It’s been a wild few weeks for UK MMA with the BAMMA 31, Cage Warriors 86 and ACB 70 events taking place within eight days of one another.
Here are a few thoughts I’ve taken away from these three shows.
BAMMA 31 on September 15 was a fantastic event with a wobbly build up. The promotion leading up to the event felt like it solely focused on Aaron Chalmers and the fact that there were three title fights on the main card felt lost.
We could’ve been reminded multiple times why these titles were important given some of the previous champions, but this just didn’t happen. That criticism aside, the actual main card was fantastic and a sizeable crowd turned up at the SSE Wembley Arena to see it all unfold.
Four fights on TV and four highlight reel knockouts; BAMMA couldn’t have scripted that better if they tried. The reliance on putting Chalmers over is widely annoying for the core MMA fan base, but credit where credit is due, he seems to be winning more and more fans over with every fight he has. The fact is that he’s drawing a crowd both online and in venues is a good thing and he’s far from disgracing the sport with his performances or his attitude.
BAMMA are clearly focusing on expanding the brand into a mainstream market and that’s far from a bad thing. My only concern is that they need to find a balance making their other fighters and titles feel important. Hats off to them though, that was a cracking show in London and everyone got value for money that evening.
Cage Warriors 86 took place the following evening in the London O2 Indigo. Once again, when it came to the main card it was another fantastic night of action and kudos to the matchmaker Ian Dean for putting together some competitive fights.
The promotion for the whole event was sold on the headliner between Nathaniel Woods vs Josh Reed and the stars aligned for them that evening.
Woods vs Reed has received wide acclaim for what it was—a crazy brawl where momentum swung one way and then the other. The thing that made this feel important was the emphasis on the Cage Warriors title. It helps when you have a history of former Cage Warriors champions that have gone on to do big things on the world stage and it’s a good thing that the promotion use that to build the profile of their current fighters.
It’s undeniable that Nathaniel Woods has certainly had a profile raise since putting the strap on his shoulder and it shows the Cage Warriors do still have the ability to grow future stars.
That said, I still remain to be convinced that the O2 Indigo is a suitable venue for MMA. It’s a venue with standing space at the bottom and seating on a top balcony in a theatre-style arrangement. The show on September 16 got a little out of hand and the security at the venue let Cage Warriors down.
One or two people in fluorescent vests weren’t enough, especially given the time (7-11pm), the day (Saturday) and the alcohol being served. Thankfully, to my knowledge, nothing serious happened, but it wasn’t a good look for the sport, especially when two lads were giving everything they had in a cage merely 25-metres in front of them. I can only hope the fans let them doing the fighting next time.
That to one side, it was another cracking night of MMA in London.
Roll on ACB 70 this past weekend. The promotion for this event focused on the rivalry between UK middleweight rivals Scott Askham and Luke Barnatt which was dubbed “The Battle of Britain”. ACB seems to be the total opposite of BAMMA in the sense that their events are focused solely on serving the core MMA audience.
Whiteford vs Petshi, Barnatt vs Khalidov, Silva vs Agnaev and Barnatt vs Askham, these are all the main events that ACB have put on so far in the UK. The third one aside, these are fights tailored for a particular local MMA audience and the wider appeal of the events feels like a hard sell when it comes to the mass market.
That said, one thing ACB excel at are the fights they put on. The matchmaking has been very good so far and last Saturday in Sheffield there were some terrific fights.
Barnatt and Askham had a great knock and it’s good to see that some of the younger talents on the roster are being matched up evenly rather than fed lesser fighters to build their records.
The crowd, whilst not huge, were loud and the draw of the local lad Scott Askham was real. The fact they have deep pockets of course helps and the setup of the venues, bonuses and overall feel of the events make it feel like a big deal when you’re there.
ACB feel like they’re still finding their feet in the UK and it’s been an interesting first year for them.
This past weekend we also saw what I hope was just an experiment with five judges instead of three. This didn’t work for me and I can’t see where it helped matters. We have good enough judges and referees in this country to facilitate officiating of the highest standards. Let’s hope that one day cooler heads will prevail and the best people are in the best seats at ACB events in the near future.
All in all, a great night in Sheffield and I hope there are plenty more to come.
Overall it feels like UK MMA is in a pretty good place right now. If you attended any of the above three shows I find it hard to believe you didn’t get value for money and all three are trying hard to serve up the best product they can given their own constraints.
It’s hard to say that any of the three are dominating the market right now and it’s a good thing they all offer a different product for fans. BAMMA seem to be on to something trying to appeal to a wider market, Cage Warriors are using their history to make their fighters feel important and ACB are making things interesting with their ever-growing talent acquisition and competitive matchmaking.
Competition is healthy and it’s in everyone’s best interests that all three stick around.
One thing that shouldn’t be lost in all this is the quality of the commission and referees that have worked the three shows mentioned above. BAMMA and ACB use the same commission and they are outstanding at what they do. Cage Warriors also run a tight ship and it’s good to see that this isn’t something where any of the three are cutting corners.
The referees and judges have also been of the highest order at all three and that’s one thing that the UK can be proud of. A lot of the local shows use the same referees and judges and it’s going to be a sad day when the bigger promotions abroad notice their professionalism and consistency and take up the majority of their time.
BAMMA and Cage Warriors will be running in the UK before the end of the year so it will be interesting to see how they follow up their last two shows. That aside, if you’re a UK fan hungry for action we’ve got a whole host of shows including FCC, ROC and Made4TheCage coming up in the next few weeks so I implore you to go support your local promotions.
Also of note, a team from the UK will be heading out to the IMMAF World Championships in Bahrain in November. Increasingly we are seeing top talent come out of those competitions so it’s well worth your time following along with them to keep an eye on the talent that may emerge.