A Night in Europe's Fighter Factory

Fightland Blog

By Peter Carroll

Photos by Dolly Clew / Cage Warriors

There’s something special about The Helix when it plays host to Cage Warriors’ Dublin cards. The same venue that saw Conor McGregor win both the promotion’s featherweight and lightweight straps and Neil Seery claim the flyweight title, you can feel a historic electricity from the building even when it is empty.

Saturday saw the university complex present Cage Warriors Fighting Championships 70a card stacked from top to bottom with interesting fightsand it was clear from the word go that MMA in Ireland is still riding the wave of euphoria from its flagship night on July 19th, UFC Fight Night: McGregor vs Brandao.

The card was headlined by Joseph Duffy, certainly one of the most promising athletes to hail from the Emerald Isle before he turned away from the sport in 2011 after suffering his first career loss. Cage Warriors had only been under the control of CEO Graham Boylan for a little over a year at the time and the brand had yet to command the same respect and reach it does today.

Amassing a professional record of 7-0 in professional boxing in his MMA absence, of course Duffy could have headlined the card in ordinary circumstances when he announced his intended comeback earlier this year. However, being “the last man to beat Conor McGregor and Norman Parke” definitely played up to the crowd of relatively new MMA fans.

There’s a subtle snobbery that comes along with the average regional MMA fan in Ireland. That paired with the stubbornness, a famous Irish trait, of the casual fans at UFC Dublin, who were undoubtedly made to feel inferior to their knowledgeable counterparts who have “been there from the start”, made the date selection of CWFC 70 nothing shy of perfect.

Just under a month after the UFC’s Dublin return The Helix was packed for the amateur bouts that preceded the pro undercard, a first. Such is the popularity of the sport at the moment in the country that amateurs like SBG’s James Gallagher and Team Ryano’s Ayo Daly, both still young men, command a certain celebrity on the national MMA scene.

The amateurs competing on the cards can get used to the arena atmosphere, the cameras, the crowd and the expectation. They know that a decent career can be made under the CWFC banner and at the very least it could be the last stopping point before reaching the equivalent super stardom of UFC.

After the five amateur bouts provided the perfect vocal warm up for the gathering, the crowd were readied to perform their end of the deal. Some reports from the international MMA media made the crowd in the 02 on July 19 sound like a mythological creature that only appeared every five years, had they attended a fight night in The Helix they would have had full warning of the aural assault that the Irish can provide.

Unbeaten Irish atomweight Catherine Costigan provided one of the first big surges from roaring spectators as she locked up an armbar that finished Noelia Molina. The bellows rose up again as Irishmen Ryan Roddy and Tommy McCafferty supplied dramatic finishes to their respective bouts before a striking clinic from Peter Queally handed Konrad Iwanowski his first professional loss in a matchup that pitted Ireland’s two most celebrated MMA strongholds, SBG and Team Ryano, against each other.

The opening tussle on the main card provided the only successful capture of one of the promotion’s “bounties” on the night. Graham Boylan revealed that €2000 would be granted to any of the fighters who could finish a bout with various listed techniques, one being a heelhook which unbeaten Englishman Dean Garnett locked up just outside the first minute of action to finish Martin Sheridan.

Anyone who still has their doubts about the excitement of flyweight bouts should throw their eyes over Romanian Paul Marin’s win over Norman Parke’s stable mate Andy Young. A fifteen minute ode to gameness, two seven and a half minute spells of domination were split between the competitors who both won the adoration of the crowd during their bout.

A boxing nation first and foremost, the Irish love a slick display of pugilism and Fight Academy Ireland’s Karl Moore gave the people what they wanted on Saturday night. A one sided affair with the Irish light heavyweight’s hands leaving Lloyd Clarkson’s face like a butcher’s block, the nation’s MMA community will keep their eyes out for this young, unbeaten star on the rise.

