Memories of Samman alive at pro MMA show
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
If anyone in the near-capacity crowd that attended Tallahassee’s first professional mixed martial arts show didn’t know of Josh Samman they sure did before the end of the night.
The pro portion of the show, which featured an undercard of amateur bouts, opened with videos of Samman. The usually loud crowd seemed captivated in its silence.
Samman died in South Florida in October after being found unresponsive in his apartment. His best friend Troy Kirkingburg, who would have been the ring announcer for the Combat Night show, was also found dead at the scene.
In almost every frame of the video, Samman was his happy-go-lucky self. Portions of the video showed him in victory and it even showed his change in appearance with long hair.
The spell-bounding tribute, which lasted about 10 minutes, also featured Samman on guitar covering Blackstreet’s hit song, “No Diggity.”
Samman, whose mother gave him his first guitar at age 9, had a passion for music and writing.
Nothing could overshadow the influence that Samman’s memory had on the crowd. Not even the upset loss by one of his protégés, Rafael Valdez, who lost to Troy Worthen by tap out in the second round.
Samman and his partner Mitchell Chamile, who founded Combat Night five years ago, planned the pro event to mark their fifth anniversary. Chamile at first hedged about carrying on, but at the urging of Samman’s mother Cheryl Phoenix, he made the show happen.
“It was rough; just having to look at him a lot (and) just trying to cope with everything that happened,” Chamile said. “But I’m glad we did it.”
Samman’s mother wants to keep it going, too. So much so that she established the Josh Samman Foundation with the intention of supporting MMA fighters’ careers.
“We didn’t need 100 flowers,” said Phoenix, who promised to keep the foundation as long as fans support it financially. “We needed a voice to make his legacy continue into the next generation,”
The foundation gave three scholarships of $500 each to fighters Saturday night.
Samman, who was born in Des Moines, Iowa, grew up in Tallahassee. His success as a MMA fighter was swift as he became a star on the UFC circuit.
Phoenix said she didn’t see any of it coming, despite recalling a childhood drawing that Samman did of a fighter raising his hand in victory with the words “when I grow up scrawled on it.”
“No. I had no idea,” Phoenix said of her son’s success. “But the guys believed in MMA and what it can do to somebody to change their lives.”
Chamile said he intends to continue on with the Combat Night series, focusing on amateur bouts. A once-a-year pro show also is a possibility, he said.
“They are not going to go anywhere,” he said of the Combat Night shows. “Just seeing the moments tonight reminds me of how much it impacts the community. This is an outlet for (fighters) to compete in front their friends and family.”