by Lee Whitehead – MMAWeekly.com
Cage Rage on Saturday night presents the latest edition of its mixed martial arts event at Wembley Arena in London. A heavyweight bout between Gary Turner and Julius Francis headlines the promotion’s first event since being acquired by ProElite, Inc.
Other notables at Cage Rage 23 include Jean Silva, Chris Brennan, Paul Daley, Mark Weir, James Zikic, Vitor Belfort, and more.
GARY TURNER VS. JULIUS FRANCIS
This fight is a very strategic move on the part of Cage Rage to entice the U.K. boxing fans into Wembley Arena off the back of Julius Francis’ name. It is a move that may bear fruit with the promotion and highlight to the boxing community that there is an alternative outside of their sport. Boxing is on the ropes and has been for a long time in the U.K. If Cage Rage can switch over a small portion of the jaded boxing fans, then surely that is a good thing.
Essentially Francis will be remembered most for fighting Mike Tyson. His first foray into MMA is against a fighter who has never been knocked out before – not in kickboxing, MMA or K1. I really can’t see him winning this fight, as Turner has proven to be resilient to strikes and more than able to hold his own on the ground.
Both fighters will likely trade from the off and I think that unless Turner feels in danger, he will keep it on the feet and pick his opponent apart with kicks and knees; busy clinch work is where I see Turner dominating this bout.
From Francis’ point of view, he has boxing ingrained in him and you can argue that offensively, he should rely on those strengths, but defensively he now has to contend with knees, elbows, kicks, clinch work, dirty boxing, takedowns, wrestling and submissions.
PREDICTION: Gary Turner via TKO, R1
CHRIS BRENNAN VS. JEAN SILVA
Jean Silva returns to the UK in a fight that is a serious test for him, albeit not the fireworks show we were expecting with original opponent Masakazu Imanari, it will still be a good solid scrap for the fans. The biggest difference here will be size: Chris Brennan cuts a phenomenal amount of weight before a fight and is one of the best around at doing it reliably. He is scientific in his approach and, come fight time, will be at the top of the weight category above Silva.
Silva has the edge in the standup and will be aware of Brennan’s intentions to ground the fight, so I would expect him to work a sprawl and brawl tactic with the American. Silva is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and, as his fight against Danilo Cherman proved, is no slouch on the ground. His strengths are Brennan’s weaknesses though and he will be very aggressive in his application.
Ultimately, I think that once Brennan finds his range, closes distance and pulls Silva down, he will have the strength advantage and experience to be able to find the sub he is looking for.
PREDICTION: Chris Brennan via Submission, R1
PAUL DALEY VS. MARK WEIR
Mark Weir is a very dangerous fight for Paul Daley in respect to his experience, speed, range and power. Weir has been on the scene for a long time, but has always fought at middleweight on these shores. The fight with Daley marks his second drop to welterweight following his TKO loss to Nick Thompson at Bodog. Weir looked every bit as lean at 170 pound as he always did at 185 pounds.
Coming into this fight, Daley will be aware of the elements Weir brings to the table and will surely be approaching the bout with respect, as an overzealous approach will likely find him TKO’d early on. I expect Daley to push the fight standing by closing the distance and fighting with his hands in the pocket. Weir’s biggest asset will be his long-range kicks whilst circling and, as such, Daley will have to avoid giving him the space to engage them.
Daley’s game has been continually evolving throughout his career and he has proven before that he won’t be intimidated by an opponent’s strengths (i.e. Bang Ludwig’s standup). We haven’t really seen him in danger of being KO’d before, either. But has he fought anyone that will lay the kind of power/speed combination on the line such as Weir? A hard fight to call, but it will definitely be one of the highlights of the night!
PREDICTION: Paul Daley via TKO, R2
JAMES ZIKIC VS. VITOR BELFORT
Zikic is a tough, durable fighter who impressed all with his maturity and composure during the heated rounds with Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos en route to the Cage Rage World Light Heavyweight Title. He avoided the Brazilian’s first round brutality and proceeded to score points through the second and third, a solid game plan pre-fight and his ability to stick to the blueprint earned him the win over the Brazilian.
Belfort comes into this fight with the unfortunate tag of being a dangerous first rounder and a complete choker during the second and third. He has shown in the past a tendency to lose heart if things don’t go his way and he isn’t dominating his opponent. But I believe Belfort has made the adjustments required to climb into the light heavyweight picture again and re-assert himself. His last performance against the vastly overmatched Ivan Serati was impressive, but didn’t really test his heart. Against Zikic, he will have to dig deep to earn the belt.
By his own admission, Belfort knows this is the last chance he has in the game to move forward. He has been working with a sports psychologist for quite some time now and appears to have found a new peace in his life with his training camp. If he drops this bout, I fear Belfort will be consigned to history forever as a “nearly man.”
Strategically, Zikic needs to fight the same fight as Cyborg to win this, but I don’t think Belfort will be looking at keeping it standing. I think he will soften Zikic initially before taking the fight down and working his ground game to effect. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Zikic fall foul of a submission late in the second and drop the belt.
PREDICTION: Belfort via Submission, R2
ALEX REID VS. MATT EWIN
If you were to look up the definition of “unlucky” in the dictionary you would see a picture of Alex Reid, such is the unfortunate burden he carries around with him. In his fight against Murilo “Ninja” Rua, he looked snappy and game, but he split a muscle in his shin checking a kick forcing a medical stoppage. Against Xavier Foupa-Pokam he had a torrid first round, but was beginning to impose his will in the second before suffering to eye-pokes forcing another stoppage, the guy just can’t get a break.
