by Lee Whitehead – MMAWeekly.com
The International Fight League British team selection has been widely speculated upon of late with head coach Ian Freeman scouting U.K. shows such as the Ultimate Warrior Challenge for potential talent.
There are several candidates that could make the grade who are currently active in the U.K. with impressive fight resumes, but as Freeman clearly stated, “It’s more important to me that the fighters selected are team players than purely owners of winning records.”
The term “British Team” is slightly misleading if you consider the likely candidates. It’s more a case of the team fighting out of Britain, but not necessarily having to be British by passport.
The most obvious shoe-in for a place on the team comes in the shape of current Cage Rage lightweight champion Abdul Mohammed, a close associate of Freeman for several years now. Mohammed is lined up to face Robbie Olivier at Dec. 1’s Cage Rage 24 event at Wembley Arena. It will be interesting to see how his future shapes up with a potentially lucrative IFL contract lurking in the wings. Mohammed for his part has been one of the most dominant fighters in the lightweight division for quite some time.
The welterweight division in the U.K. is stacked at the moment, and ruling that roost is one Paul “Semtex” Daley. Following closely in his footsteps are Dan Hardy, Jim Wallhead and Paul Kelly. Daley is following a dream career progression at the moment having smashed his way through the best the U.K. has to offer and is now fighting under the guidance of EliteXC, with three recognized mixed martial arts belts to his credit and a Muay Thai title.
Hardy has had a breakout year in 2007 fighting in Japan under the GCM Cage Force promotion, working his way through serious competition in Daizo Ishige and Hidetaka Monma. He is now in the final stages of the tournament and win or lose, it is likely that the Ultimate Fighting Championship will jump on this rising star, just at a time when they need more U.K. fighters in the division to hold the audience’s interest when running events here. Talking of which, Paul Kelly has had the UFC knock and is rumoured to have inked a three-fight deal, further strengthening the links between the Wolfslair Academy and the UFC.
Wallhead then seems like the most viable option. Ever since shining bright at the 2 Hot 2 Handle events, “Judo Jim” has been working his way through competition amassing a solid record. Short of fighting his teammates, he really doesn’t have much more to prove on these shores. America should love his attitude and being a team player means he will muck in hard.
There are plenty of solid middleweight fighters out there, but only one Brit currently scheduled to fight on an IFL card and that is Alex Cook. This Wolfslair fighter has spent his time preparing others for bouts and putting his own career on hold. He has had some fantastic battles over the years, but hasn’t really tapped into his full potential, yet. A salaried income with a solid contract focused on his future should see him really step out from the shadow of Michael Bisping and make a name for himself.
The light heavyweight division recently came under Freeman’s scrutiny at the UWC show on Dec. 10 with the battle between Polish BTT standout Premyslaw Mysiala and UWC champion Valentino Petrescu. Their match was an exciting battle that really showcased the improvements in Petrescu’s striking skills. It was speculated before the event that he had an IFL contract in his back pocket and his impressive victory that night likely solidified his position. Just like Abdul Mohammed, he isn’t strictly a Briton, but the Italian has been living and fighting here for quite some time and as such is eligible to represent the British team.
And finally, on to the heavyweights… for some reason we build them big over here: James Thompson, Neil Grove, Rob Broughton, Robert Berry… but one fighter who continually gets overlooked in this company is Tom Blackledge. This Wolfslair standout is a very dynamic, strong fighter with smarts. He may not be as big in build as the aforementioned fighters, but what he lacks in size he makes up for in speed. From his sniper kicks to his solid wrestling and brutal use of elbows, Blackledge is the rumored selection at heavyweight.
Freeman has kept his cards close to his chest regarding selections, preferring to secure contracts first. But looking at the likely prospects above, expect for the British Team to make serious waves in the league as soon as competition begins.