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Brad Wharton: Colchester’s key contests

Cage Warriors’ summer series is set to kick off in style this weekend, with a pair of action-packed cards in Colchester, UK.

The Charter Hall will first play host to a specially invited audience for our third Unplugged event – Cage Warriors 137 – on Friday, before the doors are opened for one and all for Saturday night’s CW 138.

From former champions to red-hot prospects, fans can look forward to a thrilling weekend of mixed martial arts – all of which can be seen live on UFC Fight Pass.

Here, Brad Wharton previews some of the key contests…

James Webb vs. Leon Aliu

It’s been over a year since James Webb set foot in the Cage Warriors cage and the charismatic former 185-pound champion has been sorely missed.

A firm favourite with fans in London and the fair city of Colchester, where on Saturday night we lay our scene, the Team KF man was at the forefront of one of the most exciting periods of Cage Warriors’ middleweight history.

A thrilling journey up the ladder culminated in Webb capturing the title against the favoured Thomas Robertsen, before a pair of first-ballot Hall of Fame contests against Nathias Frederick etched his name into the CW history books.

Victories over title challenger Mick Stanton and UFC veteran Craig White followed, before a loss to eventual middleweight champion Matt Bonner prompted an extended break during which Webb was able to heal up some injuries and level up some skills.

On Saturday he returns to action on home turf for a pivotal contest against a newcomer hoping to upset the applecart. With a 9-1 ledger to his name, Leon Aliu is a can’t-miss prospect out of the burgeoning Italian scene.

At 32 years of age and built like a tank, his win column is a litany of sudden stoppage victories; chief amongst them a trio of expertly attached guillotine chokes.

In terms of bragging rights, Aliu lays claim to one thing his opponent doesn’t: a stoppage in the championship rounds. With only three fives to get it done against Webb, this one could well come down to who strikes hardest and earliest.

With the former champion looking for hometown glory in his self-professed ‘second season’ with Cage Warriors, and his opponent no doubt having one eye on CW’s impending Italian debut, the stakes couldn’t be higher in CW 138’s main event.

Josh Reed vs. Luke Shanks

In what is arguably the showpiece of the entire weekend, bona fide Cage Warriors legend ‘Crazy Horse’ Josh Reed will meet a man agonisingly close to cementing similar status in Luke ‘The Apocalypse’ Shanks.

MMA can be an aesthetically beautiful endeavour or an adrenaline-fuelled fist-fight; Reed and Shanks embody both facets of the game in equal proportions, and that’s why we love them.

Make no mistake though, there’s more on the line here than just late-night bragging rights. Reed has gone six fights without consecutive wins – testament to the level of competition he’s faced during that run – while Shanks has traded wins for losses in his last five, four of which have been title fights. Saturday night’s co-main event is as much about proving a point as it is about whose hand is raised.

For Reed, it’s a chance to re-establish himself as a legitimate title contender in a shark-tank of a division. Beating Shanks, an elite flyweight moving up, comes with championship credentials and could leave the Shore MMA man only a fight or two away from a title shot.

As for Shanks, anything less than a clear-cut victory (in the words of Tim Deluxe and Sam Obernik) Just Won’t Do. Lest we forget, ‘The Apocalypse’ split his last two bouts with Sam Creasey amidst considerable controversy.

He appeared to tap Creasey early in their initial encounter before suffering a third-round submission defeat, only to stop the ‘Sam-urai’ in the first frame of their rematch. Unfortunately for the former flyweight champion, he missed weight on both occasions.

Whether Shanks’ long-term aspirations are to return to 125lbs (where he scored a then record-setting points victory over Samir Faddine to capture the title) or tread new ground at bantamweight, this fight is a must-win. For the ‘Crazy Horse’, it’s an opportunity to break out of the gatekeeper mould and re-establish himself in the title race.

It’s often said that commentators have the best seat in the house, but this is the kind of scrap that makes us want to pull a sicky, sink a few adult beverages and scream our throats raw from the bleachers.

Matt Bonner vs. Joël Kouadja

Matt Bonner’s was perhaps the greatest story of the Cage Warriors Trilogy Era. Sure, the likes of Mason Jones, Paddy Pimblett and Ian Garry were able to secure call-ups to the UFC, but their futures were seemingly written in the stars from day one.

Bonner, by contrast, brawled his way from being a 6-6 gatekeeper to world champion status, rolling through George Smith, Matt Inman, former champion James Webb and the berserker Nathias Frederick to claim his Big Gold Belt.

‘The Beast’ was already musing over his welterweight aspirations ahead of his first 185-pound title defence against Djati Melan; whether that was what cost him his title or not is open for debate. What can’t be denied is how good Warrington’s Hardest Man looked at 177lbs against Hugo Pereira in his last outing; a feat he’ll attempt to replicate against Joël Kouadja in Friday night’s Unplugged main event.

Kouadja is the absolute epitome of the ‘Records are for DJs’ trope; he lost eight of his first nine bouts under a watered-down ruleset, before embarking on a six-fight undefeated rampage (all finishes) over the last four years.

A cursory glance at his highlight reel evokes images of Kouadja’s elite-level teammates William Gomis and Salahdine Parnasse; butter-smooth combinations that disguise an almost unfair knack for lining-up momentum-shifting power punches.

He’s a bully in the clinch; happy to tie up and set about working his knees, prompting opponents to disengage with their backs to the fence (or ring) and shell up, only to receive a relentless barrage of bodyshots for their efforts.

Blessed with elastic limbs, Kouadja could provide another wrinkle to this contest should his Next Generation opponent decide to take their bout to the matt and instigate a battle of attrition.

As an audience of specially invited guests await Friday’s main event, the only thing that’s certain is that nothing is certain.

Adam Cullen vs. Arnaud Kherfallah

Cullen’s Kherfallah Kerfuffle – the headlines practically write themselves.

This fight is no joke though; perhaps the biggest test so far for one of the next generation fighting out of Liverpool’s Next Generation gym, attempting to follow in the footsteps of Paddy Pimblett and Molly McCann through Cage Warriors to UFC glory.

With a perfect 4-0 pro ledger under the CW banner over the last 18 months, comprised of three first-round rear-naked chokes and a blistering 14-second KO in his last outing, it’s tough to pick holes in Cullen’s game. His three defeats in a nine-bout amateur career came at the hands of much bigger men, including two against a fighter who now cuts to middleweight.

Kherfallah poses an entirely different problem; years of high-level international experience. Like many French fighters wishing to transition to competing under Unified Rules, Kherfallah ventured across the border to Belgium for his first four pro fights, before competing at the highest level in Russia’s M-1 Challenge from 2017-18.

With all five of his victories to date coming in the first round, including four by way of guillotine choke, the smart money says Kherfallah will look to bait his man into a takedown in the first instance, at which point it’s anybody’s game.

Main image: Adam Cullen

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