This weekend will see four promising fighters take to the fore at Cage Conflict 5 when the bantamweight tournament looks to produce a 135lb champion for the Accrington based show.
Promoter Rick Belcher has been building his event show-by-show, much to the acclaim of the fighters and clubs involved, as well as the vocal fans. With local favourite Dec Williams on the bill as a part of the tournament, it is guaranteed the crowd will be at fever pitch once again. Although the loss of talented young Rough House star Brent Crawley was a blow, the replacement Mark Connor will serve as a tough test and great benchmark for the less experienced athletes looking to make a name for themselves on the circuit. The Scot has been involved in some battles with highly-ranked European fighters such as Musse Hasselvall and James McGuinness, showing his skills and mettle on multiple occasions. As with many fighters in the ever-growing UK bantamweight division, all of the men have met at least one of the others before and it makes for some interesting rematches with not only the belt on the line, but the fighters’ pride.
(Dec Williams, of Manchester Predators and Team Warriors Elite)
“It’s very exciting to be fighting for a title and it’s even more exciting to be fighting for a title on a show that’s in my own back yard, in front of my family, friends and people who live near me,” Team Warriors Elite and Manchester Predators fighter Dec Williams noted. “I feel my stand-up has improved and is improving all the time. Working with Gav Boardman at Predators, your BJJ can only get better all the time anyway so on the ground I’m feeling good. In my opinion, and the opinion of many others, Gav is the best BJJ coach for MMA in the UK, so I’m going in to the fights feeling comfortable where ever it goes.”
Dec also believes that the victories he holds over Mark Platts and Niko Gjoka prior to May 8th will make them even more motivated.
“I think Platts has a good chance of getting to the final if he gets the right opponent in the first fight, I hope he does because he’s a nice guy and always gives it his all but he’s been unlucky in his last couple of fights.
“Niko Gjoka worries me the most out of the three,” Dec continued, adding, “I know the minute he found out he might have a chance at getting his revenge on me he would have locked himself in the gym and trained like mad man! He’ll have a picture of me on a punch bag and it will be ripped to shreds by now!”
“Every one of us is going to fight like they’re fighting for their life, so every one is going to be a war,” Dec summated.
(Niko Gjoka celebrates victory, courtesy of MMAPics.com)
Gjoka, of Huddersfield MMA, had a tough start to his professional career as he went 0-3. He has since added two wins to his resume – one of them over Platts in February – and he will be looking to continue this momentum coming into the tournament.
“The chance to take the title is very exciting and I am feeling absolutely fantastic,” he said. “I feel I am in the best shape of my life. My preparation has gone great; I am privileged to have Tony Sykes as my coach, and a skilled grappling partner in Simon Jasper.”
With wins and losses to different fighters that he may face come fight time, he noted that he is prepared to face any of the men and “it will come down to who wants it the most on the night.”
He also admits that, whilst Williams may be the favourite, it is not something that fazes him:
“I don’t mind being an underdog. I believe none of the others will have my striking skills and with regards to my ground game, I’ll let my past fights do the talking.”
(Mark Platts of Gracie Barra Newcastle and Faktory MMA)
Gracie Barra Newcastle and Faktory MMA’s Mark Platts believes his training will set him in good stead for the encounter and give him the chance to right a few personal wrongs.
“My preparation has been great I have been training at quality gyms with great coaches who know the game first hand. This is a great chance for me to show what I can do and put right a couple of things.”
Having faced every other participant before and referencing the past fights with Gjoka (which he lost via armbar) and Williams (which he lost via decision) Platts added:
“I respect all my opponents and they each have the potential and skills to win this tournament but when I fought Niko and Declan I was not happy with the decisions or my performances.
“Tournaments are full of twists and turns and that’s what makes them so exciting,” Platts added, before giving his own thoughts on the final outcome. “I’ll have the belt around my waist and there’ll be some baffled faces scratching their heads.”
All of the fighters involved are keen to stamp their mark on the bantamweight division in the UK and prove they belong with the domestic elite, but it won’t come without a fight. Every man is well aware of the skills and heart the others bring. With history playing out once again for the majority of these young combatants, will things change the second time around? Will scores be settled and grudges rectified? Who will leave victorious and with a title to their name? There are many lingering questions with only one resolution – fight night this Saturday at the Hyndburn sports centre in Accrington.