by Lee Whitehead – MMAWeekly.com
What a mess. Yet again, the Cage Rage boys have battled injury, contract negotiations, and bad luck to bring their most anticipated and important card to the newly completed Wembley Conference Centre on the 1st of July.

This event bears little resemblance to the one that was originally announced back in March, which just goes to show that the UFC isn’t the only organization to suffer from last minute card changes. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I will begin…

Tank Abbott’s fight with Amokrane “Kiane” Sabet is off. Kiane is reported to have suffered a torn groin and is unable to fight, a decision that may prove to be a mistake due to Tank’s current conditioning and activity level. Rich Franklin managed to battle Edwin Dewees with a torn groin, while Kiane was widely expected to lose in this match-up anyway and could have saved a lot of face by fighting with a torn groin. Still, there will be another chance on the September card when the re-scheduled match is likely to take place.

Tank Abbott – opponent injury
Amokrane “Kiane” Sabet – injury
Eddie Ruiz – unknown
Tengiz Tedoradze – stripped of title/contract issue
Paul Jenkins – injury
John Marsh – unknown
Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos – Signed Pride contract
Jeremy Bailey – unknown
Remy De Way – unknown

World Light Heavyweight Title Match: Melvin Manhoef vs. Ian Freeman

Manhoef (12-2-1) was one half of the “War of ’06” when he battled Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos for the Light Heavyweight title back at Cage Rage 15 in February. That fight was a slugfest reminiscent of the early Rocky films.

His upcoming title defense against Ian Freeman (14-6-1) is unlikely the follow the same path, given that Freeman is essentially a ground and pound fighter. Freeman is adept at submissions, but is hardly a submission specialist, and he is prone to eating strikes from serious stand-up fighters. Freeman has a fighter’s heart with little quit, but it is unlikely that he will be repeating the biggest shining moment in his career, which came against Frank Mir at UFC 38 (back in 2002).

The fact that this is Freeman’s first fight since unfortunate horse-riding injury, coupled with his age (39), means that he will be facing ring rust against one of the most feared strikers in the Cage Rage promotion. Manhoef has all the tools to beat Freeman in the stand-up position, but his obvious lack of awareness on the ground will mean that he will have to enforce his gameplan and avoid the ground against the better wrestler. Even as recently as four months ago, Manhoef was struggling against an incredibly basic Achilles crush submission attempt by Cyborg, only to be saved by the bell.

The only way I see Freeman winning this fight is if he’s able to stack Manhoef into the cage for a decision victory, but I honestly think that Freeman will be losing in the first round by brutal beatdown.

British Heavyweight Title: James Thompson vs. Rob Broughton

James Thompson’s original opponent, Tengiz Tedoradze, was stripped of his British Heavyweight Title due to the fact that he infringed his contractual terms by fighting less than 28 days before his scheduled Cage Rage fight. Thompson (12-3) now faces Rob Broughton (3-2-1) for the newly vacated belt in a fight that will surely see Thompson as the victor.

There were question marks surrounding Thompson’s ability to avenge his loss to Tedoradze in this match-up, but all of that is now a moot point following the change of opponent. At the very least, this serves as an opportunity for Thompson to secure a notable championship belt, a feat that he is unlikely to be able to achieve in Pride given the talent roster in Pride’s heavyweight division.

Thompson is actually a better fighter than his recent performances would have you believe. The skills are there, but the problem is in his desire to rush his fights to go for quick finishes. It leaves him open to strikes and makes him prone to mistakes. With a few fights in the Cage Rage promotion and a decent training team, Thompson will hopefully find himself over in the UFC, where he would fare much better as a heavyweight title threat than he would in Pride.

Heavyweight Fight: Gilbert “The Hurricane” Yvel vs. Marcio “Pe de Pano” Cruz

I look at this match with huge disappointment… and for several reasons. Yvel (27-12-1) is a fighter with immense striking ability who could have made it to the very top if he had the right work ethic. However, he has squandered his opportunities through an inability to progress with the MMA skill-set and an absolutely shocking lack of respect for officials, rules, and opponents. His infringements are well-documented and hang over the head of Yvel like a dark cloud. He can be an exciting fighter, but his head really isn’t in the game.

Marcio “Pe de Pano” Cruz (2-1) an exceptional grappler and Abu Dhabi standout who really will have to take this fight to the ground quickly in order to nullify Yvel’s strikes and to pursue the submission for a victory. Realistically, Cruz’ standing defense is not good enough to prevent himself from being tagged by Yvel’s strikes. Unless Cruz can close the distance safely and quickly, he is likely to be eating bombs from the opening bell.

