Another revolution around the sun completed and with it, another year in what many call the best seat in the house. I don’t disagree; throughout 2023 I’ve been privileged to bare witness to some of the most emotionally charged chapters in Cage Warriors history. 

2023 was a year that really hammered home the point of what we do here; playing our part in making the dreams of young athletes come true. Giving them the platform to show the world who they are and what they can do. 

Allowing them to change their lives forever with nothing more than 15 minutes and a pair of yellow gloves. 

As the planet hurtles on into 2024, so too does the mighty machine of mayhem that is Cage Warriors. But before we consign 2023 to the history books, I wanted to take a look back at some of the moments that’ll I’ll be holding dear for years to come. 

Farewell, Last Pirate

The likes of Conor McGregor, Dan Hardy, Michael Bisping and co will be remembered long after many are forgotten as some of the sport’s biggest stars to pass through Cage Warriors. 

Legends though they certainly are, none could claim the level of notoriety enjoyed by a certain young Frenchmen – known to his literal legions of fans as ‘The Last Pirate’ – during their CW tenure. 

Morgan Charriere had burst onto the scene with a dream in his heart and an army of social media followers in tow, but his journey was nothing if not across choppy seas. What’s more, he’d have to navigate much of it without the pirate army at his back, thanks to the Pandemic keeping fans away from live sport for a good chunk of his time with us. 

But navigate those seas he did, and with aplomb, all the way to the featherweight title. Morgan’s steep climb to the gold made it all the more heart-breaking when the dream, seemingly within reach, was snatched from his fingertips. 

Morgan Charrière: A man of the people

A pair of razor-thin decision losses to Jordan Vucenic and Paul Hughes felt at the time like an insurmountable setback, but the pirate’s ship had far from sailed. 

Two impressive stoppages in the first half of 2023 saw Charriere get the call he’d been waiting his whole career for; a fight in the UFC, in Paris no less.

The injustice of his December 2020 title victory taking place in an empty York Hall was expunged by the wave of noise that washed over the Accor Arena as Morgan made his walk. 

By the time he’d dropped opponent Manolo Zeccini with a series of thunderous body kicks, the sound was deafening.

And that was that, a boyhood dream realised, live and in colour. 

Au revoir, Morgan.            

The Irish MMA Revolution, Vol 2

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Cage Warriors of 2023 has changed significantly from the company that birthed the original Irish MMA revolution from 2012-2014, but last year the promotion would once again be responsible for another crested wave of the Green Machine. 

It started in April. 

Rhys McKee’s CW return was already the stuff of fairy-tales. A shutout of the teak-tough Aleksi Mäntykivi and a gut-churning eleven minutes of raw chaos against Justin Burlinson…all that stood between ‘Skeletor’ and his very own Castle Greyskull was a title unification bout with one of UKMMA’s all-time greats.

The young champion capitalised on every advantage he held over the old warhorse, roared on in his conquest by the vociferous, partisan crowd. The true magic came in what followed though, as McKee shared his post-fight interview with the retiring Wallhead, giving the Brit every inch of the respect he deserved on his final walk out of an arena. 

It was one of the most watched moments in UFC Fight Pass history, and with good reason. A true changing of the guard. 

I’ve followed Jimmy as a fan, a journalist and eventually an orator of his final fights, a true privilege. 

The victory would send McKee back to the UFC, but he wouldn’t be the only Irish name swapping the yellow gloves for black as 2023 rolled on. 

Caolin Loughran is the absolute epitome of self-belief. From the second he joined Cage Warriors he told whoever was willing to listen (and even those that weren’t) that he’d have the belt and be off to the UFC in record time. 

It’s a sentiment I’ve heard plenty of times over the years, but few have made me a believer quicker than ‘The Don’. 

The Italian Job

The culmination of his CW story, a smash and grab of the bantamweight title from deep behind enemy lines, in a building filled with Italian fans baying for his blood, couldn’t have been more iconic.     

Give the man an obstacle, then sit back and watch as he smashes someone over the head with it.

And of course, who could forget the return of another of Ireland’s favourite fighting sons, Paul Hughes?

A year removed from his dismantling of Jordan Vucenic in London, Hughes was back and ready to make ‘Big News’, on the Emerald Isle no less.

It was a new mission for the Derry man. Hughes had relinquished his featherweight title and stepping up to 155lbs to face feared finisher Jan Quaeyhaegens.

He looked every inch the lightweight contender for as long as the bout lasted, until a pitch-perfect first round left hook meant that wasn’t particularly long.

Whatever’s next for Hughes, he’ll always have that Irish homecoming.

The Life of Riley

From 2021’s ‘Breakthrough Fighter of the Year’ to 2023’s ‘Fighter of the Year’, Luke Riley is living quite the life. Along with being crowned the Cage Warriors fans’ favourite, two of his three bouts over the last 12 months were nominated for ‘Fight of the Year’, and with good cause. 

The intensity of his three round war against Kallum Parker in April was unrivalled, until it wasn’t. Few could have predicted that the Widnes man would pip himself to the post for FOTY though. 

Luke Riley, Matheus Malta

They say that time flies when you’re having fun, but Riley and Alexander Lööf chased each other around the cage exchanging concussive blows for what felt like an eternity. In reality, the whole, bloody affair lasted less than eleven minutes, but it was an eleven minutes that will go down in history as the most intense I’ve ever called…perhaps the greatest Cage Warriors fight of all time.

The Dream Factory

Picking out just a handful of moments from 2023’s wealth of wonders feels like a huge injustice to the last twelve months. In truth, I could carry this list on ad infinitum.

Mick Stanton finally capturing the big one to kick off the year, the criminally overlooked Liam Gittins ending it on a five-fight winning streak with the bantamweight title around his waist. Roberto Hernandez continuing his massive unbeaten run, Nicolas Leblond returning out of nowhere to to earn KO and Submission of the Year nominations.

The only thing more exciting than pouring over memories of Cage Warriors past, is dreaming dreams of those yet to come.

So sleep well, friends…it all begins again on February 23rd.