The former champ, a comeback kid and the prospect - meet our fighting stars in action on Cage Warriors this week
- Credit: Dolly Clew/Brett King
After a difficult year for MMA, the sport returns with a bang this week with the Cage Warriors Trilogy series - three nights of back-to-back events, featuring the premier talent from across Europe. And three of this region's best are in action, each with their own story. Mark Heath explains...
The former champ
Colchester's James Webb (8-2-1) won the Cage Warriors world middleweight title with a trademark arm triangle submission victory over Thomas Robertsen in March 2019.
With the belt over his shoulder, and a place in history as the first fighter from the east to win an MMA world title, he seemed set to be the next Cage Warriors champ to make the step up to the UFC, the Champions' League of the sport.
But then he ran into the wild-swinging, brutally powerful Nathias Frederick. Their first fight, in June 2019, was controversially ruled a draw with many thinking the Essex man had done enough to win, before Frederick ripped the gold from Webb with a fourth round stoppage in the rematch five months later.
Webb, 31, has since bounced back with two straight wins - his last, another arm triangle sub over UFC veteran Craig White, proved he can not only compete, but excel against top tier competition.
He fights the all-action Matt Bonner (8-6-1) on Friday's Cage Warriors 121, in a battle between two men on two-fight winning streaks.
Should he come through, the UFC dream is still very much alive for Webb, who also recently got engaged and opened his own business, Flotation Therapy Essex.
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He told me last year: "I still have my ambitions as regards fighting. I need to get to the UFC, I’ve come too far to stop now.
"I’ll have to go on another winning run in Cage Warriors and look for a chance on a UFC show.”
The comeback kid
If you ask anyone who's followed UK MMA for a while, the name Corrin Eaton immediately conjures up one thing - entertainment.
The Ipswich featherweight could never be called a technician, but when it comes to heart, willpower and the test of character posed by a blood and guts war, he'll rarely be found wanting.
Eaton (10-3) had ridden that one-man MMA whirlwind skillset all the way to a clash with Dean Trueman in March 2018, where he pushed the future Cage Warriors featherweight champion close in my fight of the year.
But then, right on the cusp of title contention, he sensationally walked away, telling me he'd fallen out of love with the sport and wanted to focus on work.
I always thought he'd be back - a fighting man through and through, and just approaching his athletic prime, I suspected he'd eventually be getting itchy knuckles.
And so it's proved. A white collar boxing bout was followed by an MMA return at Contenders in September 2019, where he dominated journeyman Will Cairns in a first round stoppage win via tap to strikes.
Now, he's back in the big time, facing submission ace Jean N'Doye (8-2) - just back from a seven year break from the sport himself - as the main card opener at Cage Warriors 122 on Saturday.
Time will tell if Eaton's return is just about slaking his fistic thirst, or if he can put together a title run.
But one thing's for sure - for as long as it lasts, it will be entertaining!
Fighting is often referred to as the ultimate test of character, a statement I'd endorse. And with that being the case, Witham's Leigh Mitchell (3-2) has faced more tests than most young fighters - both inside and outside the cage.
Incredibly, he broke his hand with the first punch he threw as a professional after a decorated amateur career, losing to the hugely talented Liam Gittins back in June 2018.
Mitchell, nicknamed 'Mini Hulk' - one look at a picture of him will indicate why - then had to travel a tough road back, struggling with motivation during a lengthy recovery process, and grappling with the demons of a defeat on his pro debut.
But back he came, moving up to bantamweight to face the much-taller and more experienced Rico Biggs as the main event of Cage Warriors Academy SE in October 2019, and again proving his resilience in a submission win - my submission of the year, no less.
Two more wins on the spin saw him finally take the step up to the main Cage Warriors show last December, where he was tapped out by unbeaten talent Nathan Fletcher in the second round.
Mitchell has only lost to top tier competition though - Gittins and Fletcher are a combined 10-1 as professionals - and has now dropped back down to flyweight for good, starting with his dispute with Connor Hignett (8-6) on the prelims of Cage Warriors 120 this Thursday.
At 125lbs Mitchell - my prospect of the year for 2021 - will be a monster, a dominant wrestler and grappler with ever-improving southpaw striking.
Look for him to climb the rankings rapidly.
How to watch
Cage Warriors 120-122, all behind closed doors at the York Hall in London, will all be available to watch live on UFC Fight Pass.
Thursday's show kicks off at 7.15pm, with Friday's starting at 7.30pm and Saturday's getting underway at 6.30pm.