End of year report: Cage Warriors

Here is the next in a series of articles where we at WHOA TV take a look at how different MMA promotions have done throughout the year. Many different factors are taken into account including quality of fight cards, attendance numbers and production levels. Next up is the established promotion, Cage Warriors.

This year saw Cage Warriors put on 11 of their numbered shows across 4 different countries in what was another great year for one of Europe’s best promotions. Since the promotion returned in 2016, the company has improved year on year and this has been their best to date with certain events grabbing eyeballs from all over the globe.

Events Recap

Event wise, there were many significant moments over the year. February saw the returns of Paddy Pimblett and Molly McCann to the Echo Arena and this show played a large role in setting up the UFC’s debut event in Liverpool later on during the year. Cage Warriors deserve a great deal of credit for growing MMA interest levels in the city and Darren Till’s homecoming wouldn’t have felt as big if it wasn’t for the hard work the promotion have put into that market over the years to develop talent. Super Saturday was an outstanding card in March that saw 3 title fights and a plethora of big names compete in the Indigo at the O2 with a number of highlight reel finishes taking place.

Cage Warriors returned to the same venue in July for a card that flew under the radar, largely due to the fact that hometown favourite Nathaniel Wood had been picked up by the UFC at that stage. The energy in the venue was at nowhere near the levels that fans were used to but there was still some solid action on the card. It may be one of Cage Warriors’s biggest challenges next year to see if they find someone to bring the same level of consistent energy and fan interest that Nathaniel brought to the venue – a task that isn’t going to be easy.

An unfortunate run of fight week fallouts began at Cage Warriors 96, where one of the event’s big fights was pulled when then Middleweight champion, Lee Chadwick, missed weight so couldn’t fight on the card. The main event between Paddy Pimblett and Soren Bak was very much on though and was one of, if not, the best promoted fight in the company’s history. The atmosphere was amazing inside the arena for the fight with the whole crowd just waiting to pop for a huge Pimblett win. However, Bak was able to fend off early trouble to win a dominant decision to take the Lightweight title. Unfortunately, one or two spectators in the crowd threw coins into the cage during the main event which was an unsavoury scene and wasn’t a great last memory to leave the arena with.

Down in Wales, September 29th saw the promotion move to a bigger venue in Cardiff due to fan demand to see local star Jack Shore. His original opponent, Jakub Wiklacz, fell out on weigh in day and was replaced by Weslley Maia. Cage Warriors deserve recognition for being able to find last minute replacements, not only for this fight, but throughout the year so that card quality wasn’t majorly decreased for the fans. The company returned to Birmingham in October for a classic, five-round back and forth title fight between Stefano Paterno and Ross Houston as well as both semifinals in the Featherweight tournament. A special mention must go to Perry Goodwin who gave arguably the performance of the year on this card by totally dismantling the heavily favoured Alexander Jacobsen.

Cage Warriors 99 in Colchester was partly overshadowed by all of the issues surrounding former Flyweight champion Nathan Greyson. He was removed from the card alongside title challenger Blaine O’Driscoll so the show’s main event was off at the last minute. However, the year ended in a bang with the milestone Cage Warriors 100 event that saw a huge card on paper deliver more great action and finishes. This was one of the best cards that Cage Warriors have ever put on and was a fitting way to celebrate the 100 show achievement.

Attention to detail

Cage Warriors continues to provide its fighters with a clear pathway to the UFC, if they wish to follow it, and have done a great job at cultivating talent in many of the venues they regularly visit. The Echo Arena is associated with Paddy Pimblett, the Indigo at the O2 was the stomping ground for Nathaniel Wood and recently The Viola Arena (formerly Ice Arena) has become the home of Jack Shore. This is fight promotion 101 and really puts local draws over as big stars to the viewing audience. Even on the relatively smaller Cage Warriors 99 show, hometown fighter James Webb came across as a local hero and someone that could be a big player in his division. Continuing to develop these regional stars is one of the biggest strengths of the promotion and is an essential part of their business model when they inevitably lose fighters to the major US promotions. Matchmaker Ian Dean deserves a mention for aiding the company in this and for always filling fight cards with interesting and well matched contests.

