Call me Russ L

Fighting Sports: the last place you want the performer/spectator line to be blurred

Posted in Combat Sports by Russ L on 7 January, 2006

Originally posted on 23/5/5.

So, on Saturday the 21st of May I went to the CageWarriors: Strike Force mixed martial arts event at The Skydome arena, in Coventry. A lot has been written about this and the unfortunate happenings afterwards, some of it accurate but most of it out-of-proportion nonsense. I’ll give my own honest account here. I should assert that, unlike (it seems) many people online, I have no vested interests in either bashing or defending the Cage Warriors Fighting Championships promotion.

A couple of quick points: I’m not convinced it was clever to hold a ‘UK vs France’ themed show with such heavily jingoistic/nationalistic potential in a city that has a rough reputation. Also, it was cup final day, and hence a lot of people turned up pissed already.

My mate Trigger and I arrived at about ten-past six. Since the tickets stated that the doors were at five and the card was due to begin at 6:30 we thought we’d timed it well. We were confronted, though, with a mostly empty venue in which the sound and video equipment was still being checked. Things didn’t kick off till around ten-to-eight. It was a little bit annoying, to be honest, and the first sign of less-than-perfect organisation.

Things finaly began… or rather they didn’t. We first had to watch the promoter Dougie Truman giving a speech and presenting his wife with some flowers, since the day was his anniversary. A nice thing for him to do, no doubt, but in front of a load of punters who had paid to watch MMA? It smacks of ego stroking and it’s no surprise that they got a round of boos. The only saving grace was the kid who shouted “For three five minute rounds…” as Mrs Truman entered the cage to meet her husband. Heckle Of The Night.

The fights began, finally, and the quality of the evening improved tenfold. Unfortunately (and I am disappointed with myself, even though I’m not knowledgeable to offer huge insights anyway) I don’t remember enough to offer too much detail. The first match saw the French representative Mohammed El-Aouji beat Chris Freeborn by submission from a triangle choke in the second round. Freeborn did seem a little tentative, but it was afterwards revealed that he took the fight at 5pm that evening after someone else dropped out. With so little chance for preparation his performance was very impressive.

Bendy Casimir (arguably the greatest name in the history of shootfighting) beat Dave Swann via submission towards the end of the first round with a side choke. It looked to me like Swann had an arm in there to protect him, but Trigger scoffed at me and I was proved to be wrong. Oh well. Jim Wallhead also has to tap to a choke at the end of the first round, applied by Boris Jonstomp (another good name).

Another minor irritant began to establish its position on my mind and probably others’ at this point – at the end of every single fight we had to wait for the representative of whichever local firm was sponsoring the bout to be called a few times and then eventually make his way to the octagon. Would it have been that difficult to have them on hand?

David Baron (France) beat Dan Hardy (UK) by submission from triangle choke in the second round in what was definitely my fight of the night. It was a grappler vs striker battle, and Baron’s constant submission attempts and Hardy’s fantastic defence against them were a joy to watch. Hardy was actually more-or-less standing vertically in the final hold, but the Frenchman held on tenaciously and got the win.

The second best fight of the night came straight after, as Danny Batten beat the respected Emmanuel Fernandez to bring home the CageWarriors featherweight title. Batten managed the ever-nifty trick of fighting a strong fight almost entirely from the bottom, defending well against Fernandez’ g’n’p and going for various submissions. In the second round he finally managed a triangle that his opponent couldn’t escape from and took the first win for the UK.

There was a brief interval after this. Despite the poor-at-times organisation, the night had been a lot of fun so far. The actual matches had been solid.

This is as good a point as any to mention one serious organisational problem, a one-off though it may have been. I forget which fight, unfortunately, but it appears that the MC was being fed inaccurate information about the timing. He announced ten seconds to go before the end of the match, and counted them down… only for the fight to continue. There was just enough time for a few people to begin booing the aggressor at the time before the klaxon sounded and the round actually finished. Obviously fighters in the cage generally zone out everything else and concentrate on their battle, but what if that happened and a combatant heard him? They might well have dropped their defences and left themself open for a possible serious injury. I found that mistake to be pretty disgusting.

