An air of mystery accompanied Pavel Doroftei’s entry into the ‘UCC: X-Fighter’ £10,000 tournament in Manchester on Friday night. But shortly after the event was over, he was well on his way to becoming one of the most talked-about fighters on the UK circuit.

Hailing from Moldova, Doroftei is based in London and represents the London Shootfighters team, home of John Hathaway among others. A high-level competitor in the Russian martial art Sambo, Doroftei has won European titles in that sport and has also competed for the M-1 organisation.

Solid credentials – but few people knew them as Doroftei strolled casually to the cage for his opening match of the tournament, a quarter-final meeting with the experienced and durable Jordan McLusky. The fight started with a jab from McLusky which Doroftei slipped and countered, landing a huge leg kick.

That showed some nice timing but it was nothing compared to what we would see moments later. McClusky’s right arm came out for a right-hand shot only for Doroftei to step inside it quick as a flash with a short left hand that knocked McClusky out so completely that it was several minutes before he was able to wake up and sit on a stool.

The finish drew gasps from the crowd, as such a demonstration of raw power always does. More impressive was the fact that Doroftei was the smallest man in the tournament and should probably be fighting around the 70kilo mark, not the 81 kilos that the tournament was taking place at. His coaches tell me he has previously fought and won against 93kilo opponents.

Doroftei’s second fight of the tournament was against Danny Roberts, who had come through a hectic battle with the ridiculously absorbent Shawn Lomas to secure a spot in the semi-final. Where Doroftei had literally not broken sweat in his first match, Roberts had been through the mill a bit but his cardio was good and the fight with Doroftei was at a high pace.

A gifted grappler, it was unusual to see Roberts be hip-tossed no less than three times by the nonchalant Doroftei. Roberts is out of Liverpool gym Next Generation and – training under Chris Brennan black belt Paul Rimmer – he is a handful on the floor. Roberts was the favourite to win the tournament once the first-round draws were made.

Finding himself on his back, he tried to utilise some of his grappling skill by fishing for a leg-lock on the standing Doroftei. But the Moldovan had some leg-lock tricks of his own and he had a standing heel-hook locked in instantly. Roberts did not get a chance to tap – the hold shredded his knee ligaments and ended the bout there and then.

It all happened so quickly, and with so little expression from the Moldovan, that the crowd was temporarily unaware why the fight had been stopped at all. But the reaction of the London Shootfighters team quickly let them know that Doroftei was the winner. Looking at Doroftei wouldn’t tell you anything – he had the kind of detached look on his face most of us adopt when our wives and girlfriends are talking about buying new curtains for the living room.

So Doroftei strolled into the final. His opposite number was to have been Manchester man Andrew Devant, a former Thai boxer with off-the-charts conditioning and a bulldog heart. Devant had arrived in the final by way of a mauling of Chris Santry in the first round and a narrow decision win over Chris Rice in the semi-final.

The latter fight was an absolute war which would have made a fitting finale in itself. With blood everywhere, both men battered each other for the allotted two rounds and had the judges unable to pick a winner. A third tie-break round was called with Devant narrowly shading it thanks to the landing of some stunning right hands on the visibly tiring Rice.

Rice himself had come into the semi-final via a win over Alex Minogue of the Wolfslair. There was a large gap in experience and Rice was also the tallest man in the tournament, which he employed to good effect by forcing Minogue to sit on the end of his jab for most of the fight. Minogue, who likes to clinch and scrap, became more and more frustrated as the fight went on but was unable to close the distance.

He did do some damage – a welt over Rice’s right eye, a cut near his left and plenty of blood from his nose – but Rice’s use of the jab was masterful and his sidestep evasions of Minogue’s efforts to rush into a clinch were perfectly timed. Minogue was dismayed afterwards but took the loss in good spirits, reasoning that it has highlighted the areas he needs to work in 2012 in order to strengthen his game.

And so to the final. Doroftei wandered out with all the tension of someone on their way to buy a pint of milk and maybe some biscuits to go with it. He hung around for a while as UCC officials huddled together in an increasingly agitated conversation. Phones were produced, runners were sent running, glances were cast around.

The reason was Devant’s decision to retire from the tournament. Having sustained plenty of damage in his fight with Rice, including a hurt ankle, Devant knew he had nothing but a puncher’s chance and he didn’t fancy rolling the dice against Doroftei and possibly getting his leg turned the wrong way round for his efforts.

