Battle Arena 44: The Review

Images courtesy of the fantastic Marc Moggridge

First of all, apologies, Battle Arena fans; my review is usually out within 24-36 hours of the event, this one has taken a lot longer to write. I always try to stay objective when writing about MMA. What the athletes (& promoters) put into events deserves nothing but respect and admiration, so I always do my utmost to convey that gratitude in what I write, especially when dealing with amateur fighters who do this for the love of the sport. I haven’t felt that I’ve been able to be objective since Saturday night, when halfway through a fantastic event, a small number of ‘attendees’ (for want of a stronger phrase) didn’t think through their actions. As those who know me can attest to, I’m not a fighter; but my temper was tested more than it has been in a while, so I needed to calm down to make sure that what I write is put down correctly and not purely out of annoyance.

Ok, let’s get this out of the way first of all. We’ll jump straight to bout 10 of the 17-fight card featuring Chrissy Mountford and Adam Binkowski. Chrissy came out to the cage to a roaring, vociferous fan base. I love hearing fans get behind their fighters, it adds to the atmosphere greatly for all in the venue. Then Binkowski came down the walkway. The previously cheering fans then decided to chant “W@nker! W@nker! W@nker!” to his opponent. Stupid and unnecessary. This may be the type of thing to chant at Tony Pulis as he makes his way to the opposing dugout at The Britannia, but not at an amateur MMA show; where as previously stated, these guys are doing it for the love.

As soon as the bell sounded, Mountford was imperious in the cage. His movement and striking were absolutely beautiful. He was on point from the get-go; Binkowski didn’t even have the chance to get going before Mountford landed clean and true to put the fight to bed. It was a truly phenomenal performance from a really, really exciting debutant. Believe me, this guy has serious potential. This then caused jubilant celebration from the Mountford support, who rather than just celebrate their man’s win, decided to start throwing beer all over the VIP section, where I was sat, directly in front of them. This wasn’t a little accident. Four tables including two cageside (so a good distance from the crowd) had to move out of the splash-zone. I turned and went straight towards the crowd telling them to calm down, only to have one woman shouting “f@ck you! I don’t give a f@ck!” in my face whilst being pulled back by one of the sensible few in the group. Then she decided to flick some more beer, just for good measure. The door staff all moved in to move them away. Mountford to his credit took the mic and told his fans to calm down. To be clear here, the fighter was completely blameless. He came, he put on a professional and clinical performance and tried to calm the situation down. He then worked with the Battle Arena staff, who sensibly took him out to the foyer at the cricket ground before suggesting to his fans that they should go and join him to celebrate, which thankfully they did.

My annoyance over this was due to a number of factors:

  1. Completely disrespecting a fighter as he walks into the cage is just sh*t
  2. Chucking beer all over tables of paying patrons is pathetic. It’s not celebrating, it’s antagonising.
  3. This is a sport which has been vilified by large portions of the press. If this had kicked off, the sport’s detractors could’ve had a field day, Battle Arena could’ve lost their license with Birmingham City Council and all of the local clubs could’ve lost access to the biggest and best amateur show in the country. Remember how long it took the FX3 guys to get Reading City Council back on side? It took years for them to get a license to operate again after the riot at one of their shows.
  4. Screaming expletives in the face of the journalist who is reporting on the event (the massive notepad in front of me gave it away) isn’t the smartest of things to do when they’re reporting on a person you care about; especially when, like the athletes, I do this for free. A little bit of appreciation for the exposure would be better, surely.
  5. And finally, this behaviour could potentially make a really, really good fighter unbookable. Will Battle Arena take the risk of having him on the show again? What these people didn’t know was that the owner of another promotion was sat at the table in front of me, so his family and friends had to move after being soaked as well. How is that going to impact on Mountford’s chances of appearing on another local show? It’s completely unfair to the fighter who has dedicated time and effort to turn in what was one of the performances of the night. Pure stupidity. I hope every last one of them has apologised to Chrissy Mountford for taking the shine off of his night.

Right, now that’s out of the way, let’s get on with the rest of the card. There were early wins for Tom Clarke and Dan Kniel against Gjermund Lockert and Bakhtyaar Orykail respectively. Bout three featured two really exciting young female amateur flyweight prospects, Sophie Luxton and Indy Briar. This went the distance with Luxton taking a split decision victory. This could’ve easily gone either way and it wouldn’t have been a travesty.

Next up, Marcus Stevens dispatched Marius Falch, controlling the action from start to finish. Falch showed a cast iron chin, taking some heavy, heavy shots in the process. Fight five gave us our first clean KO of the night, as Tommy Lewis put Kyal Tibbert flat on his back in the second round in spectacular style.