Action re-started with Gregory Bouchelaghem beating Ross Pointon in the first round, forcing him to submit with a rear naked choke. I remember little about this one, sadly.

The second and last UK victory of the night came from a Brazilian ‘representing’ Britain. It was a convincing victory, at least. Antonio ‘Junior’ Silva absolutely annihilated Marcus Tchida in one round. It finished with a barrage of standing strikes and was announced on the night as Tchida submitting, although it seems to have since been reported as a referee stop. Junior is an absolute monster; having heard that this was only his second professional MMA fight (his first beating fellow monster Tengiz Tedoradze) then I have to assume he won’t be long for the smaller promotions. Pride or UFC will be calling soon enough.

A bit of an aside from the MMA occurred next, with a cage kickboxing match. Cyrille Dibiate beat Mike Bisping by judges’ decision after four rounds (the last being a sudden death/overtime round). It was a closely fought contest, but I probably would agree with the officials. I’m not sure what scoring system they were using, but I’d say the first two rounds to Bisping, the latter two to Dibiate, and the fight as a whole to Dibiate. This got my mate’s vote for fight of the night.

The infamous trouble began during the middleweight title fight between the champ Matt Ewin and Damien Riccio. The first round had a cool duel of rear naked chokes, but was inconclusive. The second round saw Ewin sustain a cut, which the ref stopped to check. The doctors were called in, some Vaseline was applied, and the fight was allowed to continue. Almost immediately it was stopped again, and Ewin began to charge around the cage in a fit of anger, arguing furiously with the ref and Riccio. As a shower of judges, doctors, security, the promoter and the MC hit the ring, it was eventually established that Ewin accused Riccio of using his thumb to deliberately re-open the cut. They debated and wrangled for a long time as a couple of thousand drunk spectators got more and more restless.

Video footage was examined, to no avail. We then heard the revelation that the ref was claiming he only stopped the fight to re-examine the cut, not to award TKO. We waited even more. After about half an hour, with people booing and knocking on seats to signify their displeasure, a no-contest was declared.

I should say that I know that was (rightly) the last ending they wanted to give the match. I also understand fully that a ref’s decision should be honoured in all but the most remarkable of circumstances (although this becomes a moot point since his decision was apparently misinterpreted). Nonetheless, the atmosphere was getting ugly. I, personally, was annoyed, and only got more so when they came up with an answer that they could have given a good ten or fifteen minutes earlier. I’m not a naturally rowdy person, though. Some of those in attendance were.

The last fight saw local lad Barrington Patterson against Marc Emmanuel. Most people in the floor section (ostensibly the VIP ticket area, but apparently punters had been allowed in from other parts of the arena) rushed right up to the cage to watch. The MC repeatedly appealed for them to move back due to the safety implications, but by this point a lot of the crow were following their own rules.

Barrington got hammered and was let motionless. People started throwing (plastic) glasses and bottles into the cage, which doesn’t strike me as particularly clever when your boy is on his back with an oxygen mask against his face but maybe that’s just me.

We decided to leave at this point, still a bit annoyed with the previous debacle and with Barrington clearly not getting up to continue (he was back on his feet by the time we got to the doors, fortunately). As we left the arena we saw what looked like a few fights breaking out here and there, and the small amount of security (apparently the venue wouldn’t let the promoters bring in their own guys and insisted on using just their regular staff) were dashing about like madmen.

Only afterwards did I learn that it had gotten worse and that the riot squad had to disperse it. At the time of writing no definite answer seems to be available about how many were hurt or what damage was done, but there are stories (I’ll repeat, ‘stories’) flying around about women and children getting caught up in it. Grim.

We missed the last train back, too, and had to get an expensive taxi to get to Birmingham where we had to wait ages for a bus to get home. Arse.

Still, good night up to a certain point.

~ Russ L

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