Most people’s lasting impression of Cruz was the win over Frank Mir in February of this year, but you have to remember that it was Mir’s first fight back after a lengthy period of inactivity following a motorcycle accident. Cruz’ decision loss to Jeff Monson in April is more reflective of where he stands in the sport of MMA at the moment, and I really do not see him being able to deal with a fighter who has Yvel’s experience level.

Nothing would please me more than to be proven wrong, but I have to be honest in saying that I think Yvel will win this fight in brutal fashion unless he decides to break a load of rules in the process. Given the fact that there is a lot of confusion surrounding the open guard rule among respectful fighters who can control their actions, I foresee there being some sort of controversy in the early part of this bout. That said, the rules also state that a first infringement of the open guard rule will result in a warning and a deduction of points, which means that Yvel can conceivably get away with one violation.

Middleweight Fight: Curtis Stout vs. Zelg Galesic

Curtis Stout’s fight with Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos is off because Cyborg has signed a three-fight deal with Pride, which takes away Stout’s chance to avenge his loss to Cyborg. Stout is in dire need of a win following three straight losses in Cage Rage. Cyborg will most likely be competing in Pride’s 183-pound division in the future (as opposed to the 205-pound division), which presents huge slugfest opportunities with the likes of Dan Henderson, Phil Baroni, and Ryo Chonan.

Stout (11-9-1) can win this fight, as his opponent will stand and trade with him. Galesic (2-1) is a good fighter and has a future within the promotion, but Stout will be ravenous for a win and will have the edge this time when it comes to ground skills. Stout’s recent fights have been plagued by a lack of confidence on the ground, which is borne out of the lack of solid training partners. He has been in need of someone to stand and bang with him for a while. In Galesic, he will have his chance to return to his winning ways.

Stout’s sprawl-and-brawl tactics have not worked against his most recent opponents, and he will no doubt be employing a different tactic this time round. Stout could feasibly win by ground and pound if he bullies Galesic around the cage and puts him on his back, or he could choose to make this into a boxing match, cut the ring off, and deliver the patented Stout hook for the KO. A lot rides on this fight for Stout, as a loss would mark his fourth in a row and would put the spotlight firmly on his younger opponent.

Galesic has shown continual improvement in his skills, with a particularly impressive leap forward in his match against Michael Holmes. In that fight, Galesic demonstrated composure and an ability to push the pace precisely in the direction he wanted for a TKO win. His match with Stout is the perfect chance to prove his abilities against a fighter who is very good benchmark in the 185-pound division, both here in the UK and internationally.

Heavyweight Fight: Henry “Sentoryu” Miller vs. Robert “Buzz” Berry

Sentoryu (1-4) makes his UK MMA debut at Cage Rage against fan favorite and all-round nice guy Robert “Buzz” Berry. Sentoryu has fought all of his fights in the Pride organization, and it makes you wonder how he managed to stay there for so long when other heavyweights such as Tedoradze, Berry, and Al Turk are all deserving of a place and could have arguably gone 4-1 against the same opponents. I see Sentoryu’s fight against Berry unfolding pretty much the same way as Sentoryu’s fight against James Thompson at Pride Bushido 8 in 2005.

Berry (8-4) comes into this fight off the back of a submission loss to the perennial Dan Severn (will he ever retire?) less then a month ago. Has Berry focused his training efforts on cardio, wrestling, and keeping his punches tight? Only time will tell, but for now the reach, height, and strength advantage are all in Berry’s favor, and unless he decides to do something rash, he will be standing over his opponent in victory within minutes of the bell.

Heavyweight Fight: Mark Epstein vs. Dave Legeno

Two huge British fan favorites square off in a fight that promises to be raw and brutal. Expect both fighters to come out swinging from the gate. This is Epstein’s (11-7) style through and through, but Legeno (0-2) has yet to look fully comfortable in the cage. He whaled into Alan Murdock in his MMA debut, gassing out fast and losing via armbar in the first round. Legeno’s second fight ended swiftly when Japanese leg-lock specialist Minowa secured a reverse Achilles crush.

This fight will likely be resolved in the stand-up position, despite recent improvements to Epstein’s ground work. If Epstein really feels as though he’s in trouble at any time during this fight, he has a breadth of submissions in his arsenal, a fact that is evident from his title-winning battle against Ryan Robinson at the last Cage Rage. If I had to lay down some cash, it would be on Epstein to win via TKO in the second round.

Middleweight Fight: Daijiro Matsui vs. Pierre Guillet

Matsui (8-13-4) appears to be a staple in the Cage Rage organization following back-to-back matches against Alex Reid and Curtis Stout. The initial theory was that he would appear as part of a rebuilding talent exchange with Pride, but his recent run in the UK is doing wonders in rebuilding the tough Japanese fighter’s appeal in his homeland. A win over Guillet (9-4) would mark only the third time in Matsui’s career that he would have won two consecutive fights.

