“Rhino” Mike Thomas and Keyshawn “Spider” MacArthur are fighting in Brandon this weekend.
It’s been a rough five months for sports fans thanks to COVID-19. But sports are coming back now, albeit slowly, and martial arts are now officially back on in eastern Hillsborough County.
Fight fans have the opportunity to watch two local karate practitioners, “Rhino” Mike Thomas and Keyshawn “Spider” MacArthur, shake off the rust and go one-on-one with opponents in this weekend’s Saturday Night Fights III card, hosted by Super Fights Championship League. MacArthur is scheduled to fight Christian “Diesel” Bayonne of Team Velocity and Thomas will go up against Chris Lee of Team Bring-It. Both Thomas and Lee are members of the Rudy Rogers Nisei Karate Federation and train with him at his Open Air Dojo on East Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
The return to action is a relief for both men, who have dedicated much of their time toward mastering the art. Thomas has trained with Rogers since 2015 and MacArthur since 2017, and both have frequently left Plant City and even Florida to fight in large tournaments with national and international competition.
COVID-19 threw a wrench in virtually all of their plans since March. All of a sudden, everything they’ve worked for outside of themselves was gone indefinitely. No more trips out of town to compete. No more trophies to win, points to score or fights to test their might. All they could do was train (while maintaining social distance, Rogers said) and hope something would come up sooner than later.
“Coronavirus didn’t stop us from coming out,” Thomas said. “We’re out here in the heat, one on one, not likely to catch anything out here. We’re not up on each other or anything. It’s regular teaching from a distance. He can still critique me and let me know what I need to work on. I understand it changed things for a lot of people, but not really us.”
The extra time away from competitions has been especially useful for Thomas, now a second dan black belt. The “Rhino” got his nickname for his in-your-face fighting style and won many fights with it, but his biggest weakness was always his cardio.
“I might look good but I’m really tired when it’s over with,” he said. “If the fight would have been an extra minute or whatever, I would have probably gassed out.”
Thomas decided it was the perfect time to fix that. He said he’s seen a big improvement in his long-term energy. He’s hoping all of the running he’s done will pay off with him lasting longer in fights and not giving his opponents a window to mount a comeback.
“I lost a tournament like that in Daytona,” Thomas said. “I looked tired. I landed way more punches and had better technique, but if I would have had more energy I would have won. That’s what the (judge) told me. I came in second.”
This weekend’s fight will be a good test for both men, though different than what they’re used to. It’s not a tournament, but a more traditional fight league: they’re both scheduled for a one-on-one fight and will go home when that’s over, win or lose. They’re both looking forward to fighting close to home, which is a nice change of pace.
“It’s in my back yard, so a lot of friends who never got to see me compete or anything have the opportunity to see me now,” Thomas said. “So I want to go out and do good for them, put on a show for them. We go out of state a lot. It’s good to have something in the back yard for the people, even if it’s not that much. Two rounds, a minute and 30 seconds, but I want to give everybody something to see and something to do.”
Saturday Night Fights III will be held at Central Baptist Church, 402 E. Windhorst Road, Brandon. Visit superfightschampionshipleague.com for tickets and more information.