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…on Cage Rage 23

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Julius Francis is a former British and Commonwealth champion but is best known for losing to Mike Tyson in his comeback fight in 2000

After EliteXC’s debut show in Hawaii, focus switched to the UK and Pro Elite’s UK affiliate Cage Rage, who present Cage Rage 23: Unbelievable this weekend. I cast a critical eye over the bottom-heavy show.

For some strange reason, I find it incredibly easy to mock the subtitles of Cage Rage events and Cage Rage 23: Unbelievable is another one that becomes some sort of comic device. Saying “unbelievable” in increasingly
incredulous and different ways amuses me for minutes at a time. Strangely, this subtitle is quite apt, given that it is unbelievable that the promotion would try and sell us on the idea that the two headline bouts are in any way competitive.

The main event features 42-year-old former British boxing champion Julius Francis, a man who famously had the soles of his boots sponsored when he faced Mike Tyson, against Gary “Smiler” Turner, the 37-year old permanently-grinning kickboxer/grappler who has exploded back onto the MMA scene in 2007. After wins over Tank Abbott and, more impressively, Edson Draggo, it would seem that Turner could have been matched up with any heavyweight in Cage Rage but, instead, they chose Julius Francis.

Francis was a decent European-level boxer in his time and was a kickboxer before that but he is woefully exposed and overmatched in this case. Francis has lost his last fourteen boxing matches, last winning in
September 2004. Turner is not some hard-headed fighter that will turn this into a kickboxing match to test himself but will look to end this fight as quickly and easily as possible. He will accomplish this task, likely via ground and pound in the first round. I was hoping Cage Rage had turned a corner and moved away from this sort of freak show but, obviously, they have not.

The semi-main event is a Cage Rage World Light Heavyweight title bout between Vitor Belfort and James Zikic. Again, it is a stretch to believe that Zikic will pull out a win in this one. Back in 2002, Zikic was the hottest light heavyweight in the UK but his career hit the buffers when he retired in 2004. While his return in April against Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos was triumphant and showed off his tactical abilities, Zikic has not faced a fighter of Belfort’s quality and it is a massive ask for him to win. Belfort has yet to be tested in Cage Rage and my suspicion would be that he will come through this fight unscathed.

However, the seeming predictability does not spread down the card, with the rest of the main card looking particularly interesting. Mark “the Wizard” Weir, in what surely has to be his last crack at a major title, takes on Paul “Semtex” Daley for both the Cage Rage British Welterweight and World Welterweight titles. Daley, the reigning British champ, has seen his stock rise considerably since his last loss in December to Luiz Azeredo in a match which surely provided a good learning experience. A KO win over the impressive German Daniel Weichel was followed by a win over Paul Jenkins in a long-awaited rematch from Cage Rage 11. Finally, in June, Daley got his biggest victory to date with a KO win over Duane “BANG” Ludwig on the undercard of Shamrock vs. Baroni. Daley’s all-round game has developed considerably unlike Weir, who after nine years in the game, still lacks the all-round abilities to be the international star many originally thought he could be. However, Weir is still a dangerous striker and unless Daley can dominate the fight and put it to the ground, there will always be the possibility of the veteran pulling off a big victory.

I must admit, when I heard that Chris Brennan had stepped in to face Jean Silva after Cage Rage World Featherweight champion Masakazu Imanari pulled out of the bout, the first thing that came to mind was “he’s still around?”. The 11 1/2 year veteran has fought sporadically over the past three years but he still represents a tough outing. His opponent Jean Silva is a Cage Rage stalwart who has been there since the very beginning. Since that original Cage Rage show in 2002, he has won fans and plaudits with a crowd-pleasing, flamboyant style that lacks the arrogance of fellow popular showmen like Genki Sudo. In his last fight, he lost to Danilo Cherman despite breaking Cherman’s arm in an armlock mid-match. The Chute Boxe fighter is probably one of Cage Rage’s best kept secrets and went to a decision with Takanori Gomi in July 2005. I would think that Silva, himself an experienced fighter, will likely pull out the win here.

When I discussed the British Heavyweight title match between Mustapha al Turk and Tengiz Tedoradze with a British MMA expert, he felt that Tedoradze was being insulted by being asked to face Al Turk. While the popular Londoner has looked dominant in his last three wins, they were wins over little-known Martin Thompson, the dreadful Henry Miller and the washed-up Mark Kerr. This seems like a step up too quickly in class, especially considering the relative strengths of each fighter. Al Turk is a ground and pound fighter but is coming up against a far superior wrestler in Tedoradze, who is known for his dominant clinch, his huge suplexes and his glass chin. If Tedoradze could take a punch, he could well have made it to the world level and a successful night for Al Turk would have to stem from keeping the fight standing but out of the clinch.

On the undercard, Alex Reid and Matt Ewin face off for the vacant British Middleweight title in a rematch from their bout in December 2002, which Reid won in a first round submission. Reid has had some tough luck in recent bouts and has gone nearly two years without a win. If Reid were not such a popular fighter, this title shot would make even less sense than it currently does. Frenchman Xavier Foupa Pokam, known simply as “Professor X”, will take his four-fight winning streak into the cage to face American Pierre Guillet. Pokam, known for his predilection to scream “punishment time” repeatedly in interviews, is a sharp but niggly fighter, known for “accidental” fouls and aggression. though Guillet seems the naturally heavier man, having fought most of his career at light heavyweight. Neil Grove, conqueror of James Thompson, steps in again at short notice to take on Croatian kickboxer Domagoj Ostojic, tipped by some to follow on from fellow Croatian Zelg Galesic as a Croatian force in UK MMA. Ed Smith returns following a loss in his Cage Rage debut to Tom Watson and fights against Roman Webber.

In surely the sleeper bout of the evening and a potential treat for fans in the arena, Ross Mason takes on Che Mills. Mason’s four year pro career has been known for exciting fight, none more so than the stunning brawl at Cage Rage 22 with up-and-coming Lithuanian Marios Zaromskis. Zaromskis’ only loss came to Che Mills, who is also known as a crisp striker with a desire to trade. These guys will stand and bang and it will be a disappointment if they do anything else.

As I look at the card, I can only wish for more competitive British-oriented fights like Mason/Mills, Weir/Daley and Reid/Ewin because these so-called “big stars” like Belfort and Francis do not create the good fights on the Cage Rage show. Again, it looks likely that the live crowd will see the better bouts in the undercard.

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Written by Michael Farrow

September 21, 2007 at 5:19 pm

Posted in MMA

Tagged with , , ,

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