“Spirit first, technique second” – Gichin Funakoshi
Inspiring, isn’t it? The inherent quality of spirit that is present across every human. Whilst the level of spirit that can be called upon, and the ease and effectiveness at which it can be tapped into may differ, it is still a hallmark of the evolution of fighting. When spirit is brought up within a fighting context it is as easy to recall the victories, Andy Lee’s stunning right hook to capture an unlikely fifth-round stoppage over John Jackson, as it is the valiant defeats, Scott Quigg’s unrelenting second-half assault against the slicker Carl Frampton. What doesn’t spring to the immediacy of mind, however, is that these trained professionals, victors and losers, have dedicated their lives to honing the craft of fighting. The majority of fighters who populate Street Beefs roster, though? Well, they have heart, that is for sure.
Street Beefs: Virginia based fight company which hosts and records loosely regulated MMA and boxing matches. Primarily hosts amateur and unproven fighters, offers no fighter pay or charges to watch.
The 23-year-old, Anthony ‘Italian Tyson’ Russo, is a polarising figure amongst the die-hard Street Beefs audience. Few can deny the intensity that Russo brings to the ring, immediately applying the pressure at the start of his fights and emphatically using his swarming style to choke his often inexperienced opponents who fold under the unrelenting barrage of looping hooks from all angles. The bravado and persona adopted, however, has placed Russo as a ‘heel’ in the Street Beef universe, with fans just as ready to tune in to see his demise as they are his rise.
It takes a brave man to assume such a provocative name as “Italian Tyson”, in homage to the great former heavyweight boxer, Mike Tyson. True, Russo pursues a similar pulsating style of offence, yet assuming such a mantle during the early embers of his career has placed an intense spotlight upon his boxing ability. Whilst playing the heel traditionally leaves a fighter in a risky position following a loss with their words having lost value, within the sphere of backyard scraps it seems to have been a smart, deliberate decision by Russo as a means to garner publicity and cult status online. Regardless of the mass criticism and often outright abuse that Russo receives through his social media, he has remained headstrong in his goal of honing his craft and taking on the toughest challenges that Street Beefs can offer. Fans would do well to remind themselves that divisive characters are necessary to produce the storylines and rivalries that allow a sporting organisation to take off.
The rapid-fire nature of Street Beef matches leaves little opportunity for a mass of tape to assess the technical qualities of a fighter. There is one exception, however. Meet Alan ‘A-Train’ Stephenson. Fighting out of the unfortunately named Goochland, Virginia, Stephenson has a wealth of experience within the fight game. Boasting winning records in both the amateur (9-7, 4KO) and professional MMA ranks (6-5, 4KO) across various small-scale promotions, A-Train is no stranger within a ring (Or octagon. Or vague square shape with ropes reminiscent of a budget wrestling set ala Street Beefs). Moreover, A-Train’s pursuit of MMA gold is still an active endeavour, having fought as recently as January 31st 2020, securing a TKO win over Sam Eure (3-7, 2KO) under the SFL banner (Spartyka Fight League). Solidifying a three-fight win streak in the process, A-Train is undeniably full steam ahead into a career purple patch, leaving behind a five-fight slide in which he was stopped in all before seeing the third round.
Left: Stephenson posturing on the Spartyka Fight League 42: PRO/AM fight poster
Right: Stephenson lands a short right hook on Eure
What more, A-Train has tried his hand in the professional boxing ranks as well. On paper, the 0-3-1 record pales in comparison to his success within MMA, yet, Stephenson has had no easy handouts in regards to matchmaking. In his third match-up, Stephenson faced off against veteran journeyman Scott Sigmon (30-12-1, 16KO) in the main event at the Roanoke Moose Family Center, Salem. Despite ending in a routine unanimous decision in Sigmon’s favour (78-74), what is impressive is that A-Train saw out the full eight rounds against an opponent who had just come off his own points loss to Roy Jones Jr. Yes. You read that correctly. The Roy Jones Jr, at one time the pound for pound baddest man on the planet and holder of world titles from middleweight to heavyweight. Granted, Sigmon was the unfortunate lamb chosen for slaughter in RJJ’s retirement match. But despite only reflecting a shadow of the prime RJJ, lasting a full ten rounds against the 49-year-old Hall of Famer was certainly no walk in the park. Recognising Sigmon as the solid journeyman he is, therefore, illuminates the skill of A-Train in securing two rounds from all three ringside judges.
The clash between Stephenson and Tyson jumped straight into a scrappy, frenetic opening during which Tyson’s wild hooks were easily read and nullified by A-Train who simply moved his head out of range. It is a surprise, therefore, when it is Tyson himself who lands the first significant shot around half a minute into the fight. Following a strong lead jab which forced Stephenson to lift his guard above his mid-rift, Tyson plants a strong straight to the abdomen before uncharacteristically slipping out of range. Unfortunately, this would be the only sequence of educated boxing demonstrated by Tyson.
