ATLANTIC CITY - Buena Vista Township middleweight Mike Wilcox let out a scream, donned his trademark cowboy hat, then leaped into the stands to exchange hugs and high fives with his family and fans Saturday night at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
Wilcox (3-2) had just turned in his best performance of his promising mixed martial arts career. The 25-year-old bounced back from a loss in his previous fight with an impressive effort that produced a first-round victory over Eric Roncoroni (2-1) in a Cage Fury Fighting Championship undercard bout.
Wilcox, a former wrestling standout for Buena Regional High School and Delaware Valley College (Pa.), locked in a rear naked choke that forced Roncoroni to tap out at three minutes, 33 seconds of the opening round.
"I'm very happy with the way things turned out tonight," Wilcox said. "In my last couple of fights, I was so focused on just trying to do one or two things that I had performance anxiety and didn't fight well. This time I just relaxed and enjoyed myself."
Wilcox just took up the sport about a year and a half ago. Having won the NCAA Division III wrestling title in 2009, he was in search of something that would feed his competitive fire.
He has been training for the last six months with Daniel Gracie in Philadelphia. Gracie has helped Wilcox develop his boxing and jiu-jitsu skills to become a more well-rounded MMA fighter.
"Mike has a lot of potential," Gracie said. "If he sticks with it and stays busy, he has all the tools to reach the top level. Mike's one of those guys who will get better the more he fights."
Wilcox may becoming less active, however.
Frustrated at his inability to make a living in MMA, he recently accepted a graduate assistant coaching position at Delaware Valley. In return, the school will be allowing him to pursue an MBA free of charge.
"I love fighting, but it's tough to make it a career, at least for right now," Wilcox said. "I'm going to take a break for a while, but that doesn't mean I'm giving this up. I'll probably just fight once or twice a year for the next couple of years instead of three or four times."
Another local fighter, Millville lightweight Bobby Fabrizi (3-1) also had a large fan contingent for his three-round, unanimous decision victory over New York's Alfred Alo (0-2), though one of his biggest supporters wasn't at the arena Saturday.
Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout, the 2012 American League Rookie of the Year, is one of Fabrizi's good friends. He was playing at Chicago on Saturday, but made sure to give his fellow Millville native a shoutout via Twitter before facing the White Sox.
"My boy Bobby Fabrizi about to do work tonight," Trout tweeted earlier Saturday. "Can't make it but (definitely) wish I was gonna be there!"
While Trout was hundreds of miles away, Fabrizi's girlfriend, Millville native Melanie Truxton, had a front-row seat.
Truxton, 23, was one of four women serving as Cage Fury's round-card girls at Borgata, but has yet to perform that duty for one of Fabrizi's fights.
"They skip over me when Bobby's fighting because I get too nervous," said Truxton, who's been dating Fabrizi for eight years. "The other girls are great about it. They hold my hand during the fight and support me."
After the bout, Fabrizi dropped to one knee in the cage, brandished an engagement ring, and proposed to Truxton.
She said yes.
In the co-main event, CFFC flyweight champion Sean Santella (13-3-1), of Whippany, kept his title by submitting Dave Morgan (5-3), of Scranton, Pa., with a triangle choke at 2:28 of the first round. The other top fight saw CFFC welterweight champ George Sullivan (13-3), of Brick Township, score a second-round TKO over former Kingsway Regional High School wrestler Brandon Becker (6-6), of Mullica Hill.
Punchlines: Mixed martial arts returns to town Saturday with an amateur show at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort staged by Extreme Fighting Championships. On May 25, Asylum Fight League will bring another amateur card to Golden Nugget Atlantic City. That show is reportedly going to be held outside because Pitbull and Ke$ha are performing that night in the Ballroom. Professional MMA is back on June 14 when Ring of Combat holds another card at Tropicana Casino and Resort.