This Weekend’s Warriors: The Trilogy Strikes Back

Photos by Dolly Clew / Cage Warriors

This Weekend’s Warriors is a weekly 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 a week we have in store for Irish MMA!

Cage Warriors returns with “THE TRILOGY STRIKES BACK,” another trio of consecutive fight nights set to take place across Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. Decky McAleenan (Team Torres BJJ) opens the action for the Irish contingent on Friday when he finally locks horns with Adam Ventre, an electric matchup rebooked after the first attempt fell through for Cage Warriors 115. Joe McColgan (Fight Academy Ireland) takes on the undefeated Kieran Lister to open the Cage Warriors 119 main card on Saturday night, as he returns for the first time since his title loss to Mason Jones back in March. Undefeated prospects Paul Hughes (Fight Academy Ireland) and Ian Garry (Team KF) directly follow McColgan as both endeavour to extend their unbeaten records and each take one step closer to championship contention in the featherweight and welterweight divisions, respectively.

SevereMMA has you covered for all your Irish MMA previews, so let’s get to it:

Fri 11th Dec: Cage Warriors 118, London.

Lightweight: Decky McAleenan (6-3) vs Adam Ventre (8-4)

Newry’s Decky McAleenan (6-3) and Liverpudlian Adam Ventre (8-4) will finally throw down at Cage Warriors 118, and I can’t wait! This matchup has all the makings of a Fight of the Night contender. McAleenan is a former Akuma FC featherweight champion who is explosive on the feet and possesses an aggressive guard attack off his back. Despite a frustrating return to the Cage Warriors banner that saw him concede two decisions in 2019, the Team Torres BJJ man rebounded at CW110 in Cork by defeating then 47-fight veteran Antanas Jazbutis via unanimous decision. McAleenan’s early pro run on the Irish scene was an electric display of triangle chokes and flying-knee KOs, and I think that this stylistic matchup against Adam Ventre is a treat for the fans.

Ventre is a 5-fight Cage Warriors veteran who has competed at a variety of weight classes in recent years, prompting him to label himself as the “BMF” of Cage Warriors. The Next Generation Liverpool fighter always brings the fight, not only is he more than willing to engage in a war of attrition in striking exchanges, but he’s also a high level BJJ black belt. Irish fans will remember when Ventre fought Dylan Tuke back in 2016, one of the standout fights on the regional scene in recent years. Since that fight, Ventre has gone 4-1 with three first-round finishes. After being stopped by Tim Barnett at CW101, Ventre got back into the win column against a common opponent to McAleenan in Antanas Jazbutis.

This fight presents both McAleenan and Ventre with an opportunity to start building some momentum and take strides towards the upper echelon of the Cage Warriors lightweight division. I’ll be shocked if this isn’t an absolute barnburner too! Brad Wharton said it best that neither man has a reverse gear, and you can count on both to march forward in what should be a war!

Sat 12th Dec: Cage Warriors 119, London.

Lightweight: Joe McColgan (6-3-1) vs Kieran Lister (7-0-1)

Fight Academy Ireland team captain Joe McColgan (6-3-1) is back in lightweight action as he takes on Englishman Kieran Lister (7-0-1) at Cage Warriors 119. We last saw McColgan challenge for the vacant Cage Warriors title against now-UFC fighter Mason Jones back in March. Ultimately, Jones was victorious, stopping McColgan in the first round. Jones would go on to become a double champion and sign for the UFC.

McColgan must now regroup and reestablish himself as a title contender in Cage Warriors, and a win over someone of Kieran Lister’s calibre would do just that. Lister is undefeated in his pro career, the only non-victory on his record being a decision draw against SBG Ireland rising star Constantin Gnusariov under the Bellator banner. At 34 years old, the pressure is on for McColgan, and you could argue that it’s now or never for the Belfast fighter if he is to make the jump to the next level of MMA and make a run towards the UFC.

This is a must-win fight for Joe McColgan, but if he can make a strong statement—what better a fight to finally notch the KO finish that has eluded his pro career thus far—then McColgan could find himself right back in the picture at the top of the lightweight division. Similarly for Lister, a win over a respected Cage Warriors veteran of McColgan’s calibre would provide matchmaker Ian Dean with food for thought when shaping the future of the 155lbs ranks. With the lightweight title being contested later that night between Jack Grant and Agi Sardari, it’s all to play for!

Welterweight: Ian Garry (4-0) vs Lawrence Treacy (5-4)

Ian “The Future” Garry (4-0) has set the UK and Irish MMA scene alight since making his professional MMA debut. After securing three consecutive victories in 2019—which saw the Dubliner earn SevereMMA’s Emerging Irish Prospect Of The Year award—Garry exhibited a masterclass performance in his most recent fight, stopping George McManus in the 2nd round of their CW115 contest via head kick and punches back in September.

