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Brad on the Blog: Cage Warriors 58 (Part Two)

29/08/2013

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By BRAD WHARTON

“Welcome to my city!”

The man’s voice came from the rolled-down window of a car that had pulled over alongside some of the CWFC crew, for the sole purpose of greeting a bunch of strangers. He wasn’t the only one either; city-wide, the team received friendly waves and ‘peace’ signs from the locals whenever we ventured outside of the palatial Grozny City Hotel.

With time to kill on Sunday following the show, some of the staff had stopped for coffee at a local café. They were brought a selection of pastries by the proprietor, who refused to accept any payment, insisting that the food and drinks were a gift. Grozny doesn’t have the best international reputation as a place to visit, but the hospitality and friendship of the locals during our stay changed a lot of our preconceptions.

If you stop to think about where Grozny was just 10 years ago, the advances the city has made are incredible on all levels. Chechnya is embracing change, and last Saturday night, it embraced Cage Warriors.

With any first-time show, there are always going to be challenges. Working with a local crew who have never attempted anything even remotely on the scale of a CWFC production is tough enough in and of itself; add in a particularly challenging language barrier and the pressure of knowing that the President of Chechnya would be taking in the event from cage-side, and you have a melting pot of stresses, strains and obstacles to overcome. Thankfully, team Cage Warriors specialises in ‘getting it done’.

And get it done we did. Saturday’s show was spectacular by any standards. The location and time-frame only served to make the feat more impressive. As show-time crept ever closer, everything fell into place. My last memory before the action got underway was a conversation with play-by-play announcer John Gooden. “I hope the crowd are good…” he said, as the arena rapidly filled. “It’ll be a nightmare if they’re quiet”. As any commentator will tell you, a good atmosphere adds so much to the final product. As we were about to find out, the Chechens had it covered.

From the very first fight, the crowd were in fine form. They exploded as soon as one of their local heroes stepped onto the ramp, again when they walked to the cage, and yet again as their names were announced, both in English and Russian. Once the bell had sounded, every punch, kick, takedown and submission attempt had them roaring with approval. I’m almost certain I didn’t hear a single ‘boo’ all night, even when Matt Inman beat Bagautdin Sharaputdinov from neighbouring Dagestan.

Speaking of Inman, his Cage Warriors streak continues. The SBG fighter took a few dings early in his contest against Sharaputdinov - getting cut badly in the process - but was able to come back with a resounding TKO win in the second. Since making his CWFC debut in March, Inman has fought four times in five months. It remains to be seen whether he’ll step back into the cage before the year is out, but when the time comes, his latest win will have set him up for a run at the top of the stacked welterweight division.

Another man to get a bit of a scare on Saturday was former lightweight title challenger Ivan Buchinger. It quickly became apparent that Jamal Magomedov was not there to make up the numbers, as he brought the fight to the Slovakian for the duration. A series of hard shots in the clinch forced Magomedov to shoot for a desperation takedown in the third. Perhaps he was hurt or fatigued, perhaps it was a lack of experience; either way, he walked right into to a triangle, which Buchinger deftly sealed off, before switching to the armbar to finish the fight.

Beslan Isaev got by far the biggest reaction of the night, from a crowd that seemed unable to burn itself out. A legitimate Chechen hero, Isaev looked clinical in the clinch, delivering digging knees to the body, chest and head of the game Victor Halmi. Isaev bossed the fight in all areas, but everything he threw served to get him back in the clinch position. Eventually a series of hard knees forced Halmi to change levels, where he quickly found himself on the wrong end of an air-tight guillotine choke. Too say that the crowd went home happy was an understatement.

Chris Scott came within a whisker of upsetting Pavel Kusch in their middleweight contest, bundling him to the mat and looking for the rear-naked choke. But the Ukrainian’s grappling savvy saw him though, and it wasn’t long before he’d locked up a trademark heel-hook for the win.

Alex Enlund returned to the featherweight division with a bang, expertly passing the guard of Sebastian Romanowski before taking the back and securing the choke in one fluid motion. Azerbaijani tank Bakhtiyar Abbasov went three hard rounds with Charles Andrade, battering him with looping right hands and a steady stream of ground-and-pound to earn the nod from all three judges.

James Brum had promised a finish going into his bout with European standout Ruslan Abiltarov. After calmly dealing with an early takedown, Brum found himself on Abiltarov’s back after a scramble. A body triangle controlled the Ukrainian, and the choke soon followed. The win is Brum’s seventh straight, his sixth in CWFC, against highly-regarded European talent. Fans are already calling for a UK bantamweight dream fight with Ronnie Mann; whatever Brum’s next move is, it’ll likely be a big one.

Ion Cutelaba and Michal Andryszak started their heavyweight contest at a fast and furious pace. The big Polish man took it to the hyped prospect from the off, bulldozing him to the fence and hoisting him up for a big slam. Cutelaba, dubbed by some as ‘The Next Fedor’, reversed things before long and had his man reeling with a torrent of blows. Unfortunately some of them strayed to the back of Andryszak’s head; after a doctor’s check, it was deemed unsafe for the fight to continue and the Moldovan was disqualified. We’ll have to wait a little longer to see if the hype is justified.

Mohsen Bahari returned with a consummate performance against Alexander Voitenko, getting back on track after his first career loss and displaying some solid grappling in the process. Liam James endured a broken foot early in the second round to comfortably outpoint Akhad Mammadov. Local fighter Khusein Khaliev barely broke a sweat finishing Mihail Serdyuk with a modified head and arm choke, while Chechen prospect Zubair Tuhugov fought tooth and nail to take a decision victory over the very game Denys Pidnebesnyi.

And just like that, Cage Warriors’ first visit to Grozny was done. It was surreal, and very cool, to see the show being recapped as a major story on the Chechen national news just a couple of hours later, as the team enjoyed a well-deserved post-event buffet and a cold beer. A near 24-hour trip home followed, but perhaps more than any other, this mammoth journey was worth it. The show that they said couldn’t be done, was done, and it was amazing.

I usually try to end these blogs with some kind of deep and meaningful reflection on the show, but I can’t really sum it up better than SBG Mainline coach Karl Tanswell, who posted the following on Facebook. 

“Cage Warriors has become a magnet for quality, not simply as a fight show, but a place where the cool people like to go for a day’s work. The work ethic, team spirit and skill-set I have witnessed over the last few days has been inspirational; be it the logistics guys, picture-takers, yay/nay-sayers, bill-payers, hand-wrappers, cage-side ten-seconds clappers, cutmen, judges or referees. Not many people will ever venture to Chechnya; no one will ever repeat what was accomplished this weekend.” 

Eight shows down in 2013, at least six more to go. We’ll see you in Cardiff!     

Photo: Bakhtiyar Abbasov makes his way to the cage ahead of a unanimous decision win over Charles Andrade at Cage Warriors 58 (Dolly Clew | Cage Warriors).

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