Mixed Martial Arts Chicago

Freak Show Interview with Tom Shoaff


Our first video interview with Tom Shoaff.


Fighting Through His Injuries

Jeff’s right lung collapsed a week after he got to the hospital. It now randomly fills with mucus and chokes off his air supply, and makes it necessary for him to be hooked up to a ventilator at all times. He hasn’t been able to breathe on his own since December 24th, and doctors had to perform a tracheotomy to help assist Jeff breathe. Jeff’s life now runs through a twisting series of plastic tubes that snake in and around his skin. His body has been in a hospital bed for over a month and he’s having to deal with the constant assault of pressure, friction, and sheering that are starting to break down parts of his skin and create open wounds and bedsores.

Jeff can’t feel anything below his waist. He has movement in his arms, but not in his fingers yet. His body is fighting a catastrophic injury to his spine, and his condition hasn’t improved in over a month. Jeff’s mother, Kathy Dunbar, is wheelchair ridden from a series of strokes she suffered several years ago, and the family is without medical insurance. Jeff had been supporting the family and was trying to propel an amateur MMA career all the way to the UFC, but all that’s gone, and now Jeff is a 20-years-old fighter who can’t move his legs.

Jeff Dunbar suffered a spinal injury while he was fighting in a local amateur MMA event in December. During that fight Jeff tried to throw an opponent off his back as he was trying to defend against a rear naked choke. The move failed and Jeff struck the mat with his head with his opponent still on his back.

The fight briefly continued on the ground and his opponent finished off his chokehold before the referee stopped the fight.

His mother and sister were in attendance and immediately knew that something was terribly wrong. They both rushed to the cage, but before they could reach Jeff, his mother contends that the referee unwittingly rolled Jeff onto his back. His sister, Nicole, entered the cage screaming, “What did you do to my brother?” The audience had already gone quiet, but now everyone knew they were witnessing something horrible.

“I’m trying to roll through the crowd because I didn’t want anyone to move him. I knew that this wasn’t suppose to be done (have him moved), and the horror of all horrors happened right before my eyes when the referee rolled him,” said Kathy.

Jeff was rushed to Provena St. Joseph Medical Center, but the damage was already severe. Jeff had dislocated two vertebrae and his spinal cord was crushed.

The promoter for the event, Fight Card Entertainment, didn’t have insurance for the fight and the referee for the bout was working under an expired license.

Before his injury Jeff was an outgoing, athletic 20 year old who was well liked and popular. He was active in many different sports, and was a mentor to his younger cousins and the caretaker of his physically impaired mother.

About a year ago Jeff decided we wanted to become a fighter. He started training out of No Comment gym under the tutelage of coach Josh Bulak, and started fighting in local, amateur bouts.

“When he told me that’s what he wanted to do I was skeptical,” said Ms. Dunbar.  “But when he told me he was doing it for us, I came around to it.”

Jeff had mixed success in the ring, but the sport he was learning has a high learning curve and Jeff was making process in each month of his training.

“He came a long way from where he was,” said coach Bulak. “His first fight he lost to someone he shouldn’t have lost to, but kept improving and getting better.”

But now Jeff’s battles are confined to a hospital bed, and his injury has been incredibly difficult on his friends and family.

“Since everything has happened, it’s been stressful,” said Nicole. “I’ve been bitter, sad, you know, questioning a lot of things.”

“I’m still trying to understand things, and I’m dealing with it better now. It’s depressing to me really, cause I was used to playin around with him, and now I can’t.”

Jeff’s fight has now shifted to Kindred Hospital Chicago North, his second hospital in less than a month.

His mother and sister are constantly at his side, and pictures of Jeff and his friends have been taped to the wall along with printouts of well-wishes and prayers.

But even through the torrent of good will and support, no one from Fight Card Entertainment has contacted the Dunbar family.

Nilo Soto, the owner of Fight Card Entertainment, and his partner Brian Angelo both declined to comment about whether or not they had insurance for the fight in a recent article written by the Chicago Tribune.

