Thursday, 13 December 2012

Cage Contender Fight Stars on Premier Sports - TV Review

December 1st, 2012 may go down as one of the busiest days in British MMA history. On the night that BAMMA were holding a show in Birmingham and UCMMA were hold in a show in London the Cage Contender promotion were adding the heady mix with a show that harked back to the early days of “no holds barred” fighting at The Olympia in Liverpool.

The Fight Stars show featured an eight man lightweight tournament, with the quarter and semi-finals contested over two rounds and the final contested over three rounds, and thanks to the good people at Premier Sports the entire show aired for free over two nights last weekend.

Part one featured the quarter-finals, beginning with Jamie Rodgers against Martin Stapleton.

The first round was a somewhat cautious affair. Stapleton scored with the early takedown, but after that not much of note happened, mainly because Rodgers did a good job of shutting his man down.

The referee stood them up after a few moments, but it wasn’t long before the fighters repeated themselves, although the best action came towards the end when Rodgers managed to take Stapleton’s back. Time was against him though.

The second round had a lot more to it. Once again Stapleton was the busier of the two, and although Rodgers looked for a couple of submissions Stapleton did enough to put in a more dominating performance. As the fight neared it’s conclusion Stapleton relaxed a little, thinking that he’d done enough.

The judges saw it that way too, giving Stapleton the unanimous decision.

Then it was on to Arnold Quero against Mihail Kazaku.

These two were tagged as the dark horses of the tournament, mainly because no one knew anything about them, not even the commentators. They soon found out what they were all about though.

After a brief feeling out period Kazaku went for a takedown which Quero avoided with ease. He then went to work with the punches, and while it looked as if Kazaku wanted to swing for the fences Quero was more measured in his approach. It soon paid off for the Frenchman when a big right put the Italian on his backside. Quero was reluctant to follow him down, and the referee ordered Kazaku back to his feet shortly afterwards.

Kazaku was now extremely weary about Quero’s punching power, and rightfully so, because Quero soon put him back down on the canvas. This time around he followed him down for a spot of ground and pound, and it wasn’t long before the referee stepped in to give Quero the TKO win.

Next up where Tommy Maguire, brother of current UFC fight John Maguire, and Chris Stringer.

Stringer began his night’s work with a kick, but he soon found himself on his back when Maguire scored with the takedown. Maguire then went on to dominate the rest of the round. His work wasn’t overly flashy, but he did enough to frustrate his opponent, and enough to prevent a referee’s stand up.

Stringer looked like he was going to have some success at the beginning of the second after a couple of striking exchanges, but when he went for a knee Maguire took him down to the mat again for some more dominating work. Stringer’s brief moment of offence came when he managed to get hold of Maguire’s foot, but once again Maguire kept busy enough until the end of the fight.

No surprise with the decision here as Maguire took the unanimous decision.

The final fight of the round saw Phil Flynn taking on Uche Ihiekwe.

These two began their exchanges straight off the bat, and although Flynn had some success early on Ihiekwe weathered that brief storm and came back with some hard blows of his own.

Flynn wasn’t given any time to recover as Ihiekwe upped his game, and when he came forward for a takedown Ihiekwe connected with a knee that knocked him out cold. The referee quickly stopped the fight to give Ihiekwe the TKO win.

Part two began with non-tournament action and the bantamweight fight between Paddy Pimblett and Douggie Smith.

Pimblett, at just 17 years old, belied his youthful appearance by putting on a very good performance. He brought a calm demeanour to the early striking exchanges, and when he switched over to the grappling game he looked even better.

Pimblett countered Scott’s takedown attempt with a standing guillotine, and although Scott survived that submission attempt he soon found himself in the receiving end of another when Pimblett leapt up and applied a triangle choke while Scott was still standing.

The fight quickly went to the mat, and it wasn’t long before the inevitable happened when Scott tapped out to give Pimblett the submission win.

Then it was back to the tournament and the semi-finals, beginning with Martin Stapleton and Arnold Quero.

When the fight began it looked as if Stapleton had been warned about Quero’s punching power. It didn’t seem to bother him though, and he looked more than a match for his man, even though Quero rocked him a couple of times.

Stapleton soon scored with the takedown, and unlike the fight with Rodgers he was a lot busier on the ground, mainly because Quero was making him work for his living.

As the round entered it’s final moments it looked like we were going to get another five minutes of action. Then, from out of nowhere, Stapleton rolled backwards and applied a heel hook, with Quero tapping out with just one second left in the round.

The second semi-final saw Tommy Maguire taking on Uche Ihiekwe.

This proved to be an intriguing battle. Ihiekwe looked great early on as he controlled the action with his striking until Maguire caught him and took him down to the ground, and although he stayed busy enough to control the action it wasn’t long before Ihiekwe managed to wall walk himself to safety.

The second round began in a similar manner. Once again Ihiekwe got some good shots in before Maguire took the fight to the ground for some more good work, but as the fight entered it’s final seconds Ihiekwe managed to escape, going for a heel hook before landing a big knee when he got back to his feet.

So with the fight going the distance the judges were brought into the equation again. One judge scored the fight as a draw, which seemed a fair result to me, while the other two gave their vote to Maguire.

Then it was back to non-tournament action and the welterweight encounter between Russ Smith and Dan Rushworth.

Smith came forward as soon as the bell sounded and rocked Rushworth with a big left. He then scored with a quick takedown, although Rushworth managed to get back to his feet within seconds.

The two of them then jockeyed for position against the cage, and when Rushworth, having fully regained his senses, connected with a series of knees in a Thai clinch Smith dropped to the canvas. A couple of right hands followed before the referee stepped in to give Rushworth the TKO win.

Lightweight action followed as Alexi Roberts went up against Dan Welsh.

The blink and you’ll miss it affair of the evening saw Roberts coming forward straight away, and after a couple of telling blows he slammed Welsh down to the mat. He quickly moved into a position where he could apply a kimura for the submission win after just 25 seconds, although a few people, including the commentators and the referee, didn’t know that Welsh had tapped until Roberts released the hold and got back to his feet.

The last fight of the show was the tournament final between Martin Stapleton and Tommy Maguire.

This proved to be a very interesting encounter. Early on they appeared to nullify each other in the grappling department, but as the fight went on Stapleton began to impose his will on the fight as he tried to grind his man down against the cage.

It was a tactic that Stapleton would use for the majority of the fight, and it proved to be highly effective. Maguire seemed to find it difficult to deal with Stapleton at this point, and although he managed to reverse the positions and take Stapleton down his opponent soon found his way out of this perilous position.

Given their exertions throughout the tournament it came as no surprise that we didn’t get a finish, which meant a final job for the judges as they gave Stapleton the tournament winning unanimous decision.

In conclusion - this proved to be a very entertaining night of MMA action.

Although the Fight Stars tournament was compared to the early UFC tournaments I don’t really think that was a far comparison.

The tournament itself was very enjoyable and came across as well planned event. If it isn’t overdone then it could become MMA’s equivalent to boxing’s Prizefighter tournaments, with tournaments held for all the weight classes and with up and comers going up against more established stars looking for one last short at glory.

As for my fight of the night I’m going to go outside the tournament and the encounter between Russ Smith and Dan Rushworth. It may not have lasted that long but it was filled with great action, and for me it’s a worthy recipient of the no-prize this time around.

So with all of that out of the way there’s one last thing to do, and that’s to give what will hopefully become the first of many Fight Stars tournaments the thumbs up.

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