AFTER months of hype and trash-talk, the title of Southampton’s ultimate warrior was settled for once and for all with an evening of terrific tear-ups at the Guildhall on Saturday night.
More than 400 fight-fans filled out the Guildhall to see the eight-man Mixed Martial Arts-style eliminator tournament.
For months now, ‘Southampton's Hardest Man’ has been on the lips of those who know their MMA from their UFC in the city – but not even organisers expected such a good show.
The first bout set the tempo for the evening as pre-tournament favourite Sam Mensah was stunned by Krzysztof Nowakowski – an amateur with no previous professional fight experience.
Nowakowski, whose nose was broken early on by Mensah, rallied after breaking two submission holds to drop Mensah late on and bring a stunning end to the fight.
Payne showed size doesn’t matter in fight two, as he saw off the clearly bigger John Joe White via a submission hold and a ground and pound, while the third quarter-final was a heavily anticipated bout between Shirley’s Jack Rolinski and former kickboxing world champion Mo Kargbo. However, the third fight failed to ignite, with Kargbo employing a negative style and seemingly trying to run away from his opponent.
All that changed in the final round though, as Kargbo finally came out of his shell, but in so doing he played straight into Rolinski’s hands and he eventually got the win with a choke hold.
The final quarter-final saw Alexei Roberts fight Jimmy Millar, who took nearly five minutes making an entrance and bizarrely fought in a green Riddler costume. The fight didn't as last long – Roberts making the most of his offensive arsenal and putting Millar into a submission before grounding and pounding him.
The first semi-final lasted barely 20 seconds as Nowakowski walked down Payne and used his bigger frame to take him down to the floor and end matters with some hard shots.
The second semi was an exciting battle between Roberts and Rolinski – both fighters having chances to end the bout before Roberts threw Rolinski to the floor in a wrestling-like move and hit him several times on the floor, causing the ref to step in and stop the fight.
With £3,000 up for grabs for the winner, the final between Roberts and Nowakowski was always going to be a belter.
Nowakowski was perhaps too eager though and, in trying to push Roberts to the floor early on, only found himself thrown down and set upon by Roberts, who pounded his way to victory.
Elated Andover fighter Roberts dedicated the win to his newly born daughter and said: “It’s been really hard this year, I failed to make weight twice, but this feels fantastic. “I want to thank everyone who came here to support me.”
Event organiser Will Martin, who was in a leg cast after suffering a dislocated knee when he decided to step in for Richard Stacey in an earlier exhibition contest, hailed the show a success.
He said: “At first I was very stressed out – there were a lot of pull-outs. But we carried on with a ‘show must go on’ attitude.
“It has been a fantastic night – everything we ever dreamed of and more – and the fans here were superb.”