Cage Warriors returns to Dublin’s iconic 3Arena on Saturday night, bringing with it one of the biggest fights on the European MMA calendar as ‘Judo’ Jim Wallhead and Rhys McKee clash to unify the welterweight titles over five electrifying rounds.
It’s a bill stacked with thrillers pitting Ireland’s finest against some of the best Europe has to offer, with long-awaited debuts, returns, potential title eliminators and truly mouth-watering clashes from the first bell to the last.
A Title Unification Bout for the Ages
A welterweight title unification bout for the ages; that’s how it’s been billed and there not a shred of hyperbole. A once-in-a-lifetime contest between one of the region’s foremost veterans and a young man looking to follow in his footsteps.
McKee (12-4-1) captured the then vacant welterweight title in an all-time classic with England’s Justin Burlinson in Belfast last summer.
Seemingly out of the fight in the early stages, the Ballymena man battled back to put his opponent away after eleven magical minutes of action in a bout later voted 2023’s ‘Fight of the Year’ in a poll of thousands.
He also holds notable victories over the likes of Aleksi Mantykivi, fomer CW title challenger Perry Goodwin and former CW champion (and current UFC star) Jai Herbert.
Just weeks after McKee’s triumph, Jim Wallhead (33-11) returned to the promotion where his career began almost two decades prior in emphatic fashion, finishing hard-nosed Polish slugger Daniel Skibinski with a clubbing right hook just 65 seconds in.
Later that year he would stop surging prospect Matt Figlak in similar fashion to finally lift CW gold.
Wallhead has hinted that retirement beckons, while McKee’s story is very much still to be written.
Whatever the result, expect a fast and frenetic pace as the two look to write the next chapter in their respective stories.
Shelley/Harilla & Elliott/Sheehan
Nothing is certain in the wacky world of MMA, but fireworks in either of both of the above bouts are a fairly safe bet.
Team KF’s undefeated Ryan Shelley (6-0) leads four of his Dublin-based teammates (Leon Hill, Taka Mhandu and brother Adam) into battle…and what a battle it promises to be.
Shelley draws Sweden’s very own killer clown, Tobias ‘Bad Intention’ Harilla (11-3); the one-man wrecking crew who has enshrined himself as a CW fan favourite over the last two years.
Harila counts victories over the likes of Aiden Stephen, Decky McAleenan and Damon Wilson on his increasingly blood-spattered ledger, and will no doubt relish the prospect of soaking up the boos from a partisan crowd.
Whatever the result, chances are they’ll be applauding him on the way out of the cage, if not the way in.
Shelley meanwhile has the opportunity to add what would be the biggest name yet to his thus far perfect docket.
With a silverware-laden background in the striking arts, Shelley has evolved to become a complete mixed martial artist under the tutelage of Chris Fields, Tom King and co at Team KF, and will be looking force Harila out of his comfort zone when the pair finally meet.
It was a bout nobody knew they wanted until it was announced…now it’s the bout nobody can live without: A bona fide Cage Warriors classic.
Speaking of which, a bout with huge implications for the welterweight division goes down when James ‘Jimbo Slice’ Sheehan (6-2) meets ‘The Welsh Gangster’ Oban Elliott (7-2).
You don’t get to call yourself a gangster without being a gangster, and Elliot might just be Gangster #1.
Lightweight? No problem. Welterweight punch up with the former middleweight champ? No problem. Last minute bout at middleweight? Yeah, why not?
A crisp and powerful boxer with the nous to lock up if he needs to, Elliott is a problem for any man brave enough to stand across the cage from him.
One man certainly brave enough is Dublin’s James Sheehan. Every bit as game as Elliott, Sheehan has been on a tear in the welterweight division of late, racking up five wins on the trot.
With wins over the likes of Omiel Brown, Martin Causse and Jamie Richardson on his record, and a pair of early career defeats to former CW champions Ian Garry and Matt Bonner firmly in his rear-view, it’s no surprise that Sheehan is considered among the cream of the welterweight crop.
Pirates, Cats and Jaguars
Also featured on Saturday’s bill is the return of former CW featherweight champion ‘The Last Pirate’ Morgan Charriere. The Frenchman got back to winning ways at Unplugged last November with a Fight of the Night performance against Daniel Bazant.
On Saturday night he’ll face the debuting Pedro Souza (18-4), a veteran of the sport with 12 submission victories to his name.
Opening the main card is a powder-keg of a featherweight contest as fan favourite Decky McAleenan (7-5-1) welcomes promotional newcomer Wasiu Adeshina (4-2).
A powerful athlete with stopping power in both hands, ‘The Nigerian Jaguar’ will be looking to make a splash at McAleenan’s expense. Decky, meanwhile, aims to return to the form that earned him back-to-back victories over Antanas Jazbutis and Adam Ventre in the famous yellow gloves.
Elsewhere on the card, Benoit Blanc (5-2) looks for his first CW victory as he welcomes the highly regarded Team KF prospect Taka Mhandu (2-1) to Cage Warriors.
CW Academy light heavyweight champion Angus Hewett (0-0) makes his professional debut at middleweight against Fight Academy Ireland prospect Paddy McCorry (2-1).
Adam Darby (1-1) well aim to get back to winning ways when he faces Wales’ unbeaten Jack Tucker (1-0).
Leon Hill (4-1) returns to the promotion for the first time since his pro debut. He’s rattled off four straight on the regional circuit since, and will look to notch up his first CW win against veteran of the scene in Marcin Zembala (7-6).
Long time amateur standout Solomon Simon (1-0) aims to add to Dorian Cliucinicov (2-3) to his pro ledger in featherweight action.
Ryan Curtis (6-3) has been gunning for an opponent who’ll stand and bang with him; he’ll find one in French judoka Nicolas Leblond (7-4).
Adam Shelley (3-2) will look to make it two in a row when he faces promotional debutant Muhammed Kir Ahmet (2-3).
Another long-time amateur campaigner, Alexander O’Sullivan (1-0), faces fellow IMMAF vet and CW Academy participant Afrim Thaqi (0-0).
In the evening’s opening bout, Kyle McClurkin (3-2) returns following a two-and-a-half-year absence. He’ll face Wales Owain Williams (0-2), who is in search of his first pro victory.