By Alistair Hendrie
Wales stood as one on Saturday night to herald Jack Shore, the unbeaten 24-year-old who displayed poise beyond his years to submit Nohelin Hernandez in his UFC debut in Copenhagen, Denmark. “The Tank” is the fourth Welshman to compete (and win) in the UFC, while he is also the second Welshman to win a UFC contest via tap-out. Now, with bantamweight Shore exhibiting such fight IQ and professionalism against Hernandez, he has laid the path for the upcoming line of Welsh youngsters.
Perhaps the next Welshman to enter the UFC will be another 24-year-old, lightweight Mason Jones, who tackles Aleski Mantykivi on October 12th at Cage Warriors 108 in Cardiff. Perfect as a professional at 7-0, in 2018 Jones wowed fans by trading furious submission attempts during his decision over Konmon Deh. Later, in April, he stood in the line of fire while outscoring the more experienced Donovan Desmae.
An all-action fighter who doesn’t mind getting hit, Jones has taken Shore’s place as Cage Warriors’ main attraction from Wales but it’s worth remembering that the Pedro Bessa student is much more than a YouTube highlight reel. His judo is excellent, his transitions on the mat are decisive and he kicks to the calf, solar plexus and head with an element of surprise. He has already demanded a few excursions as the away fighter, but he might reach the UFC before Cage Warriors can fulfil that.
Another prospect looking at following Shore is Oban Elliott, who also appears at Cage Warriors 108 against Steven Hooper. The 22-year-old trains at Impact MMA Fitness Centre in Wrexham and boasts an aggressive streak which has helped him finish each of his two pro and six amateur outings. He pelts his rivals economically from top position and although it’s early days for “Evil” Elliott, he’ll hope to kick on after clinching a Cage Warriors contract in 2018 by winning the promotion’s welterweight grand prix.
Then there’s teenage sensation Cory McKenna, 19. Despite being born in Colchester, McKenna is now based with Shore at Tillery Combat MMA Academy in south Wales, and it’s fair to say she’s dedicated herself to her craft. While travelling to train at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California, Cory has taken to the mats with mum Wendy McKenna, also an MMA fighter, while she also bettered former IMMAF World and European silver medallist Annette Osterberg in 2017 in the amateur ranks.
Back in 2016 Wendy told me that something would have to go “seriously wrong” for her daughter to not appear in the UFC by the time she was 18, but Cory’s career has not passed without bumps in the road. An excellent grappler who labours for rear naked chokes, the former child prodigy slumped to a decision defeat to Micol DiSegni a year ago, but she’ll be keen to make it three wins in a row against Griet Eeckhout at Cage Warriors 108.
Whatever happens in October at the Viola Arena in Cardiff, though, Shore’s shadow will loom large as Wales’ youthful trio aim to dominate their opponents. Indeed, they could do worse than observe how Shore worked so calmly and effectively against Hernandez. Shore clamped on a leg scissors and sapped Hernandez’s will with a neck crank in round three. His coach and father, Richard, would been delighted at how his son completed his takedowns and moved through the grappling phases.
After executing a sumptuous trip to ground his man in round one, Shore completed another lovely takedown, a highlight of the contest, in round two. Pursuing a single-leg takedown against the fence with savvy and acumen, Shore expertly yanked Hernandez forwards, turned the corner and dumped his rival down once more. It was a delight to watch and, whisper it, reminded slightly of a certain
Canadian with a bald dome. Round three was all Shore again as he notched another early takedown and worked for the choke. Richard celebrated a job well done afterwards, tweeting a photo of his young son posing with UFC matchmaker, Sean Shelby, in 2015. Back then, the story goes, Richard told Shelby he’d be seeing a lot of Jack in the future, and that prediction has come to light. And as Richard sharpens his group of prospects at Tillery Combat MMA Academy, Shelby may also be guiding the careers of Jones, Elliott and McKenna sooner rather than later.
Check out more of Alistair Hendrie’s work with his Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women’s MMA in Britain, which features insight from Rosi Sexton, Joanne Calderwood and many more.