by Lee Whitehead – MMAWeekly.com, photos- Terry O’Reilly
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Cage Rage 16 was an event that highlighted exactly where some of the UK stars stood in relation to the rest of the world in MMA. A few fighters clearly illustrated that they are ready to make that step from UK star to bona-fide international star, others showed that they really need to re-think some elements of their game!

Buchanan vs Nagahizadeh kicked off the night with a display of mixed martial arts that can only be described as shocking in places. I was sitting next to a complete newcomer to the live spectacle of MMA and had to keep assuring him that the athletes are usually more accomplished in all elements of the game then the match displayed.

Buchanan revealed a serious weakness on the ground and missed three golden opportunities to apply submissions, namely two armbars and a triangle! His stand-up didn’t set the world alight either although it had to be noted that it did look as though there was some decent power in his shots but his lack of cardio left him unable to push the pace sufficiently to stop the fight decisively.

Nagahizadeh was clearly the better wrestler of the two and looked to take the fight to the ground at every available opportunity. My concern here is the flailing limb syndrome so common with wrestlers and a more experienced heavyweight such as Tengiz or Al Turk would have punished him dearly for it. A moot point though as the fight was stopped by the doctor due to a cut on Nagahizadeh midway through the second round.

Talking about Al Turk, his match with Thompson was a steamroll save an early, hard fought guillotine attempt by his opponent. Once unleased, Al Turk dominated position to secure side, blocking Thompsons attempts to shrimp back to guard, softened him up with body shots and secured mount.

Al Turk has an excellent Ground ‘n’ Pound workrate, picking shots with power and precision forcing Thompson to roll onto his front attempting to defend. The fight was over as soon as Al Turk connected with a massive hook to the side of Thompson’s head putting him out instantly. Referee Leon made the best save of the night when he stopped Al Turk after the blow – not a moment too soon and certainly saving Thompson from unnecessary punishment.

Al Turk looked huge, conditioned and very impressive on route to his win at the 3:02 mark of the first round.

First disapointment of the night came when it was announced to the crowd that Gesias Cavalcante would not be fighting as his opponent, Jess Laiudin, suffered serious dehydration from cutting weight and would medically be unable to compete. You put in the training with your reward being the fight, in this case Gesias went home empty handed but appeared to be in good spirits and hoped Liaudin was OK.

Nakamura vs Johnson was an amazing fight, precise, technical and fast paced. With both fighters finding their range from the bell exchanging outside leg kicks Johnson scored an early haymaker dropping his Japanese opponent, forcing him to pull guard to recover.

Johnson was the much larger opponent in this bout dwarfing the Nakamura but proving that size and strength can’t overmatch solid technique – Nakamura forced Johnson to tap to the Kimura following a brief but fast paced grappling session that had Nakamura flowing fast between Kimura to Straight Armbar and Back to the Kimura for the tap at the 1:54 mark of the first round.

Both fighters are welcome additions to the Cage Rage roster, injecting new blood into an already stacked weight division but also proving that its skills and not hype that wins fights!

In the major upset of the night, Edson Drago came saw and destroyed Tengiz Tedoradze before even breaking a sweat. At 0:04 seconds of the opening round the Brazilian flew over to Tedoradze’s corner, weaved away from an oncoming right, measured his distance and deliver a reverberating left hook that sent the British Heavyweight Champion to the canvas unconscious.

Clearly upset, Tedoradze spent a good few minutes on the floor trying to recover from a blow he didn’t see. All the while Drago is stomping around the cage while the whole audience sat there in shock. Tedoradze is a kind of mma legend in the UK, a tough veteran who has proven time and again to withstand serious blows – and here stands a Brazilian who just shattered the legend. I have a sneaking suspicion the next time we see him he will be in the land of the rising sun.

How to describe what happened next? Somewhere between farcical and time to go to loo I would presume… I can understand the need to sell a fight but Bailey and Barrett have been working this match for such a long time that you just didn’t want to see either of them for awhile.

With both fighters looking to get the high-ground on each other with ring entrances and banter, you finally had a fight after about 20 minutes of soap opera. As is usually the case with Bailey, you can expct him to be hot-headed and pretty loose with the stand-up and to his credit and my surprise, his standup has improved immeasurably.

Both fighters were going to stand there and bang, that much was certain – neither were going to start that funny grappling stuff, just not tough enough to re-enfore the badboy image… so there they stood trading blows with Bailey getting the better of the exchanges and pushing the pace to a point that the Barrett had to resort in rather unsportsman-like fashion to hanging off his opponents dreadlocks on three separate occasions. The second time securing a yellow card for his efforts and on the third (at the 4:57 mark of round one) to be disqualified from the bout.

As an exclamation mark on his performance, and almost unravelling the impression he left of an improved fighter – Bailey marched over to Barret and sucker-punched him from over the top of referee Grant’s shoulder.

