“People seem to forget the Midlands”. When talking about UK MMA, so much of the chatter is centred around either London or the North of the country. Whether that’s just due to luck more than design, many people forget that the region of the country which boasts England’s ‘second city’ has its own fair share of talent rich gyms bursting with prospects desperate to break onto the scene and showcase their skills. The number of shows for the budding athletes to do this on is painfully shallow around here. The amateur scene is well catered for with the superb MMA Battle Arena team giving guys and girls a path for their initial career, but then after that there’s a gaping hole until you reach the upper echelons of the sport and the gateway to the big leagues, where BAMMA have Birmingham pretty much sewn up. Fortunately, the Black Country father and son Cassell-combo have identified the space in the market and sought to fill that gap with Golden Ticket Fight Promotions and boy, have they stepped up to the plate.
Golden Ticket Fight Promotions 3 took place at the Diamond Banqueting Suite in Wolverhampton this past Saturday. The card was predominantly made up of West Midlands athletes, with five of the fourteen bouts featuring a fighter from UTC in Birmingham. If you’ve not heard of UTC, they’re the camp that launched the UFC’s Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards’ career. That should give you a taste of the calibre of athletes they produce. That’s just one story of the night though. From sparkling KO’s to Frankie Goes To Hollywood; Golden Ticket Fight Promotions made me feel like Charlie Bucket after opening his third Wonka Bar. ‘Buzzing’ doesn’t come close to covering it. This is what happened.
The show started with Reece Street vs Ryan Hewitt in the amateur flyweight division. Both fighters came in with a negative record. Street 2-6, Hewitt 0-2, so in my heart of hearts I wasn’t expecting fireworks to open the show. With age I’ve learned to admit when I’m wrong, and yes, I was 100% incorrect on this occasion. Hewitt came out composed, selecting his strikes whilst Street threw heavier leather. Partway through the first Hewitt saw the opportunity to shoot in for a takedown and that was the beginning of the end. Street showed cat-like reflexes, threw his opponent off and immediately knocked Hewitt out cold. The mood was set!
Fight two saw Karol Gluchowski face off against Lewis Wood in an amateur lightweight bout. Gluchowski came out of the traps like a man possessed. He tore across the cage towards Wood trying to knock the face off the Wolverhamptonian. Whether he suffered an adrenalin dump or took a shot which winded him in one of the flurries, around the minute mark Gluchowski noticeably slowed. Wood then seized an opportunity to take his opponent to the ground, skillfully transitioned to the back and sunk in a deep rear naked choke to take the win.
The third fight featured two amateur debutant bantamweights as Principe Nsilulu took on Myles Richard. In a clear clash of styles, Nsilulu danced confidently around the cage, utilising his advantage in the striking game. A focused Richard waited for his opportunity and put his opponent up against the fence. Working his way around to the back, he attempted a standing rear naked choke, making Nsilulu eventually go to ground. This was clearly Richard’s area, as he locked a body triangle around Nsilulu and worked to close the fight out. Nsilulu defended valiantly and deservedly stayed in the contest as the bell rang for the end of the round. As the fighters started the second, Nsilulu was clearly more tentative, but still popped off some great shots, trying to work an opening to cause some damage. Richard closed the distance far quicker in this round and locked onto his opponent tightly. Once again, Nsilulu defended like a man fighting for his life, but with 34 seconds left in the round succumbed to Richard’s rear naked choke.
Fight four was the first of three contenders for fight of the night. Local legend George Williams took on King Rhino Daley in an amateur light heavyweight belter. The two men couldn’t have looked any more different as they entered the octagon. Williams, shaped like the everyday man, casually sauntered onto the mat, strolled to his corner and waited for his opponent to enter. Daley, chiseled from rock stalked into the cage, his eyes transfixed on his foe as if he were prey waiting to be consumed. As the referee called a start to the action, Williams came out with his hand raised to touch gloves; Daley barely scraped his hand on Williams’ before setting to work firing a barrage of absolute thunderbolts to Williams’ face and torso for three solid minutes. If you’re trying to picture it, imagine the death of Nicky Santoro in Casino plus Rick Grimes’ beating from The Governor in The Walking Dead multiplied by Rodney King’s bad day with the LA police. It was that bad. With blood and bruising all over his face and a seemingly broken orbital, with around ten second left in the first round Williams raised his hands in a “come on then” motion to Daley and took another deluge of shots before referee Neil Hall stepped in at the buzzer to allow Williams to shakily make his way back to his corner.
One minute never seems very long for a fighter to regain their composure, but this minute was one of the most telling that I’ve ever witnessed in combat sports. Williams’ corner focused purely on tidying his face up to at least allow him to see his opponent in round two. Daley, whilst receiving instruction from his team, looked visibly tired. As the two men came out for round two it became quickly apparent that the tide was starting to turn. Daley hadn’t recovered in between rounds and was sucking in large gulps of air. You could visibly see his diaphragm expand and contract as he attempted to oxygenate his muscular frame. He wasn’t moving forward with anywhere near the intent that he had in the last round. He hit Williams with flurries; still with enough power to drop a carthorse, but not the relentless barrage of shots that he subjected his opponent to previously. He probably gave around 10% of the output that he had in the previous three minutes. This, in turn, allowed Williams time to clear some of the fug from his head, certainly enough to smile at Daley every time he blocked a shot with his battered face.
