion when he had Ross on the ropes late in the first round, there was a pride in seeing the fight out for the full 25 minutes -- the longest he's ever had to go in his nine-fight MMA career.
"It was a nice test to prove that I could go for a five-round fight," Marcellino said. "Not that the question was really ever there, but now I actually did it."
Riding a two-fight win streak heading into Friday, Marcellino came into the fight as a replacement for original title contender Andrew Calandrelli and had to go through a crash course to prepare for Ross, a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a veteran of the New England MMA circuit.
"It wasn't like we had a plan to stand or be on the ground, it was like, 'OK, he does a few specific things really, really well. For us to win this fight, we have to shut down those things,'" Marcellino said.
Keeping a particular eye on Ross' kicks during standing exchanges and his array of chokeholds in the ground game, Marcellino used his wrestling skills to control the fight with takedowns and avoided serious danger.
"Some of the things we worked on shut down the stuff he did, which kind of put the ball in my court," he said.
That nearly culminated with a referee stoppage as the first round came to a close, but Ross was allowed to hold on until the bell and continue in the fight.
"I threw with everything I had, but the ref kept letting it go," Marcellino said.
After the first-round drama, Marcellino controlled the final four rounds and was the clear winner on the judges' scorecards.
Then, when the results were announced and the title was strapped around his waist, a veritable sea of Marcellino supporters -- nearly all of them in turquoise "Tommy Gunnz" T-shirts -- hit the cage to celebrate with the new champion.
"There were a lot of people from home," Marcellino said. "It was nice, having them come in the cage after."
Friday's fight came less than three months after Marcellino's previous victory, a March 22 submission win over Ricky Nuno in Philadelphia. After that fight, Marcellino was back in the gym the next day. This time around, the various cuts, scrapes and bruises he received in the bout against Ross will likely keep him from returning to training until at least next week.
When he does get back in the gym, he'll map out a course toward his next fight -- when he'll likely walk back into Reality Fighting's home at the Mohegan Sun Casino in front of 5,000-plus fans as a defending champion.
"I don't really know what's next, just waiting to hear what happens," he said. "I'll see when they want me to defend my title."
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