One of the UK's oldest mixed martial arts promotions is returning next month. Cage Warriors 37: Right to Fight, scheduled to take place on May 22 at Birmingham NEC, will be the first UK show Cage Warriors has put on in almost two years.
While the UFC remains the absolute pinnacle of mixed martial arts it is very rare that a fighter begins his career inside this organization. There are grass roots shows all over the world which nurture the talent upon which the UFC depends.
Cage Warriors is one of the more notable ones. Virtually every British fighter ever to step in the Octagon cut their teeth on Cage Warriors shows. Cage Warriors provided the launchpad for both Michael Bisping and Ross Pointon to enter The Ultimate Fighter 3 with both men eventually meeting in the TUF semifinals. It was a rematch of a fight which had taken place the previous year on a Cage Warriors card.
UFC welterweight contender Dan Hardy also fought more than 10 times on the show, often in his native Nottingham. Other Cage Warriors alumni currently on the UFC roster include Paul Daley, Ross Pearson (pictured) and Paul Kelly.
MMA is growing steadily in the UK but domestic shows are yet to capture the imagination in the way that the UFC has. There are a number of successful local promotions such as Ultimate Challenge, Cage Wars, and the British Association of Mixed Martial Arts (BAMMA) but none of these promotions has really broken into the mainstream in the same way that the UFC has.
Cage Rage was the main competitor to Cage Warriors and there was no love lost between the two organizations. Whereas Cage Warriors tended to put on smaller shows with more emphasis on the matchmaking Cage Rage started seeking bigger names and bigger venues, culminating in a couple of shows being broadcast live on the Sky Sports network.
It was too much too soon and Cage Rage, which had previously showcased fighters such as Vitor Belfort and Anderson Silva, was declared bankrupt soon after being purchased by Elite XC in 2008. In its absence Cage Warriors, which put on its first show in 2001, will be looking to become the first UK MMA show to really make an impact on the mainstream.
Ian Dean is the Cage Warriors match maker and a well known figure in the UK MMA scene.
"The UK MMA scene has changed a lot over the years," Dean said. "Back in 2002 everything seemed like it was a lot of fun, I don't think things were very professional and the scene was even more insular than it is today. With only a few promotions doing a few shows a year you met the same people at every show.
"Over the years the scene has grown a lot and we have seen many UK events come and go from small local events to huge national events and even the UFC coming to these shores and taking over."
While the UFC had undoubtedly raised the profile of the sport in the UK it has also taken the cream of the domestic talent and Dean thinks that the arrival of the UFC has been a mixed blessing.
He added: "In some ways it's a catch 22 situation. Without doubt the UFC has raised the profile of MMA in this country. Cynics might argue they have only raised the profile of the UFC but I do feel there is a trickle down effect.
"I have noticed that many fighters have raised their game now the UFC is here and is showing an interest in UK fighters. This benefits shows from the grassroots level upwards as UK fighters are getting better all the time and they need local shows to hone their skills."
Dean believes that it is a misconception that all the best British fighters have already been signed up by the UFC. He recommends Paul McVeigh, who will be headlining Cage Warriors 37 in a title defence against Frank Sharipov, as a real talent. McVeigh, who has a record of 16-6, is not the only British fighter to look out for and Dean suggests fight fans should look out for the following up and coming British prospects:
David Hill, featherweight 8-0
Mark Adams, featherweight 5-0
Paul Sass, lightweight, 10-0
Rob Sinclair, lightweight, 8-2
Mick Sinclair, lightweight, 9-2
Jason Ball, lightweight, 17-7
Daniel Thomas, lightweight, 17-6
Jim Wallhead, welterweight, 18-6
Danny Mitchell, welterweight, 8-1
Eugene Fadoria, welterweight, 8-0
John Phillips, middleweight, 13-3
Prior to their participation in the UFC, Dan Hardy's record was 19-6 and Paul Daley, who trains alongside Hardy at the Rough House Gym in Nottingham, was 21-8-2. Despite these records, which are impressive but not impeccable, both men are now ranked in the top 10 in the welterweight division after only a handful of UFC fights.
The fact that these two fighters had 14 losses between them when they signed with the UFC would indicate that either they have improved dramatically since signing with the organization or that the level of competition which exists outside of the UFC is more impressive than many people would imagine.
One thing which UK MMA currently lacks is a governing or regulatory body and Dean feels that the absence of such an entity is damaging the development of the sport,
"We need a legitimate governing body to stop fly-by-nighters damaging the scene and to regulate affairs. The scene needs professionalism and to set standards to make sure that everyone is the scene is represented properly."
As MMA increases in popularity in the UK there is a growing appetite amongst fight fans for live shows. Awareness of MMA shows other than the UFC, which makes only sporadic appearances on British shores, is still relatively low.
With more and more British fighters emerging from MMA obscurity and reaching the upper echelons of the sport it is worth casting an eye at the organizations which are cultivating this supply line of talent. You might find the next Dan Hardy or Michael Bisping fighting on a show near you.
For more information about Cage Warriors 37: Right to Fight visit: www.cagewarriors.com.