When an MMA highlight goes viral, especially in the amateur ranks, the fallout is not as simple as thrill and agony. Winners and losers deal with the emotions left by a moment that takes the combat sports world by storm.
One of those moments took place this past Saturday at Cage Titans 55 in Plymouth, Mass., when Kyle Pavao took on Wayne Downer in a lightweight matchup between debuting fighters. In the second round, Pavao secured an armlock known as an Americana. When Downer tried to power out of it, his arm snapped, resulting in a broken humerus — which was both seen and heard in the now-viral clip.
Pavao just graduated high school less than two months ago. Getting his first MMA win was a box he’d always wanted to check. He checked it, and millions saw his grappling prowess. But it also showed the Rhode Island native that in MMA, fans will react to everything, both in a positive and negative way.
“Obviously, I didn’t want the fight to end like that,” Pavao told MMA Fighting. “I intended to finish that Americana on the mat. I didn’t want to stand up with it. If you watch the video, [Downer] actually wall-walks up the cage to get to his knees as I had [the hold locked] in. I was bending his arm [one] way, he was standing up [the other] way. It’s like if two cars were running at each other. The force was double.
“But on my [graduation Instagram] post, people were saying, ‘God won’t forgive you.’ There were two comments that God will never forgive me on my graduation post. People are nuts, man.”
On the other side, Downer is in as good of a place mentally as possible. In a joint interview with Pavao and Cage Titans promoter Michael Polvere, he jumped in to give his side of the story and describe the weight of being on the wrong end of a broken arm heard around the internet.
“Obviously I’m in a little bit of pain, I have a cast, a little swollen, but other than that I’m pretty good, I’m in high spirits,” Downer said. “It’s kind of like a blur right now. ... At that point in the fight, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get out [of the submission], [and] my opponent was very strong. There was no possible way I could’ve tapped out, so it was just a freak thing that happened. It just all happened so quickly.
“I come from a taekwondo background, so I was hoping to go viral for a cool kick or something like that. I wasn’t hoping to go viral like this.”
Cage Titans President Michael Polvere was in his back office preparing social media graphics for the event’s upcoming championship bouts when he heard the crowd react. He went to the arena floor and was told a fighter may have suffered a broken arm. It wasn’t a typical arm break.
Polvere got into the cage, where Pavao was still celebrating his win; later, he was able to watch back and grasp the situation from all angles: The fighters, Pavao’s elation turned to concern, and the crowd.
“Kyle’s a young man, 18 years old, and he’s been dreaming about this for years to get that first victory,” Polvere explained. “I’m sure at the moment he didn’t realize how serious the injury was, but this guy has been celebrating a victory that he’s been dreaming about for years. He got a lot of flack for it, and I just want the fans to realize, or people from the outside looking in, that Kyle never meant for that to happen, and nobody ever wants to do that to an opponent. I just want to make sure to mention, what Kyle said earlier, that was echoed by Wayne Downer’s team.
“There was some talk from the athletic commission that Kyle did it purposely — they wanted to suspend him and all this, and it was actually Wayne Downer’s team that ran over and was like, ‘Listen, our guy was standing up to power out of the submission, which is what broke his arm.’ It wasn’t anything Kyle did too aggressively or anything like that, and [Downer’s coach] said, ‘That kid deserves all the credit. Kyle did what he was supposed to do, and it was a perfect storm where our guy was trying to stand up, which actually applied more torque.’
“But I want to make sure people understand that, because I’d hate to see a moment for Kyle get taken away.”
Downer was taken to a local medical facility after the fight.
But he wasn’t the only person sent there after the gruesome finish.
“What a lot of people don’t know is that there’s a guy that fainted in the crowd from watching what happened,” Polvere continued. “Now, all of a sudden we’re clearing out chairs because this guy passed out on the ground. ... It was a crazy moment, a crazy scene, and something I haven’t seen in my time.”
“I didn’t know how bad [the moment] was until I found out an hour later [that] somebody passed out in the crowd,” Downer said.
With both ambulances transporting people to the hospital, the next fight was delayed 20 minutes until one returned to the venue.
When Downer arrived to the hospital, one of the first questions he asked the doctors — even before receiving an official diagnosis of the injury — was when he could return to the gym. Confused looks were his answer.
Now, Downer is taking it slow.
“I want to get back as soon as possible, but I’ve got to be smart because I did break an arm,” he said. “I need to take my time and just heal, go through the recovery, hopefully I get surgery soon, and I’ll go from there.”
In Pavao’s eyes, it was the first of, hopefully, many more wins on his résumé. But it’s also come at a price. If there’s a silver lining to all of it, he is learning some hard lessons that young fighters aren’t necessarily taught inside the gym walls.
“It is bittersweet, because obviously I got my win, but that’s not how you want to [do it], especially [against] someone that’s also making his amateur debut,” he said.
“[Learning these lessons early,] that’s the sweet part because I do want to do this for a living. I want to make a career out of it, and all of the publicity is going to help that a lot, but it’s also one of my most controversial moments. It’s everywhere.