Sources from around the Chicago MMA community though have confirmed that they didn’t have an insurance policy for that particular fight, and the silence the family has received from them seems to support that notion.

Jeff and his family agree that what happened to him was a “freak accident” and even in the violent world of MMA, his injury is rare. But even with a mountain of personal problems, Jeff has made it clear what he wants is to get help to other fighters, and he still wants to be involved with MMA in some way.

“The first time he was able to speak to me he said, ‘Make sure the other fighters get some protection,’” said Kathy. “There are a lot of young men doing this, and there should be a safety net for them and their families.”

“If someone gets really hurt like this, he wants them to be able to get help. He doesn’t want money or anything. It’s wonderful that people want to send money and donations, but ultimately he wants some kind of protection for other fighters.”

Maybe Fight Card Entertainment should adopt the same attitude.


For more information about Jeff, check out the Tribune article here, and his interview on Cheez TV tonight on WCIU at 2 am.


Brawl at Bourbon Street (JAN 18th)

**James Yarbrough prepares to enter the cage**

Wednesday is a weird night to get drunk. It’s that spur-of-the-moment instant release of serotonin that feels amazing at midnight, but bits you like a bear trap early the next day. It’s hard, fast living, and that feeling pervaded the atmosphere at Bourbon Street last night. The Brawl at Bourbon Street came and went, and all we’re left with is hazy memories of knockouts and a 60-year-old cop choking out a whale with tattoos.

Here’s a breakdown of the Fight of the Night, along with our quotes of the night and a quick rundown of last night’s action.

Fight of the Night

James Yarbrough vs. Justin Hughes

Both fighters are young, quick and agile. Yarbrough looks to have the height advantage while Hughes is the more stout of the two. Yarbrough starts the fight with a couple of good knees. Both fighters clinch and Hughes ends up with the takedown. Hughes in half guard. Yarbrough looks to squirm his way out, while Hughes throws a few punches. Hughes takes Yarbrough’s back, but Yarbrough is able to end the round in Hughes’ guard and throw a few punches of his own. Good first round.

Hughes starts the second round with a hard slam on Yarbrough. Hughes works his way to full mount, but Yarbrough flips him and gets his back. Yarbrough goes for rear naked choke but doesn’t have the strength to make Hughes tap. Both fighters get to their feet and end the round against the cage.

Both come out swinging to begin the final round. Hughes lands a nice leg kick. Both fighters are circling. Hughes tries to land some more jabs and leg kicks, but fails to connect with combinations. Hughes executes a takedown and starts to throw hammer fists. Yarbrough has a solid chin though and is able to withstand the blows. Hughes lets Yarbrough back up to his feet before he shoots for another takedown. The fight ends with Hughes raining down fists. Another good round. Hughes wins

Quotes of the Night

Justin Hughes (On his first fight and win)

I might have come out a little stronger than I was suppose to. We were practicing staying light, and throwing combos. Once you get in there it’s a different thing. Just hitting somebody, that shit feels good. My coach says you learn on the job, and that was definitely the case.

That dude was tough. That choke. You thought I was going to tap right? That shit was tight, but my guys put me in that in practice all the time, so I was used to it.

I’m not really happy with the win. I know it was my first fight, but I have high expectations for myself. Not to sound too cocky or anything but I was ready to drop him with my hands. It was a good fight though.

Matt Brown

Everything went according to my game plan: Go out there and block punches, come in with straight punches, throw hands and kicks. I’ve been working a lot on my Muay Thai these last few months. So throwing knees on the ground, trying to throw knees on the inside.

He was taller than me so I was just trying to work the inside, work the body, work the face.

Dan Bravo

It was an adrenalin rush. It definitely worked out how I wanted. I’m not much of a ground fighter, I was still able to do what I wanted and it worked out.

Billy Jesse

Asked how the fight went. “Absolutely amazing. I’m looking for a challenge so I’m dropping down to 185 lbs. for Congress (theater).”


