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Cage Warriors Manchester: Marking A New Decade For UK MMA

Saturday night brings with it the very first Cage Warriors event of 2020. Cage Warriors 112 is taking place at the BEC Arena in Manchester, England. The event plays host to many notable UK fighters; with the likes of ex-middleweight champion James Webb and rising welterweight contender Adam Proctor looking to put on an entertaining showcase. The event is being headlined by a Bantamweight title clash between the undefeated fast-finisher Jack Cartwright and Croatian stand-out Manuel Bilic. The main event is set to be an absolute banger of a fight, and it’s one where many fans are expecting a quick finish.

You can expect Cage Warriors to put on another fantastic event on Saturday night. Cage Warriors have  been selling out shows for over 18 years now. In the process they’ve managed to help build up massive UK and Irish superstars with the likes of Darren Till, Michael Bisping and Conor McGregor. In fact, almost 100 Cage Warriors fighters have gone on to later sign with the UFC. The promotion in most viewers’ eyes is seen as something of a breeding ground for the hottest prospects in the European scene. That’s how it’s been for ages now, but as we mark a new decade in the UK / Irish MMA world; it appears that the power dynamic has shifted quite substantially towards Bellator now being the main promotion. 

Bellator has been just about everywhere these past twelve years, selling out shows in Madison Square Garden, Hawaii and even having Japanese Rizin crossover shows. Though under the tutelage of Scott Coker; they play number two to the UFC, they still hold massive brand dominance over the more regional based promotions like Cage Warriors.

On the 28th of June 2018, the UK based MMA promotion BAMMA held their final event. Soon after they became defunct, Bellator who had previously collaborated with BAMMA on cross-promoted Irish events swamped in and signed many of their top prospects like Kiefer Crosbie, Fabian Edwards and Geordie Shore star Aaron Chalmers. Around the same period as most of the talent acquisition took place, Bellator announced their intentions to host a “European Series” of events. 

At the time, no-one particularly took much notice of what Bellator were doing. It seemed from the onset that Bellator were simply trying to repackage and market their brand in the UK. By building up a “European Series” they made the events seem like some sort of recurrent TV show. Instead of them just hosting random meaningless fight cards every 6 months or so, they were now promoting a “Series” with a gang of recurrent fighters and personalities. You were no longer watching Bellator fight night #xxx, you were experiencing the latest episode of a series of events.

It’s still early days for their brand in the UK and Ireland, they’re quick to sell-out arenas but they lack a decent TV deal and at times struggle to get the mainstream media coverage that they deserve. Most of their events are covered by a unique coterie of MMA media personalities; it’s not often you see Bellator’s European events catch the mainstream limelight. Perhaps by signing UK celebrities like James Haskell this could soon change, but we’re yet to see it fully realized.

With Bellator’s growing roster of talent and frequent bi-yearly trips to locations like Dublin, London and Birmingham; they’ve overtaken Cage Warriors by a large margin. Cage Warriors who were at one point the sole leader have now been put second place behind a California based promotion, that seemingly has a lot of capital behind it. It will be interesting to see how Cage Warriors respond to being in the under-dog position as we begin a new decade in UK / Irish MMA. 

The Bellator VS Cage Warriors battle is one that was seemingly set alight when top Irish prospect Ian Garry explained his reasoning for not signing with Bellator. Bellator are supposedly signing fighters to more lucrative deals where fighters can earn a lot more money than they possibly would in Cage Warriors. Bellator fighters also have the ability to headline hometown shows and build a grand regional following. The likes of Fabian Edwards, James Gallagher and Leah McCourt have been able to carve up massive local fan bases by headlining shows in their own domain. It’s unlikely that these athletes could have gained the same levels of fame by fighting it out in Cage Warriors. With Bellator you also have the option to fight world-wide too, if the likes of James Gallagher wanted to go fight in Madison Square Garden in some sort of major promoted marquee bout. He would only be able to do so with a company like Bellator.

So then why are we seeing so many fighters staying in Cage Warriors? In a nutshell, the Cage Warriors fighters are arguing that by signing with Bellator you’re essentially chastising both your chances of joining the UFC and your chances of building up the sort of mega stardom that the likes of Darren Till, Michael Bisping and Conor McGregor enjoy. Yes you can join Bellator, earn some immediate pay-offs and sell-out local events; but if you ever what to go any further you won’t be able to as Bellator are still regarded as a B-league by most MMA fans. There’s been very few Bellator fighters to join the UFC at all. So if you want to reach the upper echelon of the sport of MMA; maybe going from Cage Warriors to the UFC is the best bet. 

At the end of the day, it comes down to personal preference for each fighter. From the financial sense it’s probably a lot better to go sign with Bellator and earn the immediate pay-off. MMA fighters as a whole are woefully underpaid, and if you can earn anything slightly extra it’s maybe worth taking. Only a small group of fighters who went from Cage Warriors to the UFC have really been able to transcend the sport and make it work out. So perhaps Bellator is the safest bet for up and coming fighters.

As Cage Warriors returns on Saturday night with a fun card stacked with great UK talent, it’ll be interesting to see where the promotion goes from here and what exactly awaits it over the next decade. At the minute it’s significantly trailing behind Bellator; who have arguably monopolized the UK / Irish MMA scene. Though Cage Warriors may be on the back-foot, they still have an impressively talented roster and look set to take the battle to Bellator this year by hosting a lot more Irish events. Who knows how it will all play out over the next decade, but thankfully it looks like the sport of MMA is thriving in the UK and Ireland.

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