September 19, 2006

by Lee Whitehead – MMAWeekly.com
Cage Rage 18 – Battleground rolls into view with only minor changes to the card from when it was originally announced back in June, the main reason for this being a huge presence of British fighters on the card. The matches are guaranteed to provide excitement.

British Title Light Heavyweight Fight
Mark Epstein (12-7-0) vs. Ian “The Machine” Freeman (14-7-1)

Melvin Manhoef breezed though Freeman exactly as expected, nobody really gave Freeman a chance in that match-up as he was so vastly overmatched; Against Epstein the playing field is much more level as both fighters match well for a brawl.

Freeman looked tentative and slow in his last fight, visually telegraphing a low kick by taking his eyes off Manhoef for a split second giving the Dutch Destroyer all the time he needed to pound Freeman into unconsciousness. I very much doubt he will be taking his eyes off Epstein, a renowned KO striker. Freeman will need to bring this fight down to the ground and pound out a victory, if he stands and trades it will be another embarrassing defeat. If he fights Epstein with the same game plan he had for Mir then he will surely record the victory through positioning and work rate.

Epstein has everything to lose with this fight having secured the British Title earlier in the year – the fight with Freeman is a risky one. You have to ask with whom and how much has Epstein been training for this fight? Is he going to rely purely on his abundance of natural talent or is he really pushing himself in preparation? If Epstein connects early then it will be lights out, but if Freeman has been working on evasions then Epstein needs to take his legs out fast with low kicks, wear him down from the outside, slowly closing in for the KO. Epstein is a solid ground and pound fighter, but I think Freeman has the edge in wrestling.

This will definitely be a great fight, Freeman is celebrating his 40th birthday in October and with father time ticking away, this is surely his last opportunity to fight for a belt. I fully expect Epstein to take this fight in the second round, but you just can’t rule out a fighter who knows this might be his last chance at glory.

Middleweight Fight
Murilo “Ninja” Rua (11-7-1) vs. Mark “the Wizard” Weir (17-10-0)

Both fighters meet having come off a mauling at the hands of Denis Kang in PRIDE; Kang for his part has shot up in the world middleweight rankings ñ Murilo and Weir are at a crossing point in their respective careers.

Weir is a fabulous striker and has an underrated ground game, but every time he reaches a major organization he appears to fall short of his potential; Philip Miller in the UFC and Denis Kang in PRIDE. Weir has the ability to knock someone out with an initial blow, such is his speed, precision and power, but if you take him out of his game early he never seems to recover and fall back on track.

Murilo by contrast has never quite matched the skill level of his Chute Box compatriots Shogun and Silva. He is a very talented striker and submission fighter but has suffered through being overmatched in heavier weight categories and a general lack of ability to transition in a fight. His recent history has limited success, but it is evident that he needs to find a home in a single weight category. Maybe middleweight is it.

I expect the fight will start with Weir looking for the flash KO, I think Ninja will circle to frustrate Weir and will eventually work to bring the fight to the ground looking to set up a submission. [Denis] Kang laid a blueprint on how to frustrate Weir, he literally had no answer to the attack, and I think that Ninja will follow a similar plan but Ninja is on a mission to raise his stock and will be going all out for the win in the first.

Heavyweight Fight
Kimo (9-5-1) vs. Dave Legeno (0-3-0)

Kimo comes to Cage Rage off the back of a failed steroid test for his Bas Rutten fight; The UK doesn’t have any governing body in place to test for fighters using performance enhancing drugs such as Winstrol so it is hardly surprising that Kimo can be cleared to fight in the UK following an American athletic commission suspension.

Controversy aside, this is a bad match-up once again for Legeno. Kimo is a black belt in Brazilian Jujitsu as well as being a competent striker. Legeno has shown himself to be a keen fighter with little fear but he really needs someone to stand in front of him and swing. Yes, that’s exactly what Epstein did, but Epstein’s striking and speed is on another level to the Heavyweights that Legeno could face in Cage Rage.

Kimo will most likely come out early shooting for the takedown, position himself for a submission and secure quickly, he seems keen at every opportunity to prove he has progressed with the game and to show off his BJJ skills. Even if he proves me wrong and stands with Legeno, I can’t see Legeno taking the win ñ if he is getting the better of the exchanges I think Kimo will have the presence of mind and experience to alter his plans and shoot; Kimo by first round submission.

British Title Heavyweight Fight
Robert “Buzz” Berry (9-4-0) vs. Rob Broughton (4-2-1)

Berry has a tendency to strike hard but leaves his chin out in the open for someone to come whaling in with big hooks. He strikes fully upright and doesn’t use foot or headwork fluidly. He usually eats a couple of strikes in every match unless he closes early and works for a submission (case in point being Goddard and Rawlings). With Miller you knew that one or the other was going down soon, Berry got the win but took a few on the way.

Broughton has shown in the Thompson match that he can take serious punishment. And it has to be said that until Thompson gasses he was dominating the action entirely for all three rounds. Thompson never really looked for submissions in the match and they were there for the taking ñ that was a mistake he surely regrets. Broughton leaves himself open to arm submissions when he is on his back ñ if Berry can take him down and secure a submission the win is his, but I don’t see it happening. I think Broughton will weather the storm and come back to land on that open chin of Berry’s to retain his British Heavyweight Title.

