Since Graham Boylan’s Cage Warriors Fighting Championship takeover more than five years ago, the promotion began to construct a thriving ride. After long absence leaving many unsure about its future, CWFC returned in April of this year with a different feel to it, as the organisation took its first steps on the road to rebuilding itself as a European competitor.
For Boylan, each event has felt like a progressive move forward of which has been enjoyable yet challenging to the highest degree, however the numerous streaming deals have served great assistance in pushing the CEO’s focus.
“It’s been great fun,” Graham began. “The key is to build a team and a strong team spirit – as it is in any business. It’s also proved challenging to reignite the European fighter scene which suffered a bit in 2015. The European platform is back now to launch the careers of the next generation of big stars we’ve just finished our 4th show in 5 months not a bad start back.”
“The BT Sport and Fight Pass deals have been great. Viasat, too, who are a tremendous supporter of combat sports in Scandinavia. Undoubtedly we have been a big part of the ongoing surge in popularity in MMA in Europe this year. The growth we’ve experienced has been really nice, but we are only part of a bigger picture.
“Our focus since April has been to give MMA athletes a mainstream platform on which to showcase their extraordinary skills and bravery. Once people see that, they tend to like what’s in front of them. The broadcast partners in place now are behind us and this thing is just going to get bigger.”
Despite the organisations return, which only helps strengthen the local and European scene along with various respective promotions, Cage Warriors has heard from detractors on social media. Some with constructive criticism and others that Graham feels are merely attacking with agendas elsewhere. In criticism that the promotion has stayed silent throughout, Boylan retorts,
“The critics are our competitors or journalists paid by our competitors. They are mouthpieces for hire. How many so-called journalists out there are heavily promoting other events? It’s those people who are our critics and they’re clearly paid to be our critics by the organisations they’re pushing. They couldn’t be further from the truth. Let me rattle off some facts:
“Paddy Pimblett has faced Ashleigh Grimshaw, Teddy Violet and Johnny Frachey – three fighters who’ve all faced top international opposition. If you research them, they’re up there amongst the biggest names in the European featherweight division. Paddy is 21 years-of-age, let’s not forget that.
“Also, Jack Marshman faced Ali Arish who was 20-4 and then Christopher Jacquelin (8-2) who beat former CWFC Champ Chris Fields in 2015. Jack has a title defence against Andreas Michailidis (7-2) who defeated Ion Pascu – who knocked out Marshman in 2013 and went the distance with former CWFC Champion Jack Hermansson in 2014.
“Furthermore, Michailidis has had two fights in the States,” Graham continued. “Each time he has stepped up when other highly regarded fighters were not available or even turned down deals, such as. Mikkel Parlo.
“Chris Fishgold fought Jordan Miller and Adam Boussif – not very high level guys – and last time faced Jason Ponet who defeated Lewis Monarch, who was 7-0, back in June. Ponet was 8-2-1 in his last 11 fights before losing to Fishgold and two of those losses were against a UFC vet and a 12-3 welterweight. Again, getting fights on the notice we had was tough and they’re difficult people to match when other fighters are contracted elsewhere.
“Darren Stewart faced James Hurell who is 7-4 and is a huge 205-pounder and Boubacar Balde, 11-8, has fought across Europe and won his last two fights. Brad Wheeler fought and lost to Scott Clist, and then was due to fight Tom Green with a record of eleven wins and one loss.
“Tim Wilde fight and lost to Scott Clist and beat a UFC veteran in Mickael Lebout in his last bout. Scott Clist faces UFC veteran Martin Svensson after beating two top ten UK lightweights. Lew Long fought and lost to another UFC veteran in Andreas Ståhl and now faces Che Mills next. You can’t argue with that calibre.
“To put on four shows in five months when people didn’t believe we would even do one just proves we have shown our commitment to putting big fights on and as more fighters realise this, there will be more coming forward. Competition is healthy and our actions will do the talking – they can carry on buying social media mouthpieces.”
Just last week, CWFC announced eighteen new signees. Some new; some returning. Included in these signings were competitors of higher weights classes – light-heavyweight being one of them. The 205-pound division has been one long lacking factor of British MMA and with that, Boylan has architectural plans to develop a stronger, heavier category.
“We are looking to expand into the higher weight categories, but it’s not easy,” Graham confessed. “There’s a lot of talented guys out there who are locked up in tough situations. If we are to do numerous shows we need a roster to fall back on. You cannot do a eight to twelve events without contracted fighters and you need those fighters to help build divisions and help build audiences both at events live and those watching at home.”
Not only did Cage Warriors capture the signatures of eighteen combatants, they also managed to get two of the hottest combatants in Chris Fishgold and Paddy Pimblett to re-sign deals with promotion, seeing them commit to several bouts far into the coming year.
Considering both men, especially Pimblett, seemed ultimately close to inking deals with the UFC, Boylan feels this exclusivity only means bigger fights for a large audience on an equally large scale. 2016 has been a year rebuilding and redesigning for Cage Warriors and as the domestic scene enters the final quarter of the year, actions are being renewed and plans are beginning to be cemented for 2017.
“It’s great news for Cage Warriors,” Graham opined. “But it’s also great news for the local sport as a whole, too. Our last show in Liverpool was seriously off the charts. It was so much fun. We hope to deliver more events like this and maybe even bigger. It certainly helps to have world-class athletes like Chris and Paddy when you are looking to do this.”
“Obviously we’ve had a hugely successful year. In 2017 we expect to deliver between ten and twelve shows and for those shows to be really cool we have to keep proving ourselves as the best pathway promotion in the world.”