“I knew I broke [his arm] because it gave, but the snap didn’t sound that crazy to me until I rewatched the video after and I was like, ‘Holy s***.’ It took a while to process — it was my first fight, adrenaline was pumping, I put my mouthpiece in the air, started circling the cage and I come back to see him face down on the mat. My heart just sank.
“I don’t want to see anybody like that, especially with my doing. That picture of him face down like that did not leave my mind until...it still really hasn’t.”
The interview was the first time Pavao and Downer had spoken to one another since the fight. Pavao attempted to reach out via social media, but he understood when there was no response.
“I just wanted to make sure you’re doing OK and that you’ll make a full recovery,” Pavao told Downer. “I definitely didn’t expect that clip to go viral, but I just wanted to make sure you’re doing OK. I don’t want any bad blood to be there. I celebrated after the victory, but I didn’t realize how bad it was. I just wanted to see how you were doing, man.”
“I appreciate that. Look, there’s no bad blood,” Downer responded. “Obviously, I signed on to [compete in] MMA, I understand injuries are going to happen.
“I’m not going to lie, though, I did feel some type of way — I was in agonizing pain, and I understand that you’re an excellent grappler, and I’m all for celebrating. Obviously, winning your debut, you want to celebrate. I came from a taekwondo background, so when I competed, we were hitting each other with spin kicks and knocking people out, we’ll get hype for a second, then we squared up, took a knee and waited for our opponent to get up.
“I would say that after a few minutes of being on the ground, I was seeing out of the corner of my eye, you standing up, still celebrating and talking to the crowd. In a way, I was kind of infuriated, like, ‘S***, I’m in agonizing pain, and he’s still celebrating.’ Part of me, because I’m an anime dude, wanted to be like Rock Lee, just stand up with one arm and be like, ‘Let’s go.’ But at the same time out of respect for my coaches, I’m just going to take the L.
“I’m not mad or anything,” he continued. “The celebration, I thought, was over the top. But I understand it was your first time, it was my first time. I have no bad blood.”
“I definitely get that,” Pavao reacted. “I feel like we felt the same in a sense where our adrenaline was pumping, and I didn’t understand the gravity of the situation. I didn’t hear the snap nearly as loud as the rest of the crowd, but my adrenaline was pumping, man. I got my first win, I had been waiting for that moment for a very long time, and I definitely got carried away.
“Now that the dust is settled, I feel like we’re seeing things more clearly.”
As a promoter, Polvere has never seen a moment in his organization that has garnered so much mainstream media attention — on top of witnessing the emotional toll such a moment has on the winner and loser.
“You don’t want either of these guys to go through it,” Polvere explained. “Wayne’s going through so much on his end, and you hear Kyle talk about this stuff and it’s like, ‘Whoa, man.’ He quickly became the enemy, and you realize he’s going through s*** with this, too. It is bittersweet, learning these lessons like don’t listen to the haters, but these are real emotions that he’s dealing with as an 18-year-old guy.”
Now that the video has been seen by so many people, Polvere is hoping the buzz the moment has generated can accomplish two things. He wants MMA fans to recognize what Cage Titans has done for the New England MMA scene in the last decade. But also, more importantly, he hopes fans will help a warrior in need.
In other words, if this is the moment to go viral, good or bad, let it happen for a greater purpose.
“[Dr. Peter Warinner] has been in contact with Wayne. I’ve been in contact with Dr. Warinner — he’s the head of the medical advisory board [for the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission] — and he’s working on finding some potential surgeons to help Wayne out,” Polvere said. “In addition, there’s a boxer fund that every promotion pays into with a percentage from all the sales to every show, and this is for fighters in need, and we’re looking to help Wayne access that to help with some of his recovery.
“There’s also a GoFundMe to help raise money for the aid and recovery. We’re doing something along those lines. We do have insurance on our fighters, but something of this magnitude is just well beyond what anybody envisioned or imagined. To be out as long as he’s going to be out, and out of work, life still goes on, those bills still pile up, so we’re going to be using our platforms to help him gain what he can.
“That’s my only ask: As this goes viral, Wayne does not want to see that video go viral for many reasons, but since it’s out there, let’s do our part as a media to help raise some funds to help this kid, to help aid in his recovery. Anything we can do would be helpful, and I know we have a great MMA community.”
While Downer was on the wrong side of a devastating moment in the MMA world, he’s received overwhelming support from family, friends, teammates, coaches, the promotion, and even fans in and out of New England.
“Man, the love they’ve shown over the last couple of days, I just started crying,” he said. “It’s been a while since I had that.”
Downer left Pavao with one last request.
“Kyle, I just want you to know there’s no ill will,” he said. “Congratulations on the fight, man. You were the better grappler. I’ve got to get my skills up on the ground, but you’re 18 years old — keep pushing. Hopefully the two of us can run it back. I’ve got to make sure I heal, but I would love to run it back.
“I got into this sport to fight the best, and you are an awesome grappler. I promise, if we run it back, I’m going to be a completely different level grappler. I can’t wait, man. It was fun, and hopefully the two of us can run it back.”
You can donate to Wayne Downer’s GoFundMe, Wayne Downer Recovery Relief, to assist in his long road to recovery here.