Round one must’ve been the equivalent of a 10-8 on the judge’s scorecard; round two was still Daley’s, but more of a 10-9. The minute break followed a similar pattern to the previous one. Daley trying his hardest to get some energy back into his system, Williams being patched up. Round three started and the entire crowd roared their appreciation to the athletes. Williams stepped out with confidence renewed and head seemingly compos-mentis once again. Daley was now fighting his own body and was surely demoralised by seeing his opponent not only still standing, but walking forward, hands raised, ready to engage again. Clearly wanting this fight to be over, Daley threw a tumultuous right hook; a shot which had connected countless times with Williams’ head in the previous six minutes of action, but this time Williams had different ideas. Quick as a flash he ducked underneath the punch, shot for and secured a double-leg, taking Daley down. Daley, whilst his body was screaming “NO” still had the head of a warrior and tried with every fibre of his being to buck Williams off. The local fighter wasn’t having it though. The home crowd screamed encouragement for their man, sensing that this was the moment where he was going to pull off what only a few minutes beforehand seemed like the unlikeliest of victories. Buoyed by their support, Williams transitioned to full mount, postured up and rained down punch after punch on his flailing opponent. Hall gave Daley every opportunity to respond, but when it was clear that the fighter wasn’t going to get out of the position, he intervened, waving the fight off, giving Williams a third round TKO victory. What a fight, what a turnaround. Williams clearly has a head made of pure granite and balls of steel. Daley shouldn’t be completely disheartened though. I’ve now been in attendance at both of his career fights and the improvement between the first and second was huge. More experienced men will drop when hit with his power. If he can learn to control his tempo then he will have an exciting career ahead of him in this sport.
Fight five pitted Northern Ireland’s Pearce Armstong against Shropshire’s John Tunnicliffe. Armstong came into his bout with an 0-1 record, Tunnicliffe making his debut; not that you’d think so from the way he went about his business. After a brief ‘feeling out’ period, Tunnicliffe locked onto his opponent and demonstrated a Matt Hughes style of grappling dominance you don’t often see from professionals, let alone first time fighters. Armstrong constantly grabbed the fence with his fingers, his toes, anything he could in a vain attempt at staying on his feet. Tunnicliffe, upon securing the takedown, wasted no time in improving his position, spending most of the round in side control, raining punches and elbows down on his opponent. Armstrong did all he could to just survive the round and must’ve felt a rush of relief as the buzzer sounded.
After witnessing a shift in momentum in between rounds in the last fight, I watched Tunnicliffe in his minute break to see if he’d suffered a similar fate to Rhino Daley. Not a chance. He’d barely broken sweat after the first three minutes; if anything he’d warmed up and came out fresher and stronger. Armstrong tried to stick to his game plan and keep the fight on the feet; that simply wasn’t happening though. Tunnicliffe shot in, clearly conscious of the fence-gamesmanship in the last round, picked his opponent up above his head and slammed him down onto the canvas. With beautiful fluidity he then transitioned to full mount and pounded his opponent out to secure a debut victory. He last time I witnessed this level of confidence and dominance from a debutant was when I saw Jawany Scott first step onto the canvas. Within two amateur fights he was appearing on Cage Warriors, where he’s had his last two contests and looks likely to be one of the next round of breakthrough stars that they love to build. If Tunnicliffe’s next appearance is anything like this one and he focuses on training and fighting, then I wouldn’t be surprised to see this Shrewsbury MMA lad fast-tracked.
The action continued with another fast and furious bout; the second of the three potential fights of the night, featuring Scandinavian Jonas Skov and Ash Walters in the amateur lightweight division. As much as this was a fantastic spectacle, it’s tough to describe the beauty of the contest and give it the credit it deserves. Walters, 3-5 before this fight, had won two consecutive bouts on previous Golden Ticket events. Seeing the confidence and technical ability he already has at this point in his career you’d be surprised to see the negative record. His stand up was crisp and on point. His movement fantastic and clearly he has cardio for days, as evidenced by the huge number of shots thrown and landed in this contest. Skov (3-1), on the other hand, was more meticulous in his engagement, standing more flat footed and throwing heavy single shots in stark contrast to Walters’ strike-and-move tactic. The bout was fiercely contested, although it was clear to the viewing public that each fighter had won a round each going into the third. As before, Walters came out energetically bouncing on the balls of his feet, moving in and out of range, firing shots. Skov continued with his measured approach, but by this point Walters, who’d suffered a bloody nose in the second, had worked out his opponent’s timing and ensured that he was popping his own punch and kick combos off; then getting out of range before Skov could retaliate, comfortably securing the third round and a two rounds to one victory. Surely after three consecutive victories it’s time for the Golden Ticket team to give Walters his title shot?
The final fight before the interval was probably the most anticlimactic of the evening. Ash Fletcher and Luke Brookes faced each other in the amateur light heavyweight division. Fletcher, who has a strong BJJ background surprised his opponent with some deft striking, causing Brookes to try and stem the punishment by taking his opponent to the ground. Some smart incremental movement followed by an escape saw Fletcher start to get back to his feet. Brookes rightly kept the pressure on his opponent and in the melee threw two knees to the temple of his rising opponent. The first strike landed when Fletcher might’ve been fully up, the second one certainly didn’t as Fletcher had both a hand and a knee on the ground. The referee stepped in immediately and called in the medical staff who after assessing Fletcher called the fight off. Fletcher, likely still disorientated, tried to argue with their reasoning and voiced his frustration, but (certainly from the sidelines) it looked like the right decision was made. Fletcher took the victory, but by disqualification. There was clearly no malice from Brookes; hopefully we can see a rematch between these two before long.
As this show just kept on giving, I thought it best to break the review down into smaller parts. Therefore, stick with AddictedOTR.com for part two of the breakdown, where we’ll bring you details of the amateur title fights, the pro card and the headline professional heavyweight title slobber-knocker.