Nathan Rich demonstrated why he’s being spoken of as another huge prospect coming out of Impact MMA. He dominated Majciej Dojinikowski in every aspect during the first round of bout six, before taking the Black Dragon fighter down and finishing him with ground and pound in the second.

Bout seven frustrated me as Krzystof Wisniewski fought a smart fight and out pointed Tyler Roberts-Kellman. Tyler, I put a side bet on you winning!

The second women’s MMA bout of the evening showcased the skills of yet another athlete to likely go along the Battle Arena conveyor belt and end up on a big pro show. Remember this name, Josie Blaber. She has an ultra-aggressive Muay Thai style, which completely overwhelmed Rikkemadelen Gunderson, who did well just to take the fight to the second round. Blaber is special.

Bradley Owen and Jack Drake entertained us next. Owen had been on a two-fight slide, so desperately needed a result in this bout. Drake wasn’t in the mood to let this go on any longer than necessary and came out fast and hard. For the first 90 seconds it looked like only a matter of time before either Owen’s chin or heart gave out as Drake piled it on him. At the halfway point in the round, Drake was on top of a seated Owen, raining down more heavy shots before the RPMAA man secured a leg, reversed Drake and took his back. Owen then secured a body triangle, fought to get his arm under Drake’s neck before the buzzer sounded, saving the Impact MMA fighter. Unperturbed by his near defeat, Drake started the second how he’d started the first, aggressively striking. As the fight went back to the mat, again, Owen took charge, eating shots whilst calmly securing his position, locking in a triangle choke and against the odds taking the victory. The relief in the young man’s face was palpable (along with the fast forming bruising as a result of Drake’s powerful strikes).

The first bout after ‘beergate’ was one of the most eagerly anticipated on the card; Macca White vs Ben Hodgson, and it didn’t disappoint. RPMAA man, White, showed why he’s fast becoming one of the amateur bantamweights to watch as he controlled all three rounds against another highly ranked prospect.

The titles

Battle Arena had titled this event ‘Champions Will Collide’ and the first of the title fights lived up to that billing in such spectacular fashion that we could’ve packed up and gone home happy right after it. BMAC’s Joe Crouch faced Richard Deakin from the aptly named Powerhouse Gym for the Battle Arena British Light Heavyweight Belt. Deakin has had first round finishes in his last three fights, and it was plain to see why. As soon as the bout started he hit Crouch so hard that the tables shook. Strike after strike landed; Crouch, clearly dazed, somehow stayed on his feet taking severe punishment. Deakin mixed up his strikes, landing powerful leg kicks to supplement his heavy hands. As if that wasn’t enough, he locked onto Crouch and suplexed him, slamming him down with such force that the whole venue reverberated again. As the buzzer went, Crouch moved like a drunk back to his corner.

As round two started, Deakin sucked in some heavy breaths. Crouch was now likely only seeing two Deakins, rather than the four he must’ve seen by the end of the first. He landed a superman punch and a headkick which rocked his foe who was crashing faster than a raver on a 5am comedown. Both men wobbled around the cage, with their bodies screaming to quit but their brains unable to comply. It was taking Herculean effort for each fighter to surge forward with a flurry of shots to try and finish the other off. Deakins suplexed Crouch again to “Oooooooooh’s” from the crowd. Crouch was running on autopilot; he managed to take Deakin down and rain shots on him, causing the exhausted Deakin to verbally submit due to strikes. The BMAC crowd emphatically cheered, starting a chant of “Crouchy! Crouchy!” as both men lay on the floor in the cage, completely spent. Was it the most technically perfect bout? No. However, it embodied everything it means to be British. True grit, desire, determination enveloped in a never-say-die attitude. Absolutely brilliant.

Battle Arena then added a nice touch. The belt was presented to Joe Crouch by David Khalsa. Khalsa was formerly a Battle Arena Lightweight World Champion. He’s recently signed a multi-fight deal with the continent’s biggest show, BAMMA, which showed the progression from the Battle Arena ranks to one of the top pro shows on the circuit.

Who’d want to follow that? Well Scott Clarke and Tommy Taylor had to follow on. I was walking back through the crowd to my seat when MC Carsten Lenjoint was in the midst of introducing the fighters to the crowd. “This is a mismatch”, I heard someone say, as they compared the two fighters in the cage. Taylor has a baby face and whilst he’s far from scrawny, when compared to the physique of Clarke, who looks like he’s chiseled from titanium; doesn’t necessarily look like your archetypal MMA fighter. Don’t let looks deceive you though, Taylor is not only highly skilled, he’s also as hard as nails, and he proved that on Saturday night.

