It’s a packed weekend for British mixed martial arts fans this weekend. With UFC 76 coming up, first it was off to Wembley Arena in London, with Sky Sports’ live coverage of Cage Rage 23: Unbelievable, featuring the MMA debut of former British Heavyweight boxing champion Julius Francis, as he went up against Gary “Smiler” Turner. As usual, Cage Rage supremos Andy Geer and Dave O’Donnell were on hand to guide us through the night’s events, with Malcolm Martin, Rob Nutley and Stephen Quadros handling duties at the announcer’s table.
The broadcast began with action from the lightweight division, as Jean Silva faced Chris Brennan. A slight technical glitch sees us missing the first few seconds of the fight, and when we do get back to the fight, it’s action packed, and we get something I’ve never seen in MMA before as both fights connect with low blows at the same time. With the first round looking pretty even, Silva upped things in the second, and with the American taken off his feet with a big knee to the face, the Brazilian unleashed with the ground and pound, and with Brennan failing to respond to this onslaught, the referee had no choice but to stop the fight and award the TKO victory to Silva. This was a highly impressive performance from Silva, but kudos to Brennan for his performance as well.
The second contest is a double title contest, with Mark Weir challenging Paul Daley for the British Welterweight title, with the vacant World title on the line as well, and given the reputation of both of these fighters, this was a highly anticipated fight. With the first round and the beginning of the second round even, Daley connected with a left hook which knocked Weir down. Daley then went in for the kill, leaping onto Weir into the mount position, and taking him down with the ground and pound, with the referee stepping in to halt the proceedings and awarding the knock out victory to Daley. This was a great performance from Daley as he became a double champion, but once again I must give kudos to the opponent, as Weir also put in a great performance. This is definitely another match up I’d like to see again, so hopefully Dave and Andy will put these two against each other again.
On to action in the light heavyweight division, with Vitor Belfort challenging James Zikic for the World title. A somewhat subdued fight, especially given the explosive tendencies these two fighters have displayed in the past. The first round was pretty slow, with the only things of note being a Zikic punch quickly followed by a Belfort take down. The Brazilian did just enough to control the fight in the second and third rounds, especially in the third as he controlled Zikic from all positions on the ground. It was enough for the judges to give Belfort the fight by unanimous decision. An okay fight, but not one I’d go back to again and again.
Main event time in the heavyweight division, with Gary Turner taking on the debuting former boxer Julius Francis. Casual fight fans will probably remember Francis from his pasting at the hands of Mike Tyson a few years ago. Francis looked like a fish out of water here. There was no evidence of the tremendous punching power he displayed during his boxing career, and by the end of the first round he looked exhausted. Turner controlled the fight throughout, able to take Francis down seemingly at will, and it was really no surprise when Francis tapped out in the second round, holding onto Turner’s leg while on his knees. A poor showing from Francis, with Turner doing enough to get the job done, although in truth he didn’t have to do that much.
In conclusion - a mixed bag from the Cage Rage crew. The first two fights of the broadcast, especially the Weir/Daley confrontation, were top notch, while the second two were less so. This wasn’t the best example of the Cage Rage product, but credit to Dave O’Donnell and Andy Geer for getting British mixed martial arts onto a mainstream sports channel, and even though they’ve done well with their regular live two hour slot, it would be great if they could get that extra hour. As Dave himself said, we missed seven other fights, and hopefully their hook-up with Elite XC will take them to the next level, which could begin if a certain “Crazy Horse” steps into Wembley Arena in December.
Before you go, Douglas Nunally of The Wrestling Voice, and one of the many sites that carry this column, asked me to pass on the following information.
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