British Invasion - An insight into the next wave of English combatants
It’s been four years since The Ultimate Fighter series 3. The series in which a promising, 27 year old British contender was molded into a superstar overnight, emerging victorious as the seasons winner. Yes, Britain’s very own Michael Bisping.
Notorious for his brash and colorful personality inside and outside of the octagon, love him or loathe him, Bisping never fails to capture the attention of MMA enthusiasts worldwide. Mike has never been one to shy away from the pre-fight hype and banter, his menacing behavior is often perceived as cockiness from fans and fellow UFC challengers, however there is also a legitimate set of skills to go along with the trash talk. Bisping possesses a very well rounded array of skills and is a tough cookie to crack for anyone in the Middleweight division.
Four years ago, it seemed as though Mike was the only real star and hope for British fighting fanatics, however, with the recent surge and explosion of popularity in the British MMA scene, fans now have a whole catalog of English prospects to cheer and applaud for.
Where to start? How about with “The Real Deal“, Sunderland’s very own; Ross Pearson. Similar to British companion Michael Bisping, Pearson burst onto the scene after securing an official contract with the UFC, battling his way through a series of American foes, only to end up squaring off against fellow comrade, Andre Winner (another exciting candidate) in the Ultimate Fighter Season 9 finale.
After triumphing over Winner, Pearson made a statement to the rest of the UFC lightweight hopefuls, demonstrating an exquisite display of crisp kick-boxing and technically sound Muay-Thai in his victories over Aaron Riley and German kick-boxing champion, Dennis Siver.
Pearson thrilled the Mancunian crowd as he exhibited a clinic of brutal Muay Thai against the crafty veteran Aaron Riley. Pearson overwhelmed Riley throughout the fight, bombarding the 40 year old with a series of devastating knees, razor sharp elbows and thrashing leg kicks. Text book Muay Thai, which I’m sure left Wanderlei Silva and his former Chute Box team grinning like Cheshire Cats. Pearson continuously locked horns with Aaron, initiating the clinch and delivering a number of crushing knees to the body. Pearson's constant Muay Thai plum techniques seemed to be the equivalent of a Pitbulls locked jaw, refusing to let Riley wriggle his way free, eventually busting open Aaron's nose and ending the fight.
Although not as bloodthirsty as his previous bout, Pearson again flaunted his technical striking finesse in his clash with German native, Dennis Siver. Pearson’s diverse kick-boxing arsenal was displayed in all its glory, as he lit up Mr Siver for three grueling rounds, beating him to the punch in most of the engagements. Ross’ speed and laser beam accuracy were key in his success for this contest, as he proved to be the quicker and more technically proficient fighter, leaving the octagon with another impressive win.
This leaves us with Pearson’s latest fight with the always competitive, Cole Miller, in which Ross suffered his first defeat inside the octagon. Although losing, it was far from a one sided affair. Pearson looked to establish his snapping leg kicks, but Cole was relentless, constantly attacking and countering Ross, using that lengthy reach to his advantage. The two continued to engage in a see-saw type battle with both men having spurts of success. It was in the second round when Miller caught Ross with a flying knee which instantly wobbled the former Brick Layer. Miller seized the opportunity and swarmed all over Ross like a cheap suit, dropping Pearson and finishing the fight with a textbook rear naked choke.
I have little doubt that Ross Pearson will make an exceptional return to fighting after recovering from knee surgery. Ross possesses very solid Muay Thai and stand up skills and appears to be vastly well rounded in all other areas, illustrating his firm take down defense and slick defensive grappling skills against Cole Miller, as twice he managed to squirm his way free of Cole Miller’s guard and taken down attempts.
On top of the physical attributes, Ross also has a strong mentality and work ethic to reach his potential. His appearance on the ultimate fighter presented his hard working yet ever so humble approach to mixed martial arts. Pearson also took the initiative to train with current lightweight champ Frankie Edgar in his home town New Jersey in an effort to develop and expand on his wrestling, as the resources are rather limited on UK soil. With all that said, its easy to forget Pearson is just 26 years old, with all the time in the world to grow and evolve, he very much is; The real deal.
