Shannon “The Cannon” Ritch has been brawling in the Valley for 30 years now. Combat sports paid the bills while he attended Tempe’s Al Collins Graphic Design School in the early 1990s.
“Every weekend I would go down to Mexico, fight, and make like $500," Ritch says of those days. "They would have a dog fight, a chicken fight and then they would have the people fight. That’s pretty much how I put myself through college."
The mixed martial arts fighter and Hollywood stuntman, who now lives in Glendale, has gone on to fight in more than 200 professional and underground matches for numerous MMA promotional companies around the world, like Pride Fighting Championships and Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship. He currently holds the BKFC international heavyweight champion title.
But three decades of kicking ass (and getting his ass kicked) has taken its toll on the 51-year-old. Retirement is on the horizon. So it's perhaps fitting that an upcoming fight he considers potentially one of his last has a healing component to it: a cannabis convention.
RUF 44: RUF, PUFF, and RUMBLE will be held Saturday, October 23, at the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix. The fighting portion of the evening will be similar to other MMA events. Following about a dozen other matches, Ritch will square off against Aaron Brink, an ex-porn star and longtime rival, in the main event. They'll duke it out for RUF Nation’s heavyweight legends world championship title.
Before the bout, though, ticketholders are invited to stroll the Celebrity Theatre's parking lot, where somewhere around 80 vendors will be posted up hawking their wares. Among the vendors scheduled to be there are GreenPharms Dispensaries, Puck’s Cannabis Confections, and Mad Terp Labs. David DeCorpo, an organizer of the event through Trap Culture Promotions, says it'll be akin to a "weed First Friday."
“This is like the first cannabis and MMA event in the country — possibly the world," DeCorpo says. "We’re pretty much going to throw a gigantic pregame party before the fight. The booths that will be there will have dab stations, so you can dab people out. They’re going to have flower for you to smoke, edibles to try, we’ve got everything. We’re bringing out dispensaries, concentrate lines, edible companies, people who make and sell cannabis clothing, cannabis paintings, and jewelry. We want to bring the whole industry together.”
Food trucks and beer vendors will also be on-site for the cannabis expo for attendees who may get the munchies or would rather enjoy a pint of suds, according to DeCorpo. (Note: While consuming cannabis at the expo is OK, no one will be allowed to partake inside the venue.) There'll also be Jumbotrons set up in the parking lot so attendees can watch the fights from the pot expo.
RUF Nation CEO Joel Lopez says he got the idea for RUF, PUFF, and RUMBLE after noticing many combat sports athletes he works with promoting CBD and THC products aimed toward athletic recovery as an extra revenue stream between their fights. He believes this event will set a trend for future MMA events across the globe.
“We started talking to a lot of fighters and lo and behold, many fighters are cannabis enthusiasts, consumers, sellers, vendors — they’re really heavy into that world,” Lopez says. “We’re fusing the cannabis world with the MMA fighting world, and I don’t believe there has ever been another event like this.”
As for the fight between Ritch and Brink, it has all the makings of an explosive match. The men will hit the ring carrying a heavy, 20-year grudge that goes back to when they both trained with MMA legend Tito Ortiz at his Southern California camp in the early 2000s, according to Ritch.
“I got picked up by Pride [Fighting Championships], and I don’t know if [Brink] got jealous or what, but ever since then he would run his mouth every time he would see me,” Ritch says. “At the time I was fighting at 170 [pounds] and he was at 205 [pounds] so we weren’t in the same weight class. As the years went by, Aaron started talking about how his catch-wrestling was better than my jiu-jitsu and he wanted to fight.”
Brink says he can’t remember how the trouble started with Ritch, but he aims to settle the score once they meet face to face. While both men are now fighting in the heavyweight division, Brink expects Ritch to burn himself out in the first round due to his increased muscle mass combined with his age, he says.
“For over several years, we’ve been on a collision course with each other. I’ve been wanting to fight him because of a couple of comments he’s made on Facebook. [Ritch] believes he could submit me with his jiu-jitsu and could knock me out in a stand-up fight,” Brink says. “As [Ritch] has gotten older, he has gotten a lot bulkier, and so I don’t think he’s going to be in shape. I think he’s going to gas out real fast and I don’t see him having any chance whatsoever in this fight.”
Brink, who is 46, has fought for numerous professional MMA promotional companies, including a brief stint with the UFC. While only five years younger than Ritch, he says he believes his body is much younger due to taking several years off between fights to battle methamphetamine addiction, a habit Brink developed during his pornography career in the mid-2000s, he said. His struggles with meth were featured on A&E’s Intervention in 2009 and later on the television show Divorce Court in 2011.
“I took some time off because I was struggling with drug addiction. But during that time I didn’t sustain any injuries like other fighters out there,” Brink says. “I’m 46 biologically, but my physical shape wouldn’t reflect this. I’m actually in amazing shape. If I had to, I could go 5 five-minute rounds right now, and I know Shannon wouldn’t be able to do one round.”
Ritch says he believes his opponent is underestimating him and will realize the mistake come fight day. In addition to training at his own gym, Cannon Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Glendale, Ritch is also working with martial arts master Bob Karmel and Nick Chasteen five days a week at Golden Era Muay Thai in Scottsdale.
“I’m not going to gas...I can go hard for three rounds, five rounds, or however long we need to go for,” Ritch says. “Aaron is the bigger guy, but I think I’m in better shape, I’m the better athlete, I have better technique and my submissions are better than most. If I touch him, I’m going to put him to sleep.”
RUF 44: RUFF, PUFF and RUMBLE
Saturday, Oct. 23
Cannabis Expo at 1 P.M.
First Bell at 5 P.M.
440 N. 32nd St.
Tickets starting at $55
For more information, check out: rufnation.com