Clarke, as expected, came out hard. Twice he dumped Taylor on his backside with huge strikes (Taylor wasn’t even close to being knocked out, just knocked off of his feet due to the power of the shots). The game-plan from BMAC was clear to see; catch Clarke’s kicks and take him down where the wily Taylor had the clear advantage. Although it didn’t really work in the first round, it caused Clarke to slow down drastically and reconsider his own approach.

Round two started with much of the same, although at a less frenetic pace. Taylor grew in confidence as the round wore on, throwing his own strikes, catching a leg then securing a double leg. He picked Clarke up to slam him to the ground, who then instinctively (but unfairly) grabbed the top of the cage to prevent the hit; much to the chagrin of the now booing crowd. This then allowed Clarke to reverse Taylor and finish the round in top position, when really he shouldn’t have.

Rounds three and four followed the distinctive pattern. Clarke would strike. His combinations would include a kick, which Taylor would catch. Sometimes he’d succeed in taking the fight to the ground, sometimes he wouldn’t. Whenever he was successful he invariably ended up on his back (where he was clearly comfortable), Clarke would think twice about engaging, not really do a lot from the top position and get the fight back up to the feet again, where Clarke was in control.

With the fight clearly being scored in favour of Clarke, Taylor had the best of round five, but it was a bit too late. Clarke deservedly took the belt, but this was far from the ‘mismatch’ that some people thought it would be. Both fighters took deserved applause when exiting the cage; although Clarke seemed to struggle as he came out, holding his ribcage as he gingerly hopped down the steps. I’ve since found out (literally just as I’m preparing to post this article) that he broke his foot and rib in the first round, yet carried on for another four.

Following on from this was the European Welterweight Title fight between Corey Beldon and Danny Tyler. Beldon made light work of this, spectacularly knocking out Tyler to continue his march through the Battle Arena belt system. This belt was presented by Josh Plant. Josh was the previous incumbent, who relinquished his belt before turning professional in February. Josh has also signed a multi-fight deal with BAMMA, and like David Khalsa, makes his promotional debut on BAMMA 29, May 12th at Birmingham’s Genting Arena.

Of the three remaining title bouts, one stood out head and shoulders above the rest for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, Thomas Ponder demolished incumbent champion Thorasgard Carvalhal’s legs to take the Battle Arena European Heavyweight Title, and Dillon Manning arm barred Anthony Peters to secure an impressive Battle Arena Middleweight World Title.

The remaining bout was a quickly cobbled together Battle Arena World Featherweight Title fight between Duncan Djilalli and Munesh Modvhadia. Modvhadia had been scheduled to take on fellow featherweight Cain Thomas in a bout higher up the card, but his opponent pulled out due to injury on the day, leaving him without a contest. At the start of the week, bantamweight Djilalli had been preparing for a fight on a card in May, before getting a call 3 days before the event, asking if he could:

  1. Make 61kgs
  2. Fight for a title

He’d wowed the crowd at Battle Arena 43 with a fantastic display against Tom Gibbs, so was on the list of potential title challengers in any case. He set to work on dropping his weight whilst simultaneously trying to up his cardio to handle a 5-round battle. He was due to face Josh Mottram; then disaster struck. On the morning of the event, Mottram came down with a norivirus, throwing up constantly and unable to fight. Both athletes wanted to compete still, having mentally and physically prepared, so the option was put to them to fight for the vacant Battle Arena World Featherweight Title. Although it was a weight class above his, Djilalli accepted without hesitation, and once Modvhadia’s camp accepted, the fight was on!

Modvhadia, the 4th Dimension man, didn’t hesitate. He rushed across the cage at Djilalli, throwing a flurry of strikes at the Prime MMA fighter. Djilalli went into self defence mode, protecting himself from the diverse array of punches being thrown at him. Modvhadia then threw a booming roundhouse kick which connected flush, shin to ear, making Djilalli wobble back. A swift shake of the head seemed to bring Djilalli back to full consciousness who then decided that it was his turn. He turned on his own offensive striking game, before changing levels and taking his opponent down with a big slam. The fight was on. So much happened in the first round, 3 minutes seemed like 5. God only knows how the judges scored it, but their intervention wasn’t required. Djilalli showed why his double entendre nickname ‘The Handful’ is so apt in the cage. With renewed confidence he took control of the bout, opening up on Modvhadia with slick combinations before picking his opponent up, dumping him on his backside and sinking in a rear naked choke to take the world title belt in a weight class above his own.

Another great event by the Battle Arena team. Roll on June 24th when they’ll be in Oxford.