For four Italian prospects, Cage Warriors 154 represents the chance to claim so much more than just a victory for their professional MMA records. It’s a chance to transform their lives.

Edoardo Caiazza, Khadim Dia, Francesco Mazzeo, and Luca Borando all earned training camp spots on the MMA Fight Academy, a team put together as an initiative between Cage Warriors president Graham Boylan and Indonesian broadcaster/streaming platform Mola TV.

Now, after 12 weeks of hard training as full-time athletes in California, it’s time to show just how much they’ve progressed. Victory in Rome could secure a full-time spot on the California-based fight team moving forward as they look to progress from prospects to contenders.

For lightweight Caiazza, it’s a second chance at a career he thought was dead in the water just a few years ago after he was diagnosed with a brain hemorrhage that looked to have finished his career before it had even started.

“A little brain hemorrhage when I was 17,” he explained.

“So I was asking when I could go to train again and fight again, but the doctor said, ‘we don’t know.’”

It meant Caiazza couldn’t fight, or train with contact, for almost four years as he kept up his fitness and stayed in shape, hoping that the day would come when he’d get the green light to compete again.

“For all these years I was depressed,” he admitted.

“I was training every day, twice a day, but I was not sure if I would ever come back, but I was always training.”

After receiving a clean bill of health, Caiazza launched into his MMA career with gusto. A 4-1 amateur record opened the door to a pro career, and the 25-year-old now stands undefeated at 3-0, with all three wins coming via first-round knockouts. He’ll take on 2-0 Finn Marko Sarasjarvi, a former IMMAF world finalist who will join Caiazza in making his Cage Warriors debut in Rome.

Welterweight Khadim Dia is a physically imposing 170-pounder with a 2-0 pro record. His journey started after he was exiled from his family to Senegal after succumbing to drug abuse issues. But, during his time on his own, Dia managed to find new focus through martial arts, and the 25-year-old is ready to grab his opportunity when he steps into the Cage Warriors cage on Saturday night.

“As an amateur, our dream was just to get to fight, maybe on Cage Warriors one day, maybe just on an international event,” he told me during a team media day in San Diego.

“So now it’s happening after our camp in the US, it’s just a dream come true, and I think a win would be like the cherry on the cake.”

Middleweight Mazzeo is the biggest member of the group, but in terms of competitive experience, he’s the baby of the group.

The 25-year-old Milan native heads into his Cage Warriors debut in Rome with a combined cage time of just six minutes, 23 seconds across three fights (two as an amateur, one as a pro), all of which ended via first-round KO/TKO. But, despite his limited competitive time as a mixed martial arts fighter, Mazzeo has had to defend himself and fight for much longer.

A childhood spent dealing with an abusive, drug-addicted stepfather meant Mazzeo had to face an at-times unthinkable upbringing. After those early years at home, he explained how nothing he could ever encounter in the cage would ever faze him as he prepares to face Spain’s Joan Arastey on Saturday night.

“MMA hits hard,” he said. “But real life hits harder.”

Completing the team’s Italian quartet is featherweight Borando, the youngest member of the group. The 22-year-old from Novara was training in Rome before earning a spot on the MMA Fight Academy training camp in California. Now he’s ready to add to his 2-0 record as he prepares to make his Cage Warriors debut on home soil.

Borando will be the first Italian to walk out to the cage at Fiera Roma when he takes on France-based Kurdistan fighter Baris Adiguzel, who has a 3-0 record, with three first-round finishes to his name.

That won’t concern Borando, who looked crisp and sharp during final preparations for his bout in San Diego as he sparred head-to-head with former Cage Warriors champion Morgan Charriere, who gave him a few helpful pointers after their session.

Charriere went on to win his subsequent outing as he finished Pedro Souza on his stool at the end of the first round at Cage Warriors 153, and Borando will be hoping for a similar result as he chases his third professional win, and his first as a Cage Warriors fighter.

The four Italian prospects will also be joined by three other teammates from the MMA Fight Academy, with Indonesian featherweight Cornellius Aritonang looking to capture the second win of his fledgling pro career, while fellow countryman Yoga Prabowo will target win number six as he takes on short-notice opponent Andrey Tyschenko.

Look out, too, for the final member of the San Diego collective, as Tajikistan’s Jovidon Khojaev takes on Emanuele Sabatino in a lightweight matchup.

Twenty-four-year-old Khojaev moved from Tajikistan to Vietnam to find quality MMA training and, despite a language barrier that took two years to overcome, sharpened his skills sufficiently to impress during the MMA Fight Academy’s tryouts in Bali. Now, after an intense 12-week training camp, “The Persian Lion” is ready to roar on his Cage Warriors debut.

The event will be headlined by a battle for the vacant Cage Warriors bantamweight title, as Italy’s Dylan Hazan takes on Ireland’s Caolan Loughran for the vacant 135-pound strap.

Also set for action are former UFC veterans Darren Stewart and Carlo Pedersoli Jr., as well as former Cage Warriors flyweight champion Sam Creasey.

Cage Warriors 154: Confirmed fights

  • Dylan Hazan vs. Caolan Loughran – for vacant bantamweight title
  • Carlo Pedersoli Jr. vs. Giannis Bachar
  • Leon Aliu vs. Darren Stewart
  • Jasmine Favero vs. Izabela Walczak
  • Francesco Mazzeo vs. Joan Arastey
  • Michaelangelo Lupoli vs. Sam Creasey
  • Khadim Dia vs. Milton Cabral
  • Edoardo Caiazza vs. Marko Sarasjarvi
  • Alessandro Giordano vs. Enrico Di Gangi
  • Yoga Prabowo vs. Andrey Tyschenko
  • Jovidon Khojaev vs. Emanuele Sabatino
  • Simone Patrizi vs. Ermil Xhaferi
  • Guido Possidente vs. Gianluca Rocca
  • Tanio Pagliariccio vs. Gerardo Fanny
  • Dario Bellandi vs. Daniel Karlsson
  • Cornellius Aritonang vs. Gianluca Ancora
  • Luca Borando vs. Baris Adiguzel