BIRMINGHAM, England -- Cage Rage 26: Extreme played out to a new audience as part of the promotion's 2008 jaunt around the country, and the crowd was not disappointed. The main card of the evening provided the highlights we were all looking for and was supported by an undercard full of fighters laying everything on the line in order to impress.
Crowd attendance fell somewhere into the region or 5,000 people. They appeared to really enjoy themselves, including The Ultimate Fighter season three winner Michael Bisping.
Total domination; that is the only way to describe the performance of Ian "The Machine" Freeman over incumbent British light heavyweight champion Paul Cahoon. From the bell, Freeman did exactly as you would expect by grounding his opponent and applying a suffocating barrage of strikes, completely breaking the resolve of Cahoon. His piloting and transitions looked sharp, his strikes pinpoint and his cardio on the money. Freeman came as a contender and left as a champion with the respect of everyone in the audience in tow.
Cahoon was always going to be a danger-man with his strikes, but he never managed to hook his timing up and, therefore, none of the strikes he landed played much of a role in the fight. When the third round rolled into view it was apparent that only a knockout was going to reverse the decision, but experience and smarts kept the challenger out of the danger zone.
"I am 41 years of age, and I am in the best shape of my life," commented the newly crowned British light heavyweight champion. "I am not going anywhere. Retirement is not an option. This is my belt and I will defend it".
A disappointing end to a cracking fight between these two warriors by way of a cut sustained to the eye of Marios Zaromskis early in the bout. At the time it occurred, the injury wasn't visible enough to force a halt to the action, but made the Lithuanian bleed pretty heavily. But between rounds a quick doctor's inspection revealed that his right eye tear duct had suffered a tear from the edge of a glove and would present serious medical complications in the future unless attended to. A bitter disappointment for sure, but maybe a taster of what Ross Pointon had to go through following his last fight with Zaromskis.
No matter, for the second outing, it was clear that Che Mills wasn't going to be landing the same lucky knee that finished the first fight. Zaromskis appeared on the ball and connected with a heavy shot in the opening moments before working for the takedown and passing to half guard. Mills looked to be having his hands full, especially when Zaomskis nearly scored with a triangle.
Despite the unfortunate end, Mills is declared the champion and finds himself fending off challengers in a division stack full of talent.
It was a mature and measured display from the Serbian fighter, en route to an early third round submission win over Dutch import Rodney Faverus by way of armbar. The key factor in this fight was range, and James Zikic measured his opponent exactly right, rarely giving him the opportunity to throw much in the way of kicks. Every time they closed into each other it was to box, or in Faverus' case, to avoid the takedown.
Zikic looked completely comfortable trading on the feet and managed to connect with some solid shots, but his work in the clinch, applying knees, and solid pressure on the ground, served to sap the energy from his opponent.
The adversaries were both looking tentative having answered the bell for the third round, but Zikic was the one to capitalize having positioned himself to strike with a knee on the stomach before dropping back for the armbar. Exhausted and unable to escape, Faverus had no option but to tap and drop to five loses in as many outings. Zikic by contrast marks himself out as the next challenger to the crown for Ian Freeman.
Ross Pointon has all the hallmarks of a fighter who is peaking. The reduction in weight, his focus on training, and confidence level have all aligned, and for first time in his career, he looks genuinely complete. With many in attendance expecting this fight to be a war on their feet, Pointon used smarts (and possibly a tape of the Jess Liaudan vs. Ross Mason encounter) to finish the fight early on by way of heel hook submission.
An early exchange gave hints to the stand-up war we were expecting, but as soon as Pointon closed for a double leg takedown, you knew he had something else in mind. A brief flirtation with an armbar was unsuccessful and brought both fighters to their feet again, but Pointon would not be denied. He pursued the takedown again before settling on the heel hook. Mason had the option of tapping or suffering considerable knee damage.
"I had a game plan, and my game plan was to show everyone that I can work on the ground. At one point, when we were stood back up, I kind of went back to my old Pointon ways, and thought, 'What are you thinking?' The idea was to protect my cut, as I didn't know if it would hold up," commented the Stoke fighter before adding, as a statement of intent, "I want that belt. I will be fighting again in September, hopefully in Liverpool if the show goes ahead, and I want it to be for the belt."