Artem Lobov has had his share of ups and downs, but he has always been exciting. His bout with Andrew Fisher at CWFC 70 played out like a ballad dedicated to his storied career with drama, emotion and a climax worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster.

Fisher swarmed the Russian SBG product early and a head kick looked like it had separated Lobov from his senses. His English opponent dominated in half guard top for the remainder of the first round, it was probably a 10/8 on judges’ scorecards, but Lobov’s signature striking started to surface in the second round.

He may or may not have won the second five minute exchange so going into the final round it was all or nothing and an early Fisher takedown turned Lobov’s original task into a colossal challenge. Knocking Fisher down with a right hand just before the final minute of action, Lobov chased his opponent who proved elusive as he scrambled wildly to escape his assailant’s devastating ground and pound.

When Fisher could no longer escape, Lobov increased the volume of shots, and with one second to go, the contest was stopped. John Kavanagh was as animated as anyone has ever seen him as he and Chris Fields burst into the enclosure to celebrate with Lobov after the referee called time on the action.

On the back of Paul “Redser” Redmond’s performance at The Helix, there is no doubt that the Team Ryano man will be a future headliner for Cage Warriors. The majority of Irish fans believe that the Dubliner could be the next Irish charge to be contracted to the UFC and his win over exciting Greek talent Alexis Savvidis will only fortify their beliefs.

His boxing ability was finally revealed to the Dublin crowd, who are used to seeing ‘Redser’ force scrambles to initiate his submission game, as he threw out flurries and combinations. Savvidis’ unorthodox striking didn’t intimidate the Irish lightweight as he stood back and let off straight punches.

A young man, Savvidis may have revealed a lack of experience when he tried to lock up a toehold on a man who has proved to have a patent for that exact submission. Almost smiling when his opponent initiated the submission, Redmond looked down and found a limb of his own. Fighting fire with fire, the win was Redmond’s fourth toehold victory in the arena.

Duffy approached his stage to an Irish rebel song titled ‘Óró sé do bheatha abhaile’, loosely translated to “welcome home” as the crowd greeted the returning competitor like a long lost national treasure.

Nothing less than a finish would maintain the momentum Duffy had coming into the fight on account of his wins over famous former foes McGregor and Parke. Nobody expected him to be as good as when he left the sport, but believe it or not, he looked even better.

A new stance, a new Duffy, he played matador with his hands as French submission specialist Damien Lapilus tried to bull him into the cage. He effortlessly shot jabs out from his low handed stance and in the second round he started to tag his counterpart with lead right hands.

The Irishman had looked like he was trying to avoid grappling at all costs up until the third round when he shot a successful double leg. As Lapilus quickly tried to hit the switch on Duffy he trapped the Frenchman’s arm, took his back and finished with a rear naked choke. An impressive return to say the least.

When the likes of McGregor, Seery, Cathal Pendred and Fields left the Cage Warriors ranks many believed that the promotion would suffer to no end, especially in Ireland. The evidence that Duffy, Redmond, Lobov and Young put forward on Saturday night would convince the most ignorant of sceptics of the contrary. They could be the next exports from the Irish scene to grace the Octagon.

Cage Warriors gives the Irish MMA scene so much more than the world’s flagship promotion, without them the community would have no vision. The amateurs know that successful competitors on these cards graduate to UFC, but the amount of European talent that have made the graduation dictates that just because you have won a CWFC championship it doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed a phone call from Dana White.

The competitors simply have to be exciting. At a Cage Warriors show you will see fighters uncharacteristically throw caution to the wind and fight as if their lives depend on it. The bounties issued by the promotion’s CEO on Saturday night only added to the pulsating experience. The competitors are hungry to the point that when UFC veterans sign up for the promotion they have often been stunned by the opposition that they meet.

The flagship European MMA promotion has given national scenes a new lease of life, provided paths to the world’s biggest stages and entertained countless fight fans. It’s time that the world stood up and took notice. 

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