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Brad on the Blog: Cage Warriors 55 (Part One)


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THERE’S something brewing in Ireland, and I’m not talking about the Guinness.

Over the past six months there has been a groundswell of support for Irish combat sports.The Irish are a fiercely proud fighting nation and have always rallied behind their favourite sons. From all-time greats like ‘Rinty’ Monaghan and Jimmy McLarnin, to national treasures of the 80’s/90’s boom years such as Wayne McCullough and Steve Collins, Irish fighters have transcended the sports world into the realm of folk heroes.

National pride plays a big part, of course. But in a country of just over six million people, to many young Irish athletes, sporting success is seen as a legitimate path to fortune and fame. The man at the crest of this latest wave is former two-weight Cage Warriors champion Conor McGregor. While he’s far from the sole reason for Ireland’s MMA boom, in many ways he’s the man who made it real. He won two of the most prestigious belts outside of North America and was signed by the big show.

McGregor’s success has turned a spotlight on the Emerald Isle’s MMA scene. The race is on, not necessarily to be the next Conor McGregor, but to prove that ‘The Notorious’ isn’t a one-off, and that MMA cages the world over could soon be filled with the fighting Irish, hands raised and draped in the tricolour.

This weekend, Dublin’s Helix plays host to Cage Warriors 55, and with an Irish-born-or-based fighter in every bout on the bill, the combatants know that the world is watching, and the time to make an impression is now.

Cathal Pendred is probably sick of hearing the phrase “Biggest fight of his career”. His main-event clash with Che Mills undoubtedly is, but then so was his last bout…and the one before that…and the one before that. Since making his Cage Warriors debut in November 2010, ‘The Punisher’ has faced a veritable murderer’s row of welterweights. Pendred has weathered the storms of David Bielkheden, Bruno Carvalho and Gael Grimaud over the past twelve months, picking up the 170lbs title along the way.

Many would argue that he’s already ‘made it’, with appearances on ‘The Late Late Show’ and ‘The MMA Hour’, as well as many column inches in the printed press. Yet the often fickle nature of the sport means a loss on Saturday could make for a long road back.

If this is a must-win fight for Pendred, then it is perhaps even more so for Che Mills, who is coming off a turbulent run in the UFC. Many felt that he hadn’t been given a fair shake in the promotion, but nonetheless, Che was left at a career crossroads. The 30-year-old Trojan Freefighters project had three options: Call it a career? No, he’s not the type to go out like that. Pad his record on the path of least resistance? That’s not in his nature. So Mills did the only thing he knew how to; he found the biggest challenge possible, tucked his chin and ran straight at it.

A loss on Saturday night would be a massive setback for the skilled striker. On the other hand, a win over one of Europe’s most in-form welterweights will be worth more than any other prize in the game.

Speaking of prizes, two of Europe’s top flyweights have their eyes on one, namely the first ever CWFC 125lbs title. Neil Seery’s story is best told in THIS interview by Paul Dollery. In its abridged form, it’s the inspiring tale of a man who came from within a whisker of giving up on the sport, but now finds himself just one liver-bothering body-kick away from championship gold.

Mikael Silander has less than half of Seery’s experience, yet has brazenly suggested that he’ll engage the Irishman on the feet. Doing so could be the ultimate insult if he wins, or a steep and painful learning curve if he doesn’t. Perhaps at only 27-years-old and fighting the European number three, Silander doesn’t have much to lose. At the same time, perhaps that’s what makes him so dangerous.

If Pendred and Mills are fighting for validation, and Seery and Silander are looking for recognition, then Chris Fields and Norman Paraisy are seeking redemption. Both are supremely talented, well-rounded and charismatic individuals. Both too have had a taste of success, and both are looking to go back for a second helping.

Frenchman Paraisy has appeared on the UFC’s Ultimate Fighter and for Bellator Fighting Championships, but left both ventures without a win. On Saturday the dynamic Team Cross Fight striker will return to the promotion that played host to his career-best victory - a third-round TKO of Jack Mason.

Fields returns to Dublin with perhaps the biggest point to prove of anyone on the Cage Warriors 55 bill. His last fight, defending the CWFC middleweight strap on New Year’s Eve, invoked a rollercoaster of emotions; from surging hope as he made his emotional ring walk, to crushing disappointment as he was submitted by Jesse Taylor. Now refreshed, regrouped and refocused, Fields is ready to take the first step back to championship gold, and there is no place he’d rather do it than Dublin.

Elsewhere on the card, one of Europe’s most criminally under-rated fighters, Paul ‘Redser’ Redmond, looks to keep his four-fight winning streak alive against fellow prospect Marc Allen. Redmond has never gone the distance, while Allen has won each time the judges have been called upon. The duration of this bout could be all that separates these two up-and-comers. The versatile Jean N’Doye will aim to keep his comeback alive against the rugged Steve McCombe, who impressed just four weeks ago with a submission of the favoured Joe Orrey.

Liam James recently relocated his training camp to Ireland and has been singing the praises of his new SBGi team ever since. He’ll look to reinvent himself against Irishman Stephen Coll in a bout that could split the crowd. If that wasn’t enough, one half of Cage Warriors’ 2012 ‘Fight of the Year’, ‘Iron’ Piotr Ptasinski, will duke it out with fellow banger John Redmond.

While some big shows put on two or three events per year, Cage Warriors is preparing for its third in four weeks. Yes, it’s hard work; but look at the opportunities it creates. Opportunities for the likes of Chris Fields, Cathal Pendred and Neil Seery to become national heroes. Opportunities for Che Mills and Norman Paraisy to show that they are not just there to make up the numbers. Opportunities for Mikael Silander, Paul Redmond and Jean N’Doye to break out from the pack.

Late Irish playwright Hugh Leonard once said of his home nation: “The problem with Ireland is that it’s a country full of genius, but with absolutely no talent.” Perhaps if he were able to attend Cage Warriors 55 this weekend, he’d see the abundance of both.

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