I shall not bother rehashing the next ten minutes of centre-cage banter between the two but suffice to say by this point my eyes were rolling and I needed to get a drink to wash away the pain…

Man/Monster combination Buzz Berry made short work of 6′ 8″ opponent Gary Rawlings by bullying him around the cage, blocking a big left with ease and taking his opponent to the ground. He proceeded in record time to secure side control and apply a hammerlock for the tap at the 1:29 mark of round one.

I like Berry, always have, but I would have to say that if he was to lay-off the weights a little in favour of cardio, work on his footwork and wrestling he could be a bulldozer as he moves really fast for a big man and has incredible strength.

Pickett vs Abe was next and an interesting piece of information was revealed to me leading into his fight by the Elite Fighting Systems guys that he trains with; apparently, he seriously hurt his hand in training whilst drilling his Ground ‘n’ Pound attack.

In true warrior style, he was here to fight as usual, no excuses, just to get business done. Pickett has always been a class fighter and in this bout he really underlined the fact that he is ready for the big-time. The bell opened with Abe getting the better shots off when they engaged, controlling the pace and almost securing a standing rear naked choke at one point from the clinch.

At about the midway mark of the first round, Pickett must have realized that he needed to put everything into the fight and deal with the repercussions of his hand at a later time. He reversed fortunes shortly after a referee restart due to lack of action on the ground and proceeded to tee off on the Japanese fighter with vigour, despite eating a few straight jabs and a failed armbar attempt Pickett ended the round in convincing fashion.

The start of round two with a touch of gloves, respect having been earnt by both during the first. After a brief exchange, they spend most of the round on the ground with Abe showing better positioning but Pickett making the most of the time with shoulder strikes and solid body shots (money in the bank for a later round if you will) they end round two with a decidedly wobbly Abe having taken a serious amount of knees in the clinch and proving that whatever the Japanese eat it certainly makes them tough!!!

The third round sees Pickett using all the tools in his arsenal against his opponent, from vicious elbows, to foot stomps and knees in the clinch, he dominated the round from the start and left no doubt as to the tide of the fight recording a unanimous decision for the win.

Several things spring to mind regarding Pickett; he is great in the pocket and his ability to change levels is almost pre-emptive but he is suscceptible to straight blasts down the middle and an opponent with a solid boxing background would exploit this. He again proves that despite world MMA rankings leaving him out in the cold, he is very much underappreciated outside of the UK and it won’t be long before this balance is re-addressed.

And so onto a battle to crown a new British Light-Heavyweight champion. The early favourite was Epstein but those in the know didn’t overlook Robinsons chances – and clearly, neither did Epstein…

You usually expect Epstein to come out swinging for the KO regardless of the opponent, it’s almost as though he can’t help himself and in the past this has got him into trouble but in training for this fight he must have realized that things weren’t going to go his way and he showcased a much improved ground game attempting a guillotine choke, a straight armbar and some very impressive sweeps – not an easy feat with an experienced grappler such as Robinson!

All three rounds were wars with fast and furious action on the ground and only minimal action standing. It has to be said that post-fight Epstein’s face was a mess with a massive hematoma on the back of his head and a nasty cut under the right eye that should have really been checked mid fight as blood was clearly going into his eyes. Ryan for his part looked unscathed during the bout having covered much better during the pounding attacks thrown at him by Epstein.

It took three rounds of action and really could have gone either way – the judges saw it in favour of Epstein, most likely on the basis that Robinson is not offensive enough from his back and Epstein appeared to have worked more diligently for a submission finish. This last statement really shows you how much Epstein respected Robinson’s abilities and the fact that he must have really put in the time on the ground in preparation.

You could be thinking that the Stout / Patino fight was a replay of the Matsui fight excepting the fact that Patino was light years ahead of Matsui in his abilities. Stout came into this fight with pretty much the same Sprawl ‘n’ Brawl gameplan as before but with a need to be much more aggressive in his application.

The first round had Stout deflecting an early takedown with effectiveness and peppering shots but it was clear that after a few adjustments he wasn’t going to keep Patino at bay for long. Stout again suffered for a mismatch in styles and was dominated on the ground by the Brazilian throughout all three rounds.

At the second round mark you could sense the frustration in Stout and his corner at not being able to thwart the Brazilian from putting him on his back and you knew that somehow to win this fight he had to finish him with a KO or a referee stoppage, having already dropped both rounds on the scores. The finish never came though and the Brazilian recorded a uanimous decision on his debut.

Stout needs a few things to get him back on the right track- an opponent who will stand and bang with him, a BJJ instructor and a big scary NCAA wrestler to stick it to him in training. Though this may sound harsh, I believe Stout can regain his momentum but I fear that he is in danger of loosing his desire to do this. Through his proposed match with Cyborg in July he will be granted one of the three aforemention elements – lets hope that between now and then he can find the other two!

