Over the last few years, there has been a real influx of talent from the Nordic region across the international scene, which demonstrates the growth of the sport in the territory. Fighters such as Alexander Gustafsson, Gunnar Nelson and Jack Hermansson have been among the most notable names making the step up to the world stage, but the next wave are ready to follow in their path. Current Cage Warriors featherweight champion, Mads Burnell, intends to be a significant figure in that ongoing movement.
Following a three-fight stint in the UFC, Burnell (12-3) signed to Cage Warriors late last year and quickly placed himself right at the top of the 145lbs division. He won his first two bouts with the promotion in the first round by submission which led to a title shot against Dean Trueman at Cage Warriors: Night of Champions back in June. It was an entertaining battle where both men had good moments, but Burnell’s superior grappling came to the fore when he locked up a Japanese Necktie in the second round. That victory immediately skyrocketed his stock although the man from Denmark thought that he was capable of even more.
“In the Dean Trueman fight, I’d say that I did OK,” discussed Burnell. “He is a super awkward guy and throws everything with 100% bad intentions. I was just defensively responsible, took my time, figured out what his approach was and then walked him to the cage to tire him. In the second round, I made some adjustments and then it was a wrap.”
Immediately following that title win, there was a lot of talk that Burnell would get a second shot in the UFC, especially with the Copenhagen card in his home country a few months later. However, the 25-year-old never received the call and was forced to watch on from the sidelines as Denmark hosted their first ever event from the industry leader. The situation didn’t play out as Burnell had hoped but he is keen to continue looking towards the future.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say I was disappointed to not make my UFC return on that card,” explained Burnell. “It was such a monumental event for Danish MMA but it is what it is. I will just keep on working hard to ensure I perform to my potential inside the cage. Eventually, everything will work out.”
Burnell started training Greco-Roman wrestling when he was 6-years-old because his father and grandfather were wrestlers. He first stumbled across MMA in 2005 when season one of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ reality show was being aired. It was televised every Monday evening back then in Denmark so straight after wrestling practise, Burnell would head straight home to eat and watch TUF alongside his parents. His interest in the martial arts continued as he grew up and in 2014, he became the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu European No-Gi champion which demonstrates his grappling pedigree.
All of these years later, Burnell now stands with the prestigious Cage Warriors belt draped over his shoulder which he knows is a well-respected achievement. He hopes that because of this, many important eyes in the MMA world will be fixed on him when he defends the title for the first time against Steve Aimable (13-5) on Friday night in the Indigo at the O2. Aimable is an 18 fight veteran who is currently riding a four-fight winning streak which earned him a shot at the belt. Although he isn’t the most recognisable name on the European scene, Burnell knows he can’t afford to overlook the Englishman.
“Steve Aimable is a solid fighter and is the number one contender for a reason,” stated Burnell. “I never really go into a fight expecting anything so I’ve just got to focus on what I’m doing. I’ll make the walk and do some ninja stuff! With a win, I’m not quite sure how far off a UFC return I am but I’m trying not to focus on that. I’ve got to concentrate on the task in hand and leave all of that stuff down to the UFC staff.”
Burnell has won 8 of his 12 professional victories by submission and has pulled off the Japanese Necktie in four of those which is mostly unheard of. If he can continue his current run of form and make a statement on Friday night, Burnell won’t be able to be denied at the highest level for much longer.
Cage Warriors 111 will be streamed live on UFC Fight Pass at 9pm GMT on Friday night. Fans in the US can watch from 4pmET/3c.