September 24, 2007

by Lee Whitehead – MMAWeekly.com



Quite a refreshing evening was had at Cage Rage 23. Gary Shaw, who recently acquired Cage Rage, was walking around talking to people about the show, getting perspectives from everyone in attendance- fans, press and fighters. He was there making his assessments and genuinely seemed to be enjoying the night’s activities but in a discrete way never once putting himself in the limelight at the event.

His statements at the weigh-ins really hit home that the fighters will be the stars of all ProElite events and that win or lose, if you come to fight, you will be looked after. A refreshing outlook and one that is welcome in the days where MMA is facing a lot of emphasis on winners and brand positioning. Shaw’s emphasis appears to be that fighters are the brand and without fighters that fan’s care about, win or lose, you have no value as a brand.

Gary Turner def Julius Francis via Tapout due to strikes R1 2:17

Gary Turner did exactly as expected and dispatched Julius Francis on his debut, not by way of the expected TKO, but by way of tapout due to strikes/gassing at the 2:17 mark of the second round. Interestingly, Turner appeared to make more of a meal of the fight during the first round than expected, even leaving himself in danger on several occasions throwing leg kicks but keeping his hands dangerously low inviting a big right cross, the punch never came though and we really didn’t get to see what a pro-level boxer can bring to the cage by way of striking.

Francis appeared to be a game enough opponent, but sadly seemed to lack the overall skills required to fight MMA at this level, he gains my respect for trying, after all, this isn’t a sport for slouches or wimps, but ultimately, with his advancing years, you have to wonder if we will see him in the cage again?

Vitor Belfort def James Zikic via Decision R3 5:00

Both fighters looked tentative for the most part of the first round, with neither fully committing to their offence, Zikic landed a telling blow midway through the first round that quickly staggered the Brazilian, but that was pretty much the highlight of the first round.

During the second round is where things started to come alive and both appeared to be gaining confidence in the bout. Zikic was landing some solid combos really showing improvement in his hands over his last bout and Belfort was pretty much relentless in pursuing the takedown. But, once Belfort got the game on the ground he wasn’t working at a high enough rate to put the defending champion in trouble and referee, Grant Waterman, had to stand the fighters up several times during the course of the bout due to the lack of activity on the ground.

Considering the caliber of both fighters, I expected there to be more fireworks in this bout, but I understand that stakes were high. Belfort needed a win to remain on the rebuild track and Zikic didn’t want to do anything stupid and drop a belt he earned the hard way. Ultimately, the fight went to the judges and it was deemed a split decision and Vitor Belfort became the new Cage Rage Light Heavyweight World Champion.

Paul Daley def Mark Weir via KO R2 2:14

There were a lot of boos from the crowd during the first round of the fight because of minimal action, but what do you expect? This is a dangerous fight for both guys, and each was very respectful of the others abilities from the moment the bell rang. Weir’s strategy appeared to be sound, he was staying on the outside, circling well and fighting a counter strategy. Daley was well aware of the distance he needed to close in order to land and stayed out of trouble for the most part. Only once did Daley close in to work a takedown and put Weir on his back, but it was short lived. And, Weir displayed excellent strength and perseverance, and worked his way back up to his feet and broke the hold.

During the second round Daley started to push the pace more, he stepped in well and landed combinations. Weir felt his power and started to bring kicks into the game, fast and snappy, but still threw in a straight line, which is a hallmark of his fighting style. The beginning of the end came when both threw kicks at the same time but Daley followed up with two big left hooks putting his opponent down, tasting blood, Daley proceeded to reign down brutal strike after strike bouncing Weir’s head off the canvas prompting Waterman to call a halt at the 2:14

A very aggressive finish to a fight that saw Paul Daley pick up the World Welterweight Cage Rage Title as well as retain his British Welterweight Cage Rage Title. The man has an impressive collection of silverware at home…

  Jean Silva def Chris Brennan via GNP R2 2:26

With two fighters of their respective caliber in ground fighting, you would expect things to be a strategic submission chess match, but both fighters had other ideas and tore into each other with gusto. We always knew Silva was hot on his feet with the standup but Brennan really impressed with a much improved striking skillset; he looked comfortable and willing.

