Over the years Cage Warriors has facilitated the graduation of a small army of fighters to the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Here, we take a look at the Cage Warriors alumni stepping up on UFC Fight Island on Wednesday 15th July.
From pioneers like Rosi Sexton, industry icons Michael Bisping, Dan Hardy and Conor McGregor, to the likes of Jack Shore and Modestas Bukauskas leading the latest charge of hungry up and comers; the influence of the famous yellow gloves is unparalleled. It should come as no surprise then that with Fight Island finally under way, the UFC’s showcase for international talent is teeming with familiar faces…
Jack ‘Tank’ Shore
Whenever you talk about meteoric rises in MMA, Jack Shore should be a cornerstone of the conversation. The Martial Arts are in the Welshman’s blood; his father Richard is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu blackbelt, head coach of Abertillery Combat/Shore MMA and the architect of his assent. With his dad in his corner, the young Welshman’s journey to the UFC has been about as close to perfect as anything in this crazy sport gets.
A product of the IMMAF system (he won the 2015 European Open at 155lbs) and years of experience on the domestic amateur circuit, all but Shore’s first professional outing took place in the yellow gloves. As the level of competition increased, Tank trimmed down to his natural fighting weight of 135lbs and made a heroic run towards Cage Warriors gold.
Two epic ‘home nations’ clashes provided the final flourishes to Shore’s ten-fight Cage Warriors hit list. First, he weathered an early takedown to reverse and dominate exceptional English wrestler Mike Ekundayo, before executing flawlessly against heavy-handed Judo stylist Scott Malone, of Scotland.
— UFC FIGHT PASS (@UFCFightPass) April 27, 2019
Unbeaten in over twenty total fights, a call-up to the UFC was inevitable. After a debut win that cemented his status as one of the most legitimate European prospects to ever set foot in the Octagon, Fight Island simply wouldn’t have been complete without Jack Shore.
‘Meatball’ Molly McCann
In recent years there have been few stories more inspirational than that of ‘Meatball’ Molly McCann. First appearing on Cage Warriors as an amateur back in 2014, she returned as a professional for a trio of rousing performances in Liverpool’s Echo Arena. A headline slot in her home town at CW90 saw Molly punch not only her opponent, but also her ticket to the UFC.
Welcome to the UFC, @MeatballMolly! 🏆
— UFC on BT Sport (@btsportufc) April 10, 2018
McCann has continued to progress and evolve as an athlete. 2019 was a perfect year both in the cage and on the mats, with her improved ground game fitting perfectly around her well established boxing-base. With a reputation for taking on more experienced Brazilian opponents, the Meatball won’t feel out of place against Talia Santos on Fight Island as she looks to continue her march towards UFC gold.
Another of Liverpool’s finest, rough and ready grappler Chris Fishgold enjoyed dominant spells in both the feather and lightweight ranks of Cage Warriors. After settling into his role as the bully of the 155lb division, Fishgold finally won the title on home soil in 2016. A fighting champion, ‘Fishy’ followed up that long-awaited title win with a thrilling back-and-forth defence against TUF veteran Nic Herron-Webb at Cage Warriors: Unplugged, before dispatching surging Norwegian challenger Alexander Jacobsen; a fitting swansong in front of his beloved Liverpool fans.
The votes are in. @ChrisFishgold pulled off your Submission of the Year 2017! 👌
This 1st round finish secured Fishgold’s third title defence, and marked him as a true Cage Warriors World Champion. Respect! 👏 pic.twitter.com/JRkBFYliy3
— Cage Warriors (@CageWarriors) December 30, 2017
A rugged grappler known for his ability to dig deep and impose his will on opponents, Fishgold is yet to take an easy fight on the big stage, having met Calvin Kattar, Daniel Teymur and Makwan Amirkhani thus far, while Jarred Gordon – a man with twice his UFC experience – awaits on Fight Island. He’ll no doubt be looking for the kind of vintage performance that saw him go undefeated throughout his tremendous Cage Warriors run.
Another second generation fighter (he is the son of Lithuanian martial artist and multi-sport athlete Gintas Bukauskas), Modestas Bukauskas is one of the most recent Cage Warriors champions to make the jump to the UFC, making his Octagon debut on Fight Island. It’s a huge opportunity for the young light-heavyweight, the culmination of a six-fight undefeated streak, with five of those taking place in the Cage Warriors yellow gloves.
With a unique, rangy style cultivated from his father’s signature blend of traditional striking arts and Combat Sambo, rounded out by the usual trappings of modern MMA, Bukauskas quickly became a problem on the Cage Warriors circuit. Superior conditioning and cage presence allowed him to outwork, outmanoeuvre and out-fight the heavy oddsmakers’ favourite Marthin Hamlet Neilson at Night of Champions 2019. Keen to show that his title victory was no fluke, the 26-year-old returned for a clinical performance against Italy’s Riccardo Nosiglia; a barrage of elbows earned him the victory and a call up to the UFC.
— UFC FIGHT PASS (@UFCFightPass) November 22, 2019
Completing the Welsh contingent on Fight Island is pound-for-pound one of the hardest punchers to come out of the European scene. John Phillips has an unnatural, almost otherworldly, power in his hands. Even those who find a way around his fearsome physical tools often lament that they’ve never been hit the way he hit them before. Surprisingly, Phillips’ appearance in the Cage Warriors 2012 middleweight Grand Prix were punctuated by a pair of submission victories and his coining of the term ‘John-Jitsu’.
It’s been a rocky ride in the UFC for the Swansea-born scrapper, but after showing what he’s capable of with a furious fourteen-second burst of violence against Allen Amedovski in his last bout, Phillips will be looking for more upward progress on Fight Island.
Words by Cage Warriors play-by-play commentator, Brad Wharton.