This Weekend’s Warriors: Cage Warriors 3rilogy

This Weekend’s Warriors is an weekly occasional column brought to you by SevereMMA that previews the upcoming Irish MMA action, shining a light on Ireland-based pro MMA fighters competing around the globe on any given week.

What better way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day than previewing a heap of Irish MMA to look forward to this week? With 7 fighters set to strap on 4oz gloves, let’s get right to it!

Who, Where and When?

Thursday 18th March, Cage Warriors 120: 
Matthew Elliott (Fight Academy Ireland), Decky McAleenan (Team Torres), and Paul Hughes (Fight Academy Ireland). 
Prelims 7.15pm / Main Card 9pm (UFC FightPass)

Friday 19th March, Cage Warriors 121:
Ian Garry (Team KF), James Webb (Team KF).
Prelims 7.30pm / Main Card 9pm (UFC FightPass)

Saturday 20th March, UAE Warriors 18:
Omran Chaaban (Team KF)
2pm (UAE Warriors YouTube)

Saturday 20th March, Cage Warriors 121:
Darren O’Gorman (The MMA Clinic)
Prelims 6.30pm / Main Card 8pm (UFC FightPass)

Matthew Elliott (0-0) vs Scott Pederson (0-0)

At just 21 years old, Matthew Elliott already boasts an impressive grappling career that saw him represent Team Great Britain in both wrestling and judo, earning a plethora of accolades including 5 x British wrestling champion, former British judo champion, and bronze and gold medals at the Commonwealth Youth Games and the Commonwealth Judo Championship, respectively. The Fight Academy Ireland featherweight seamlessly transitioned to MMA, acquiring an undefeated 4-0 record on the Irish amateur circuit. Elliott has showcased a dominant pressure-heavy grappling style inside the cage, complemented by his powerful striking arsenal. 

“BDE” will make his pro debut on Thursday evening when he dons the iconic yellow gloves for the first time against fellow debutant Scott Pederson at Cage Warriors 120. Pederson brings an extensive CV of MMA experience to his pro debut, completing a 25-fight amateur run with a 16-9 record, winning a Cage Warriors amateur title and bronze at the IMMAF European Open Championships in 2018. 

Decky McAleenan (7-3) vs Kieran Lister (7-1-1)

Decky McAleenan has been subtly and steadily making moves in the Cage Warriors lightweight division, and the Newry fighter has the opportunity to establish himself as one of the upper echelon 155lbs fighters on the roster should he emerge victorious over England’s Kieran Lister at Cage Warriors 120.

Always an electric watch, McAleenan enters the contest riding back-to-back wins over Antanas Jazbutis and Cage Warriors stalwart Adam Ventre. In his last outing, the Team Torres BJJ fighter rediscovered the finishing ability that made him a must-watch fighter on the Irish MMA scene in his early pro run, submitting Ventre in the 2nd round. Lister will be looking to bounce back from a devastating 1st-round KO loss to Ireland’s Joe McColgan, the first of his MMA career. Though MMA maths are often misleading, Lister holds a win over Tom Mearns, a common opponent of Decky McAleenan who won a contentious decision over the Irishman back in 2019.

With Agy Sardari making the first defense of his Cage Warriors belt against Donovan Desmae on Friday night, and the likes of Paddy Pimblett, Mehdi Ben Lakhdar, and Joe McColgan waiting in the wings, it’s unlikely that a victorious McAleenan could stake claim to a title shot just yet. However, there’s another surging prospect in Mike Figlak (4-0) taking on Steven Hooper (5-3) in the lightweight division on the same CW119 card, and should both Figlak and McAleenan emerge victorious, that would make for a mouthwatering contest on the next Trilogy series in May.

Paul Hughes (6-1) vs James Hendin (5-0)

One of the hottest prospects on the Irish MMA scene, Fight Academy Ireland featherweight Paul Hughes, returns to action on Thursday evening at Cage Warriors 120. After losing his “0” in a nail-biting controversial decision to now title contender Jordan Vucenic at Cage Warrior 119, Hughes now faces another prospect in Londoner James Hendin. This is a massive fight for Hughes, who would be well within his rights to feel that it is he who should be challenging for Morgan Charrière’s Cage Warriors crown, such was the inseparable nature of that Vucenic fight. A win for the Lavey man would reaffirm his standing in the division as next in line for a shot at featherweight gold.