Silva used a beautiful high kick to the head to setup a clinch and worked an excellent body throw to put Brennan on his back, but it wasn’t long before Brennan was back up on his feet and on the attack again. The bell signaled the end of a very close round between the two lightweight fighters.

Second round saw Silva coming out with even more force, really looking to push the pace and impress upon his opponent. Firing off a quick combo, he secured a tight clinch and worked the knees diligently dropping Brennan down with a cut above his right eye. With his opponent clearly rocked, Silva employed a ground strike offence looking to halt the bout but Brennan’s instincts kicked in pulling guard.

The writing was on the wall at this point save for a major danger moment by way of a beautiful armbar setup from guard that Silva defended valiantly – once out his gassed and rocked opponent had no choice but to eat a barrage of punches before a stop was called to the action.

Tengiz Tedoradze def Mustapha Al-Turk via Decision R3 5:00

Tough one to call this, Al-Turk won the first round though better hands in the exchange. He landed some decent leg kicks and as soon as the fight hit the ground he all over Tedoradze like a bad rash, piloting well around the Georgian and securing an immovable body triangle on his back looking for a rear naked choke. After working for the sub for two minutes and sensing a standup by the ref, he took a gamble to release his opponent and found himself on his back – a good solid start.

The third round saw Tedoradze as the main aggressor as he pushed the pace with strikes. Al-Turk had started to look tired during the third round and sensing this Tedoradze was content to let his hands fly, only during the end of the round did he secure a final takedown to leave a strong impression.

So, the deciding factor was the second round… Al-Turk was leading well with a jab, jab, cross combination and was planting well, his head movement still keeping him out of trouble and was scoring the majority of points for the first few minutes. But Tedoradze pushed the pace in the second half of the round using the ground and pound attack for which he has become known. Save for a few attempts at walking off the cage for an armbar Al-Turk had little choice but to defend. In my opinion, I think Al-Turk had done enough to just squeak out a decision win, but I can accept that to beat a reigning champion you have to be decisive in victory and that is why the Judges scored it in his favor.

In 30 professional fights, Mustapha Al-Turk becomes only the second opponent to have ever pushed Tengiz Tedoradze the full distance and into a decision – that statistic in itself shows how much potential he has with just 7 fights under his belt.

Xavier Foupa-Pokam def Pierre Guillet via TKO R1 1:02

With Anderson Silva vacating the Cage Rage World Middleweight belt due to his commitments with the UFC, I see absolutely no reason why Xavier “Professor X” Foupa-Pokam shouldn’t be fighting for the belt next time we see him. His progress through the division has been astounding and his improvements as a fighter have duly been noted – he needs a title shot, the campaign starts here…

Pierre Guillet looked very aggressive in the start of the bout firing off strikes and working an excellent trip from the clinch to take the Frenchman down, but it wouldn’t last as they broke shortly after hitting the mat, scrambling fast to get back to their feet. But Guillet wouldn’t be denied and engaged straight away with a hook/cross combo in a situation where most fighters would step out circle and then come back in.

Circling round, Guillet threw another combo only to eat a brutal body kick that dropped him to the canvas- looking to all the world like a KO. But it turned out that Guillet never lost consciousness but found himself unable to breathe and crumpled to the matt, frustrated in the fact that he was well aware of his senses but his body unable to respond due to the serious winding that incurred.

I reiterate my point, I really think that Foupa-Pokam is deserving of a World Title shot now having scored wins over Alex Cook, Alex Reid, Pierre Guillet and Tom Watson – who will be next for the Professor?

Matt Ewin def Alex Reid via Decision R3 5:00

Having had a swathe of losses against opponents on the international level, expectations were high in this bout with Matt Ewin as it represented the peak of Cage Rage’s domestic middleweight division. Reid wanted this standing so he could bang away, but it was clear from even before the fight what the intentions of Ewin were, and that was to take him down and pound, pound, pound on Reid for an unquestionable, uncontroversial win.