Tim Armstrong defeated Andrew Edborg. TKO at 1:33 of round 1

Justin Hughes defeated James Yarbrough. Unanimous decision

Matt Brown defeated Jason Crose. Tapout due to strikes at 1:28 of round 1

Dan Bravo defeated Andre Ford. Tapout due to strikes at 1:54 of round 1

Darrell Edmonson defeated Travis Simpson. TKO at 0:10 of round 1

Jerry Elsner defeated Jeff Szakas. Guillotine choke at 0:21 of round 1

Bill Jesse defeated Brandon Conner. Rear naked choke at 1:32 of round 1

Jason Ignacek defeated Tyler Isley. Tapout due to strikes at 1:26 of round 1

Sam Ferguson Interview

Sam Ferguson wakes up and heads out to the gym. He trains and coaches, that’s all he does. He lives with two different Carlson Gracie fighters, and he spends his whole day at the Carlson Gracie gym. His life revolves around the cage, and that’s how the Champaign native wants it.

He came to Carlson Gracie after he lost his passion for football, and he’s taken to the camaraderie of the gym. He socializes with other fighters outside of training, and he rocks out at Alice Cooper and Hank III concerts with his coaches. Moving away from central Illinois has taken Ferguson out of his element, but the gym has been a respite for the young fighter, and the bonds he’s made from the gym have helped fuel his obsession for MMA.

Ferguson is on the main card for Invasion Aurora later this month, and we sat down with him to talk about life downstate, his fighting style, and his passion for MMA.

Describe your fighting style.

Carlson Gracie jiu-jitsu.

What have you been working on over the last year?

This is the first year that I was actually an MMA fighter. Before that I trained everything separately. I use to do only a few days of MMA training, and now I’m constantly in the cage working stuff that’s a lot more MMA specific than I was a year ago. So over the last year my emphasis has been working less on the individual nuts and bolts and more about putting the car together.

Where do you see yourself going in the next year? Have you mapped that out with your coaches or are you just trying to take it one fight at a time?

I’m always thinking about the long-term. I’m definitely going to fight pro eventually. The good thing for me is that I don’t have to do a whole lot of thinking. I’ve got three great coaches. They know what they’re doing with me. So based on my faith in Jeff (Neal), Jason (Sullins), especially Jason, and Lukasz (Banach). Jeff will tell me when I need to go pro. He knows that’s what I want to do.

What’s your intro music?

It changes every time, but I’m definitely coming out to country.

Who are your favorites?

Hank III is my boy. The first walkout song I came out to was “Working Man Bluesand the announcer was like, ‘I’m not sure who this is, but it’s very country.’

First pro fight, do you have any music you’re thinking about?

No. I don’t know. My first pro fight my mom will be there, she’s there for everything. So I’ll probably come out to something for her. She’s been there a lot for me.  

What do you do when you’re not fighting? Do you still go to school?

No, I graduated. I got my degree in criminal justice last May. It’s paying big dividends for me right now. Laughs*

Do you miss it downstate?

Every motherfuckin’ day. I’m definitely not a Chicago guy at all. It takes me out of my element a little bit. I live in Plainfield right now, and it’s a beautiful area.

What’s more your element? What do you do back home?

It’s a little slower paced. Mike Davis (Cut Throat promoter) thought I was a pothead because I seem so laid-back. Which, if you know me, is kind of funny because I’m usually pretty straight-laced. The craziest I get is shots of Wild Turkey.

What would be your coat of arms if you had one?

I have a Spartan tattoo on my back, so I’d probably have that in one corner of my shield. I’d have an ear of corn to represent central Illinois, and I’d have the Carlson Gracie bulldog in another corner.

You mentioned that you had a plan about your MMA future; do you think about how many fights you want to do this year? Do you want to pace yourself, or are you taking them as they come?

