Review: MMA Battle Arena 42

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The weekend is over and the dust has settled on standout amateur promotion MMA Battle Arena’s 42nd show. This was the one that they said was their ‘big show of the year’, so the pressure was on. We were in attendance to see if they succeeded.

The event poster told us that Battle Arena were putting on seven title fights. Seeing something like that brings forth a sliver of cynicism in your mind. How can there be so many titles? Are they handing out belts merely for competing? Surely they’ve devalued their belt system? I had all of those thoughts in the last week and every one of them was wrong. All seven fights had an electric atmosphere spilling out of the four-figure crowd and seeing the raw emotion from both the victors and the slain, I’d challenge anyone to say otherwise.

When writing my event reviews I usually run through each fight, but with twenty-five contests throughout the afternoon and evening I think even the most supportive of reader would lose the will to live. So, so much happened, with every fight giving us something, I don’t think I’d do each of them justice with a watered-down breakdown. So instead, this article will focus on the title bouts, the fight of the night and some of the stand out performers, starting with the main event.

World Lightweight Title: David Khalsa vs Luke Mulhall

When attending regional MMA show the one thing that always astounds me is the way that so few of those in attendance throughout the night actually get to see the main event. People go to shows to support their friends, their family or their team mates. Once they’ve competed then their supporters usually leave. I always think “you’ve paid your money, why not stay and enjoy the show?”. Saturday night was one of the few occasions where over half of the crowd were still with us until the lights went up at the end and I’m certain that everyone who watched this fight became emotionally involved, even if they didn’t know either fighter.

Khalsa and Mulhall had met before, with Khalsa taking the decision victory. I’ve spoken to multiple sources who were in attendance that night and there’s no consensus at all. Half say Khalsa deserved the nod, the other half say they’d have given it to Mulhall. Either way, the belt went home to Kidderminster with the RPMAA man and the result was placed into the record books. From the top to the bottom of MMA, champions who have tough fights regularly say “you’ve had your turn, you lost” when challenged with a rematch and Khalsa could’ve said that to Mulhall, but to his credit he wanted to test himself against his toughest opponent to date and accepted the bout to headline the show.

You could’ve drawn a line down the VIP section, with Mulhall’s 10th Planet crowd on one side of the cage and Khalsa’s RPMAA group on the other. The crowd erupted as Luke Mulhall made his way to the cage. The previously quiet tables around me jumped to their feet and roared their support to their man. The support for Khalsa was equally as vocal, with his West Midlands fan base energising their champion.

The bout started and as expected, Khalsa came out in his usual aggressive style, stalking across the cage to engage with his opponent. Approximately 15 seconds in, Mulhall accidentally caught Khalsa with a low blow, leaving the champion in noticeable discomfort. He took a minute of the allotted five to recover and the action continued. Khalsa came forward again trying to work the left jab and heavy straight right combo that’s served him well so far in his career. Mulhall tried to counter with leg kicks, the second of which Khalsa caught with his left hand, then proceeded to throw three heavy rights at the chin of Mulhall. The 10th Planet man had other ideas and even though he couldn’t generate full power with one foot off the ground, managed to drop Khalsa with a hook to the jaw.

The RPMAA man immediately bounced to his feet, instinctively shooting for a double leg and securing the takedown. Mulhall, clearly comfortable on his back, started sneaking his legs high up Khalsa’s back whilst holding his opponent’s hands and head. After a failed armbar attempt, Mulhall used the cage wall to get back to his feet.

Khalsa kept the pressure on, trying to take his opponent back to the ground, which then allowed Mulhall to reverse and hip toss Khalsa to the floor. Immediately dropping into side control, Mulhall unleashed a flurry of shots to the face of the champion who turned his back. Mulhall seized on this, slipping his right arm under the jaw of Khalsa whilst simultaneously trying to lock both hooks in. Mulhall then flattened Khalsa out and reverted to a body triangle whilst the champion squirmed for a better position, all the while fighting off Mulhall’s hands. Bravely holding on for thirty seconds, Khalsa did everything in his power to prevent the loss, but with the blackness descending tapped out.

Visibly distraught at the result, it took him a couple of minutes to compose himself, but once on the mic, showed true class in defeat. A superb fight to round off the night. A deserved victory for Luke Mulhall and a contest I’d happily watch again. All the great rivalries have a trilogy; let’s hope this does too.

European Featherweight Title: Jordan Bowyer vs Kyle Wilson

Anyone who’d seen either of these guys fight before knew how this fight would play out. Both are superb grapplers, so it was inevitably going to be won or lost on the ground. I’d sat with Kyle Wilson’s family at a previous fight. They’d been put on the same table as me when he made his debut. I still remember the stress they felt as he walked into the cage, and as he made his way to the octagon on Saturday, I looked across the venue and saw that pained look on his parents and sister’s faces again as they willed their loved one to succeed. Wilson didn’t display a shred of concern, entering the arena with a steely focus.