Ewin got exactly what he wanted and proceeded to put Reid on his back at every available opportunity. Once there, it was clear that Reid had no way of countering Ewin’s smothering style, he was unable to escape for the bottom by way of sweeps, didn’t really look for a submission (save for a triangle attempt in the third) and just had to deal with the pummeling blows Ewin was throwing at him.

From a fan perspective, and especially those new to the sport, Ground and Pound and solid wrestling control don’t usually make for exciting fights but there is no denying that Ewin did everything right in this bout and really deserved to pick up the belt off the back of his performance, Reid by contrast needs to take a step back, maybe compete on a couple of Contenders shows to get back onto the winning track and find his confidence, because at this level he will always be getting hard fights.

Neil Grove def Domonic Ostich via Referee Stoppage (GNP) R1 0:34

Neil Grove proved there is more to him than a 10 second stoppage of James “The Colossus” Thompson by adding another 34 seconds to his Cage Rage resume bringing his total up to 44 seconds and two wins. Ostich must have wondered what happened during those brief moments, but it went something like this…

Grove comes out fast closing the distance to secure an underhook clinch and launches the Croatian Heavyweight debutant clear off the ground and slams him down on his back moving from side control to mount in one swift movement displaying a speed and agility that belies his 132kg frame.

He was like a trip-hammer from the point of securing mount unleashing a fierce array of punches that left the Ostich no option but to cover up and avoid a beating. Unfortunately for him, such was the rate of attack that there was no option left to the referee but to step in and stop the bout. Ostich was never going to improve his position and it was only a matter of time before the punches would have started to break down his defence.

An impressive win for Grove who now faces the returning Robert “Buzz” Berry in December at Cage Rage 24. I am relishing the prospect of seeing his progress through the division.

Roman Webber def Ed Smith via Decision R3 5:00

A very measured and mature fight for Roman Webber who improved vastly over his previous outing against London Shootfighter standout Mark Epstein. In this fight he exhibited composure beyond his 18 months of MMA experience and has a good solid win from which to build on.

Early on it was apparent that Smith’s gameplan was to trade punches and to use his reach advantage, but he never really managed to land cleanly despite throwing some good hands. Smith is a tough, durable guy, of that there is no doubt, but again his cardio was found wanting come the late rounds; this was apparent when Webber was able to close the distance in the exchanges and ground the action with body clinch takedowns.

There was a brief moment during the second round where the action slowed and Webber was in danger of being reversed out of mount, but you could see him getting his second wind whilst Smith was still trying to figure a way out of the bottom. The third and final round was a continuation of the second with Webber on top switching from mount to side control, continually applying pressure with the strikes and knees to the body to seal the deal and record a unanimous decision win.

Ch’e Mills def Ross Mason via Rear Naked Choke R1 2:07

Things didn’t go as planned for Ross Mason as Ch’e Mills secured a dominating win over the tough Gracie Barra fighter. Mason started by throwing an inside Thai kick that missed, Ch’e returned the favour and Mason stepped in to secure an over/under combination followed by a body throw, his base was too high and he landed on his back with Mills in the mount.

Mills proceeded to pick his shots with maximum power, avoiding the temptation to flurry but really stamping his mark on his opponent. Mason gave his back to avoid the strikes, and unlike many fighters in this position, Mills opts for a body triangle as opposed to the traditional hooks, putting additional pressure on Mason’s spine. Back secured solidly he worked for the rear naked choke and secured it shortly after Mason tried in vain to get and out of danger.

Lee Doski def Jason Barrett via Decision R3 3:00

This was a Cage Kickboxing bout with two MMA fighters competing, Barrett’s background is in Striking and Doski’s background is in Grappling. The logical evaluation would be that this bout favored the striker, but Doski had other plans as he showcased his standup and imposed his will over his opponent.

Circling well and picking his shots, Doski showed no hesitation in engaging, even forcing a few dirty tirades with Barrett where both were throwing serious leather. Barrett appeared to have no answer to Doski’s offense and come the second round he seemed to be looking for a high-kick KO finish, but it never came and Doski racked up the points en route to a decision win.