I’ve got a bad habit of not being able to say no to Jeff. I was in Texas and I hadn’t trained in probably like four or five days and Jeff calls me, ‘Hey, what’re you doing? Do you want to fight on the fourteenth?’ So I ended up having two days of training for that fight. I was definitely doing my water trick on the drive up from Texas. Which is definitely fun when you have to go to the bathroom every 45 minutes.

So MMA is clearly a passion for you.

I remember I was injured last year, and I couldn’t walk or go to class and stuff, it hurt too bad. And there were two days were I was loading up on ibuprofen and muscle relaxers, and I tried to walk in here (Carlson Gracie) normally but my coach kicked me out. So there were a couple days where I felt like I was going to chew my face off. If I’m not in the gym then I feel depressed. I just can’t wait to choke people. Jiu-Jitsu is my heroin.


Sam will be fighting at Invasion Aurora against Ryan Kirwan on January 27th. For more information, check it out here.



Gilbert Grappling

Dan Gilbert, Chase Beebe, Clay Guida

It’s 5:45 on a cold January night and the parking lot at Gilbert Grappling is desolate and poorly lit. The highway next door hums with life and pollution, but the gym itself is dark, and the winter weather almost appears to creep into the building’s aluminum siding.

The industrial park the gym is in can seem eerie on a night like tonight, but luckily, a pair of headlights cuts the darkness and soon the doors of the gym are unlocked and the lights are flipped on.

The place is well worn on the inside, and its decorations are sparse and consist mostly of gloves, kettlebells and a tattered tractor tire. Its most obvious traits are the stark red and black mats that seem to cover every surface and the large MMA cage that squats in a corner.

The air has a sweaty tang that wouldn’t be out of place in a hockey equipment bag or on a pair of football shoulder pads. It’s not overwhelming in an unpleasant way, but instead gives off the sense of hard work.

The space isn’t big, but in the span of fifteen minutes the gym is already active with fighters and students. Guys run around the mats and stretch, while others lace up wrestling shoes. A small table by the cage acts as a communal locker, holding earrings, water bottles and tape.

Combinations start to sing and fighters begin to smack pads and gloves as coaches and trainers begin to instruct.

The gym might not look like much, but professional fighter Adam Ward credits it for changing his life. “I came here five years ago with no MMA experience, and now I’ve gone places and done things I’d never have done,” said Ward.

“It’s the best in the Midwest, hands down.”

Gilbert Grappling (G2) is the product of two brothers, Dan and Joey Gilbert, and is considered by some to be one of the best MMA training grounds in Illinois.

“They have the best wrestling and best sparring,” says Jake Murphy as he rewraps a hand. “They have a lot of really high-level guys here. Lots of tough kids.”

The gym has a reputation for elite level wrestling, and fighters flock to the gym to be trained under the tutelage of both the Gilbert brothers.

“Our reputation is our wrestling. People might come here because their biggest weakness might be getting laid on by a wrestler. So we’ve been getting a lot more guys that have a stand-up background,” says Dan Gilbert.

G2 is also known for their intense practices. A monitor in the gym is setup to countdown a round, and the clock continuously loops in five minutes intervals. A buzzer will sound at the one minute mark to let fighters know they only have a minute left to work their asses off, and even with the loud music banging off the walls, everyone hears that buzzer. After one five minute loop guys are catching their breath, after two or three everyone is drenched in sweat.

“We’re from the Southside so it’s kind of the working class kind of thing: anything you want you have to earn,” says Dan. “So we expect people to put the hard work in. We train hard. We probably train harder than a lot of other gyms. We train hard to be tougher than the other guy.”

Before the gym opened Dan and Joey were both championship wrestlers, and their respective careers include accolades and honors like: All-American, state champion and the Greco-Roman National Champion. But wrestling can only take athletes so far, and both brothers soon found a passion for a young and upcoming sport.

“We’ve always been around wrestling or coaching wrestling,” says Gilbert. “It was kind of a natural progression (into MMA).”

