The spectacle of MMA returned to Las Vegas last weekend, Brett Johns is due to come back in Abu Dhabi next month, and there is hope that octagons elsewhere around the globe could soon be open for business. That will prove good news for Welsh fighters, aiming to resume operations in one of the world’s fastest growing sports. To set the scene for their return, Chris Saunders profiles six of the best from Wales.
The Welsh have always been fighters. It’s in our DNA.
Once upon a time, this predilection for violence was played out on secluded mountain tops, long before the likes of Howard Winstone, Johnny Owen, Joe Calzaghe and Nathan Cleverly quite literally carried the flag into the boxing ring.
Now, there is a new arena where a new generation of fighters can showcase their skills. Mixed Martial Arts is increasing in popularity day by day, and the Welsh at are the very forefront of the revolution.
Here, we take a look at who’s who.
6: Mason Jones
This March saw Blaenavon-born fighter Mason ‘The Dragon’ Jones follow in the footsteps of one Conor McGregor in becoming the Cage Warriors lightweight champion.
In doing so, with a clinical knockout of Irishman Joe McColgan, he extended his unblemished professional record to 9-0 and set a lot of tongues wagging.
The Cage Warriors promotion has become known as something of a UFC feeder belt in recent years and Jones has all the attributes they look for, so it’s probably only a matter of time before the biggest promotion in the world come knocking on the 25-year old’s door.
When they do, he’ll be ready.
5: Corey McKenna
She might be barely out of her teens, but don’t be fooled by this pocket rocket’s demeanour.
Since launching her pro career in 2018 off the back of an undefeated stint in the amateur ranks, Corey ‘The Hobbit’ McKenna has taken the MMA world by storm.
Under the watchful gaze of her mam Wendy, also an MMA fighter, she brings boundless energy and enthusiasm and has quickly become known as one of the brightest female prospects in Europe.
Love this photo @brettkingphotography tagged me in – times like this really make you appreciate these moments and he captured it perfectly. Can’t wait to have this feeling again soon; be able to celebrate/hug all my nearest and dearest again 🙌 #socialdistancing #dreamteam #baldy pic.twitter.com/CgChapTVNf
— Cory McKenna (@CoryMcKenna99) April 11, 2020
Her last fight, in the straw-weight division of the Cage Warriors promotion, was cancelled because of coronavirus. But rest assured, it won’t be long before she’s back.
4: John Phillips
As an organisation, the UFC has a somewhat erratic approach to new signings.
Some they nurture carefully, building them up for a title shot and possible worldwide stardom.
Others, they throw in at the deep end and see if they can swim. Phillips fell into the latter category.
Not that he was bothered. The 35-year old Swansea southpaw had his first pro MMA fight back in 2005 and has notched some major scalps since then with no fewer than 20 of his 22 wins coming by KO or TKO.
What you see is what you get with the ‘Welsh Wrecking Machine.’ He’s unlikely to do many somersaults or spinning kicks off the cage, but he’d probably be able to punch his way out of a concrete bunker if he had to.
3: Jack Marshman
Ex-paratrooper Marshman firmly believes his decade of military service helped him develop the physical and mental toughness as well as self-discipline required to reach the pinnacle of MMA – and give him the edge over many of his opponents.
He wasn’t wrong. The Abertillery middleweight became a BAMMA and Cage Warriors champ, before becoming the first ever Welshman to crack the big time in being signed by the UFC.
There, he enjoyed a dream start with a Performance of the Night win over Swede Magnus Cedenblad in November 2016.
Four defeats from six since then shows the gulf in class between the UFC and other promotions, but at 30-years old, Marshman has time on his side.
2: Jack Shore
The 25-year former Cage Warriors Bantamweight champion is the latest addition to the UFC ranks, and made an impressive debut in September 2019 against Nohelin Hernandez who he submitted with a rear naked choke, his preferred move.
That win took his pro record to an impressive 12-0, and he won a lot of new fans that night in Copenhagen.
This, combined with a perfect amateur record, a prodigious talent and an unwavering confidence with a work ethic to match, and it becomes easy to see why he is widely regarded as one of the best MMA prospects in Europe, if not the world.
If he keeps his feet on the ground, the sky is the limit for the gifted Abertillery boy.
1: Brett Johns
Like so many Welsh boxing greats, Johns is small in stature, standing just 5’ 7” and competing in the bantamweight division, but has a huge heart and no lack of skill.
His tenacity and ability to grind out a win is something to behold.
He also knows what it is like to come through adversity, losing back-to-back decisions after a bright start in the UFC and forced to sit out the whole of 2019 through injury.
This fight is fucking amazing. Montel looked like a future champ in his last fight but Brett Johns is maybe the grittiest fighter at 135. Both tremendous wrestlers and grapplers, Montel’s length in the stand-up could be the story here https://t.co/lypOAwENdB
— UFC Fight Previews (@UfcPreviews) June 18, 2020
He bounced back earlier this year with a Fight of the Night (a $50,000 bonus) performance against Tony Gravely.
The 28-year old Swansea native is probably the most well-rounded Welsh fighter on the UFC’s books, and boasts an enviable mix of youth and experience. He could be our best chance of a world champion.
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