Monday, 11 February 2013

"Judo" Jim Wallhead Returns at BAMMA 12

They may be leaving it characteristically late, but the British Association of Mixed Martial Arts (BAMMA) are assembling a strong card to banish the disappointment of their Channel 5 live debut at BAMMA 11, with Judo Jimmy Wallhead leading the charge.
After the understandable hype, there can be little doubt that the live debut of MMA on UK television severely underwhelmed. The fight selected to screen in its entirety was the return of middle-weight veteran and -more recently- reality TV star, Alex Reid, to fight domestic journeyman Sam Boo. The contest dragged itself to a narrow victory for Reid whose absence from the sport had badly diminished his once famous endurance. Due to the show's prohibitively short one hour slot on the Channel 5 schedule, the only other action the terrestrial audience could see was the final (and by far the least interesting) round of Jack Marshmann's loss to Xavier Foupa-Pokam- if by that stage they were still watching.

Feedback was invariably negative and- despite the fact a boxing match with the notorious Tyson Fury drew 1.2m viewers immediately prior to broadcast- the viewing figures for the evening are thought to have dropped to below 800,000. Reid's primacy on television was an understandable gamble from the point of view of Channel 5- he remains by far the most famous name in the sport in the UK outside its devotees- but now BAMMA 12 seems set to return to the fundamentals by naming a stellar card for a live show due for broadcast over 2 hours on 5*.
The line-up so far, announced in BAMMA's own enigmatic- some might say infuriatingly- staggered fashion, includes several UFC and TUF veterans, including some who showed promise on TUF: The Smashes. Pride of place on the card- and main event of the evening- is the clash between "Judo" Jimmy Wallhead and one time UFC lightweight and all-American wrestler Matt Veach, who is stepping up in weight to challenge him in his second career bout in England. Wallhead's stock remains high in the UK after high profile victories over both Frank Trigg and Joey Villaseñor, and BAMMA were delighted that the former Neil Adams protege has signed an exclusive multi-fight deal.

Other former UFC and TUF fighters include "Smashes" alumni Luke Newman and Bola Omoyele, who will face Ryan Scope and Wayne Murrie respectively. Both men underachieved in the cage in Australia, but also demonstrated enough promise in their performances and in training under the North East's own Ross Pearson that they can look forward to successful careers, both on the UK scene and internationally, if blessed with appropriate guidance.
Wolfslair product Curt Warburton will also be welcomed back into the BAMMA fold. Coming off a decisive victory over Lee Wieczorek, Warburton was disappointed when his proposed title shot with Rob Sinclair was cancelled due to injury, and will be keen for a successful return to the cage against exciting Scottish prospect Stevie "Braveheart" Ray, who has amassed a 12-3 record (with all losses coming at welterweight), and an impressive 10 finishes.

BAMMA seem keen to improve their roster in the higher weight classes, as an intriguing pairing of hotly tipped 265 lb fighters suggests. Darren Towler- an experienced fighter who really seems to have found himself as a professional martial artist in recent years- has been signed while riding high on a 5 fight win streak and will be pitted against rising star, Sunderland's Callum Cook. Cook is just three fights into a professional career, but has already turned the heads of MMA followers in the UK by finishing two of those bouts by KO in under 30 seconds. Something of an MMA "derby" as Towler is a Newcastle native, there is sure to be added spice to the occasion in addition to that which comes when the big men throw down.

Kevin Thompson will be desperate to arrest a two fight losing streak by moving down weight classes to challenge the unbeaten Scott Askham at middleweight. Askham, making his BAMMA debut, is a lanky undefeated striking specialist who has built a reputation for his hand-speed and brutal knees from the clinch, and will provide a big test for the experienced Thompson. Should he triumph he really will be thrust to the forefront of the middleweight division at BAMMA, which is seeking rejuvenation following the loss of Frank Trigg, and Jim Wallhead returning to welterweight.

Along with the fights announced hitherto, BAMMA also announced this week multi-fight contracts for two other fighters including the charismatic Leeroy Barnes and the Swedish phenom, Max "Power" Nunes. Nunes, now based in London, is an unbeaten light heavyweight whom many have tipped to one day fight in the UFC, so it will be a huge boost for BAMMA CEO David Green to have secured such a sparkling talent for his next three fights. Nunes will begin his contract against undefeated Pole, Marcin Lazarz.

The card is befitting of the popularity the sport holds in the north east of England, and it is to be hoped this will encourage local fans to pack the Metro Radio Arena. Returning to a 2 hour format on Channel 5* should- injuries excepted- demonstrate the strength in depth at the promotion to a wider public. BAMMA 12 will be the first fought under the Safe MMA banner.

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