The brothers both immersed themselves in MMA, but they found difficulties in finding places that would train them, and they found hurdles and prejudices because they were wrestlers.

“The Brazilians didn’t really want to share their secrets. If you weren’t a jiu-jitsu guy then they didn’t want to train you,” said Dan.

So the Gilberts found themselves training and teaching in a shuffling deck of locations. It was a difficult time and they both became frustrated that they couldn’t find a consistent place to train and teach. MMA wasn’t nearly the sport it is now, and the brother’s were having a tough time finding gyms and businesses that would accept a non-traditional martial art.

“When we started no one knew what the sport was, and we had to convince people that what we were doing was legitimate,” said Dan

Their frustration reached a breaking point when they found themselves training out of Joey’s garage for his upcoming UFC 31 fight against B.J. Penn, and they decided to take matters into their own hands and open their own place. G2 was open in 2000 and since that time the gym has grown and expanded, and now Gilbert Grappling is currently in its 4th and biggest location.

The gym started out with a hand full of fighters, but now they have a solid roster of both amateurs and seasoned professionals.

Their approach to training is the same hands-on approach they learned from their wrestling coaches growing up: a coach teaches by wrestling with you, and not by just yelling critiques. The Gilberts think this is key to training fighters to be ready for the cage.

“When we spar, we spar 100%. When we grapple it’s 100%. Some people might disagree with that, but we feel that what you put in your training is what you’re going to get out of the competition,” says Dan. “So instead of learning it in the cage and getting taken down, you’re going to learn it in practice.”

The hands-on approach is popular and the gym now has a reputation for producing hard-nosed fighters. Their stable continues to grow and already includes UFC veteran Clay Guida and up and coming professional fighters like Carson and Chase Beebe, Adam Ward, and Kevin Knabjan.

“No one is going to give you anything, especially in this sport. You got go out there and you got to be ready,” says Dan. “You got to be ready to fight.”

Little Juggernaut Interview

Carson Beebe at XFO 42

Carson Beebe has his back to the wall. The wall is matted in red, which is a good thing because his partner looks to be using most of his strength to press him into it. The music is loud and all around the gym people are wrestling. Arms and legs slam into the floor and the muffled echoes from the mats blends into the music.

Slowly Carson wall-walks from a sitting position to his feet, and then a buzzer sounds to end the pseudo round.

Beebe is drenched in sweat, and he takes a minute to quickly rest before he resumes his training again.

Carson Beebe is an MMA fighter, and he’s only starting off his night of training at Gilbert Grappling.

This would be a hard practice for Beebe, if he was in the meat of his training for a fight, the tough training sessions of wrestling and hard sparring, but it’s not. It’s just a normal night.

So before Carson got too caught up in his training, we spent some time with him to talk about his wrestling history, his passion for MMA, and Michael Jackson.

So you started wrestling when you were four?

Yeah, I started off when I was four-years-old. I kind of grew up in a wrestling family. I have five brothers and they all wrestle, so it’s kind of a way of life for us.

As a little kid what did you want to do when you grew up? It seems like wrestling was already big part of your life.

Like I said man, wrestling was a way of life for us. It was part of our family culture, and it was the only thing I really knew. Wrestling pretty much consumed my life all the way up until I went to college, so my focus was always on wrestling, wrestling, wrestling.

I wanted to go to college and wrestle, become an All-American, a national champ and things like that. But when MMA started blowing up, I started getting into that, and I decided I wanted to be a fighter. It kind of progressed naturally off my wrestling.

When did that progression happen?

It started when my older brother Chase started fighting. When I was a sophomore he started his career. So I went to all his fights and I trained with him, and I kind of fell in love with the sport. I started going to jiu jitsu practice after wrestling practice.

So you switched over to MMA, it seems like your brother was a big influence on that decision, are you two close? What’s your relationship like?

