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The Live MMA Experience: Cage Warriors 74

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With WSOF, Bellator, and the UFC all putting on events last weekend, Cage Warriors 74 might have gotten lost in the shuffle. Phil Mackenzie talks about his experience at the live show

Below is a conversation that never happened:

Andrew: "Hey Phil, you know what? There is not enough MMA on over the weekend of the 15-16th of November."

Phil: "Agreed. We should go watch more MMA."

But that's what we do anyway. We go to watch Cage Warriors 74.

Copper Box

Hackney Wick was a little hamlet which was subsumed by the expansion of London back in the industrial revolution. Like others in the same situation, it never really found its feet within the city's ecosystem, and it's been very poor for a very long time. Subsidized housing and brutalist estate blocks raised in the ‘60s did about as well as those kind of projects normally do, which is to say: badly.

This did mean that it was one of the few affordable areas for the construction of the 2012 Olympic parks, including the Copper Box Arena, where we're headed.

It's cold and dark when we get off at the station. Autumn was mild and winter has taken its time to arrive, but it's here now. As we go into an off-license to pick up some crisps, a junkie or a crazy person is howling in pain or joy or... something down the alley next door. After some abortive attempts at orientation, we find the right road to the Copper Box.

Better transport networks and the investment in infrastructure, together with the relentless and insatiable hunger for London real estate, seem to be driving development in this area. The Orbit sculpture is illuminated like a futuristic egg-whisk on the skyline. Hackney Wick looks to follow the standard pattern of evolution: artists move in when it is very cheap, then students, then young professionals and finally middle-aged professionals, by which point it is a mind-numbingly expensive place to live.

This promise of improvement feels a little tenuous, though. Other areas like Peckham have a boisterous up-and-comer's confidence. Hackney Wick still seems like it's deciding what happens to the little arteries and webs of creative muscle laid over its new concrete skeleton. The graffiti- a trio of white faces painted 20 feet high watching us go past, for example- feels raw and closer to the bone.

We need to cross the River Lea to get to the Arena, and Andrew mentions as we traverse the grey spine of the bridge how weird it is to think of the thousands of people these concrete walkways were engineered to withstand during the Olympics. Now, counting us, there are ten or fifteen.


When we get inside. It's a fairly big arena, but probably not more than half full. We try and find our seats while the replays of the last fight are being played: Darren Stewart is polishing off Pelu Adetola with knees and punches against the cage. We're getting settled when they start the post-fight interviews, and have the first instance of a problem which will plague us for the rest of the evening: the acoustics are awful. You just cannot understand anything which anyone is saying. We're both happy to see that the announcer is Joe Martinez (WEC Never Die!) but his smooth delivery is particularly ill-suited to the terrible sound system, and he's made to sound like he's burbling gibberish.

We order some beers, and it's onto the next fight, which is a 138 lb catchweight. Nathaniel Wood is a local boy, judging from the approving roars of the crowd. He has the kind of flattened, car body-panel musculature which tends to be particularly effective. His opponent, Steve McCombe, gets much less of a response. He's wiry and ginger, and the dead spit of Jackie Earle Haley's Rorschach in Watchmen. As the fight gets underway, a small contingent of Wood's friends are chanting and laughing near the cage. They look like a fairly typical group of city boys on a night out.

Two minutes in, Wood throws a headkick which seems to get blocked, and McCombe falls back. Wood jumps in for the finish, but after one punch the ref is already waving off the fight. We're puzzled until we watch the replay, and see Wood's shin cleave the bone of McCombe's raised forearm in half. McCombe's hand and arm flap about as he goes back, and slo-mo gives a particular frisson to the grim slapstick when he instinctively puts it down to break his fall.

We talk how this is pretty disturbing. But also a tiny bit cool.

Next up is the man with the greatest fight finder picture / user name combination ever, Saul "Tha Hangman" Rogers. We're thrilled to see that he does indeed bring his noose out to the cage. The fight itself is a little pedestrian: Rogers is clearly the superior grappler and athlete, but can't really get to any kind of fight-ending positions. Throughout, we can hear a guy behind us doing his best to explain what's happening to his date, who is politely trying to give a shit. He makes a yeoman's effort, against impossible odds, but the two of them are gone before the main card starts.

Meanwhile, "Tha Hangman" takes a UD. A model of consistency, he brings the noose for when the decision is announced. He might well have said something respectful about his opponent after the fight, but unfortunately given the sound system he might as well have been talking in Marklar.

The inaugural women's bantamweight fight is the last bout before the main card starts, which says something about the teeter-totter of WMMA at the moment: it's important enough for organizations like CWFC to establish belts, but not enough to give them a main card spot. EDIT- thanks to commenter WeePaul, who clarified that this event was actually promoted as a "double main card" due to scheduling issues, which explains the odd placement of the title fight.

The Swede, Pannie Kianzad comes out with her team. No sponsors, just beige T-shirts emblazoned with the legend: Just Bleed. They even get the font right! Her opponent, Eeva Siiskonen, is a thin-faced Finn. Again, the fight isn't exactly fireworks. Kianzad clearly has an advantage everywhere, and obviously wants the win more. The subconscious contract is signed between the two fighters: I'll hit you this much, you won't hit me back very much.