Guillet comes into the fight with a huge height and reach advantage over the Japanese fighter. He is also well-rounded enough to match Matsui in the submission game, with wrestling ability being the only obvious deficit. Guillet doesn’t appear to have the power in his punches to be able to knock out Matsui. However, it is obvious that Matsui can be cut, particularly around the eyebrow area.

If Guillet can keep his distance from Matsui and pick shots, he should be safe. If Matsui is able to put Guillet on his back, Guillet is likely to move into defensive mode, allowing Matsui to rack up crucial points for the decision.

British Welterweight Title: Paul Daley vs. Ross Mason

Daley (10-4-2) has looked solid of late, with the only missing ingredient being the killer instinct needed to step in and punish an opponent for being lazy, which was evident in his fight with Dave Strasser. Although he won the fight, it’s not the sort of behavior or fighting style that will see him in a more illustrious organization soon. That said, the Cage Rage boys have been knocking on the door of the major leagues for a while now, so maybe Daley doesn’t need to worry about that. In any case, fans like finishers and it won’t be long before Daley needs to put people away rather than winning by decision.

Mason (8-4), by contrast, is a finisher who has never had one of his fights go to the judges’ scorecards. Mason’s chin doesn’t appear to be as solid as Daley’s, so Mason will need to be careful to avoid eating knees in the clinch.

Daley just needs to let it fly. Instincts aside, I can see no glaring improvements required in his game. He is that complete a fighter for someone in his early twenties, and he really has a tremendous career ahead of him.

Either of these fighters could beat the other on any given day, but I think this will come down to Daley being better at both taking punishment and avoiding punishment, which should give him the edge in this fight.

Welterweight Fight: Phil Norman vs. David Bielkheden

Davis Bielkheden (10-3) is a dangerous fighter, pure and simple. He is relatively unknown outside of Europe, but you should expect him to be a fixture in the next Pride Bushido event after he destroys Phil Norman. Every time I think of Bielkheden, it conjures up images of the Cage Warriors Strike Force 5 event, which took place up in Coventry this past March. On that event, Bielkheden completely outclassed, mauled, and knocked his opponent (Steve Dawson) senseless. It was a brutal, one-sided display of force, and one that will likely be repeated with Norman as the unfortunate recipient.

A key thing to note here is that Bielkheden has never been stopped or submitted. He has three losses on his record, and all of those losses have come by decision. Norman (4-0) is coming off a 16-month period of inactivity and has never faced someone of Bielkheden’s level. Expect this to be a short fight.

Lightweight Fight: Abdul Mohammed vs. Jean Silva

Jean Silva (12-4-3) returns to action following his gift of a win over Paul Daley back in February. Though Silva came out strong in the first round of that fight, it was apparent that Daley had found his pace in the second round, and things probably wouldn’t have gone Silva’s way if Daley hadn’t suffered a dislocated thumb. Putting aside the “what if” scenarios, Silva’s fight with Abdul Mohammed (11-3-2) promises to be eventful.

Silva is a very talented fighter with an exciting approach to the game. His strikes are getting better with every match, but his submissions are where he is at his most dangerous. He has proven experience in dealing with quality fighters, even taking lightweight prodigy Takanori Gomi to a decision (which Gomi won) in Pride Bushido.

Mohammed is a highly respected UK fighter and is always dangerous, but does he have to tools to beat Silva? He does in theory, but Silva will be looking to get back into the thick of things and over to Japan again. Hunger is a huge motivational tool, and I wonder whether or not Mohammed has it in him to come forth and stick it to Silva.


World Light Heavyweight Title
Melvin Manhoef vs. Ian Freeman

British Heavyweight Title
James Thompson vs. Rob Broughton

Heavyweight Fight
Gilbert “The Hurricane” Yvel vs. Marcio “Pe de Pano” Cruz

Middleweight Fight
Curtis Stout vs. Zelg Galesic

Heavyweight Fight
Henry “Sentoryu” Miller vs. Robert Berry

Heavyweight Fight
Mark Epstein vs. Dave Legeno

Middleweight Fight
Daijiro Matsui vs. Pierre Guillet

Lightweight Fight
Abdul Mohammed vs. Jean Silva

British Welterweight Title
Paul Daley vs. Ross Mason

Welterweight Fight
Phil Norman vs. David Bielkheden

Featherweight Fight
Mark Chen vs. Robbie Oliver

Welterweight Fight
Darren Geisha vs. Dean Bray