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Brad on the Blog: Cage Warriors 57 (Part Two)

23/07/2013

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By BRAD WHARTON

Putting together a Cage Warriors event is no small task. From the embryonic stages, where dates are considered and new venues scouted, to the complexities of matching a high-level card and the execution of fight-week itself; a walk in the park it is not.

There’s always beauty to be found at around 6pm on event night, though, as the fruits of the hard work are borne. That’s not to say, however, that from the time of the first bell it’s all plain-sailing. If you’ve watched a Cage Warriors show before, you don’t need telling that the event production is top-notch, or that the cards flow as smooth as silk. Making that happen takes a gargantuan effort, but thankfully our crew is up to the task. Saturday was a little different from most other shows, though.

I first realised it at around 1pm, as the team did a walk-through of the venue. It was the first time I’d seen the set-up, and to say that the crew and I were taken aback was a massive understatement. Later, talking to fans, friends and media who filled the arena, their reaction was the same as ours; stunned silence, interspersed with the occasional ‘wow’.

Such was the hype and the quality of the set-up, when bell-time came around there was more than just the usual anticipation in the air. In the MMA business, you learn to accept that no matter how good your card is, sometimes you get a dud. Conversely, a card you’re not entirely happy with can end up producing magic. Well this card was good, and at 6pm, the magic happened.

It’s customary to review fight-cards from the top down, but doing so for Cage Warriors 57 would do a disservice to the way the evening’s action built, crescendo-like, from the first amateur bout to the main event.

It’s sometimes said that Cage Warriors cards of late have lacked highlight-reel KOs. Dean Reilly corrected that in the evening’s opening professional bout, flipping Liverpool’s Mick Kay’s off-switch with a jaw-jarring right hook. The Scot was booed on his way in; not so much on his way out.

The locals were soon given something to cheer about though, as Mick Gerrard deftly submitted Leon Pierre in under three minutes. By the time Bryan Creighton made it 2-1 to the home team with an impressive victory over Mark Connor, the unaired prelims were over, and the tone for the evening had been set.

As the action went live, Steve Dinsdale and Dan Rushworth turned it up a notch. The all-Liverpool clash divided the crowd and The Echo crackled with the kind of electric atmosphere normally reserved for local football derby games. Dinsdale did his best work up close and early on, but a late rally from Rushworth kept the fans guessing before the former got the judges’ nod.

Saul Rogers made light work of late replacement Jason Cooledge, securing the tap in under a minute and a half. Speaking of quick submissions, the predicted stand-up war between Matt Inman and Mohsen Bahari ended in just 44 seconds, after Inman snatched a lightning-fast heel-hook.

As the main card started, the buzz around the arena was unmistakable. The ‘This Is Cage Warriors’ video took things up to fever pitch, and by the time local favourite Chris Fishgold’s pre-fight interview had hit the big screen, the crowd noise was already drowning out the PA. After a performance that saw him boss the fight in all areas ahead of a second-round TKO stoppage of Marcin Wrzosek, ‘Fishy’s Liverpool faithful were raising the roof.

Perhaps the fighting Gods mercifully decided to give the crowd a breather, as the action in the second main-card bout was less ‘fast and furious’ and more ‘calm and calculated’. Nonetheless, the welterweight bout between Ali Arish and Jack Mason proved to be an intriguing affair. Arish wasn’t the takedown machine he sometimes can be, as Mason’s defence and jabs foiled him repeatedly in the first and second round. Still, the wrestling stylist landed some solid shots on the feet, as ‘The Stone’ looked to stifle him and return fire. Finally able to dump Mason on the canvas in the third frame, Arish was able to do enough for the upset, and perhaps throw a spanner in the CWFC welterweight division to boot.

While not strictly a Liverpool native, Leeroy Barnes had the crowd on his side against Norman Paraisy. Barnes’ boxing looked vastly improved over previous contests, his hand speed now surely up there with the best in the division. But Paraisy played the game well, securing takedowns and exerting control for long periods, despite a notable lack of attempts to finish. Barnes may have walked away without a scratch in comparison to the battered and bloody Paraisy, but the Frenchman did enough to have his hand raised.

Ronnie Mann’s return to the UK was a short and sweet ballet of violence. Jose Luis Zapater was game from the off, but Mann’s clean, powerful strikes had him reeling at every turn. A powerful knee sealed the deal, and signalled a return to form for one of the UK’s finest lighter-weight warriors.

Just when things seemed like they couldn’t get any better, it was time for a genuine fairytale to take place on this hot summer’s night. Henry Fadipe was a late replacement for local hero Danny Roberts, taking the fight on just two days’ notice and traveling for 16 hours to make the fight. This was Roberts’ moment, a coming-out party in front of his friends and family in his hometown. Nobody told Fadipe, however.

‘Hot Chocolate’ edged the first, but Fadipe didn’t make it easy for him on the feet or the ground, swarming after Roberts slipped and reversing a north/south choke to close the frame out. Things went off-script in the second, as the Ireland-based brawler carved open Roberts’ forehead with a knee. There was more red on view than in the Kop at Anfield on a Saturday afternoon, and Fadipe pounced, locking up a guillotine choke. Roberts reversed, slamming and pounding his way back into the fight. And boy, was this a fight.

As the third started, it was anyone’s game. The Liverpool lad was in desperation mode, realising that the cut could end his night at a moment’s notice. Fadipe continued to use his power to fight Roberts every inch of the way, but with just a minute and a half left to play with, a rear-naked choke rounded off the fairytale comeback. Without even realising, I was on my feet applauding what was one of the best Cage Warriors bouts I’ve ever seen. I chanced a look behind me to see a couple of thousand others doing the exact same thing.

Paul Daley put the exclamation mark on the evening’s action, as if it were needed. A true icon of UK MMA, the crowd - bolstered by coach-loads of Daley’s Nottingham faithful - dug deep and found a last bit of shout in their lungs to give ‘Semtex’ a rousing ovation. Lukasz Chlewicki wasn’t there to make up the numbers, but this was a must-win fight for the Brit, and nobody was going to stand in his way.

Daley’s Muay Thai skills of old were on display from the off, and despite a strong start from the Polish fighter, it was ‘Semtex’ landing his trademark hooks, elbows and knees. As his supporters rallied behind him, Daley turned up the heat in the clinch, slicing the scalp of Chlewicki with a nasty elbow that would put paid to the contest between rounds. The crowd cheered both men for an intense five minutes, and ‘oooohed’ in unison as a close-up of the canyon-like gash on Chlewicki‘s head hit the big screen.

And just like that, it was over. Cage Warriors 57 was undoubtedly the UK MMA card of the year thus far, delivering as promised from bell-to-bell. It’d be easy to rest on those laurels for the remainder of 2013, but we have the small matter of at least seven more shows to get though before the year is out.

And therein, perhaps, lies the difference between CWFC and other promotions. While some would take the attitude of ‘nothing is beating that’, CWFC is using Cage Warriors 57 as the benchmark for the rest of the year. It was a big show, but this isn’t just about putting on big shows; it’s about building a sport, and leaving a legacy.

Photo: Paul Daley on his way to victory over Lukasz Chlewicki in the main event at Cage Warriors 57 (Gavin Morris | Cage Warriors)

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