THE WACKY WORLD OF SPORTS, 2013: 'Dead' MMA fighter turns up as robbery suspect
December 26, 2013 10:44 AM

Mixed martial arts promoters Christos Piliafas and Scott DiPonio were stunned to learn that one of their fighters was a suspect in a holdup at a Michigan gun shop.

Especially since they had raised money to help the amateur heavyweight’s family pay for his funeral.

Rosalinda Martinez called DiPonio on Feb. 2 to tell him Charles Rowan, her boyfriend, had died in a car accident en route to a fight in Traverse City. A distraught DiPonio and his girlfriend drove to Gladwin the next day to comfort grieving family members.

“I thought for sure Charlie was dead,” DiPonio said. “I mean, these people were hysterically crying. It was very emotional.”

Because the family was struggling financially, he gave them $150 on the spot to be used toward funeral expenses. DiPonio and Piliafas later helped raise more than $1,350 through a benefit event, “Fight for Charlie.” A friend of Rowan’s, Michael Bowman, tearfully accepted the money.

The hoax was revealed when Rowan, Martinez and Bowman were arrested and charged with armed robbery, assault and attempted murder. Police reported they robbed a Guns and Stuff store in Sage Township on March 18 and beat owner Richard Robinette, 74, with a hammer. DiPonio realized he’d been duped when he saw Rowan’s mug shot on television identifying him as a person of interest in the case.

Piliafas found out through a text from a friend.

“It made me sick to my stomach,” he said. “I was furious. I was livid. The little bit that I knew about this kid, I never would have thought that he’d try to pull some Machiavelli crap like that.”

Those who had come to the aid of Rowan’s family couldn’t believe anyone would go to such lengths to scam unsuspecting supporters.

“It really amazes me how low people will go to take advantage of someone and take advantage of a community’s kindness,” said John “Big John” Yeubanks, owner of Big John’s MMA in Gaylord.

DiPonio was just relieved the hoax was ultimately revealed.

“If it wasn’t for the armed robbery,” he said, “I’d probably still be sending them money.”

The tale of the back-from-the-dead MMA fighter leads off the first installment of this annual three-part compendium celebrating the unusual, the absurd and the just plain wacky from the year in sports.

FULL OF FIGHT. A brawl broke out during a charity soccer match featuring teams of amputees representing Belgium and the Netherlands after one player tripped a one-legged opponent while challenging for the ball. Pushing and shoving escalated into a melee, as players and able-bodied spectators rained blows on one another using fists, feet and even crutches. “Other than that, things went well,” said Belgian player Marnix Huys after the teams battled — quite literally — to a 3-3 draw.

A CUT ABOVE. Oakland Athletics outfielder Michael Taylor missed 10 days of spring training due to a laceration on his right pinkie he suffered while throwing … a piece of bubble gum. The right-handed Taylor hit his hand on a ceiling light fixture in the dugout as he tossed the chewed gum in the trash.

UNNECESSARY ROUGHNESS. University of Oregon tight end Pharaoh Brown was suspended for Monday’s Alamo Bowl because of his prominent role in a campus fight — a snowball fight. Players organized the Dec. 6 event, which drew about 100 students, but things quickly got out of hand, with participants blocking traffic and targeting cars and drivers.

Sherwin Simmons, 68, stopped near the Erb Memorial Union building because snow that students had dumped on his windshield made it impossible to see, then was pelted with snowballs as he stepped out of his car. Brown, wearing his Oregon letterman’s jacket, was caught on video flinging a bucket of snow in the retired professor’s face. Said Simmons, “They were out of control.”

MIRACLE SAVE. Goalkeeper Duško Krtalica stopped a shot during an amateur soccer game in Bosnia-Herzegovina that probably should have killed him.

Krtalica, who plays for Buca Potok, complained of a headache during a match in suburban Sarajevo and chalked it up to banging his head on the goal post while making a diving save earlier. But when the pain intensified, his arm began to feel numb and his speech became slurred, he was rushed to a hospital in Koševo. Scans there revealed the true reason for the 51-year-old Krtalica’s discomfort: A 9 mm bullet was lodged in his skull.

Curiously, Krtalica had no clue he’d been shot. Doctors removed the slug without any complications.

Police later arrested Sejno Ligata, who had attended a nearby wedding while Buca Potok’s match was in progress and fired a handgun into the air in celebration of the occasion. The bullet doctors extracted matched Ligata’s weapon.

Despite his wound, Krtalica finished the match while surrendering only one goal. Said a neurosurgeon who operated on him, “To receive a bullet in the head and live — he already beat the odds.”

TRAP PLAY. Police in Marshalltown, Iowa, charged Lawrence Briggs, 18, with theft after he walked out of a Sports Page sporting goods store with $153 worth of merchandise, only moments after he’d filled out a job application. Authorities reviewed surveillance footage, gleaned personal information from the prospective employee’s paperwork and then arranged to have Briggs called back to the store for an “interview.” Police were waiting there to arrest him.