Still young in his career, the 23-year-old Team KF fighter has his eyes firmly set on the vacant Cage Warriors welterweight championship. However, before any title aspirations can be realized, Garry must continue to successfully wade through his fellow welterweight contenders, and the next step on the road to the belt goes through Lawrence Tracey (5-4). A win at CW119 would see Garry close out 2020 with a second successive undefeated year in the pro ranks.

Despite Tracey’s checkered pro record in MMA, “Tornado” will be the most experienced fighter Garry has faced to date. Four of Tracey’s five pro victories have been stoppages, and the Englishman has previously faced former Cage Warriors double champion Mason Jones, although he lost by KO in the second round. After a bareknuckle boxing debut didn’t come to fruition for Tracey earlier this year, he returns for a second stint in Cage Warriors, having previously donned the yellow gloves back in 2018. Garry and Tracey share victory over a common opponent in George McManus, whom Tracey won a decision over at the amateur level in 2016.

Truth be told, I would have preferred to see Garry against stiffer competition, but each highlight-reel performance seems to be make Ian Dean’s job more difficult to match the young Irish phenom. This will likely be a showcase fight for the Portmarnock native, and one would expect Garry to get a finish against Tracey. With the welterweight belt currently lying in vacant, there’s every possibility that those matchmaking difficulties could be made easier with a potential championship on the line assuming Garry overcomes Tracey. A statement victory here for Garry would back up the confidence he exudes, with his eyes set on the UFC in the future.

Featherweight: Paul Hughes (6-0) vs Jordan Vucenic (6-1)

As far as I’m concerned, Paul Hughes (6-0) vs Jordan Vucenic (6-1) is a number-one contender matchup. This is a fight between two consensus prospects in their ascendancy, and for both men this matchup serves as the toughest test of their respective careers to date.

Paul Hughes is a bona fide finisher. The Derry native has looked the total package in recent fights, and most promisingly the Fight Academy Ireland athlete appears to be improving with every appearance inside the cage. Hughes is yet to see the judges’ scorecards in his pro career, most recently submitting Scottish prospect Aidan Stephen in the third round of their Cage Warriors 116 contest. With that, Hughes extinguished the “striker vs grappler” narrative that had consumed much of the pre-fight speculation, and he erased any question marks around his grappling prowess.

Jordan Vucenic is making waves in his own right. The BST Academy fighter is currently riding a 4-fight win streak since suffering the sole defeat of his pro career to date back in 2018. Most recently, “The Epidemic” bested Cage Warriors veteran and former title contender Steve Aimable over three rounds to notch his second victory in the promotion, a win that cemented his standing in the upper echelon of the division. While Vucenic is primarily viewed as a Muay Thai striker, the 24-year-old Harlow native also boasts a BJJ purple belt, and the Aimable fight showed that he is comfortable in all areas of fighting.

With Morgan Charrière and Perry Goodwin set to compete for the vacant Cage Warriors featherweight title later in the night, the stage is set for either Hughes or Vucenic to make a massive statement and commandeer pole position for the next crack at the belt ahead of the Cage Warriors 119 main event. This is a dangerous fight for both men. Hughes has proven over the course of his career that he can end a fight from any position. Vucenic possesses genuine knockout power and technically savvy kicks, not to mention an improving BJJ game.

Irish bias aside, something tells me that we will see a breakout performance here from Paul Hughes. For my money, he is the frontrunner to become the next Irish fighter signed to the UFC, and now is the time to reaffirm that status. While Vucenic has the ability to switch the Lavey man’s lights out, I think Hughes’ current overall skill set is superior. The safe game plan here would be to tactically time a takedown on Vucenic and begin to land damage, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Hughes look to trade with the Muay Thai striker on the feet and make another statement to any who doubt his striking acumen. A win for Vucenic and he steals the Irishman’s shine. This is a massive fight for the Cage Warriors featherweight division, and I’ll be shocked if we don’t see a finish one way or the other.

Fight Dates and Times:

Decky McAleenan: Friday 11th December. 9pm. First fight on the CW118 main card.

Joe McColgan: Saturday 12th December. 7.30pm. First fight on the CW119 main card.

Ian Garry: Saturday 12th December. Approx. 7.50pm. Second fight on the CW119 main card.

Paul Hughes: Saturday 12th December. Approx. 8.10pm. Third fight on the CW119 main card.

Where to Watch:

All Cage Warriors cards this week will be broadcast LIVE on UFC Fight Pass.

Our own Sean Sheehan sat down with Cage Warriors commentator Brad Wharton to discuss all three cards. Take a listen below.

Andy is a multimedia reporter, interviewer, writer, with a strong focus on Irish MMA. Co-host of The Auld Triangle podcast. Follow Andy on Twitter (@andyste123) and Instagram (@andystevensonMMA).

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