Suloev vs Nicolle was a cakewalk for the Red Devil standout… and Nicolle is no slouch in the standup but he was completely outmatched and destroyed by a vastly superior opponent in the Russian. From the bell, Suloev had an air of menacing calm about him remeniscent of his mentor Fedor Emelianenko, and like his counterpart, he took Nicolle apart with ease…

Several times during what seemed like the longest five minute round in history, you had to wonder if the fight was going to be stopped; such was the one-sided display unfolding before your eyes! Nicolle never found his range or composure, every time he engaged, the Russian would beat him to the punch and throw combinations that shadowed Fedor’s match against Goodridge – Nicolle was left a bloody mess at the end of the first round and was unable to answer the bell to the second round.

Suloev is a very highly respected fighter, but the Suloev we witnessed tonight was the best ever and a re-invented beast of a middleweight…

I for one was salivating at the prospect of Daley vs Lytle but it was not to be and Dave Strasser stepped up to fill the boots of the Welterwight champion for this bout. If not the bout we would have liked, it served as a benchmark for Daley’s skills against a UFC veteran.

In typicial Daley fashion the round started slow and tentatively with Strasser scoring early with knees in the clinch and some nice underhooks to control Stout against the cage. It wasn’t long before the midway mark in the first round when Daley realized that he wasn’t in any danger of being put down and his confidence grew as he got better strikes off and nulified a brief trip to the ground prompting a restart – picking up with strikes as soon as they were on their feet again.

For the next two rounds the fight unfolded with Strasser showing nothing other than a lazy open armed shoot and a really bad telegraph of all his strikes. Daley was in no danger whatsoever, teeing off with vicious combos, knees and high kicks at will… his standup was vastly superior to the American’s – he claims a unanimous decision victory and an ex-UFC scalp to boot.

Daley has eyes on him from other prominent organizations and this fight will have really caught their attention, but there is one obvious thing to consider. Promotions like finishers and although when engaged Daley looks for the finish, he is way too sporting at times and needs to develop that killer instinct. Case in point being that during the third round Strasser was clearly gassed and resting defenceless in front of his opponent – Daley could have stepped in for the kill but was clearly conflicted and unsure if he should engage. The point is this, it’s Strassers job to defend against a beating and Daley’s job to give it – if Strasser doesn’t want to defend, then Daley, get in there and put him out!!!

In the second rehash of the night (with a common theme… Daijiro Matsui) we see ex-UFC Middleweight Champion, Dave Menne, take on London Shootfighter Alex Reid in three rounds of slow paced groundfighting.

The crowd and indeed many members of ringside London Shootfighters kept calling for restarts due to a lack of action and referee Grant Waterman was happy to oblige but there is something to note: Menne secured all the takedowns and granted, wasn’t the most brutal in his ground and pound attack but Alex Reid spent all three rounds on his back offering no submission offence at all! Boring as it may have been but it takes two to tango…

At the end of the three rounds Menne scored a Unanimous Decision due to being the more aggressive fighter, most likely due to scoring the takedowns, but it has to be said that he looked seriously tired at the end of the match and Reid looked to have the better cardio, not sure if it’s jetlag or just a case of having overworked during the bout but Menne looked ready to collapse on top of his trophy. He clearly won the fight but it wasn’t in any way as exciting as it could have been.

Finally, Silva vs Fryklund to settle another exciting Cage Rage card and the last at it’s current home of the Wembley Conference Centre prior to moving into the Wembley Arena in June.

Fryklund came into the cage looking focused and sharp, in amazing condition and for all this world looking like he wanted to put the hurt on bad… Silva entered looking his usual calm self and set the stage for the Cage Rage World Middleweight Title fight.

Both fighters started tentatively feeling each other out with Fryklund unable to gauge the distance to Silva, he scored a couple of snappy outside kicks but Silva doesn’t even flinch. The two circled some more before Fryklund lunged in to clinch with the Brazilian. Not long after eating a few knees to the midsection, Frylund reversed Silva into the cage and delivers a few of his own but Silva again seemed unfazed and worked for the break.

They circled a little more with Silva cutting off the angles to Fryklund throwing a few shots to back him up before unleashing a monster elbow to the right temple from his right arm, if that sounds odd, its because it is, and very unexpected – he crossed his arm over the other, effectively opening his right side up to strikes and in lightning speed stepped in with the elbow.

Fryklund had no chance and didn’t know what hit him, dropping to the canvas fast and hard as the reigning champion turned his back and walked away – another dominant display by Silva. Further underlining his ranking as the best middleweight striker in the world of mma today.

In closing, some highs, some lows but all in all an exciting night and further emphasizing that the Cage Rage freight train is in full motion and on to bigger and better things at the Wembley Arena in July, and for this writer that seems such a long time to wait…