SPECTATOR SPORT. In a model of efficiency, Corpus Christi Hooks pitcher Nick Tropeano needed only one pitch to strike out Midland RockHounds third baseman Vinnie Catricala in a Texas League game. Catricala, unhappy with umpire Ron Teague’s strike call on Tropeano’s first delivery, stepped out of the batter’s box — and refused to return. Invoking Rule 6.02(c), which permits an umpire to call an automatic strike if the batter does not take his position in a reasonable amount of time, Teague called strike two and then strike three on Catricala. When Catricala protested vehemently, Teague ejected him.

SHUT OUT. The Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association booted Ridgeway High School from the state basketball playoffs after senior forward McKinzey Sewell was revealed as a 22-year-old married man whose wife posed as his legal guardian and submitted a fake transcript to school officials so he could enroll. The 25-4 Roadrunners had by then established themselves as legitimate championship contenders.

“He formed relationships and bonds with these kids — they’re thinking that he’s one of them,” said Kim Gillespie, a parent of one of the players. “For the actions of two adults to totally ruin their season, it’s ridiculous.”

IMAGE CONSCIOUS. Ukrainian tennis player Sergiy Stakhovsky was fined $2,000 at the French Open for unsportsmanlike conduct after snapping a photo with his cellphone of a mark left by a ball he insisted was in.

After his volley was called out during his match with Richard Gasquet and the referee refused to overrule the line judge, Stakhovsky set down his racket, retrieved his cellphone, walked to the spot, leaned over for a close-up and photographed the mark left in the red Roland Garros clay. Said Stakhovsky, explaining why he went to such extremes to state his case, “Something just itched my butt.”

EXIT SIGN. Not long after defensive end Elvis Dumervil lost his job with the Denver Broncos, Marty Magid lost his as Dumervil’s agent. Dumervil agreed to take a pay cut from $12 million to $8 million to stay with the team, but the signed paperwork didn’t arrive by fax in Denver before a 2 p.m. Central time deadline on March 15. The Broncos cut Dumervil at 1:59 so they wouldn’t be on the hook for the $12 million owed him in the original contract. The fax finally arrived at 2:06.

FAMILY MATTERS. Doug Gilmour, general manager of the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs, traded to the Niagara IceDogs a right wing very dear to him — his 16-year-old son, Jake. Gilmour explained the youngster would likely get more ice time playing elsewhere. There was also another consideration. Said the NHL Hall of Famer to his son, “Now the people in Kingston can’t say you’re only here because of your dad.”

LONG RELIEF. Tampa Bay Rays closer Fernando Rodney ducked into a dugout bathroom at Oakland’s Coliseum and slammed the door so hard he broke the lock, trapping him inside. He was stuck for 15 minutes until a maintenance worker with a crowbar freed him. Noting that the Rays had rallied to tie the score against the Athletics during Rodney’s confinement before eventually losing 4-3, manager Joe Maddon said, “We should have kept him in there.”

THE BIGGEST LOSER. The short-handed amateur club Holyhead set a Welsh rugby record by losing 181-0 to Llanidloes, largely because most of its players spent the previous night celebrating in a pub and were in no condition to make the trip. Said club president Oliver Williams, “I believe there was a birthday party on Friday night and the reason that at least some of the lads didn’t make the coach at half-past eight on Saturday morning was because they were simply too hung over.” Holyhead was unable to field a full 15-man team and, in fact, avoided a forfeit only by recruiting several inexperienced youth players to suit up.

THE THIN MAN. The British soccer club Bradford City fired 59-year-old Lenny Barry, who for 19 seasons portrayed its bowler-wearing mascot, the City Gent, because he was no longer “portly” enough for the role. Barry improved his diet and shed nearly 100 pounds after he was diagnosed with diabetes, prompting club director Roger Owens to complain that his streamlined appearance “was much changed from the original concept,” modeled on Stafford Heginbotham, Bradford City’s rotund former chairman.

Said Barry, “I am a grown man and this is something I have cried over. I’m absolutely gutted.”

BLOCK PARTY. Fans in Vancouver, Wash., couldn’t believe what they were seeing. As Skyview High School players sprinted off the field in jubilation, their counterparts from Columbia River were celebrating in the end zone.

The visiting Storm blocked a last-second field goal attempt, preserving a 24-23 victory against their rivals — or so it seemed. What they didn’t realize was the play was not over. The ball, still live, sat behind the line of scrimmage for fully five seconds before Columbia River senior Reese Keller, responding to the shouts of his coaches from the sidelines, scooped it up and raced 32 yards for a touchdown that secured a 29-24 victory.

Skyview’s players and fans, euphoric only moments before, were left holding their heads in agonized disbelief.

Said Columbia River coach John O’Rourke, “Coaches always preach that you have to play all 48 minutes. I think we played 48 minutes and five seconds.”

Friday: Player “steals” first base

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