UCC officials sought for an alternate but there was nobody suitable. Rice was as banged up as Devant, several others were on their way to hospital and the enterprising Minogue had managed to get himself all the way to the city centre and was, at the time UCC phoned him, in an upmarket nightspot surrounded by well-wishers and was several drinks into his revelry.

And so Doroftei became the X-Fighter and scooped the grand prize. Some felt it was an anti-climax but it didn’t feel that way to me. There was no chance Devant was going to beat Doroftei unless he was allowed to drive a tank into the arena and start taking shots at him. Doroftei won the tournament legitimately and it will be interesting to see if we look back on this a few years from now as his coming out moment.

It goes without saying Doroftei is one to watch. Look out for him in an upcoming print edition of Fighters Only.

Other news from UCC: X-Fighter

Heavyweight champion Karl Ethrington scored another impressive win in what is surely one for the record books. He stopped Tomasz Czerwinski with one punch, three seconds into the match.

Ethrington has been on the fringes of the British Olympic judo squad for some time so why Czerwinski decided to rush him is beyond me – the clinch was hardly going to favour him – but he did and he paid the price. The judo man can also punch and Czerwinski was blown away. He was on the floor for several minutes absolutely separated from his senses.

TUF graduate Aaron Wilkinson got a quick rear-naked choke win with a methodical performance while his young brother Jordan Wilkinson put up a good fight against his much larger opponent but ended up on the receiving end of a TKO loss, making for mixed fortunes for the Wilkinson family.

Eden Newton defeated Lloyd Harrop via TKO at two minutes and seven seconds of the first round to retain his lightweight belt. The fight had been something of a clinch battle until they separated just after the two-minute mark. Harrup pressed forward and Newton hit him with an atom-bomb of a right hand to put him down and out.

Newton followed Harrup to the floor and landed follow up shots which weren’t really needed; the referee had to drag him off and it took Newton some moments to compose himself. He was not impressed with his own performance but he is being overly critical. One thing is for certain – the Braulio Estima blue belt likes having that belt round his waist and does not appreciate efforts to take it off him.

Newton was a contender for Knockout of the Night but he came second to what must be one of the UK knockouts of the year, inflicted by David Graham on Brett McDermott at just five seconds of the first round. This was no flash-KO from a lucky hand though, this was a pre-meditated execution.

Graham had been expecting McDermott to swing an overhand right with his head low from the off and sure enough that is what happened. Graham met it with a perfectly-timed right knee which landed flush on the jaw – and produced a curious effect.

I was sitting cage side and McDermott was facing me as the knee landed. It knocked him out on his feet and he stayed frozen in place, arm extended, looking to the side, for a full second or so, allowing Graham to take a clinch grip on his head and land another massive knee. This dropped him to his back, where Graham landed one heavy right hand before the referee stopped the fight.

McDermott went into the classic signs of a heavy concussion – his upper body repeatedly tried to sit up and his legs stiffened and elevated while he was clearly not conscious. He also extended his arms upward randomly in what doctors refer to as the Fencing Position. This is one key sign of a massive knockout and McDermott was out for a very long time as medics attended to him, before he regained his feet and left the cage unaided.

Full results, courtesy of The Fight Lounge:

Karl Etherington def. Tomasz Czerwinski via KO – round 1, 0:03
(Heavyweight title defence)

Eden Newton def. Lloyd Harrop via KO – round 1, 2:07
(Lightweight title defence)

Pietro Menga def. Mark Aldridge via Submission (Strikes) – round 1, 0:40
(Inaugural bantamweight title fight)

Joe Neill def. Steve Nightingale via TKO (ground and pound) – round 3, 2:15

Ali Arish def. Jimmy Miller via Submission (arm triangle) – round 1, 2.09

Aaron Wilkinson def. Danny Welsh via Submission (rear naked choke) – round 1, 2:39

Sean Meadocroft def. Michael Ord via TKO (ground and pound) – round 1, 1:00

Martin Chesters def. Michael Castell via Submission (guillotine) – round 1, 0:38

Mike Kay def. Jordan Wilkinson via TKO (ground and pound) – round 1, 1:34

David Graham def. Brett McDermott via KO – round 1, 0.05

Mike Grehan def. Ben Saxon via Submission (arm triangle) – round 2, 2:32

Lee Makerrow def. James Lewis via Submission (rear naked choke) – round 1, 4:23