In only his first fight of his career, Anthony Cassar has already gotten the full regional MMA experience.
The packed arenas during Big Ten Championships and National Title matches bring an environment few others can duplicate. Being the visiting team at Carver-Hawkeye Arena can come with hostility few others can duplicate. Cassar can now attest, being backstage at a regional MMA show during faceoffs in his MMA debut can bring them both together before even stepping in the cage.
When Joe Penafiel took exception to opponent Denis Palancica’s smirk backstage following their faceoff, he took advantage of the emotion and lack of security and gave Cassar and crew an experience most fans and even fighters in today’s game only hear about in legend.
“There was two little guys mouthing off to each other and one guy came up and knocked the water out of his hands,” Cassar laughed. “It was on at that point and the people who were trying to break it up were not doing a very good job of it and so it just continued to escalate when it didn’t have to.”
Remaining clear of the melee, Cassar watched as what should have been a 8-10 second scuffle turn into about a minute-and-a-half of violence before the fight. As human as he is, Cassar admits with a smile and a shrug that he enjoyed watching the mess once he saw that his opponent was in no danger of becoming involved.
With his MMA debut in no jeopardy for the following day, Cassar was able to kick back and enjoy the stark difference between weigh-ins he’s used to at Penn State and what he was surrounded by in Orlando, Florida.
“I really wish our video guy was back there because it was a very funny sight from the outside,” Cassar explained. “There was a lot of chaos and everyone was involved and pushing and shoving and throwing punches and then there’s my squad, me, Bo [Nickal] and Moose and we had two other guys there, and we’re just standing there with our backs against the wall just watching this complete chaos. If you could measure our heart rates it was completely low, and I just picture some nice, calming music in our head and then there’s this complete chaos.”
“Definitely the kind of weigh-ins we’re used to seeing at Penn State,” Nickal would joke mid-confrontation.
In a shocking turn of events, Cassar also appreciated the way in which the fracas came to a close. Calling it a face turn, call it an act of wisdom, call it whatever you like.
“They didn’t get close to us, so we’re just minding our own business and watching it unfold,” Cassar recalled. “There was no point in us getting involved and risking anything. It actually went on for a few minutes and Jorge Masvidal came back. Once he mentioned money, everybody kind of came to their senses.”
The lightning rod in the most famous backstage brawl in recent memory cooled the chaos as one of the classiest wrestlers for one of the classiest programs in NCAA history was less than a stone’s throw from a good old-fashioned weigh-in brawl. What a night it was for Cassar, and with the heights he has in mind for himself it just may not be the last time he gets to appreciate “cageside” seats to a regional scrap with no referees.
“It was weird,” Cassar laughed. “Everyone was kind of on edge. You just weighed in, you’re hungry and thirsty and your opponent is ten feet away from you, and yeah, I can check that off my list.”
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