A win, however, is no guarantee. While James Hendin may not be a household name amongst the Cage Warriors ranks just yet, the Team Fish Tank fighter has proved himself a force to be reckoned with. A former Team GB judoka, Hendin has looked dominant throughout his undefeated pro MMA career thus far. “The Honeybadger” is 4-0 under the Cage Warriors banner, and his grappling prowess was on full display last time out against Kris Edwards, showcasing an array of trips and throws en route to a thorough beating of the 24-fight veteran. 

While Jamie Richardson and Kent Kauppinen top the bill on Thursday night, Hughes vs Hendin is the true main event, in my opinion. This is a fantastic matchup between two true prospects. Hendin has never faced an opponent the calibre of Hughes, and it will be interesting to see how the Sunderland-based fighter fares should his grappling be neutralised by the well-rounded Hughes. For Hughes, it’s a case of out of the frying pan into the fire, as this is a high-risk matchup against another young hungry talent. I fancy Hughes to get the better of the exchanges on the feet, but I believe the true dictator of how the fight plays out will be the result of the grappling exchanges. I cannot wait for this matchup, and I believe fans will be in for a treat with this one!

Ian Garry (5-0) vs Rostem Akman (6-2)

If I had to choose a “main event” for the Irish MMA action this week, I’d be hard pressed not to single out Ian “The Future” Garry. The undefeated fledgling star fighting out of Team KF has looked impeccable throughout his MMA career to date, and thus far has backed up his loud and unapologetic persona with an aggressive, technical, “in your face”, and most importantly successful fighting style. After dispatching Lawrence Treacy (5-4) in the first round of their Cage Warriors 119 bout, the Dubliner not only picked up his second consecutive SevereMMA Emerging Irish Prospect of the Year award, but also booked his place in Cage Warriors’ four-man welterweight tournament.

As is often the case for impressive young pros, matchmaking has been a pain point for Team Garry. There is little reward and a lot of risk taking on a skillful upstart in MMA. However, those woes are now yesterday’s problem for Garry, Fields, King and co, and the true proving ground is on the horizon. If you listen to Garry speak (and he will certainly oblige), it’s abundantly clear that all routes lead to Cage Warriors glory and the UFC for the 23-year-old. This welterweight tournament certainly brings that potential path into focus, but it will also serve as a more robust litmus test of Garry’s metal as he graduates to facing both more experienced and higher calibre opposition.

Garry takes on Sweden’s Rostem Akman on Friday at Cage Warriors 121. Not only is Akman a former-UFC fighter, but the 29-year-old has also competed 24 times in MMA across amateur and pro, making him Garry’s most experienced adversary to date. Irish fans may note that Akman holds wins over both Kiefer Crosbie and James Sheehan at the amateur level, the latter being a common opponent of Garry’s. Akman brought both Sergey Khandozhko and Jake Matthews to decisions inside the famed Octagon, though parted ways with the world’s leading promotion after emerging on the losing side of both contests. Regardless, fighting under the banner of those three storied letters, “UFC”, carries significant weight and power. 

If there was a checklist of accomplishments for regional prospects to tick off on their quest towards getting signed by Dana White and company, fighting (and beating) a UFC veteran is one, and earning a Cage Warriors championship is another. Ian Garry has the opportunity to tick off that UFC veteran task on Friday night when the cage closes in York Hall, and should he get the job done, either Jack Grant or Madras Fleminas will be waiting to face off for Cage Warriors welterweight championship glory on the next Trilogy series in May. This is an absolutely massive opportunity for Garry. A steep challenge awaits, especially if he advances to meet either Grant or Fleminas—two highly-touted fighters on the European scene—but Garry’s prior performances suggest that he is capable of rising to the challenge. For the first time in Ian Garry’s career, the future is clear, but the question remains is Ian Garry truly “The Future?”

James Webb (8-2-1) vs Matthew Bonner (8-6-1)

Englishman turned adopted Irishman James Webb is also in action for Team KF this week as the former Cage Warriors middleweight champion locks horns with Next Generation Liverpool’s Matthew Bonner on Cage Warriors 121. 