Whether watching on TV at home or live in the arena, production has taken another step up this year which has helped elevate the overall quality of events. The onscreen graphics are slick and presenter Layla Anna-Lee has really grown into the role throughout the year. Brad Wharton and Josh Palmer continue to provide excellent and insightful commentary during events and the fan meet and greets have given fans more value for the price of their ticket. The addition of seeing main event talent walk out from the back during their entrance is another small tweak that makes these fight feel bigger and the highlight package shown live during ‘Thunderstruck’ at Cage Warriors 100 was a great way to look back at landmark moments over the years.

Social Development

2018 saw Cage Warriors have their first ever amateur grand prix which gave amateur mixed martial artists the opportunity to gain experience and the opportunity to earn a pro Cage Warriors contract. This, in addition to the successful Cage Warriors Academy shows, gave new fighters and the potential stars of tomorrow another clear road to make the first steps in their career. It was also another useful tool to identify fighters with potential early and begin to build future draws in different regions across Europe.

It was great to see Cage Warriors think outside the box this year and use the tournament system to create a new Featherweight champion. Fans always appreciate it when promotions try out new ideas and make certain events stand out so the 4-man tournament was a welcome addition. It also helped to elevate certain names with Dean Trueman and Aiden Lee ending the bracket with more fans and exposure than they had at the beginning.

Exploring the idea of another tournament with the heavier weight classes next year may be worth some discussion as the middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions have really thinned out in the promotion recently. It is never easy to find fighters to fill these weight classes as there isn’t much talent around. However, a tournament structure may be a way to try and create some names and spotlight these weight classes that could use a bit of a boost next year.

Attendance

Ticket sales appeared to go well for Cage Warriors this year with the majority of venues they visited being fairly close to sell outs. The Indigo at the O2 was always rammed full and the Echo Arena in Liverpool seemed to be close to capacity apart from one or two blocks at the back of the arena on both visits. The Viola Arena seems to be a great new home for the promotion in Wales and the return to Birmingham in the Genting Arena was another success in terms of ticket sales.

The Indigo at the O2 has already been booked for a return early next year as well as the Viola Arena in April. When Cage Warriors visit Denmark in March 2019, they will be setting up in the K.B Hallen which is a modern and recently renovated arena which looks as though it could be a great fight venue. Their return to Liverpool for the first show of the year in February is at the Exhibition Centre which is smaller compared to the Echo Arena. This could well indicate that local hero Paddy Pimblett won’t be ready for this card so the promotion doesn’t think that any of their other names can currently step up to fill the Echo Arena.

Progress

Cage Warriors have continued to make good progress in many different areas this year. The promotion for different events has taken a step up with the addition of video packages that any promotion in the world would be happy with as they explain exactly why different fights are important. Again, the promo for Pimblett v Bak was absolutely spot on and the packages released in the buildup to Shore v Ekundayo were also very good. These were pushed really well across the company’s different social media platforms which have also done a great job at keeping fans up to date with fight announcements, early bird ticket deals and competitions.

Due to BAMMA having no future shows planned, Cage Warriors swooped in to make some great signings that really helped improve the depth of their own roster. Rhys McKee, Alex Lohore, Tim Barnett and Adam Proctor were some of the picks of the bunch as well Nicolas Dalby and Mads Burnell who were also signed after being released by the UFC. It is important that Cage Warriors continue to sign up any available established talent as it immediately adds depth to future cards and fans are drawn to names that they already know.

Overall Mark B++

The expansion across different territories, increased depth across certain divisions and slick production are among the main reasons why Cage Warriors have achieved this great score. They remain one of UK fans favourite promotions to watch as they put on entertaining cards and the company is a great place to watch future star’s early careers. One of the only things that held them back from receiving the top A grade was the fact that some of the divisions are low on numbers and have no clear contendership queue forming.

In 2019, it will be interesting to see which territories Cage Warriors try to venture into, with Scotland being one of the standout candidates due to the emergence of Ross Houston and Scott Malone onto different championship scenes. There have recently been rumours of new TV broadcast deals being struck which will be interesting to monitor to see if Cage Warriors remain on BT Sport or move to a different platform. Another factor which will be interesting to track is the emergence of Bellator on the European scene. They are throwing substantial pay packets at different fighters from the UK to join their roster to bolster their European effort so it will be fascinating to see how this may impact the Cage Warriors roster going forward.

All in all, 2018 was a great year for Cage Warriors with numerous improvements being made. It is exciting to think what may be in store during 2019!

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