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Island Fights packing a punch on Pensacola Beach

9:10 PM, Sep. 22, 2011
Kyle Miller, left, takes on Gabe Hanson during a recent Island Fights fight card. Island Fights X is set for Friday at the Hilton Pensacola Beach Gulf Front. / Jody Link/GoPensacola.com

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WHAT: Island Fights.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday.

WHERE: Hilton Pensacola Beach Gulf Front, 12 Via de Luna,

Pensacola Beach.

TICKETS: $25; $400 for a VIP table.

DETAILS: 454-6215, or visit www.theislandfights.com.

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When amateur fighting became legal in Florida two years ago, Dean Toole jumped at the opportunity to create a mixed martial arts event in the Panhandle.

"I've owned an MMA and boxing gym (Gulf Beach Fitness), so I've always had fighters in my gym," Toole said.

Island Fights "It was on the island, that's why we called it Island Fights," Toole said debuted on Sept. 11, 2010, at the Hilton Pensacola Beach Gulf Front. It's back at the Hilton for its 10th show at 8:30 p.m. Friday.

Island Fights is the only amateur MMA fight along the Gulf Coast, presenting shows at Live Nightclub, the Pensacola Civic Center and the Hilton. The event soon will be expanding to Panama City Beach and Daphne, Ala.

The fights bring together people from all walks of life.

If you go barhopping, Toole said, you'll see a different clique of people everywhere you go.

"But at live fights, every clique is there," he said. "It's like every different group of friends that hang out at different bars and nightclubs and whatever are all in one place, under one roof, at one point in time. That's what makes it awesome. The music's great and everybody's having a great time."

The up-close action, the cheering fans and the strutting ring girls make it hard for anyone to sit still during the fights. People jump up at every kick, hoot 'n' holler at every jab, and some even try to emulate a play-by-play from the ring side.

Friday's fight card features two main events and for the first time in Island Fights history a female fight. Pensacola resident Donald Tharpe will be competing for the light heavyweight title against Frank Ortiz from Jacksonville.

Tharpe, 27, has been training for about 10 months and has been meeting with his trainer three to four times a week. His record is 3-0 "soon to be 4-0," he said.

"If you had to classify me, I'd be a freestyle fighter because I've had no prior training," Tharpe said. "I wasn't a wrestler or a boxer or anything like that; I just started training. I played football before I got into MMA. I was still physically fit and strong and in shape and I was like, 'I'm not going to let it go to waste.'

"I had several people mention to me to try this out and the opportunity was right in my face, so I was like, 'let me try it out and see if I like it.' "

Fighters who are interested in getting on an upcoming fight card should call Toole at 454-6215. From there, Toole will find out the fighter's skill and training levels, make sure all the necessary blood work has been done, then find another fighter with the same experience level and weight class and match them up.

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