Since relinquishing his belt at the hands of current champion Nathias Frederick in 2019, James Webb looked fantastic in his return to action in 2020. The Colchester fighter bested Mick Stanton via decision in March, and then topped that with a first-round submission finish over UFC veteran Craig White in September.

Matthew Bonner is on a two-fight win streak of his own following a third-round finish over George Smith and more recently a unanimous decision over the returning Matt Inman back in December. The winner of this fight could easily be viewed as the number-one contender for Frederick’s crown, though with an influx of talent into the Cage Warriors middleweight division as of late, there are a plethora of options for matchmaker Ian Dean. 

If Webb can get through the tough test that Bonner presents, don’t be surprised if a push is made for the UFC. While both Webb vs Frederick contests were gruelling and fascinating affairs, a third fight doesn’t necessarily make sense, and an argument can be made that both fighters have already earned their claim at a shot on the world stage. For now though, all eyes are on Matthew Bonner for James Webb and team. Winning is all that matters, and a finish would certainly help draw the UFC brass’ attention.

Omran Chaaban (1-0) vs Joan Arastey (0-0)

It’s not all Cage Warriors this week for the Irish contingent, as Team KF middleweight Omran Chabaan ventures to Abu Dhabi to compete on UAE Warriors 18 on Saturday afternoon. Chaaban made his pro debut at Cage Warriors 110 in front of a packed Neptune Stadium, and Saturday will mark his first return to the cage since that night in Cork. The Lebanese-born Finn moved to Ireland in March 2019, and under the stewardship of Chris Fields and Tom King executed a composed and intelligent performance in his pro debut. “The Lebanese Gorilla” cruised to a unanimous decision victory over then 3-2 Tomasz Wojtyna, showcasing a varied arsenal of strikes, picking Wojtyna apart with some beautiful low-calf kicks, question-mark kicks, and an efficient execution of distance management to evade the majority of his opponent’s attacks. After a scheduled fight against John Redmond later this month fell through, Chaaban now takes on Spaniard Joan Arastey on just a week’s notice. Arastey went 3-0 at amateur and will enter the contest riding back-to-back KO victories as he makes the transition to the professional ranks. 

Darren O’Gorman (6-5) vs Nicolas Leblond (5-3) 

Rounding out the Irish competition this week is Cork native Darren O’Gorman, who takes on Frenchman Nicolas Leblond in a flyweight contest that was originally scheduled for Cage Warriors 117. That fight never came to fruition after Leblond wasn’t cleared to fight, but the pair will finally get their hands on each other this Saturday on Cage Warriors 122.

O’Gorman trains out of The MMA Clinic in London, and despite a 2-4 run in Cage Warriors lacking much momentum, O’Gorman is must watch and never in a boring fight. All six of the BJJ brown belt’s pro victories have come by way of submission, and his last outing to the Cage Warriors cage saw O’Gorman and opponent Connor Hignett put on one of the fights of the night. It appeared that O’Gorman had the beating of his English counterpart when he locked up a triangle for a number of minutes, but ultimately Hignett survived and was able to finish the Irishman in the final round. O’Gorman will look to rebuild once again as he makes another push in the Cage Warriors flyweight division.

Standing across the cage from O’Gorman will be Frenchman Nicolas Leblond. The NRFight Club Paris flyweight entered the promotion during the first “TRILOGY” series boasting a three-fight win streak. LeBlond was unsuccessful in his debut, losing a decision to the two-time Cage Warriors flyweight title contender Sam Creasey, the most experienced and accomplished opponent Leblond had faced in his career. Despite the loss, the Frenchman penned a new deal with Cage Warriors, and he will look to pick up his first victory under the promotional banner when he faces another veteran in O’Gorman.

For a full preview of all this week’s Cage Warriors action, make sure to check out Seán Sheehan’s bonus podcast episode with Cage Warriors play-by-play commentator Brad Wharton for FREE below:

Andy is a writer, interviewer, and occasional podcaster. Andy's work features on SevereMMA.com, The Severe MMA Podcast, and EuroMMAHub.com. Andy heavily focuses on the Irish MMA scene. Feel free to reach out to Andy on Twitter @andyste123