With the main event of CW 128, Paul Hughes vs Morgan Charrière, being awarded UFC Fight Pass Fight of the Year for 2021, Cage Warriors play-by-play announcer, Brad Wharton, takes a look back at that special moment from his unique perspective from the commentary desk.
In the aftermath of each Cage Warriors event, I’m often asked my pick for ‘fight of the night’. If I’m to answer truthfully, I’ll scratch my chin and stare wistfully into the distance, before inevitably replying “I don’t know”. There’s a lot going on when you have the best (or worst, depending on your feelings around the ‘splatter zone’) seat in the house; all eight limbs are flying, you’ve four voices in your ear and the occasional bouts of crippling anxiety as you try not to say something stupid on live television. Usually, I’ll have to wait until I’ve got a nice, hot cup of tea in my lap and the UFC Fight Pass replay fired up on the TV to recall even half of what happened on any given card, let alone the specifics of a particular bout.
Usually… but not that night.
Part 1: Meanings
Some things – quite literally – just hit differently. Certain fights (and the ‘moments’ that encapsulate them) become seared into the memory so perfectly that you can relive them with crystal clarity just by closing your eyes.
Before Morgan Charrière and Paul Hughes had exchanged a glance, let alone a punch, I knew that the main event of Cage Warriors 128 was going to hit differently. I just wasn’t prepared for how hard, or how often.
As the clock counted down to bell-time and the final hype video rolled both on-air and to the packed-out York Hall, each man recounted their path to the moment at hand. ForCharrière, it was natural progression after ten years on the Judo mats. For Hughes it was anything but natural; stepping into a cage for the first time aged just 16, against a man close to his mid-twenties.
There was, of course, the requisite pre-fight banter. According to Morgan, Hughes simply “…liked to talk”, while Paul dismissed Charrière’s last fight as “boring”. Perhaps more telling than anything they said about each other though, was the fact that both had made a point to mention their common opponent: Cage Warriors featherweight champion Jordan Vucenic. Both felt like they’d beaten him and as such, both felt that there was no ‘interim’ in this interim title fight.
To the men in the arena, this was the real deal.
Upon reflection that was the salient point of this fight. Try as we might, none of us truly understood what it meant more than the men in the cage and that’s why, after twenty-five minutes of fighting, we were left with our jaws agape, desperately trying to process what we’d just witnessed. In that moment, victory was more important to them than any of us watching could ever understand, and so it stands to reason that they did things most of us could never do.
Part 2: Moments
This first big ‘moment’ of the fight took place before either man had set foot in the arena. There are a few unwritten rules around walkouts. Challenger first, champion second, obviously. Where neither fighter holds a title it’s usually the bigger name, or the ‘home’ fighter that walks out last. Hughes was technically closer to being the ‘home’ fighter, but Charrière undoubtedly had the bigger fanbase going into the fight, in addition to entering the contest off the back of a razor-thin split decision loss to the champion.
From a production standpoint, we knew who was coming out first, but that didn’t make York Hall’s reaction to it any less delicious.
Hughes’ fans had been indulging in the time-honoured tradition of singing “Paul Hughes on fire” to the tune of Gala’s ‘Freed from Desire’ in order to drown out anything Morgan had to say on the pre-fight VT, so when it was Charrière that stepped out from behind the curtain onto the venue’s truncated walkway just moments before his music hit, the atmosphere on their side of the building turned on a sixpence.
Boos cascaded over the famous York Hall balcony into the lower levels of the venue, muffling the valiant retorts of the travelling French fanbase positioned opposite. Entirely unphased, Charrière paced back-and-forth, his features stretched into a Joker-esque grin that reached from Bethnal Green all the way back to Paris. He flipped the bird in the general direction of those jeering for him to enter the cage, letting them know that he’d be taking his sweet time.
For one minute and thirty-nine of the tensest seconds in Cage Warriors history, Morgan Charrière remained at the entranceway, drinking in every last cheer and every last sneer the crowd could muster, finally making his walk. But before ‘The Last Pirate’s feet had even touched the canvas, Hughes was already out from behind the curtain, flag draped over his shoulders and dancing antagonistically to Charriere’s chosen song.
And then, for the briefest moment between the French rap fading out and the Irish folk music fading in, the room fell quiet enough to pick out a single Irish voice holler “LET’S GO” … and off we went.
Well, almost. Hughes, in perhaps the ultimate act of ‘Anything you can do, I can do better”, took a full 12 seconds longer than Charriere to begin his march to the cage. Bolstered by team captain Joe McColgan, the recently-crowned Cage Warriors lightweight champion, as part of his corner team, Hughes aped his opponent’s nonchalant stroll to the cage, exuding the confidence of a man that was in no hurry to get the biggest fight of his life underway.
I would be stunned if the CW128 main event wasn’t the longest combined walkout in promotional history, from curtain to cage. My broadcast colleague Daniel Strauss hit the nail on the head. “What you have to remember is, these guys have been competing for the last couple of years with no crowd in here…and now they’re competing on this huge event, in the main event for the interim title…it’s got this incredible atmosphere and they’re soaking it all in”.
Part 3: Memories
And that was exactly it, wasn’t it? There was something strangely beautiful about the Covid-mandated empty arena era of combat sports that we as broadcasters and fans had come to appreciate and will remember for some time. Every punch sounded crisper, every breath deeper, every meaty thump as a fighter drove a knee, kick or elbow into their opponent’s soft tissue felt all the more visceral. But when that bell rang that night, those days felt like a long-distant memory, supplanted by the real reason we love this sport so dearly; the sheer, unbridled adrenaline rush of picking a side and getting lost in the chaos, roaring until your lungs are empty and your throat is raw.
Paul Hughes versus Morgan Charrière wasn’t just a fight to be seen or heard, it was a fight to be felt. Feel it we did my friends… and that is why it’ll be remembered above thousands of others; as the 2021 UFC Fight Pass ‘Fight of the Year’, as a seminal moment in the careers of Paul Hughes and Morgan Charrière and as one of the greatest Cage Warriors fights of all time.
If you’re one of those unlucky enough yet to enjoy Hughes vs Charriere and wondering if it’s really all that it’s cracked up to be, I offer my deepest sympathies… but consider this: You’re twelve hundred words into a passionate soliloquy about a fight and I’ve yet to describe a single blow.
Why? Because frankly, I can’t do it justice with words. I’m not talented enough. Maybe one day when I’m old and grey, retired in a houseboat on some peaceful Dutch canal, I’ll be able to tap a bunch of words out on a vintage Smith Corona that’ll come somewhere close to doing this fight justice.
But until then you’ll have to experience it for yourself. Close your curtains. Turn off your lights. Fire up your TV. Put on your headphones. Don’t just watch it. Don’t just listen to it.
Feel this fight and know that with it, you’re feeling a part of Cage Warriors history.