Mania of mixed martial arts hits N.J. with 2 area fighters

Posted: July 14, 2007

The odyssey will come full circle when Tara LaRosa and "Beast From the East" Eddie Alvarez return home tonight.

For the first time on American soil, Bodog Fight Live will hold an eight-fight card showcasing its mixed-martial-arts ring format.

Those who can't see the hybrid of wrestling, boxing and submission arts live at the Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton can see the event aired later to an estimated 90 million U.S. homes on ION Television.

LaRosa, a 135-pounder from Woodstown, N.J., is the top-ranked MMA fighter. The 29-year-old is a former wrestling, judoka and field hockey athlete with a 13-1-0 record in mixed martial arts.

"When I heard it was going to be back home for the title fight, I was like, 'No way!' This is great, couldn't be better," LaRosa said.

"I trained hard for Laura D'Auguste, but since she got injured, I will take on this challenge as it comes. . . . My family will be there. Mom has gotten a lot better about my fights. Mom will have her hands over her eyes and my dad will be screaming his head off."

LaRosa will test her skills against Kelly Kobold-Gavin (16-0-1), nicknamed "Blood Red." At 150 pounds, she is known as a spirited, heavy-handed crowd-pleaser.

"I know her to be a brawler," LaRosa said.

LaRosa, who was a first-place qualifier for the U.S. grappling world team at 138.75 pounds, has stopped instructing combative arts to become a student of MMA full time.

The championship belt is on the table. Kobold-Gavin will have a trying time, said Amanda Buckner, one of LaRosa's previous opponents.

"Her skill level is evenly matched by her heart," she said of LaRosa. "She can't be broken down."

Alvarez, 23, is a Philly boy, loud and proud. He grew up in Kensington.

The 170-pound welterweight is on the main fight card against Matt Lee tonight.

"Rocky has been a cliché wherever I go, but it's cool because people respect Philly as a place that has produced good fighters," Alvarez said.

The former North Catholic High School wrestler and father of 2-year-old Eddie Jr. resides in Bridesburg.

His home team is Fight Factory, located in Fishtown, one of Philadelphia's most sought-after training areas for MMA fighters. It's where a former concrete pourer by day and troublemaker by night got introduced to the world of mixed martial arts in a basement.

Alvarez sought real training from Fight Factory founder Steve Haigh.

"I love competing," he said. "I would have fought in a cardboard box, but sanctioned MMA changed all that."

Against Nick Thompson in the Bodog Fight Clash of Nations on April 14 in Russia, Alvarez (10-1-0) suffered his first defeat, by TKO, due to strikes at 4 minutes, 32 seconds in the second round. Alvarez has had to put his game plan back together.

"He is really dangerous with his hands if you let him get an angle on you. A fighter must have good footwork," Thompson said.

Alvarez has a taste for tonight's title match because Lee beat Alvarez's trainer, Haigh.

"If Matt thinks he's going to have any advantage because he won the fight against Steve, he's sadly mistaken," Alvarez said. "Steve wasn't 100 percent, and he wasn't fighting his natural weight. I'm 100 percent."

After representing the East Coast around the world, Alvarez summed it up this way: "The Philly fans are magical, the best. I get so much support from being at home. . . . I mean, no man is an island."

Bodog Fight Live

What: Eight-fight card, mixed-martial-arts ring format.

When: Tonight, starting at 7:30.

Where: Sovereign Bank Arena, 81 Hamilton Ave., Trenton.

Tickets: $56-$151;

call 800-298-4200.

For more information: www.sovereignbank-

Contact staff writer Kéita S. Sullivan at 215-854-4884 or

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