Can Baroni 'Step Up' in London?

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Cage Rage 27: "Step Up" is due to play out in London this weekend in what many expect to be the penultimate show for the promotion in Wembley. Topping the bill, and at relatively short notice, is Phil Baroni. "The New York Badass" will be making his welterweight debut against Cage Rage Contenders regular Scott Jansen.

Phil Baroni vs. Scott Jansen

Sporting a professional MMA record of 3-2, Jansen has the unenviable task of fighting in the main event against the ballsy American. Having only competed in the smaller shows and less than a month to get his head around the situation, Jansen's jump into the spotlight is very much a trial by fire. Originally scheduled to face middleweight Joe Mac, who is a totally different proposition as an opponent, he will now have to find a new game plan against Baroni. Expectations on these shores are low, mainly due to the calibre of opposition Baroni has faced already and the fact that he has been pressure tested on the biggest stages in the world.

Jansen has a puncher's chance in this bout and as such will likely come out swinging for the fences early on; he has decent hands and is comfortable under fire. Fighting Baroni on the ground where his superior strength and wrestling will give him the edge isn't the way forward for Jansen. Likewise, a slugfest is exactly what Baroni would wish for in this bout and it will be interesting to see how his speed and power hold up following the cut in weight.

Upsets have been known to occur in the past at Cage Rage. A notable example that comes to mind is when Robert "Buzz" Berry underlined Ken Shamrock's total lack of a game plan in their encounter. In reality, if Baroni wins, he is on the rebuild path and if Jansen wins, he scores a major upset and his stock on the U.K. scene will soar.

Robert Berry vs. Neil Grove

Speaking of Robert Berry, the once co-headline fighter squares off again with man-mountain Neil Grove in order to try and recreate the impact of their first encounter. For those of you who do not know the history, Berry came out with all guns blazing and exposed holes in his opponent's skill set. Despite a tremendous onslaught, Berry was unable to breathe after round one. He was subsequently taken to hospital and was in a terrible medical state as his body had started to shutdown and draw blood to protect his internal organs. Neil Grove was declared the winner.

This time around, Berry doesn't have the same illness that blighted him in their first fight and will be soaring with confidence. If he expects to find the same fighter as last time he may be in for a shock though. Shortly after the Berry fight, Grove aligned himself with Team Suregrip in order to plug the holes. His next outing against Rob Broughton was a measured approach and his MMA maturity had commenced; Grove now has a much stronger wrestling base to complement his heavy hands.

Robert Berry has also exhibited growth. His encounter with "The World's Most Dangerous Man" showcased improved timing with his strikes and much better footwork. These two big guys will clash hard for sure, but it should prove to be an interesting fight that marks out the next challenger in the heavyweight title picture.

James McSweeney vs. Mustapha Al Turk

The heavyweight title is the reward for the next bout between K-1 veteran James McSweeney and U.K. staple Mustapha Al Turk. British champion Tengiz Tedoradze was stripped of his gold following a loss to Martin Thompson in a promotion outside of the Cage Rage network, leaving a hole in the picture. To fill the void, former title challenger Al Turk has been matched with a very green MMA participant in McSweeney. This bout is a classic case of grappler versus striker.

Al Turk is a European Abu-Dhabi level grappler; he has solid head movement and conditioning. Al Turk is coming into the bout as a much more versatile fighter at this stage of their respective careers. However, McSweeney will have a massive edge in striking abilities. Will he get the chance to use them? A sprawl and brawl tactic would suit McSweeney well, but the feeling is that it will only be a matter of time before Al Turk finds the sweet spot.

Robbie Olivier vs. Ashleigh Grimshaw

Continuing with the titles theme, current featherweight champion Robbie Olivier faces a tough test in Team Titan fighter Ashleigh Grimshaw. Recently moving from London Pancrase, Grimshaw makes a full-on assault for the title.

