For years, Steve Aimable has flown under the radar on the UK scene whilst building up a solid head of steam, quietly putting a nice run of results together. At Cage Warriors 111 on Friday night, the man known as ‘Diddy Kong’ will look to spring a huge upset and cement himself in the promotion’s history books by claiming its prestigious featherweight title.
The performance which earned Aimable (14-5) a crack at the belt occurred at Cage Warriors 95 back in May when he took on the exciting prospect, Aidan Stephen. During the first two rounds, both men held their own on the feet and they both put a high pace on one another. Neither competitor let the other pull ahead at any stage as whenever successful shots were landed, strikes came back immediately from the other direction. In the final frame, the pair’s work-rate continued to impress but Aimable turned to his heavy wrestling game to add variety to his own offence. Aimable was awarded the unanimous decision and the result was confirmation that his preparations during camp are paying dividends on fight night.
“I felt that my contest against Stephen went perfect,” discussed Aimable. “We had a great game plan in place and we executed it to a tee. His intention is always to pressure people so the easiest way to counter that is to pressure back. I’m comfortable walking forwards and it comes naturally to me. The fight made me realise that all of my hard work is paying off and I know I can easily go 15 minutes at a high pace using my hands.”
Following that pivotal bout, Aimable and his partner welcomed their first baby into the world which has had an impact on how he looks at and approaches the fight game. He made it known that the birth made him really appreciate his family and the sacrifices they have made to allow him to complete at the top of European MMA. It’s made him want to succeed even more than before. Not only is the title up for grabs on Friday night which is high-stakes just in itself, but Aimable doesn’t want to look back in the future and tell his daughter that daddy lost his first fight she was on the planet for.
Before he began training in MMA, Aimable was just a fan of the sport. He used to love watching it when it was shown on an English channel called Bravo back in the day and enjoyed seeing the likes of Matt Hughes, Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz perform. Around eight years later, a new gym that opened close to him began offering MMA classes so he thought he’d give it a go.
The 32-year-old is now going into his twentieth professional contest and he feels hungrier than ever. He said that ahead of the upcoming title fight it’s time for people to stop underestimating him and acknowledge the talent which he possesses. Aimable trains at BKK fighters in Colchester with his head trainer and veteran of the UK scene, Jack Mason, who works alongside his wrestling coach, Nick Albert. He also works as a gas engineer so has to fit his training schedule around that commitment.
An aspect of this camp which has been different leading up to the title fight is the addition of Ian Chegwidden, who has been doing work with Aimable on the pads and helped develop his strength and conditioning program. ‘Diddy Kong’ can definitely feel the improvements in his game which has given him even more confidence ahead of the biggest fight of his life. However, his mental approach to this bout has varied in the previous months and it’s taken Aimable a while to not feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of Friday night.
“When I found out I would be fighting for title, I felt totally different compared to all of my previous contests,” revealed Aimable. “I was thinking about the possibilities that could come from winning and I felt as though I was putting more pressure on myself. I’ve addressed those feelings now and put them to the back of my mind. This bout is just as important as both my last and first fights.”
Standing in his way is UFC veteran, Mads Burnell (12-3), who will be aiming to defend his Cage Warriors title for the very first time. The Dane is undefeated in the promotion and has finished 8 of his 12 victories by submission which highlights how ruthless he is if the fight goes to the mat. Burnell is also the owner of four wins by Japanese Necktie so that is a submission he specialises in. Aimable knows this is a strength of his opponent’s but doesn’t believe he will put himself in any compromising situations where the choke can be applied.
“Burnell has spent many years perfecting that submission so I have made plans to prevent myself being caught by it,” explained Aimable. “It’s only achievable to pull off if I give him the opportunities to, which is something I won’t be doing. I respect him as much as any other of my opponents and he is a threat in any position like everyone else. This fight will prove the level that I’m at because he has been where I want to go and that’s the UFC. On Friday night, fans will witness a world class battle which everyone will love.”
When talking about his goals for the coming year, Aimable was keen to stress that it isn’t all about his professional endeavours. He wants to watch his daughter grow up and spend some quality time with his family after a hectic couple of months - something which has suffered with everything else going on recently. The professional goals he does have though, are set very high.
“I want to get to the UFC,” stated Aimable. “This fight is definitely a big step in the right direction. I want to continue improving my all-round game and keep proving all of the doubters wrong!”
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.