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Brad on the Blog: Cage Warriors 59 (Part One)

14/09/2013

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By BRAD WHARTON

Tournaments are awesome.

I think the concept of the tournament was first introduced to me as a kid watching WWF wrestling’s King of the Ring. The trouble with wrestling was that it always left you wanting more – that was sort of the point. But with King of the Ring, there was a degree of finality. There was something enthralling about the cast of colourful characters fighting, not just once, but multiple times on the same evening until there was no doubt as to who the better man was.

Later in life (but probably a few years too early) I came across a copy of Bloodsport. The not exactly true story of Frank Dux, a former soldier who fought in a mysterious tournament called the Kumite, it starred Jean-Claude Van Damme and inspired a generation of martial artists. But who would win a fight between Van Damme and Jackie Chan? What if Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris were thrown in the mix? 

Little did I know, this theory was currently being tested on the other side of the pond. Soon after, I was introduced to mixed martial arts (or NHB – No Holds Barred - as it was then known) and my life was changed forever. In the NHB days, the tournament was king. Not just in the UFC and later Pride, but the legendary Russian/Ukrainian one-nighters that gave birth to the likes of tournament specialist Igov Vovchanchyn, my all-time favourite fighter. Records vary, but there are seven confirmed one-night tournament wins on his ledger, three in a 60-day period, mostly bare knuckle.

MMA has evolved almost beyond recognition since those days, and rightly so. Now it’s more sport than spectacle, but for many fans the mere mention of a tournament brings a glint to the eye and butterflies to the stomach. For me, as much as I love what MMA has become, a one-night tournament is still the absolute way of deciding who the best man is.

And here we are. This year, Cage Warriors is bringing back the tournament format. First up are the bantamweights; James Pennington, Brett Johns, Kris Edwards and David Haggstrom will vie for the promotion’s vacant 135lbs title. In order to take it home, they’ll have to fight (and win) not once, but twice tonight at Cage Warriors 59 in Cardiff.

Perhaps the biggest physical threat in the tourney, Gym01’s James ‘Power Weasel’ Pennington rides a wave of momentum into his semi-final bout. The Portsmouth native has won two on the bounce, capturing the Shock ‘n’ Awe title in the process, and hopes to add another belt to his collection. With teammates Phil Harris and James Brum riding high in the UFC and Cage Warriors respectively, Pennington’s confidence will be at an all-time high. Fortunately for him, and unfortunately for his opponents, he’s got the physical tools and skillset to go with it.

One man not appearing in the tournament is local favourite Martin ‘Mr Pink’ McDonough. An injury ruled the Tillery Combat fighter out of his semi-final match with Pennington last week. Stepping in at the 11th hour is teammate Kris Edwards. Having flitted between 125 and 135lbs of late, Edwards had settled on a full-time bantamweight return and was set to compete in an alternate bout. Circumstances have now conspired to give the 23-year-old submission specialist a chance to enter the tournament proper, and with a partisan crowd behind him, Edwards will be looking to shock the world.

On the other side of the bracket, Sweden’s David Haggstrom is looking to upset the applecart and take the 135lbs title out of the UK. A savagely efficient striker, the 27-year-old was last seen laying waste to 24-fight veteran Artemij Sitenkov. While his mind will be focused on getting the wins and acquiring the gold, Haggstrom may have an ulterior motive; his lone career defeat came at the hands of a Welshman. Will Saturday night bring him a measure of redemption, as well as a big shiny belt?

Rounding out the bracket is the tournament’s dark horse. Coming in as an undefeated prospect, Brett Johns ticks all the boxes. A great base and arsenal of throws from his judo background make him a nightmare to take down, while competent hands and submission skills give him plenty of offensive options. Tactics will be key for the Chris Rees Academy youngster; while an all-out war with Haggstrom would no doubt light up the Welsh crowd, the home favourite will need to consider the realities of fighting a second time while he’s drawing up his game plan.

‘Back in the day’, tournament fighters would trudge back out to the cage with twisted knees, broken bones and all manner of cuts and bruises. Fortunately, that’s one aspect of tournament fighting that has been left behind. Should one of our winning semi-finalists be deemed unfit to continue after his post-fight medical, the winner of our reserve bout will get the nod. SBG Mainline’s Jordan Desborough never takes his foot off the gas, while the slightly less experienced (but no less dangerous) Timur Mercanoglu is just about as game as they come. If you needed an excuse to buy a ticket, this unaired preliminary bout is it.

With all this talk of tournaments it’s easy to forget the CWFC 59 undercard, which is more stacked than a Scooby Doo sandwich. Jim ‘The Beast’ Alers (pictured) is amongst the world’s top unsigned featherweights, and a win in his first title defence could see him breach the tipping point. A consummate all-rounder, Alers will defend his strap against one of the game’s most physically imposing featherweights.

Coming in at over six feet tall, Martin Svensson is an awkward fight for any 145lb’er based on his dimensions alone. Add to that a spider web like guard, a tricky submission game and a solid ranged striking attack, and you’ve got an opponent who isn’t here to make up the numbers. Both men pose interesting problems for the other, and we may see a departure from their usual game plans tonight.

Elsewhere on the bill, Tommy Maguire makes his long awaited CWFC debut against local favourite Lew Long. Judo stylist Long showed off his striking last time out against Mark Glover, but Maguire, one of the best grinders on the domestic scene, will be an altogether different puzzle.

UK MMA’s elder statesman Deniston Sutherland continues to defy the years, taking on all comers in the middleweight division. It’s tough to decide whether his experience or his heavy mitts are his best weapon; when used in tandem, they’re a dangerous combination. Trying his luck (and considerable skill) against ‘Mad Max’ will be Sweden’s Matts Nilsson. A vastly experienced submission grappler, Nilsson will be looking to tie his opponent in knots, preferably before the big Jamaican can fire off too many of his famed hurting bombs.

Dave Hill returns, reinvigorated after his loss to Conor McGregor last year and ready for another crack at the featherweight division. Hoping to continue Hill’s run of bad luck against SBGi fighters is Brian Moore. Rounding out the televised bill is a scrap between local lad Aaron Thomas and England’s Lee Caers. No guesses as to who the Motorpoint Arena crowd will be backing in that one.

So there you have it. A top-notch fight card highlighted by an MMA staple; the one-night tournament. If you’re relatively new to the spot and this is your first live tourney, enjoy the experience. If you’re a grizzled veteran of the scene that remembers the likes of Coleman, Vovchanchyn and Gracie dominating the one-nighters, enjoy the nostalgia.

Whoever you are, enjoy the fights. And may the best man win. 

Photo: Dolly Clew | Cage Warriors

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