Review: MMA Battle Arena 41 – Part 1

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This Saturday, MMA Battle Arena hosted their 41st event. Patrons were treated to fifteen bouts, which included one of the best comeback victories of the year and maybe the quickest KO in MMA history. We went along to witness the arrival of some of the stars of tomorrow.

The bad, the silly and the good

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way early on. The venue, Club Republic in Leicester, was rubbish. The building is dilapidated, the staff which were provided by the venue were either disinterested or non-existent and the decision by the venue to serve all drinks in glasses rather than plastic cups was puzzling to say the least; particularly after they’d had a business-shutting incident only the night before. Fortunately, the UK MMA crowd is made up of a better class of people than the general public.

The major plus points were:

  1. Battle Arena dressed the venue well, covering up a fair amount of its inadequacies. Their slick production helped.
  2. The venue had cheap and accessible parking. £4.00 to park in the multistorey only 500 yards from the club, from 3:00pm through to 10:30pm. That certainly beats the £22.00 I had to pay when travelling to a Northern show earlier this year.

Whether Battle Arena can or want to return to this venue remains to be seen. Either way, I personally think they’ve outgrown it.

The important stuff

Right, now that’s out of the way, let’s get onto what matters, the fights. For years, Joe Silva and latterly Sean Shelby have been lauded for their ability to save cards from ruin when their plans are laid to waste by injury, missed weight or external issues (a-la Jon Jones). The further down the MMA pyramid you go, the more fluid the and nimble the promoters have to be. When you’re dealing with amateur fighters whose livelihoods aren’t dependent on whether they set foot in the cage at the agreed time; then understandably, health isn’t risked when carrying an injury, so pull outs are a-plenty. Usually I like to put out preview articles for the events I’m attending. The card changed so much in the lead up to the show that it just wasn’t possible; that’s the gravity of the situation dealt with by this team. However, having forty events in the bank means that you’re not green around the gills, so the Battle Arena staff did what they always do; they made sure the show went on and as always, they pulled it off. Here’s how it went down.

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Fight One

Tap or Snap’s Jake Stark faced George Caruana from McLeods in the opening fight of the night and what a start it was. Round one started with raucous cheers from the crowd for both young men. Stark’s hands were clearly superior to Caruana’s; however, the McLeods man wowed the audience with a beautiful array of kicks. Both fighters dropped the other in a round which ebbed and flowed, surely the second round couldn’t get any better than this? Well, after a striking battle in the first, round 2 showed the grappling and ground capabilities of both. Reversals, full mounts, reversals from full mounts; the action was non-stop with no clear winner to the non-judging witnesses. Into the third it went.

Round 3 was an utter war of attrition. Neither man knew who was in the lead on the scorecard. Either could’ve been two rounds up, it could’ve been drawn, that’s how well matched these two were. Stark, who was the slightly bigger man, probably spent more time on the front foot in this round, but again, it was by no means conclusive. At the end of the nine minutes the venue boomed with appreciation for what we’d just witnessed. Stark got the decision, but in truth no one lost in that cage.

Fight Two

You could’ve brought Robbie Lawler and Rory McDonald out after the first fight and it would’ve been anti-climactic (ok, that’s a slight exaggeration, but it would’ve been tough for most to have followed the entertainment of Stark vs Caruana). Poor old Nikolata Zlatev and Matthew James were the unlucky two to come out second.

This was an interesting fight. Zlatev had one thing in mind; take the fight to the ground. James, the striker, wanted to keep the bout standing, but hurried his shots and didn’t maintain a safe distance between himself and his opponent to prevent the inevitable. Early in the first Zlatev took James down. He worked methodically to improve his position, finishing the round in full mount. James defended intelligently and even though he finished the round in a bad spot, didn’t truly look like he was going to be stopped.

The interval between the first and second provided a moment of comedy. Zlatev went back to his corner and stood waiting for his team. And waited. And waited. They didn’t move from their cageside positions! They had to be ushered into the cage after 15-20 seconds of the permitted 60. They didn’t have a stool, they had a bottle of water and a beach towel. The water was poured into Zlatev’s mouth, the beach towel was waved in his direction and not a lot else. Not that it had a particularly detrimental effect on their man though. The second round followed the script of the first. James got taken down, but rather than work to improve position, Zlatev worked for a submission and secured victory with a tight kimura.

Fight Three

Maciej Wojciechowski faced off against Myron Arnold. Arnold entered the cage in a calm and ethereal way, with a calm detachment from the forthcoming violence. Wojciechowski, the Leicester Shootfighter had other ideas. As the ref called a start to the action, Arnold politely bowed to his opponent before taking up a traditional karate-style stance. The bow seemed to throw Wojciechowski off kilter for a split second as he paused his charge across the cage, gave Arnold a little bow back, then regained composure, strode over and unleashed the MMA equivalent of Desert Storm on his opponent. The shock & awe tactic bore fruit pretty much straight away as Arnold, clearly overwhelmed, went into self defence mode, eating a heavy kick before being forced to the canvas by Wojciechowski. The Shootfighter, not pausing for a second transitioned to full mount. Arnold turned away from the onslaught, giving up his back, which Wojciechowski gratefully took before sinking in a tight rear naked choke to finish the fight.

godberFight Four

A junior bout featuring Trojan Free Fighters’ Tom Godber and Combat & Exercise’s Danny Costello. As the combatants were aged 16 and 15 respectively, no head shots were allowed on the ground. The contest started with both fighters coming out aggressively. Costello had the advantage whilst the fighters were standing up, landing some good shots; which to be fair, Godber handled. The Trojan Free Fighter set out his stall early and closed the distance at every opportunity to get his hands on his foe. Once locked on, a takedown was all that was on Godber’s mind as he took Costello down three times in the first.