Matt Ewin steps into the fray following the pullout of initial opponent Zelg Galesic, who defected to the K-1 Hero’s promotion. Ewin is a tough guy who, on paper, has all the tools required to compete at this level, but I really don’t think he will be walking away with the belt on this one unless lady luck deserts Reid again.
Reid has traditionally been passive during the first round of his fights, taking punishment early and putting him on the back-foot before he turns the pressure on in the second. It’s almost as if he needs to get be reminded he is in a fight. Of late, he has reversed this trend and I think he will come out banging hard and fast, confident that he already has a win over his opponent dating back to 2002.
Ewin arguably has the edge in submissions, but I am sure the London Shoot boys will have been pushing him hard at avoiding this. I think there is enough needle between the two to make them slug it out, and I see Reid breaking his duck and securing the win.
PREDICTION: Alex Reid via TKO, R2
MUSTAPHA AL-TURK VS. TENGIZ TEDORADZE
Mustapha Al-Turk is a fighter on the rise. Off the back of his impressive win over MMA legend Mark Kerr, he finds himself in line for a title shot against perennial U.K. favorite Tengiz Tedoradze. Tedoradze showed improvement in his standup against Butterbean in his last bout, but also proved that when the pressure is on and he is in danger, his wrestling is the ace up his sleeve.
Against Al-Turk he will have a tougher night, as his standup is vastly superior with excellent head movement, speed and accuracy that belies his heavyweight build. If Tedoradze trades with his usual penchant for hanging his chin out, Al-Turk will find it and put him to sleep.
That said, Tedoradze should be smart and ground the fight early to work his staple ground and pound attack, but in contrast to the normal U.K. heavyweights, he will have to watch out for the submission game of his opponent, as Al-Turk is a European ADCC caliber fighter.
Tedoradze has the experience, but Al-Turk has the more complete toolset and I think this will show come the second round whereby I see the London Shootfighter making a name for himself and scoring the win to secure the title.
PREDICTION: Al-Turk via TKO, R2
ED SMITH VS. ROMAN WEBBER
Both Ed “Smasher” Smith and Roman “The Hybrid” Webber came in for rude awakenings in their last fights. Smith displayed a lack of cardio against Tom “Kong” Watson and Webber displayed holes in his overall MMA training. Both fighters should be coming into this with the required improvements to compete at the main stage level.
Since his loss to U.K. light heavyweight gatekeeper Mark Epstein, Webber has been training full-time with Lee Hasdell, working extensively on striking and his ground game, but foremost on conditioning and that is one of Hasdell’s key motivators.
For his part, Smith brings heavy hands and a huge confidence level into a fight. His battle with Watson proved he needed to work on elements of his game and, hopefully, the training alliance between Trojan and Elite has ironed these out.
Many are expecting this to be an all out slugfest, but I think the pace will be more measured and strategic, both fighters need the win. In this instance, I think Webber has the combination of strength and desire to put Smith away via ground and pound.
PREDICTION: Roman Webber via TKO, R2
XAVIER FOUPA POKAM VS. PIERRE GUILLET
Xavier Foupa-Pokam is on a tear. He has been working his way through U.K. talent in impressive fashion, finishing opponents and bringing excitement to the cage. His persona is surrounded in controversy due to some unfortunate incidents in bouts (Sol Gilbert, Alex Reid…), but there is no denying he has the tools and knows how to use them.
Of late we have seen that he is as comfortable with submissions as he is with his striking, but, overall, he is much more aggressive in battle than Guillet. I think he will win the fight because he will push the pace from the bell and put Guillet on the back-foot.
PREDICTION: Xavier Foupa-Pokam via TKO, R1
DOMONIC OSTICH VS. NEIL GROVE
Expectations from Grove are sky-high following his 12-second knockout over Pride veteran James “The Colossus” Thompson. That in and of itself may become a bigger pressure point for him than his opponent. Against Thompson, he went for broke knowing that there were question marks around the Colossus’ chin. So he threw hard and proved a point, laying the Briton flat out on the canvas. It was an impressive win, but one that didn’t really highlight his skills as a 3-0 pro competitor.
He won’t be able to throw wild overhand rights against Domonic Ostich without being punished, as Ostich’s K-1 level background should mean he is better under striking pressure. I think Grove would be best advised to work a ground and pound attack, as he will be the much larger of the two on the night.
That said, I think this fight will draw another major heavyweight player into the mix and we will see Ostich out-strike his opponent for the win.
PREDICTION: Domonic Ostich via TKO, R2
JASON BARRAT VS. LEE DOSKI
Two MMA fighters engaging in a Cage Kickboxing match… next…
CH’E MILLS VS. ROSS MASON
This is an excellent fight and could well end up being the highlight of the card in my opinion. Ross “The Boss” Mason is a tough, crisp striker who has fought valiantly in his last two Cage Rage outings, but has ultimately come up short to a world class fighter (Paul Daley) and a fighter on the rise (Marius Zaromskis). There is no shame in his performances, as it’s not like he wasn’t holding his own…
So, in the fight against Ch’e Mills, he finds an opponent comfortable with striking and submissions and, as such, he will need to work diligently on all levels. Indeed, Mills scored the only loss on the Lithuanian demolisher’s record. But suffice it to say, the key to securing your position as a Cage Rage main show competitor is to bang hard.
The cockneys love a good slugfest, and I think that will be Mill’s undoing. Mason’s striking is arguably superior and I see him imposing his Muay Thai to move back into the winner’s circle via knockout.
PREDICTION: Ross Mason via KO, R2