Olivier has been tried and tested many times and he has the most unnerving ability to shut down his opponents' game early on. He is capable of dictating the pace and flow of a fight. If things move into a position where he is in trouble, Olivier has a massive depth of experience honed in battle to draw from over his younger challenger. Grimshaw by contrast, comes into the bout with hunger and an advantage in both size and strength. He is no slouch on the ground either and can be very dangerous from his back. Couple this to a pointed aggression in his strikes that Olivier hasn't had to contend with for a while and you have all the ingredients for fireworks.

Francis Heagney vs. Jason Young

In the final title dual of the night, London Shootfighter Francis Heagney takes on Jason Young for the lightweight strap once held so dominantly by Adbul Mohammed. Falling prey to the same fate as Tengiz Tedoradze, Mohammed was stripped of his title due to his loss to Luciano Azeredo on the Cage Gladiators show outside of the Cage Rage network.

Heagney has fought at Wembley before recording a win over Lee Doski at Cage Rage 20 via Kimura. He will have the nerves and awe of the main stage out of his system. For an ex-boxer, Heagney has embraced the ground game wholeheartedly and has recorded a triumvirate of wins via submission. Jason Young is a well rounded fighter, but with more of a penchant for trading on the feet. If this fight becomes a boxing match, someone is going to get knocked out.

John Phillips vs. Tom Watson

The heavy-handed John Phillips makes his first return to Cage Rage following his drug suspension and subsequent no-contest decision with Jake Bostwick. Phillips wasn't using performance enhancers or recreational drugs; the positive result was due to elevated levels of an anxiety controller that was used to help him sleep. The no-contest ruling was unfortunate as he had the fight with Bostwick won. At least he gets a second bite of the apple against Tom Watson.

Watson is a fighter with a lot of potential. He is still finding his way and honing his skills; his recent focus has been to develop his kickboxing skills to compliment his ever improving ground game. Watson is truly a student of the sport and not just a brawler. A win over Phillips will mark him out for title contention; a loss could reduce his lustre. Similarly, if Phillips wins, it could set up enticing prospects with both Alex Reid and Mark Epstein.

Aisling Daley vs. Eva Liskova

Aisling Daley will be looking to preserve her unbeaten MMA record as she squares off against Eva Liskova in a fight that hasn't attracted the same level of interest as her previous encounter with Aysen Berik. This is a much tougher fight for Daley. With EliteXC looking to hone the women's MMA market in the states and the recent acquisition of top talent Rosi Sexton, the winner of this bout could easily find themselves with a stateside ticket in their back pocket to accompany a trophy for the cabinet.

Stav Economou vs. Piotor Kusmierz

Stav Economou squares off against Polish behemoth Piotor Kusmierz who made short work of his last opponent Antonio Schut by way of TKO in just a little over a minute at the last Contenders show. Economou has the edge in experience over his opponent; having racked up an overall MMA record of 7-0 compared to his opponent's lone outing. Economou will be giving away reach and size, but is a very well rounded fighter and should be able to adapt. He will also have to devise a new game plan due to the change in opponent; his original opponent Kevin Simms is shorter and stockier than the Pole with a totally different style.

Brad Pickett vs. Christian Binda

Brad Pickett makes a return to Cage Rage following the disappointing fiasco at FX3 that saw his opponent unable to make weight. "One Punch" will now square off against the versatile Christian Binda in their featherweight bout. For Pickett, a win may lead to bigger and better things, as it is well known that he is courting the WEC and Japan for career advancement. Binda has had impressive showings in the U.K. fighting on the Cage Warriors and UWC shows. He is explosive and dynamic with a fast flowing style. This bout has the potential to be fight of the night.

The Rest of the Card

Jody Cottham has made it to the main Cage Rage stage despite four straight losses in the Contenders series. He finds himself squaring up against Umidjon Mavlyanov who made his debut on the Contenders series by knocking out Azran Quasid. Rounding out the card we find Mark Brown (0-1-0) taking on Wesley Johnson (debut) and James Elson (3-0-0) engaging Dave Van Gasse (3-0-0).