Round two had a similar format. Costello started to strike a bit more erratically as frustration started to show. Godber swallowed less strikes as he closed the distance, but only secured one of his three attempted takedowns; although Godber did land a thunderous headkick early in the round. All in attendance could see that at this point it was clearly two rounds to nil to Godber.

As they came back out for round three, Costello seemed to clear his head slightly, managing to put Godber up against the cage in top position in front of his own corner. Godber looked up at his corner, gave them a smile and a wink and held position. A scramble later and it was all over. Godber’s superior grappling shone through as he secured an arm bar, hyper extending Costello’s limb. Referee Paul Nicholls didn’t wait for the tap. He immediately stepped in and stopped the bout.

Initially Costello protested the decision, but after a conversation between the ref and his corner he graciously accepted it. He’s only 15, this wasn’t the time or place to prove his manhood and suffer a serious injury, he’s got plenty more wars to fight. Nicholls had informed both camps beforehand that due to the age of the fighters he would step in to prevent serious injury and that’s what he rightly did. Both fighters showed a skill level far superior to their tender years. Costello has some work to do on his ground game, but thanks to Nicholls he can start that in the gym this week.

Godber was disappointingly dismissive of his opponent in his post-fight interview, but a combination of youth and the excitement of getting a debut win can probably explain that away. Training out of the gym who’ve given us the likes of Che Mills and Matt Ewin will certainly stand him in good stead and I’m sure we’ll see a bit more humility from him in his next appearance. Mills and Ewin were both renowned for that throughout their respective careers, which seems to be the TFF way. Regardless of that, I’m looking forward to seeing him again though. The kid has incredible potential.

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Fight Five

You’ve all heard of The Korean Zombie, right? Chan Sung Jung? Well, soon you’re going to be hearing about The Andoverian Zombie, Ben Hodgson. This guy wouldn’t look out of place in a Year 11 class photo, with his innocent face and Belieber hair style, but you put him in what would appear to be an insurmountable position and he will continue on as if he’s not felt a thing. No change in facial expression, no change in breathing pattern; nothing. It’s a special trait. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Fight five featured ‘The Zombie’ (that’s not his official nickname, I’ve just decided that it should be) Ben Hodgson against Jack Whitehouse. As with the very first bout, there probably aren’t enough superlatives in the English language to truly explain the beauty of this contest. Whitehouse, looking like he was chiseled from granite came out confident, and for good reason. His striking was on point; quick, vicious and accurate. With a straight right to the face he dropped ‘The Zombie’, who jumped straight back up to his feet. Whitehouse then tried to overwhelm his opponent, pressed him up against the cage, tripped Hodgson and took him down, had a full mount, almost sunk in two deep, deep rear naked chokes and completely dominated proceedings in the first.

At the buzzer, ‘The Zombie’ got up, strolled back to his corner and listened to instruction; Whitehouse, blowing a bit harder from the exertion of trying to finish the fight concentrated as his corner was clearly telling him “keep doing what you’re doing, it’s going great”. Hodgson took the centre of the cage, stalking his opponent, but still taking shot after shot from Whitehouse. The gas tank emptied though. As soon as it did, Hodgson seized his opportunity and started landing a barrage of his own. He caught Whitehouse with a series of headshots, clearly stunning the Tap or Snap man whose eyes visibly rolled in his head whilst he was standing. Hodgson didn’t let up landing blow after blow, forcing a referee intervention and taking home the most unlikely of TKO victories. His army of fans who’d made the 2&1/2 hour trip up from Hampshire went wild, chanting his name. What a fight. This is exactly why I love watching grass roots MMA. There’s no financial reward for winning this, yet these two young men bared their souls to the room and put on a phenomenal scrap. I want to see both of these guys fight again. I’d happily watch them fight each other every day of the week. This was great.

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Fight Six

This would’ve been lauded as one of the night’s great fights if it hadn’t followed the drama of the previous bout. Leicester Shootfighters’ Jordan Vucenic took on Nottingham MMA’s Geoff Ogendo. Last month I had the pleasure of watching Vucenic fight on another promotion. He started slowly then and did again this weekend. Ogendo came out and though I wouldn’t quite say he lit up Vucenic on the feet in round one, he certainly proved why I’d been told to keep an eye on him. Great, great feet, precise punches, intelligent movement; he even dropped Vucenic in the first.

As had happened only a few weeks beforehand, Vucenic found his feet. Once the young Shootfighter finds his range most men struggle to keep up with him and this happened in round two. Vucenic controlled the pace, moved gracefully and dominated proceedings. As we moved into the third, Ogendo slowed and Vucenic continued with his methodical breakdown of the Nottingham man. Ogendo didn’t roll over though, he just couldn’t land with the same intensity or frequency as he had in the first round and though we saw a well matched and enjoyable bout, Vucenic took a deserved decision victory.

Fight Seven

Callum Abel from Leicester-based gym Impact MMA faced Jaye John from Combat & Exercise. John had fought and won on Battle Arena 40, giving Craig Rumming a tough, tough day at the office, so I knew that Abel would face a stiff challenge in this contest. It started with a quick takedown; John securing the double leg and taking Abel down. A chess match ensued on the ground, with John looking like he’d see out the whole round in top position; but Abel had other ideas. From absolutely nowhere he threw his legs up, got hold of an arm and secured a brutal arm bar forcing John to tap out to save his limb.

Fight Eight

Danny Tyler vs Lukas Szala. Another good, solid bout which got the crowd going again after a short intermission. Evenly matched, well contested and enjoyable. Szala, the Shudan MMA man had the best of the first round, reversing Tyler after the Alliance MMA man took him down. Victory was secured by Szala with an arm bar in round two.

Click here to join us in part two of the report for news of one of the quickest knockouts in MMA history and another slew of great fights.

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