by Lee Whitehead – MMAWeekly.com
It appears that MMA is well and truly on the upswing in the UK and UFC madness is taking over… You can’t move anywhere in the UK at the moment without seeing UFC due to extensive advertising posters on the bus shelters proudly announcing their UK show in Manchester on the 21st of April.
The figures themselves define how serious the UFC is in attaining its goal of a sellout crowd at the MEN at 13,700 tickets. At the moment it is near impossible to secure the cheap seats and anything less than £100 tickets is becoming an issue for many people. With regards to spending budget, we’re talking a cool £1,000,000 on billboard advertising spent alone… they are literally throwing money at the event and everyone is talking about it! From the rumblings I have heard, the UFC is considering expanding to the full MEN capacity of 18,000.
The UFC 70 card looks pretty good so far with a clear bias towards the heavyweights with guys like Assuerio Silva, Gabriel Gonzaga, Andrei Arlovski, Fabricio Werdum and of course the Croatian Soldier Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic. I think they could have done with more British guys on the card in addition to Bisping (obvious), Jess Llaudin (great matchup vs. Denis Silver), and Terry Etim vs. Matt Grice. I look forward to seeing the remainder of the card take shape over the coming weeks.
I have to say that the UFC has played a masterstroke in dealing with the press (or lack of dealings) as they have made us all salivate and clambour for information. They have appointed UK PR agents and are really in full swing at the moment. I think that those who think the UFC won’t have staying power in the UK will be crying into their pints pretty soon!
So what of the rest of the UK MMA scene? Its alive and well actually, with a host of good shows coming up. The first of which will be FX3 this Saturday with main-card level fighters such as FX3 and Cage Rage Welterweight Champ Paul “Semtex” Daley and Daniel Weichel going head-to head on the main card, as well as the always exciting Andre Winner, Alex Owen, Nigel Whitear, Jason Barrett to name a few. The FX3 boys have had a rough time keeping the card in one piece due to three pullouts from Storm-Gym, First Roman Webber (due to contract signing against Epstein), Amir Subasic (food poisoning and a broken hand) and finally Andrew Tate (injury). Shame about Subasic because he was scheduled to face Ze Marcello, BTT UK head-honcho… of the three quashed fights only one continues with Azran Quasad stepping up on 3 days notice to replace Tate.
Without stopping, we whiz through to the Angrrr Management/Wired card featuring Mark Goddard, Danny Batten, Matt Ewin, Paul Jenkins and Ross Mason. Angrrr Management still has a good card with solid matches on it, you can see that the smaller established shows are really working well with the talent pool available and this is no exception, though why Batten is fighting on all the shows except Cage Rage against Pickett or Remedios remains a mystery to me.
Then we have the big one, or two, on April 21st, this is a bad day for UK MMA fans with Cage Rage 21 and UFC 70 going head to head. Cage Rage are really responding to the threat of the UFC by signing Bob Sapp (unfortunately miss-matched against Buzz Berry), Vitor Belfort who faces heavy handed 5-0 Italian wrestler Ivan Serati, Cyborg against cage absentee James Zikic, Matsui vs. Weir and Epstein vs. Roman Webber. Late changes to the card have seen the rematch between Pokem and Reid split and become Xavier Foupa-Pokam vs. Tom Watson and Reid vs Murilo “Ninja” Rua. A surprise addition to the card is Abdul Mohammed stepping up to Welterweight to face Ross Pointon. Yes, you read it right, Ross is out of the UFC and back in the UK rebuilding his career under the guidance of Warrior Promotions.
I have a funny feeling we will be seeing a lot of Ross in the coming months on the UK scene. He is 1-8 in his last 9 fights, a statistic that doesn’t really speak wonders for his warrior spirit and I think that with the right guidance the team behind Warrior Promotions will be smart enough to rebuild his career and make sure he takes the sensible fights. Although the fight against Abdul Mohammed is a good step in the right direction, it’s a tough fight, his signing is a two fight deal with the second part coming in June against Dean Bray.
To top all of this, Cage Rage has scored a march by landing a free live to air UK TV deal with Sky Sports 3 whereas the UFC are going down the PPV route with Setanta Sports. From a fan level you’re left with the conundrum of which show to go to… UFC up in Manchester or Cage Rage in London, I actually know a very well respected member of the UK MMA scene who is considering ordering the UFC PPV and watching SKY TV at home with a box of popcorn to see it all unfold… you know who you are!
Mind you, Cage Rage and the UFC will likely be going hammer on tongs before then as the UFC is slapping a lawsuit on Cage Rage for their use of the term “Ultimate Fighting.” We shall see how this one resolves as many organizations within the UK use this term to define the sport of MMA.
And so onto Cage Warriors, no they haven’t been forgotten or disappeared. Of all the promotions in the UK, Cage Warriors have had the rough end of the deal of late with idiots in local councils booking their events then canceling after the wheels are in motion because they didn’t know that a “combat event” was. Well, “combat events” obviously don’t include the kickboxing events they used to have at the same places… muppets! Anyway, they are working hard on the April 28th “Enter the Rough House” show in Nottingham. The bill looks good with guys such as Ian Butlin, Jimmy Wallhead and Dan Hardy highlighting a night of solid match-making. Hardy’s fight won’t be defending his Cage Warriors Lightweight title on the card due to fighting in Japan on the 27th of May at the Cage Force show at Welterweight.
If you can’t get to the UK to see our boys perform, why not tune into PRIDE in May where you will see UK veteran and our very own Turkish Wolverine Sami Berik lock horns with Hayato “Mach” Sakurai. Berik was originally promised Gomi, but is now being told that his opponent will be Sakurai, who I believe is a harder fight style-wise. Sakurai is the world’s #1 Lightweight in the MMAWeekly Rankings.
So, if all this activity didn’t float your boat, you could always go to 10K Challenge on March 11th to see Jeff Monson, Braulio, Lagarto, Ze Marcello, and Mario “Sukata” Neto roll around on the floor in devastating submission wrestling style. (ahem, Jeff to bag it in my opinion!)
Mirko ‘Crocop’ Filipovic vs Gabriel Gonzaga
Assuerio Silva vs Cheick Kongo
Andre Arlovski vs Fabricio Werdum
Michael Bisping vs Elvis Sinosic
Terry Etim vs Matt Grice
Jess Llaudin vs Denis Silver
Alessio Sakara vs. Victor Valimaki
Ryoto Machida vs. Forrest Griffin
CAGE RAGE 21
Bob Sapp vs Buzz Berry
Vitor Belfort vs Ivan Serati
Murilo ‘Ninja’ Rua vs Alex Reid
Ross Pointon vs Abdul Mohammed
Cyborg vs James Zikic
Brad Picket vs Alex Owen
Daijiro Matsui vs Mark Weir
Mark Epstein vs Roman Webber
Paul Daley vs Paul Kelly
Xavier Foupa-Pokam vs Pierre Guillet
Cyrille Diabate vs Ryan Robinson
James Nicholl vs Matt Ewin