Bowyer entered with supreme confidence. Already the Battle Arena National Featherweight Champion, he had his sights firmly on emulating his idol and having two belts over his shoulders. He crawled into the cage McGregor-style. He stretched his hamstrings out in the exact same way that the Dubliner does whilst waiting in his corner for the fight to start.

As the action started, Wilson made the first move, walking over to his opponent to engage. He threw a jab, then a hook, Bowyer dropped below the hook, grabbed a double leg and took Wilson to the canvas. Wilson ensured that they landed in full guard and immediately started trying to work for a submission. Sneaking his legs up the back of Bowyer he skillfully sunk in an arm bar which would’ve been enough to tap the majority of men. Bowyer had other idea though. He masterfully stepped over, spun around behind Wilson, freeing his arm up before dropping to his back, pulling the Combat and Exercise man down with him. In one fluid movement he threw his legs up, one around the neck of Wilson, one under his arm and locked in a water tight head and arm triangle. With no means to escape, Wilson tapped before losing consciousness, allowing Bowyer to secure his second Battle Arena Featherweight belt.

European Light Heavyweight Title: Matt Byfield vs Martynas Andrikis

This was a tough fight to write about, so little happened, but at the same time so much. It was a chess match between two clearly talented guys. Byfield has that UTC pedigree. They’re one of the powerhouses on the UK scene and Byfield is one of their up-and-comers. This was essentially a chess match on the ground. Byfield took his opponent down repeatedly, tried to improve position, but was massively wary of Andrikis’ submission skills. In his post-fight interview he described Andrikis as “a sneaky f****r”, which was probably the most apt description he could’ve given him. On more than one occasion the Scandinavian came close to picking up an unlikely submission victory, but it wasn’t to be. Byfield won a clear and unanimous decision to pick up the strap.

World Heavyweight Title: Tomasz Ponder vs Marthin Hamlet Neilson

Oh goodness. This was Game of Thrones-esque. Hamlet Neilson weighed in at 99.9kg and had abs on top of abs. The fight was over in the first round, but it was a beauty. Both guys came out to strike. Hamlet Neilson was the aggressor, Ponder was happy counter-striking, and achieved some early success from it too. The bout changed drastically when Hamlet Neilson timed a knee to perfection. Ponder dropped for a double leg as his opponent threw a knee up, which caught the Pole on the chin. The Norwegian swarmed in, landing two more heavy shots to the chin of his opponent before picking him up and slamming him with a force that shook the venue. Ponder had to go into survival mode as Hamlet Neilson rained down shot after heavy shot before the referee stepped in and called the fight off. Hamlet Neilson took the belt back to Frontline Academy.

European Middleweight Title: Fabian Edwards vs Attila Hanzel

This kid is special. You don’t need to ask who I’m talking about, you all know. This was his toughest fight to date though. Attila Hanzel is no joke. I’ve seen him fight twice before and both times he clinically dispatched his opponent with unerring ease. This time was different though. Even entering the cage, Hanzel looked different. Fear wouldn’t be the right word, he’s clearly not the type of guy who’s afraid of anything, perhaps trepidation would be a better description of the look on his face as he watched ‘The Assassin’ enter the cage. With all the swagger and poise of an established star, Edwards came in, stretched his limbs in a somewhat languid fashion as the MC Karsten Lenjoint went through the introductions and went to work from the very start. Hanzel caught Edwards with some good, heavy shots as he worked his way around the UTC star, displaying a good array of strikes and footwork. Edwards took his time though, picked his shots and when the opportunity arose, put his opponent away in devastating fashion. Is that nine consecutive KO/TKO victories now? His brother Leon may be in the UFC already, but Fabian isn’t going to be far behind him. Very special indeed.

European Lightweight Title: Bradley Owen vs Fred Sjoli

Have you seen the TV show Vikings? If so, you’d probably assume that one of the main characters has been based on Fred Sjoli. 70kg of ripped muscle all topped off with the  wild Scandinavian eyes. Sjoli is one intimidating man. Three rounds this fight lasted, and for three rounds Sjoli brutalised Bradley Owen. I don’t mean that with a shred of disrespect; if anything, the contrary, as Owen proved his heart, his will and his character over and over again. Most men would’ve quit under the relentless attack of the Frontline man, but Owen stuck to his task and took Sjoli to the distance. Another belt has been plundered by the men from Norway. If for some reason the Khalsa vs Mulhall trilogy isn’t the immediate first title defence for the 10th Planet man, then Mulhall vs Sjoli would be a beautiful match to watch.