Next up are John “Hitman” Hathaway and the Liverpudlian, Terry Etim. Two very promising competitors with two very different methods of fighting. On the one hand you have the Welterweight Mr Hathaway, a British fighter who truly breaks the mold. Hathaway is actually the only Brit who uses wrestling on a consistent basis to overwhelm his opponents, a very strong grappler indeed. On the other hand you have Lightweight brawler Terry Etim, a man who never fails to leave me awestruck after watching his fights. There is a reason Joe Rogan hailed Etim as; “The 155 pound version of Anderson Silva” as both men share remarkable similarities.
Fighting out of Brighton, “Hitman” has collated together an impressive record of fourteen wins and just the lone loss. The twenty two year old utilizes his commanding wrestling and aggression to break the wills of his adversaries. Hathaway's stand out victory comes against the intense Mexican, original Ultimate Fighter winner, Diego Sanchez. Embracing his role as the underdog, Hathaway shocked the MMA world when he dominated Sanchez.
He rattled Diego mid-way through the first round with a picture perfect knee, which sent an echoing thud around the MGM grand garden arena. From then on he continued to roughen up Sanchez for the remaining two rounds. Attacking with an onslaught of ground and pound and exploiting Diego's reach disadvantage by comfortably winning the stand up exchanges. A real eye opening victory for Hathaway. Johns handling of powerful wrestler Rick Story was also an impressive feat.
He entered his next challenge against a man with over a decade of fighting experience, and still proving to be a worthy contender, Mike Pyle. Coming into the fight as an underdog, the seasoned brawler had a point to prove, “quicksand” engulfed Hathaway into a world of pain, outclassing the young talent for a span of three rounds.
Although out struck and out grappled against Pyle, I still firmly believe Hathaway has heaps of potential. His forceful grappling, aggression and excellent conditioning is a hazard to any candidate in the Welterweight division. I believe if the London Shoot fighter team can fine tune his striking and ensure he learns from his mistakes against Pyle, the skies really are the limit for this young competitor.
A stark contrast in style for Terry Etim. Terry actually made his octagon debut back in 2007, locking up a tight Guillotine choke against four time state wrestling champion, Matt Grice. Although tallying up eight nail biting fights in UFC competition, Terry has slipped under the radar and is without a doubt the dark horse amongst the British hopefuls.
Etim possesses a lethal combination of dynamic Muay Thai striking and dangerous submissions from his back. Although his take down defense could be scrutinized, Terry more than makes up for it with his cunning submissions, clocking up a series of varied choke victories. Once it hits the ground, fighters beware, Terry Etim is as crafty as a rattlesnake.
Etim's three losses come against the lightweight juggernaut, Gleison Tibau, experienced vet Rich Clementi and Brazilian Jujitsu expert, Rafael Dos Anjos. All three men employed similar strategies to take out Etim. They successfully managed to neutralize Etim's dangerous striking, via superior grappling and take downs. Although Etim does possess a number of devious submissions, he was simply out matched on the ground against the technically superior opponents.
Although it’s clear Etim isn’t without his weaknesses, there is something special and extra-ordinary about this 24 year old. His striking is truly world class and almost Anderson Silva esque. Take note of his fights against Brian Cobb and Sam Stout. He finished Cobb with a flamboyant head kick, in which he set up with a fake low kick and again worked his magic against the highly touted striker Stout, earning an impressive decision victory.
Young, dazzling and full of heart, expect big things from Terry Etim in the coming years.
Pearson, Hathaway and Etim are only touching the tip of the iceberg, there is an entire crop of ambitious, talented British brawlers looking to make waves in the world of mixed martial arts. Look out for the likes of Andre Winner, Paul Sass, Jim Wallhead, Tom Watson, Paul Kelly, Paul Taylor and Nick Osipczak. And of course not forgetting to mention the already established but still hungry competitors in Michael Bisping, Dan Hardy and Paul Daley.
Its been a long time coming, but British MMA has finally arrived, and it is here to stay.