Left: Tyson’s lead jab forces Stephenson to lift his guard higher
Right: Tyson capitalises by landing a straight right on the solar plexus
Although on first viewing it appears that Tyson frequently tests Stephenson’s chin with left hooks, upon further review, it instead illuminates the strength of Stephenson’s guard. Due to the small size of the Street Beefs ring, it is important for competitors to keep an active high guard unless they want to get caught sleeping. A-Train’s boxing experience is evident throughout the contest as he maintains a basic guard with his right hand tucked close to the chin, leaving his left arm to feint, paw and obstruct Tyson’s vision. Tyson’s downfall of repeating the same uninspired sequences of hooks expended far too much energy without ever reaching the intended target, allowing Stephenson to take control of the fight’s tempo after the first round.
Left: Stephenson obscures Tyson’s vision using his left hand
Right: Anticipating Tyson’s left hook, Stephenson shifts on to the back foot with his right hand tucked neatly to his chin
Stephenson’s control is also exemplified through his ability to consistently break Tyson’s defensive shell. With little experience of fighting on the back foot, and having had his offence shut off, Tyson reacted explosively to every feint that A-Train postured. Perhaps panicking when faced with newfound levels of adversity, nearing the end of the first round Tyson instinctively dropped his right hand as a defensive response to A-Train dipping his weight onto his front foot. Immediately feinting again, Stephenson included a left hook that only narrowly missed the outstretched chin of Tyson.
Left: Tyson’s broken guard raises questions over his comfort level in sustained, fast-paced contests
Right: Observe Stephenson’s right hand glued to his chin as he throws the left hook
With the storm weathered, for the most part, Stephenson could choose his shots at will. During the final two rounds, Stephenson switched between weak head strikes that lifted Tyson’s guard before ripping in more powerful combinations of body shots. If you wish to view the clear and definite impact of bodywork then look no further in recent history than the Daniel Cormier vs Stipe Miocic rematch. Rather than pursue piecemeal success at landing on Cormier’s swaying head, Miocic flipped the script and threw fourteen body punches in round four (in contrast to the thirteen he threw across round one to three) that shut down Cormier and his defence of the heavyweight title. Tyson’s display of heart to absorb such a significant onslaught to his body, having already drained the gas tank early, is therefore noteworthy and must be commended for his will to remain standing.
Top Left: Stephenson paws with the left to keep Tyson backed up on the ropes
Top Right: Stephenson attempts to land a right behind the elbow of Tyson
Bottom: Miocic lands a short liver shot on Cormier, signifying a turning point in the fight
Sympathy seemed to have prevailed in the third round as Stephenson cut off the ring effectively without attempting to conjure the knockout blow. One of the final exchanges in the fight reflecting the stark difference in each fighter’s ability. Backed up against the ropes, having become a common feature of the bout, Tyson missed with a lazy hook before receiving a left-right hook combination. Similar to Miocic above, A-Train kept his feet planted to allow an emphatic torque of his torso, generating significant power through the left arm positioned at a 90-degree angle at the elbow. Moreover, A-Train’s slight dip at the knees benefited punch power as much as defence, illustrated below by Tyson’s jab floating harmlessly overhead.
Left: Stephenson dips under Tyson’s telegraphed left hook
Right: Stephenson drives in a powerful liver shot with a similar photo finish as that of Miocic
Only ten seconds later Tyson launched the very same combination, however, the resultant damage inflicted was negligible. Transferring too much weight onto his front foot and falling into the right hook resulted in Tyson missing Stephenson’s ribs. Additionally, the poor mechanics on display would have only transferred minimal power. From the already uneven base, Tyson recklessly retracted his weight onto the back foot whilst also throwing a hopeful liver shot. It doesn’t require much analysis to explain why falling backwards whilst wafting an arm punch is less than ideal, so I’ll leave this one to figure out yourselves.
Left: Tyson throws caution to the wind with a Hail Mary combination of hooks
Right: An awkward shift of weight leaves Tyson unbalanced and unable to deliver any significant power
Although it would appear that Stephenson bullied Tyson throughout the entirety of a one-sided affair (in all fairness, from a technical standpoint this is true), I would highly suggest watching the full fight. The first round is an interesting tug-of-war between a swarmer and an out-boxer, with the remaining two rounds highlighting smart offensive adjustments by Stephenson and Tyson’s showing of gritty heart. Stephenson will remain an interesting watch as an established, multi-faceted fighter reigning supreme over the vast majority at Street Beefs. For Tyson though, there remain questions over his ceiling. There is hope that if Tyson can expand his arsenal in the future with improved backfoot fighting and calculated feinting to mask his offence, then he could emerge as an exciting personality that can deliver within the ring.