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National Welterweight Title: Corey Beldon vs Adrian Glowacki

I know I’m waxing lyrical today, but this bout featured another star in the making. Corey Beldon. He ticks so many boxes. His stand up is clinical, his grappling is slick, his decision making is already on point. He’s a good-looking kid, he’s good on the mic, and he’s now got the taste for silverware. Glowacki tried, but Beldon controlled this fight from the beginning. He kept the 10th Planet man at range, lighting him up with flurries of precision strikes. He ensured that he controlled where the action took place throughout, finishing his opponent with a second-round TKO. Providing he keeps improving he has a real future in this sport.

The best of the rest

The great thing about this show is that every fight is well matched. The information available in the public domain is still patchy on pro fighters, so even less is available on amateurs; yet the Battle Arena team always seem to put suitable fighters against each other. This event was no different.

Fight of the night

This had to go to the other heavyweight bout on the card, as 4th Dimension’s Dan Tindall squared off with Frontline Academy’s Eskild Magnusson. These guys just went at it. For the full nine minutes the match just ebbed and flowed. One minute you’d think Magnusson was on the cusp of putting Tindall away, then from nowhere Tindall would get a boost of energy and send his opponent staggering back across the cage with a swarm of shots. Tindall took the second round, Magnusson took the third; everything hinged on the judge’s interpretation of the first. The nod went to Magnusson. A split decision victory. Nobody truly lost that fight, it was a joy to witness.

Standout performances

 

The ones who left the lasting impression were BMAC’s Joe Taylor who dominated Mario Stankov, lighting him up on his feet, then crushing him with a triangle choke to take a comprehensive first round victory. The very next bout featured RPMAA’s Callum Pace who tossed Lee Millhouse around like a rag doll, twice slamming him to the canvas in brutal fashion before synching in a tight rear naked choke to have his hand raised before the end of the first round. Will Welch managed to do what most men can’t, and that’s stop George Williams. Having watched Williams fight two months ago, I knew his gameplan; walking forward whilst blocking punches with his face. I was right. Welch hit him, hard. Williams walked forward. This went on for 2 & ½ rounds until Welch caught Williams with an uppercut which cracked something in or around Williams’ left eye. Still the DCMA man walked forward, but with one eye shut. Welch took advantage and pounded his opponent until the referee decided that was enough punishment for the night and put a stop to the beating.

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Comebacks

There were two noticeable bouts with changes in fortune. First up was Tommy Taylor vs Dennis Stefan. Stefan rocked Taylor with pretty much the first shot of the match. You could see Taylor’s eyes change as the Five Rings man swarmed him. Taylor survived, shook off the fog and secured victory by arm bar with only 17 seconds left in the bout.

The second, and most marked turnaround was in the Josh Fairholme vs Kaymen Wymark fight. I don’t think Wymark would disagree with me, but Fairholme dominated the majority of this match. Admittedly he did (unintentionally) catch Wymark in the jewels in each of the first two rounds, but still, he was the dominant force throughout the bout. At one point I thought he was going to take Wymark’s leg home with him as he locked in a tight, tight footlock. To his credit, Wymark listened to his corner and survived the onslaught before grasping the one real opportunity he had in the bout, firing up a triangle from his back and then hyperextending his opponent’s arm to take victory.

Sportsmanship

I’d point anyone who makes disparaging comments about MMA fighters to this event, specifically to the bout between Joe Crouch and Lewie Gentilla. Prior to the fight either men would’ve easily graced the ‘Wanted’ gallery of Crimewatch. The aggression and determination etched on both of their faces was palpable. They came out in the most violent of ways too, swinging for the fences. Crouch soon discovered that Gentilla’s striking was superior, as he got rocked twice in quick succession with a couple of cheeky mini-overhand rights. Being a martial artist isn’t just about being the tough guy, it’s about being smart, so Crouch took Gentilla to the ground. Both men grabbed hold of the other’s foot, but Crouch was first to the lock. He torqued and torqued Gentilla’s joint. The Elite Training Centre man tried to twist out of the position, but in doing so popped something in his knee. Crouch immediately disengaged, the two men got to their feet and Crouch shouted to the referee “it’s snapped, it’s snapped”. Gentilla tried to put his foot down, seemingly unaware of his injury until this point, then fell back to the ground. The cageside doctor and paramedics entered the cage immediately and dealt with the incident professionally; but Crouch’s reaction was truly special. It would’ve been easy for him to wade into his opponent and punish him more, but instead he did the gentlemanly thing and ensured that his clearly beaten opponent didn’t suffer any more than he had to. This is amateur MMA after all. Well done Joe Crouch. You should be proud of your actions.

Remaining bouts

There were also wins for Lewis Charlesworth, Kenneth Evenson, Sam Zahoirovic, George Binkowski, Harvey Hale, David Ashby, Munsh Modvhadia, Jaye John, Connor McKenna, Callum Birkinshaw and Andrew Young on the night.

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