Amsterdam’s Tommy Marcellino, left, controls Bill Jones in their lightweight bout during a World Series of Fighting mixed martial arts event Saturday at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona. Marcellino won the bout by unanimous decision. (Adam Shinder/Recorder staff)
By ADAM SHINDER
VERONA — Whenever the din inside the Turning Stone Events Center started to die down, the chants started anew:
For 15 minutes Saturday night, there was a fervor inside the ballroom, with 300-plus from the greater Amsterdam area — a great many of them sporting green-and-white “Tommy Gunnz” t-shirts — did what they could to will hometown mixed martial artist Tommy Marcellino to victory against Bill Jones in a lightweight fight on the undercard of the World Series of Fighting’s debut at Turning Stone.
It took a round for Marcellino to get truly comfortable, but he found his groove over the final 10 minutes and controlled Jones with superior wrestling technique. When the verdict was read out as a unanimous decision in favor of Marcellino, the crowd erupted one more time.
“I’ve been lucky with the support. I think it’s an Amsterdam thing,” Marcellino said. “I’ve never had 400, 500 people at a fight like this, but I’ve had 150, 200 people travel five or six hours. Locally, the 518, I’ve never seen support at any of these shows like they gave tonight.”
Once Marcellino cooled down in the locker room and headed back to the arena floor, where he watched his longtime friend and fellow Capital Region fighter Matt Secor, of South Glens Falls, drop a decision to Abubakar Nurmagomedov, the Amsterdam native navigated a mob scene in the backstage area.
Friends, family and fans — the overwhelming majority of them wearing the shirt bearing Marcellino’s “Tommy Gunnz” nickname — swarmed him as he signed autographs and posed for selfie after selfie. Among those to put their arm around Marcellino for a photo opportunity included state Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam — who stepped into the cage before Marcellino’s fight and presented a citation to Rochester-based fighter Pavel Fesyuk for rescuing a choking motorist at a traffic light in January — and Jones, his beaten but respectful opponent.
In fact, as Marcellino was being interviewed about the fight, Jones spotted him across the hallway, jumped in, put his arm around Marcellino and gave his thoughts about his bout with the Amsterdam native.
“It was a tough fight,” Jones said. “This guy’s balls to the wall.”
Marcellino, who improved to 9-5 in his career with the win, had similar praise for his veteran opponent. Jones (12-11) had Marcellino off-balance early, getting the better of a couple of striking exchanges and taking Marcellino’s back on the ground, though Marcellino fended off an attempted rear naked choke and established control in the latter stages of the round.
“I was having a hard time warming up,” Marcellino said. “I don’t really know what it was. He was a little bit awkward, and he was tough. He stands out in my mind as a tough veteran. There was no point in the fight where I felt like, ‘I got this.’ He was very tough.”
In between rounds one and two, Marcellino and his coaches in the corner — including Amsterdam native Rich Altieri — made some tactical adjustments, and the results quickly showed.
For the final two rounds, Marcellino clearly outwrestled Jones, getting several takedowns and controlling his older opponent on the mat for extended stretches while landing a series of short punches. Marcellino made a couple of unsuccessful attempts for the same guillotine choke he used to finish his Dec. 31 win over Matt Denning at Madison Square Garden, but constantly moved back into control if Jones found his way free.
There weren’t many explosive striking sequences when the two were standing, but Marcellino stuck with his game plan.
“On the feet, I never felt in danger, but I felt like I was having a hard time getting to him the way I wanted to,” he said. “I was able to land with certain leg kicks, but I was having a hard time getting combinations off. He moved well.”
After three rounds, there were the requisite nerves as Marcellino awaited the judges’ decision — his previous two losses both came via close, controversial decisions — but there was no reason to worry. The unanimous decision came down in Marcellino’s favor by scores of 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27, and the Amsterdam native had his second straight win against WSOF competition.
“I’ve had some bad decisions in recent years, and it’s always scary — especially facing a tough guy like that,” Marcellino said. “I knew they couldn’t really give him the third, and it was hard to give him the second. The first, he fought hard and I had to make some adjustments. I wanted to finish (the fight), but he’s a tough guy and he didn’t allow that.”
To have his hand raised in front of a crowd as rabid as the one that came to see him Saturday night, and to be greeted by a sea of love once he got backstage will be a moment that Marcellino said he’ll carry with him for a long time.
“That was an awesome feeling,” he said. It’s definitely one of the highlights of my career, definitely a great experience.”
Contact ADAM SHINDER at [email protected]