Middleweight Fight
Tony Fryklund (13-6-0) vs. Alex Reid (7-4-1)

Reid puts the time and effort into his training but has been on the end of some tough matches lately against opponents intent on grounding him and racking points. In the Menne fight he was clearly overmatched wrestling wise but handled himself well on the ground leaving Menne clearly the worse for wear and nearly unable to stand and receive his trophy. The loss highlighted the need to modify his training regime and he has been working diligently in defending takedowns and working to escape from the bottom.

Fryklund is a tough Miletich fighter with skills in all aspects of the game but more often then not content to mix it up brawl style. He is very determined and headstrong, can take punishment and loves to dish it out. The only obvious pitfall he faces here is a lack of reach to his opponent. If Reid is smart he will stick and move keep his opponent at bay and take out his legs early. Wear him down like this over the course of the first and then clinch using his height to connect knees to Fryklund’s chin during the second. Reid needs a convincing win to still continue securing the named opponents.

Fryklund has a temper and can sometimes be over-aggressive in his fighting style. Against guys who are methodical and calm this is a negative (Silva / Salaverry) but sometimes it works well. Reid appears to like it on the outside but has lately ended up on his back; does Fryklund follow this path knowing Reid has been working on it or does he stand and bang? For the sake of entertainment, I would love to see these two tear it up! I am going to go out on a limb and say Reid by TKO in the second (cut).

World Title Lightweight Fight
Abdul Mohamed (12-3-2) vs. Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro (15-1-0)

By contrast, this is my pick for fight of the night.

Why Ribeiro isn’t on a multi-fight deal in the newly revamped UFC lightweight division or fighting in Bushido shows, I have no idea. The guy is a serious talent and arguably one of the top fighters worldwide in this weight category. I only hope that Cage Rage have secured him to a multi-fight contract because the major promotions loss is most definitely our gain!

Mohamed is always tough, always ready and gives everything in the ring. He has little holes in his game and should really push Ribeiro in this match. He has fought good strikers and submission specialists alike and you have to go back to November 2004 to find a loss. He really is the most complete British fighter in this weight class.

A five year MMA career, 16 fights and one loss; those are the stats for Ribeiro; and the wins aren’t against slouches either ñ his submissions are fast and slick and although he is good with his hands it is on the ground where he really excels. It’s always difficult to tell how strong someone is physically; Mohamed appears to be the stronger so will most likely be a difficult guy to submit. I see Ribeiro winning a hard fought decision to retain the Cage Rage World Lightweight Title.

Heavyweight Fight
Alexandra Lungu (0-1-0) vs. Mark Bucannon (4-1-0)

This fight is my pick for worst fight of the night.

Lungu is a very experienced Judoka with 30 Judo championships to his credit and has two wins over gold medal Olympian David Douillet. The Romanian fighter also has a world Sambo championship and a national wrestling title. His only appearance in MMA was a TKO loss to James Thompson in Pride – a fight that saw the Colossus coming out sloppy and eating a few big shots from the Romanian. For all his impressive credentials in Judo this is an MMA match and unless he wants to either throw his opponent around or lay-n-pray (all 360+ lbs of him) he needs to find another sport and quit smoking!!!

Buchanan has good hand power but also has a propensity to gas early; in his last match he missed continuous opportunities to submit his opponent Naghizadeh. I expect these two to come out looking for a quick KO, neither scoring and expending a lot of energy early on, from there I think we will be subjected to a long drawn out sloppy fight until Lungu most likely forfeits.

Middleweight Fight
Alex Cook (8-4-0) vs. Xavier “Professor X” Foupa-Pokam (8-7-0)

Pokam steps up at short notice to replace Bouchelaghem who injured himself whilst training. Fireworks are scheduled for this fight as both are very well rounded in the striking game, but the edge in groundwork goes to Cook. Cook and Bouchelaghem were pretty evenly matched, but I would expect the change of opponent at this stage to force a strategy change for Cook – I would have expected him to trade with Bouchelaghem but maybe to avoid this with Pokam, purely because I expect him to have an advantage on the ground.

Cook has excellent leg kicks and since moving to the Wolfslair has really tightened up the other elements of his game. As evident in the second battle with Chris Rice – he was almost a completely new fighter, you have to say that confidence would appear to be with Cook at this stage, but is it worth engaging in a striking battle with Pokam or do you take him to the ground, soften him up and submit him?

Pokam for his part is a crisp Muay Thai fighter, very rangy and with quick hands but I think his lack of experience on the ground will show and he will be submitted towards the end of the first.

Heavyweight Fight
Mustafha Al-Turk (2-2-0) vs. Henry Miller (2-5-0)

Miller returns to Cage Rage with a win in his pocket from the same Pancrase show Daley fought on. His previous appearance here was a short first round TKO loss at the hands of Buzz Berry. Miller is a strange fighter, clearly very strong and size wise a difficult fighter to work with on the ground. He is stocky and squat. Al-Turk by contrast is huge with solid power in his hands, good speed and an excellent grappling background (European ADCC champion).

