Bourne native Greg (Ribz) Rebello had not stepped inside the octagon in over 13 months, but he needed less than one round to prove that he’s still got it.
Making his first CES MMA Heavyweight championship defense, Rebello (25-9, 16 KOs) scored a late first-round knockout against his challenger, and friend, Kevin (The North Woods Nightmare) Haley at Twin Rivers Casino in Lincoln, Rhode Island.
Rebello, fighting out of nearby Cranston, Rhode Island, had to overcome an unintentional low blow that briefly halted the action just moments into the fight. Joking with his corner during the break that he “was lucky I already have kids,” Rebello came back strong with a left hook that dropped Haley dead in his tracks. The referee jumped in as Rebello threw another shot before Haley suffered additional damage.
Rebello never doubted that he would come out of the fight with the championship belt still around his waist. The 37-year-old said that his experience and ring savvy were beyond what Haley could handle. The Bourne High School graduate did not try to dictate the pace over the first few minutes, choosing to bide his time and wait for Haley to make a mistake. His command of the game plan worked well.
“I’m a smart guy. A lot of people see the knockouts and think that I’m just a brawler, but I don’t brawl out. I didn’t get hit one time, I got kicked in the leg a couple of times, but I saw that he was trying to force right hands. He wanted to get the fight to the clench. I knew that, so I was taking my time, throwing a lot of feints and I was stepping backwards and circling,” Rebello explained. “When he was going backwards, I was just rocking him down. When he shot underneath me, if I over-commit, he’s going to sneak underneath me, take me down, so I was using more lateral movements and circles rather than going straight forward.”
With the first round entering the late stages, an opportunity presented itself for Rebello and he did not allow it to pass him by. Haley made a charge and briefly had Rebello up against the steel cage, but the veteran fighter said that he used a “whizzer,” an overhook move, to avoid a left hand. Haley was off-balance after his missed shot, and Rebello landed his square on his foe’s chin.
“If he can’t look at me, the body can’t go where the head can’t go, and if I push his head that way he only has one place to go out, and that’s how I set him up,” Rebello said. “I knew that once I defended that initial takedown that he started breathing heavy, and he started to get tired, and I’m not going to get tired. I love this, I’ll do this all night. I saw him come in with that left, and I set him up with a left hand, right hook.”
Ironically, it was his left hand that had set back Rebello over the past year. He said in his last victory, to take the championship in a fight with Travis Wiuff in February 2018, he fractured his left wrist. That injury required rest, but the UFC came calling for a fight for the Tuesday Night Contender series. “If the UFC comes calling, you take that fight, no matter what,” he said.
Rebello took the fight, but the injury prevented him from training with the vigor that he typically displays. He said he was 20 pounds overweight that night and it cost him dearly in the first round TKO.
Fully healed, that left hand served him well against Haley. Whether it will continue to serve him well in the future he said remains to be seen. Rebello, who was a star hockey player for the Bourne Canalmen and still thinks about a regional final loss to Hanover that kept the team from going to the TD Garden, said that he is going to see what the future presents. He did not speak like a fighter who was ready to hang up his gloves just yet, though.
“I haven’t fought here in a year, and I had a lot of people that came out to see me, and I like to impress. I don’t think I’ve ever had a boring fight here. All of my fights here are on TV. They’re exciting, that’s why I’m here, that’s why I’m the main event, why they trust me that I’m going to put on a good show whenever I fight,” he said.
“I really don’t know (the future)... that was my 36th fight. I didn’t have any ring rust. I didn’t look out of place in there. A lot of guys do, but I love it. You never get sick and tired of doing what you love, and I love to fight. I love to compete. I love the energy. I love it.”