Mixed martial artists with military backgrounds often receive the benefit of the doubt from fight crowds, especially in bouts where neither fighter has a large-scale fan following.
So it made sense to Shane Kruchten, a Marine combat veteran who began his pro MMA career in 2007, that he heard cheers as he landed shots to opponent Jeremy Mahon during their New Year's Eve bout in New York City, part of a World Series of Fighting card.
He wasn't as used to hearing the same cheers when Mahon, also a Marine combat veteran, fired back.
"People didn't know who to cheer for, so why not cheer for both?" Kruchten recalled Wednesday, a few days removed from a 29-28 decision win over Mahon that marked his return to the MMA cage after a long layoff.
His last fight, a submission loss, came in March 2014. There was no giving up for either fighter this time around.
"We both knew neither one of us was going to back down," said Kruchten, who along with Mahon participated in some of the initial battles of Operation Iraqi Freedom. "We promised a fight that was going to give some fireworks, and right at the opening bell, I think we delivered from that point forward."
Kruchten began the bout on the attack, but Mahon earned points in the second round by weathering the storm and landing some elbows when the fight moved to the ground. With the bout in the balance, the Marines left their corners to begin the final five minutes.
"We gave each other a huge hug at the start of the third round, and then went right back to it," said Kruchten, who outlasted Mahon with a strong ground game, overcoming hard strikes that left a souvenir or two:
The pair battled at a 150-pound catchweight limit. Kruchten said he's hoping to fight at 155 or 145 in upcoming bouts, but is willing to move up in weight if the right opportunity presents itself.
Speaking en route to a conditioning session, Kruchten said he'd taken only a few days off after the win before resuming training.
"I can only hope and pray that [WSOF] will give me another shot ... but it's up to them, obviously," he said.
The win moves Kruchten to 12-3 on his career. Mahon, who has fought a limited schedule while serving as a top-level MMA coach and trainer based out of Houston, fell to 5-5.