Who Should Be Crowned The Face of UK MMA?
With Michael Bisping’s gloves well and truly hung up, I ask who deserves the accolade of ‘The Face of UK MMA?’
I’ll start with the obvious…
With UFC 228 looming around the corner, all eyes are on the controversial, rising star from Liverpool. Till’s past reads like a script of a Hollywood blockbuster; surviving a stabbing in his home city, Darren moved to Brazil to concentrate on developing his Muay Thai, ultimately leading him to the golden position he finds himself in today. At 25 years old, he has already achieved what MMA prospects dream of; an undefeated record, headlining a Fight Night in his hometown, alongside FOTN & POTN accolades earlier in his career. And that’s before September 8th has reached us. Facing Woodley is undoubtedly Till’s biggest challenge to date. Tyron Woodley divides fans in many ways; from scrolling through Twitter on a daily basis, a ‘thematic analysis’ would suggest that a significant gripe is that he’s whiney and dull. Put that to one side however, and there is no arguing that he is dangerous, and one of the strongest welterweights the sport has seen. If Darren secures the win, then I have no doubt the whole of the United Kingdom will get behind him; we can forgive the ‘I don’t care’ about my kids rant, right?...
Perhaps unknown amongst US fans, but certainly not here in the UK, Paddy ‘The Baddy’ Pimblett is another rising star from Liverpool, England. For me, Paddy is the welcome antithesis to Till. Following Darren’s now infamous rant about the need to be selfish, even at the cost of his family, Paddy’s selling point for the purposes of my posed question is that he wants to ‘bring this world title back to (my) city,’ in his latest promo for CW96, due to take place at the now notorious Echo Arena, Liverpool on September 1st.
Further in the promo, ‘The Baddy’ describes the aforementioned Echo as ‘his castle,’ which I could not agree with more. Pimblett has gained an army of loyal fans in Liverpool and the UK as a whole, and it is not difficult to see why.
Paddy is a huge personality within the sport and is endearing in ways that personally, I find Till to be somewhat missing. Ariel Helwani claims Paddy to have one of his ‘favourite entrances in the sport,’ and this alone is a joy to watch whenever he makes his way through the arena. The focus and the significance of his pending fight is ever evident, but even more apparent is that Paddy truly loves what he does, and it is perhaps this that resonates with the allegiance of fans he is continuing to accrue at rapid rates. In addition, and it is an element which I find to be overlooked within MMA, is that Paddy is a true ambassador and role model for the sport. When hearing of a local girl in the area being bullied,
Paddy sought to contact her family and offered her a training session at the gym where he trains. Surely these acts of humanity and general decency (which importance seems to be placed less and less upon), sets Paddy up nicely for my imaginary crowning.
Nathaniel Wood isn’t called ‘The Prospect’ for no reason. Having made his UFC debut only in June of this year, Wood may not necessarily be a household name in the US, but has made waves here in the UK.
Rising through the ranks at Cage Warriors until securing the Bantamweight championship, Nathaniel made a name for himself within the promotion, before rightfully being called up to the UFC. His debut was against an experienced ‘veteran’ of the sport, Johnny Eduardo, which he won with relatively little fuss. Nathaniel seems to have carved the moniker of ‘the comeback kid,’ for the ways in which he can turn a fight around at a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ speed, which was notably evident at CW86.
Many cite this as the greatest round of MMA that Cage Warriors has presented to us here in Europe, and for those of you who have not seen the bout against Josh Reed, please free up 5 minutes of your day to seek this one out. Nathaniel started the round off well, but within the first minute, Wood was being tossed around the octagon like a ragdoll. Hearing Marc Goddard shout several times that he needed to ‘fight back,’ it was assumed that the fight would not last a great deal longer. However, Nathaniel started throwing nasty uppercuts and knees out of nowhere and the W was his.
A nail-biting 5 minutes of MMA, that grabbed the attention of anyone not already familiar with Nathaniel ‘The Prospect’ Wood. Similarly to Pimblett, Nathaniel Wood seems humble and focused, which is always refreshing to see amongst young fighters. I have no doubt that he will be successful in the Bantamweight division, and I am looking forward to seeing where he goes next.
Well actually, yes. From my experiences, the above 3 fighters have caught my attention significantly in the last year or so, but there are so many more British fighters to keep your eyes on. Michael ‘Venom’ Page who is currently protecting an undefeated record in Bellator looks phenomenal. His style seems unfathomable, and anybody who throws a Pokeball at a defeated opponent gets a yes from me. Leon Edwards, who is 16-3 in the UFC is coming off a decision win against Cowboy Cerrone, and Jimi Manuwa will hopefully be able to shrug off his 2 back to back losses and push forward through the LHW division. Being from the North East of England, I have to give a mention to Aaron Chalmers, who after fighting in BAMMA for a short period of time, made his debut at Bellator 200 and won via a submission that was so clean and brutal, that its authenticity was actually called into question. A celebrity outside of MMA, Aaron sets an example to the CM Punk's of the world: a fast-track pass to the UFC is not the way to carve yourself a career in MMA.
The reason I find the above of any remote interest, is that often fans of the sport can get washed away with the short-lived hype of an up and coming fighter, and this hype can often die down at a rate just as sudden. UK fans of MMA, think further than Darren Till when we consider who Bisping should hand the metaphorical baton to.
(P.S. If Till does win, then we might get another decent UFC PPV over here, so let’s cross our fingers for that alone.)