lallyvskeeganIf there’s one constant across combat sports, it’s the utterly unbreakable conviction of professional athletes. With career-defining victory or defeat a single blow to the jaw away, there is a surety of thought that must exist for an athlete to become successful; else wise dissolving their own willpower in tense moments leading from ready room to cage steps.

On April 9th, two professional fighters will meet face to face, and while their paths to this day have been different, they’ve carried themselves with the same unshakable desire to be victorious.

For Sean Lally, the path to professional fighter started as a 17 year old amateur in New Jersey, sending opponents to the mats on virtue of his devastating power. A lethal kickboxer, Lally would take one professional bout before heading off to an entirely different combat world, signing on with the United States Army. In a three year stint in the military, Lally would fight not on the canvas, but across the mountains of Afghanistan as part of the 1st Ranger Battalion.

Combat veterans entering the world of combat sports is nothing new, yet all carry a certain gravitas into the cage; an aura of fearless presence that comes with the specter of death hanging over a man and leaving empty-handed at battle’s end. When someone has lived through the scream of subsonic lead and megaton explosions, the prospect of a wrapped fist does little to the nerves, and this is a fact that has carried Lally deep into the New England Welterweight division.

With wins at Cage Titans over seasoned veterans in Tunde Odumuso, Addison O’Neil, and Stephen Stengel, all by first round finish, it had come time for the promotion to dust off its 170lb professional title to gird one man’s waist. Sean Lally’s title bout would also end in the first round, but not as the consummate warrior had imagined, instead falling to the blistering punches of current champion Will Santiago. Unlike in Afghanistan, defeat within the cage has no finality except for those who choose to walk away from the sport, yet Lally has become hungrier than ever to work his way back into contention and see his star rise within the region.

Opposite Lally will be a fighter who, despite military service, did not see himself tested on the battlefield, yet few fighters bear more scars than the berserker entity, Keegan Hornstra. While fighters, as a rule, like to fight, there are a select few that treat the vocation as a necessity to their existence; those that train to the breaking point, even when they’re not scheduled to fight. Where others use bumps and bruises to step out of a bout, some beg to face their opponents despite horrific injury; carrying broken bones into the cage like a badge of courage only they can see.

Fighting is as important as drawing breath for Hornstra, who has found himself on the wrong end of a highlight finish against Bruce Boyington, though also ruined those same opportunities for prospects like Mike Sullivan and William Bonnell, both rising stars that were hammered back to Earth by Hornstra’s fists. A career of seventeen bouts across three weight classes has been a road with more pot holes than smooth patches for Hornstra, yet he’s never taken the easy ride, in the gym or in the sport itself.

A fighter dedicated to the true craft of martial arts, Hornstra is one of the few who learned MMA as core components, rather than picking up the boiled down movements. Learning to box in a true boxing gym; taking Karate in an old school dojo; learning Muay Thai from those who learned in Thailand, Hornstra has turned his body in a weapon wholly unique to the sport; bristling with fundamentals where the shortcut versions of the arts have holes.

While sporting a head scratching 2-8 record, it’s a testament to his willingness to challenge himself in a sport of fame-seekers who are too craven to risk becoming blood-leakers. A willingness to tape a broken ankle together rather than back out of a fight; to walk into the cage with a broken nose and know a single clean shot ends the night; to crawl from the back of a car, dehydrated to the point of hospitalization to have those blissful seconds under the cage lights.

On April 9th, the athleticism and sundering power of Lally will meet the technical acumen and experience of Hornstra, in a battle where two unbreakable combatants will test each other like never before.

~Mike Hammersmith

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