A lot of people criticize Matt Ewin's style of fighting, but there is no denying that it works, and tonight was no exception. Mark Epstein fought valiantly, and with all the heart we have come to know him for, but it just wasn't enough to overcome the Range Systems fighter and claim the British Middleweight strap.
Surprisingly, it was Epstein who opened his account with a solid takedown before working his own ground and pound offense. He landed well and was pressuring his opponent early on, but Ewin eventually started to reverse the tides and even tried to go for an armbar at one point
The reigning British middleweight champion's style is hard to train for and although Epstein acquitted himself well, he was unable to reverse the flow and lost out on the decision. With no time for celebrations, Ewin found himself in the middle of the cage receiving his trophy, and then has both Tom "Kong" Watson and Alex Reid coming out of the woodwork to challenge him for his strap.
"I just wanted to fight, get in his face," stated a frustrated Marc Goddard after his fight with Wolfslair standout Henrique "Chocolate" Nogueira. "But he kept tying me up and hindering my movements. It's disappointing, but I just couldn't get into the flow. It's hard when only one person is fighting."
Given that Goddard spent the majority of the rounds chasing his Brazilian counterpart around the cage and deflecting takedowns, it was surprising to learn that the fight was, in fact, ruled a draw.
I could only assume that this is due to the effective aggression rule, as Nogueira racked up points by grounding the fight, and Goddard the same by sprawling and connecting with the better standing shots.
Both fighters make a welcome addition to Cage Rage and add further add depth to the already buoyant light heavyweight division.
Brad Pickett and Paul Reed had a war to remember with both fighters landing with punches and working their takedowns. Reed proved to have a snappy, powerful jab and managed to try it out on Pickett several times during the bout, forcing his head back regularly. Pickett ultimately edged ahead, though, having scored with a big flying knee and a lovely feign jab with a big hook on the end, both finding home where they needed to.
"After about 15 seconds of having landed the knee, he turned round to me and said, 'Good shot, acknowledging that I had caught him good and proper,'" commented the Team Titan fighter. He added for good measure, "I seem to make a war with everyone. If I fight a sub guy, I take them down. If I fight a striker, I stand and trade. I don't know what it is, but I seem to fight people at their game regularly."
So what next for Pickett? He needs to iron out a few things at the moment, but is adamant that we will see him somewhere soon on a good show, although his motivation is the belt, and he wants to continue down that road until he gets his chance again.
Kev Simms knew that if he pushed the fight into the second round, he would be able to topple the Polish giant by pushing his cardio. He never got the chance, having fallen foul to a series of strikes that left the referee no option but to step in and call halt.
"He caught me with a big hook that landed flush," said the Gorilla Academy fighter after the event. "I can still feel it now, and although we went down, I thought I could handle him. But next thing I know, I see a black T-shirt stepping in and I realize that the ref stopped it."
Indeed, having taken the brunt of his opponent's offense on the chin, Simms scrambled to engage, but found himself planted on his back with his opponent throwing heavy leather. Popek Rak had smelt the blood and was just hammering away like a trip hammer.
Chris Rice put away Edgelson Lue by virtue of ground and pound, having landed a big uppercut to sway things his way. Harvey Harra slapped a solid triangle choke onto Garry Kelly despite taking a few heavy hits to the face in doing so.
Ian Freeman def. Paul Cahoon via DecisionChe Mills def. Marios Zaromskis by TKO (Cut) at 5:00, R1James Zikic def. Rodney Faverus via Submission (Armbar) at 0:25, R3Ross Pointon def. Ross Mason via Submission (Heel Hook) at 1:36, R1Mark Epstein def. Matt Ewin via DecisionMarc Goddard draw with Henrique NogueiraBrad Pickett def. Paul Reed via DecisionPopek Rak def. Kev Simms via TKO (Strikes) at 1:12, R1Chris Rice def. Edgelson Lue via TKO (Strikes) at 1:35, R1Harvey Harra def. Garry Kelly via Submission (Triangle Choke) at 3:46, R1