One slight slip-up is that the arena plays music between rounds, and I'm not sure if "Smack My Bitch Up" was the best choice for their first women's BW title fight. When winner is announced, Kianzad bursts into tears. Siiskonen is laughing, happy just to have made it through.

Main card

Bola Omoleye takes on the Estonian Andy Manzolo. Another group turns up in the seats behind us. Clearly another London crew, and just as clearly rooting for Omoleye. "Come on B!" "Let's go Bola!"

Omoyele looks visibly stronger than Manzolo, and he overwhelms the Estonian early, dropping him with a knee and taking him down. The group behind us goes nuts.
"He's holding him on the floor!"
"He don't want none of this!"
"Would you, bruv?"

It starts to go downhill towards the end of the second round. Omoyele is beginning to look visibly fatigued. Manzolo cracks him and tries to haul him to the floor. I hear someone say "nah, man. I beg," As Omoleye starts to topple: "I beg I beg I beg I beg I beg": a mantra to keep him upright, and maybe it works, because he does, but not for long: Manzolo gets top position off a scramble, and works for a far-side kimura. The frame expires before he can get it.

Both men are tired in the third, but Omoyele is worse off. "He's just gassed... bare gassed. I don't understand. Man can go twelve rounds..." Manzolo gets top position with Omoyele trapped by the cage and fires away. There's not much steam on the punches, but Omoyele has nothing left in the tank and the ref waves it off. The group behind us leave silently. Omoyele looked pretty good early, but I find out afterwards that he was riding a two fight losing streak. It's the kind of thing that's a confidence breaker.

Tom Breese puts on something of a clinic against Thibaud Larchet. It's rare to see a fight progress from competitive, to uncompetitive, to finish quite so smoothly. Breese drops Larchet and moves to mount, then takes the back. He traps Larchet's arm against his body with an arm triangle, and from that point the RNC finish is academic. 

Tim Wilde against Sean Carter is also fun. There are clearly two rival gyms with solid and vocal presences in the arena. Wilde is lean and grimy, whereas Carter has a very slight Hazelett-esque nerdiness. Wilde appears to have significant advantages on the feet, and bullies Carter around the cage. Wilde's support starts up a "winter wonderland" football chant:

"There's only one, Timmy Wilde
One, Timmy Wilde
Walking along, singing a song,
Walking in a *undecipherable* wonder land"

True to his surname, though, he gets a bit uncontrolled, follows up a flurry of strikes with a takedown and stays in Carter's guard for too long. Carter locks up a triangle and elicits the tap. Another section of the crowd goes quiet.

Joseph Duffy comes out wrapped in the tricolour flag, to a massive pop from the travelling Irish in the arena. Like Wood, he has the kind of dense musculature which normally serves well. One of the two men to beat Conor McGregor, he was away from the sport for three years, and this is only his second fight back.

He's supposed to be a submission grappler, but at just 30 seconds into the round, his hapless opponent, Julien Boussuge, is stunned by a right and shoots a desperation double leg takedown straight into a gorgeous stepping knee from Duffy. The Irishman thinks briefly about the follow-up, but Boussuge is done.

The following is one of those small "behind the curtain" moments endemic to the live MMA experience, where the camera rolls around the cage covering everywhere except for the place where Boussuge lies unconscious. The medical team checks on him for an uncomfortably long time as he lies absolutely motionless. Seeing the replay of Duffy's knee crashing into the juncture of his jaw and neck becomes increasingly difficult... until Boussuge stirs and makes his way to his feet, to relieved applause.

Duffy's post-fight speech, in Irish-tinged Marklar, is received rapturously. He has star potential.

The last fight on the card is for the welterweight belt, with Nicolas Dalby against Mohsen Bahari. Dalby notably missed the cut for Zane Simon and T P Grant's "Top 10 welterweight prospects", which a few people thought was a bad call. 13-0 and a Cage Warriors belt... and not top 10?

The fight is competitive, but Dalby diligently works to bury Bahari under kicks, punches and takedowns. He tires himself out a little, and the pace slows after two rounds. It's a solid fight, but we also talk about how it's easy to see how he could have been left off the list.

Dalby looks like something close to a finished product: he understands pacing, and volume, and pressure, and he mixes up his assault like a veteran. You don't see the kind of disconcerted awkwardness which you normally get from most prospects... but neither do you see the sudden shocking flashes of power and finishing ability.

I think that many will look at someone like Dalby and hope that he should be in the UFC, but having been to Cage Warriors, I honestly (perhaps selfishly) like him as the belt holder. In the UFC's shark tank of a welterweight division, I fear he'd fall into the Court McGee role as a gritty, tough out. In CWFC he's a formidable test for anyone who wants to make it to the top. He'll wear out better athletes and harder hitters with sheer determination and savvy.

We both score it 50-45 for the champ, and rather than pointlessly sit through the incomprehensible announcements, we leave before the decision is announced to beat the rush.

It's been fun, and we both agree that we'll probably be back. I'd recommend heading to check out your regional MMA scene to anyone who might read this: it's a good night out, and it gives you some solid insight into the sometimes-unseen elements of the massive ecosystem of which the UFC is only the most visible and profitable part.