Size and reach is the key thing here, my assessment would be to keep it on the feet, clinch early and work the knees/elbows for the TKO. I think taking him down will create a longer fight and despite the clear talents of Al-Turk on the ground, I think a standing fight will provide a quicker route to victory. Al-Turk via TKO in the first

British Welterweight Title
Sol Gilbert (8-3-1) vs. Paul Daley (11-5 -2)
Daley usually starts of tentatively until he finds confidence in the exchange, then he seems to move up a gear delivering vicious strikes and frantic ground and pound game. His progression as a fighter is impressive from a technical point of view but he still lacks that killer instinct to finish a match. Strasser was a case in point as well as Mason. Mason clearly thought Daley wasn’t going to be a lot of trouble but he took him down at will and teed off without problems. Daley’s positioning and transitions on the ground were beautiful to watch. He really turned the tables on Mason for the win.

Since then he has lost to Satoru Kitaoka via Guillotine choke over in Japan at a Pancrase show within the first. A minor setback and possibly the result of big show nerves? In any case he is unlikely to dive head first into a guillotine this time round.

Gilbert is a very good boxer, has excellent cardio and will be more than happy to stand and trade with Daley for the duration. Gilbert is coming off a KO win over Sami Berik in which he wasn’t quite looking his usual self – sure he got the win, but he didn’t fight with the usual Gilbert fire. Gilbert says he is back up to speed and has been training hard for this match, he intends to finish the fight and not go down the decision route. Daley for his part seems more content to rack up points. I hope Gilbert has been working submissions into his game more because this is where I feel his obvious opening for Daley will be. Delay has improved a lot on the ground and Gilbert has been trying to cajole him into that fight at every opportunity. I am really on the fence about this fight; it will be exciting for sure but and eventual winner? Daley at a push!

British Featherweight Title Fight
Brad Pickett (6-1-0) vs. Robbie Oliver (12-6-1)

These two last met in February during a three round war that went back and forth between the two leaving many in attendance to expect a draw. Pickett recorded a Majority Decision for the win, but a rematch was bound to happen as some point. Since then Pickett went through another grueling match against the tough Japanese fighter Hiroyuki Abe recording another decision and Oliver breezed through Marc Chen recording a RNC in the first.

Both fighters have improved continually during their careers, most notably Pickett who has always had good hands, but his ground game and escapes have really come to the fore over the last few bouts. He has been training with the American Top Team amongst others and it is apparent in his evolution as a fighter. If Oliver want to take the belt he needs to finish the fight, a three round decision will not fall his way – he needs to either submit or TKO the scrappy Brit. Pickett will no doubt be expecting Oliver to take him down, last time that proved to create a lot of work and wasn’t as effective as expected. I hope Oliver comes into this fight with a new plan and doesn’t hope that a repeat of the last battle will prove any different. I see no difference in the outcome with Pickett taking this via Decision.

Middleweight fight
Zelg Galesic (4-1-0) vs. James E-Nicolle (6-1-0)

Starting the night off will be Galesic vs. Nicolle to determine the challenger to Mark Weir’s British Middleweight Title. A move that seems strange considering Zelg is coming of a win over Curtis Stout (who is on a 4 fight loosing streak) and Nicolle who got completely destroyed by Amar Suloev. All the while you have Alex Reid out there being refused his shot because Weir doesn’t see the need to fight him again.

Title positioning aside, this promises to be an excellent fight. Nicolle has excellent hands and is a strong wrestler with pretty handy submissions; he never got a change to land anything on Suloev who was meteoric on the night they met, so those who are unfamiliar with him will dismiss him because of that performance. Galesic breezed through Rocky Holmes with ease recording a TKO and then went on to submit Curtis Stout by a surprise Armbar from the guard for the victory at Cage Rage 17. Both like to strike and both are very technical, I see this fight only happening on the feet unless Galesic feels that Nicolle’s striking is too strong. I think Nicolle will take this one via TKO.


1. British Title Light Heavyweight Fight
Mark Epstein vs. Ian “The Machine” Freeman

2. Middleweight Fight
Murilo Rua vs. Mark Weir

3. Heavyweight Fight
Kimo vs. Dave Legeno

4. British Title Heavyweight Fight
Robert Berry vs. Rob Broughton

5. Middleweight Fight
Tony Fryklund vs. Alex Reid

6. World Title Lightweight Fight
Abdul Mohamed vs. Vitor Ribeiro

7. Heavyweight Fight
Alexandra Lungu vs. Mark Bucannon

8. Middleweight Fight
Alex Cook vs. Gregory Bouchelaghem

9. Heavyweight Fight
Mustafha Alturk vs. Henry Miller

10. British Welterweight Title
Sol Gilbert vs. Paul Daley

11. British Featherweight Title Fight
Brad Pickett vs. Robbie Oliver

12. Middleweight fight
Zelg Galesic vs. James E-Nicolle