Featherweight contenders collided in the main event of Cage Warriors 160 in Manchester, as James Hendin showcased his relentless wrestling skills to dominate Swedish striker Tobias Harila en route to a TKO finish, though the victory came through unexpected means as Harila sustained a broken arm early in the third round.
Harila entered the bout with a well-deserved reputation as one of the most dangerous strikers in the division, and Hendin wisely stuck to his bread and butter, his ground game, as he completely bossed his man through the three-round bout at the BEC Arena.
Hendin took down Harila at will in Round 1, and, with the action on the ground, he battered Harila with ground and pound in a clear 10-8 round, though he did receive a stern telling-off from referee Marc Goddard after a couple of his ground strikes landed on the back of Harila’s head.
It was rinse and repeat for Hendin in Round 2 as he dominated with his wrestling once again, but Harila’s determination not to be finished was there for all to see when he survived a tight arm-triangle choke attempt from Hendin.
When it came, the finish brought the action to an abrupt halt as Hendin picked up Harila and slammed him down to the mat with a high-amplitude takedown. Unfortunately, Harila led with his left arm as he headed downward towards the mat, and all of his weight came down on that arm, folding it up in the opposite direction. The fight was instantly stopped by Goddard, with Hendin picking up the TKO win 28 seconds into the round.
The injury may be the main talking point, but it shouldn’t detract from a completely dominant performance from Hendin, who now has back-to-back wins after he lost out to Jordan Vucenic in his featherweight title tilt at Cage Warriors 134 in March 2022.
But, after that performance, it’s highly likely Hendin’s next outing could see him challenge for Cage Warriors gold once again.
“The Beast” bounces back
Former Cage Warriors middleweight champion Matt Bonner bounced back from his decision loss to Darren Stewart in his last appearance by claiming a dominant first-round submission win over France’s Samir Zaidi in the co-main event.
Warrington native Bonner never looked troubled as he worked the action to the ground, took Zaidi’s back and locked up a rear-naked choke to earn the 15th win of his career in just three minutes, two seconds of the opening round.
Sheldon claims emotional victory to notch first Cage Warriors win
Featherweight Antonio Sheldon switched up his approach and got his reward as he outpointed Poland’s Michal Folc to claim his first victory under the Cage Warriors banner.
Sheldon had lost two and drawn one of his first three Cage Warriors bouts, as he agonizingly found himself denied on the scorecards in competitive encounters against Milad Ahady, Jordy Bakkes, and Orlando Wilson Prins.
In those three bouts, Sheldon’s attack was predominantly in the stand-up realm, but against Folc, he changed his gameplan and used his wrestling and top game to claim a unanimous decision win on the scorecards, with the three judges scoring the bout in his favor, 30-27.
Sheldon, who made an emotional entrance as he walked to the cage wearing a t-shirt paying tribute to a friend who recently passed away, donned the t-shirt once again for the announcement of the verdict, which gave him the sixth win of his career.
Riley fights through adversity, stops Loof in Fight of the Year contender
Two undefeated prospects went head to head in a bantamweight bout to remember, as England’s Luke Riley and Sweden’s Alexander Loof traded shots in a thrilling encounter that will go down as one of the best fights in recent Cage Warriors history.
Loof loaded up early as he connected with a string of heavy shots, but Riley covered up well and managed to move out of danger. Loof continued to push forward, but Riley started to find his range mid-way through the round with a good double-jab, right hand combination his best of the opening frame. Loof wouldn’t let the Englishman get the upper hand, and responded with a spectacular flying knee.
Just as it looked like things might slow a little in the closing minute, Riley struck with a big shot that put Loof in big trouble. The Widnes native poured on the pressure in search of a buzzer-beating finish, but ran out of time as the horn saved Loof from a TKO defeat.
Buoyed by the finish to the first round, Riley looked much more aggressive at the start of the second, but the momentum swung again as he was badly rocked, then dropped, by Loof, who turned up the pressure in a bid to finish his man. Riley did well to survive the onslaught, as he forced the action to the ground, where he had to fend off Loof’s submission attack and ground strikes.
The Manchester crowd then erupted as Riley escaped and fired back with punches. Even a cleanly-landed head kick from Loof didn’t stop Riley, who poured forward landing big shots on a rocked Loof in a wild exchange against the fence. Once again, the buzzer saved Loof as Riley ended the round on top.
The pair briefly embraced at the start of the third round, with Riley looking remarkably fresh. And he immediately picked up where he left off as he teed off on Loof with a non-stop barrage of shots to claim a blistering TKO finish early in the final round and extend his perfect professional record to 8-0 in one of the best fights of the year so far.
Cullen bounces back in style
English lightweight Adam Cullen was all business in the main card opener, as he pushed the pace on Amaury Junior to earn a first-round TKO finish.
Cullen was on the receiving end of one of Cage Warriors’ biggest shock results of the year as he fell to his first career defeat against Dumitru Girlean at Cage Warriors 152 in April.
But Cullen, who has been earmarked for big things ever since he broke through at Cage Warriors level last year, showed plenty of composure as he went to work on his Brazilian opponent on the ground following Junior’s failed takedown attempt.
Cullen settled into Junior’s guard, postured up, then punished his man with a relentless barrage of strikes to force the first-round finish, then ran into the Manchester crowd to celebrate, finally emerging wearing a set of sunglasses handed to him by a fan.
It meant that Cullen bounced back into the win column with his seventh career win – all seven coming inside the first round.
Preliminary card recap
The five-fight preliminary card produced four finishes, with debuting Yorkshire-based Dagestani featherweight Umakhan Ibragimov making a big impression on his promotional debut.
Ibragimov and Belgium’s Rashid Bulguchev traded big shots early, but it quickly became clear that “The Scorpion” had the striking advantage as he stunned his man with a flurry of punches in the early exchanges.
But Ibragimov didn’t rush his work, and his patience paid off as he found another opening and unloaded another combination, with a short right hand knocking out Bulchugov for a very impressive first-round knockout victory.
The prelims also saw a hat-trick of submissions, with Israeli welterweight Rafael Aronov and English lightweight Chris Price both earning their wins via rear-naked choke, while Welsh bantamweight Rory Evans earned his victory via arm-triangle choke.
The opening bout of the night was the only preliminary matchup to call the judges into action, as Adam Shelley picked up a landslide unanimous decision victory over Matthew Camilleri with scores of 30-27, 30-27, 30-25.
Cage Warriors 160: Official results
- James Hendin def. Tobias Harila via TKO (broken arm) – Round 3, 0:28
- Matthew Bonner def. Samir Zaidi via submission (rear-naked choke) – Round 1, 3:02
- Antonio Sheldon def. Michal Folc via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Luke Riley def. Alexander Loof via TKO (punches) – Round 3, 0:58
- Adam Cullen def. Amaury Junior via TKO (ground strikes) – Round 1, 3:23
- Rafael Aronov def. Ben Petches-Kelly via submission (rear-naked choke) – Round 1, 1:24
- Rory Evans def. Adam Wilson via submission (arm-triangle choke) – Round 3, 2:21
- Umakhan Ibragimov def. Rashid Bulguchev via knockout (punch) – Round 1, 2:11
- Chris Price def. Dec Dean via submission (rear-naked choke) – Round 1, 3:41
- Adam Shelley def. Matthew Camilleri via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-25)
Photos: Dolly Clew/Cage Warriors