Definitely. My brother and me are real close. Chase is my best mentor, (he’s) everything you think a big brother should be. He’s someone who’s already gone through the ranks, all the way to the top. He’s been a two-time world champion. He knows what it takes to succeed in this sport, and I’ve learned a lot by just watching him. He’s helped guide me through my career; he’s been a big brother, a mentor, a coach, he’s been everything to me.

Do you ever train with him, or do you try to keep that separate?

We train. We beat the crap out of each other pretty good. We throw bombs, and whenever we go at each other the intensity is stepped up an extra notch. There’s more on the line when I go against my brother. You know he’s still trying to prove that he’s still my big brother, and I’m just trying to catch him any chance I can. Try to show that I’m nipping at his heals.

It’s a constant battle, back and forth, but we’re just trying to help each other out and try to help each other get better. So the better he gets, the better I get.

What do your parents think about the two of you fighting?

They’re not the biggest fans of us fighting. I think they would like us to choose a different career, but at the same time they’re supportive. They understand that we’re just a product of our upbringing. They trained us to be warriors and that’s what we are.

Now that you’re a pro, how’s your training changed from where you first started off?

Just learning and growing. There’s so much to this sport. It’s not just one sport, it’s a mixture of all these different forms of martial arts that are blended down into one, so it’s a learning process. You learn a lot about yourself. When I started, I didn’t know who I was or what would make me great, and the best way to learn that is to get in the cage and find out.

You had two loses to start the year, but you were able to bounce back and you’ve had wins in your last three fights. How were you able to persevere and comeback?

You get motivated differently from a win and loss. I won my first six professional fights and then I had my first loss, and then I went to The Ultimate Fighter and lost again. It was my first taste of the other side, and it motivated me more. I was never discouraged. I learn more from my losses, and I had to figure out what I was doing wrong.

So you get back in the gym, and frankly you get a little pissed off, and it lit a fire under my butt, and you get better because of it.

Do you have a preferred fighting style?

My nickname is the “little juggernaut,” and I try to live up to my nickname. Always coming forward. When I’m in the cage I just want to fight. When that bell rings I don’t really believe in the feeling-out process. I like to get my hands on the guy, and I like to fight. Just constant pressure and constant punishment the whole time.

So “little juggernaut’s” intro music is Michael Jackson?

I walk out to Michael Jackson because, in my opinion, he is the greatest performer ever. He performed out of his mind every single time. If I can get in the zone like he did, I can be the greatest just like MJ.

When you graduate do you still want to fight or are you going to be moving in a different direction?

Well I’ll have more time to fight. We’ll see where god takes me. If my MMA career takes off, and I can make a living from fighting then that’s what I’ll do. You just have to set yourself up for success, and wherever god leads me, that’s where I’ll go.


Carson trains out of Gilbert Grappling in Country Club Hills.

Lockdown in Lynwood

The Lockdown in Lynwood slid down the chimney and ate all our fuckin cookies. The action at the HO-CHUNK Sports & Expo Center last Saturday was fierce, and we were more than happy to keep warm ringside. Here’s a list of the night’s results, and the photo above provides a link to an album of the night’s events.

Santana Adame III def. Brad Rayl via TKO (strikes) 1:09 Round 1

Brandon Bisping def. Andre Ford via submission (rear naked choke) 1:28 Round 1

Ben Carlson def. Adam Meneou via submission (gogo-plata) 2:07 Round 1

Anthony Nichols def. Edwin Dalles via submission (tap to strikes) 2:24 Round 1

Logan Anderson def. Cody Smith via submission (guillotine) 1:38 Round 1

Dustin Pape def. Shawn Camp via submission (triangle) 0:58 Round 3

Chuck Olena def. Sean Gee via unanimous decision

Samuel Basler def. Wade McCay via submission (forearm choke) 1:08 Round 2

Jake Nauracy def. AJ Masters via TKO (strikes) 0:11 Round 1

Chad Fredericksen def. Jorge Gonzalez via verbal submission 0:48 Round 2

Edward Castillo def. Larry Hayden via submission (tap to strikes) 1:06 Round 1