The sport of MMA has evolved rapidly in a short space of time. Heading into his last fight at UFC London in March, we look at how Brad Pickett has featured throughout the different ages of mixed martial arts to date.
On February 17, 2015, Vincent Hubbard first arrived on Albert Square. An inauspicious beginning, Hubbard left a single white rose by Ronnie Mitchell’s side for when she would (inevitably) awaken from her coma – a ‘where were you?’ moment for fans of seminal BBC drama, EastEnders.
Hubbard’s entrance made waves, not only for the audacious storyline surrounding his introduction to Walford, but also for the actor playing him, Richard Blackwood. One of the UK’s most beloved artists, Blackwood is known for his comedic roles, a highly successful career in music, and playing the role of Donkey in Shrek The Musical. He is perhaps more widely recognised however, as the man on the mic at Cage Rage shows (for a bit).
The Custardy Yellow Canvas
Before UFC 200, there was another infamous yellow mat in MMA. Realistically, there were probably quite a few, but none more revered than the custardy yellow canvas of Cage Rage.
Cage Rage ran from 2002-2008, showcasing some of the world’s best known fighters, including UFC Hall of Famers Dan ‘The Beast’ Severn and Ken Shamrock, reality TV star and UK ‘cage fighter’ Alex Reid, respected referee Herb Dean, convicted bank robber Lee Murray and many more.
The promotion gave us the classic Manhoef-Cyborg title fight, Anderson Silva’s elbow uppercut KO and, perhaps its greatest gift, Dave O’Donnell – a larger-than-life caricature of a man, with the gift of gab and an OTT persona that hovers on the borderline between wacky and seriously mental.
Despite its brassy looks and nightclub swagger, Cage Rage was a pioneering force in MMA, and not just in the UK. The promotion brought in some of the biggest names in MMA, featuring them on its then Sky Sports platform.
Little known/believed fact: It was actually UK favourite and Bellator welterweight, Paul Daley that supposedly brought an end to the Cage Rage-Sky Sports relationship, with the broadcaster claiming Daley’s foul mouthed on air tirade was their reasoning behind pulling the show. That the sport hadn’t take off quite as they had hoped had little do with it, of course…
As well as Sky Sports, Cage Rage shows and programming also aired on The Fight Network, Extreme Sports Channel and, incredibly, Nuts TV.
Last Minute Replacement KOs Cage Rage
In 2007, Cage Rage partnered up with ProElite and FEG. The partnership didn’t last long, with ProElite buying up shares in the promotion only a few months later to officially acquire the show.
In 2008, EliteXC, the show formed between ProElite and Showtime, was to be investigated following the now-famous Kimbo Slice-Seth Petruzelli fight and subsequent claims by Petruzelli that he was offered money to fight in a certain manner. The whole debacle, along with the hefty debt they’d racked up, caused ProElite to cease operations.
An estimated 4.5 million viewers tuned in to see last-minute replacement Seth Petruzelli fell the mighty Kimbo Slice in October of 2008. An estimated 4.5 million viewers also inadvertently witnessed the end of the Cage Rage era, with the last ever show taking place just under a month later.
A British Champion
A homegrown Cage Rage talent, Brad Pickett sat alongside MMA royalty Anderson Silva, Michael Bisping and Vitor Belfort as a Cage Rage champion, winning the British featherweight title in 2005. Pickett went on to defend the strap against Robbie Olivier the following year, eventually losing his title in a rematch seven months later.
Ever the pioneer, Cage Rage led the way in innovation within the sport, introducing the ‘open guard’ rule at Cage Rage 13 in September, 2005. Much like when Hubbard/ Blackwood burst onto our screens ten years later, open guard was a sensation – it was also how Pickett put away Ozzy Haluk to claim the British featherweight title.
A curious nod to the more brutal elements of MMA in Japan, the open guard rule allowed fighters the opportunity to punt a grounded foe in the face or, as Pickett chose to do, jump two footed onto their head. A vicious window of opportunity, open guard came into play when the referee was satisfied that a downed fighter was “at least a metre away from the cage, on his back and able to avoid or defend against attacks.”
Once the ref had raised his arm and called it, it was head kicking time.
In the video below, Pickett recalls the sequences that led to him becoming champion.
Video created by our GFX wizard, Rion Holland. Check out his website HERE.
Pickett talks about this and his fight with Vaughan Lee at Cage Rage Contenders 6 in more detail, HERE.
Blackwood, Sky Sports, the short lived ‘open guard’ rule – Pickett was there for it all, managing to come out the other side relatively unscathed.
Before there was the UFC, there was the WEC, and before there was the WEC, there was Cage Rage. The first stage in Pickett’s career, Cage Rage was a fitting beginning: both were flawed, but with potential.
An inauspicious beginning, what Cage Rage started in the UK would go on to become one of the nation’s fastest growing sports. Similarly, Pickett’s time on the custardy yellow canvas would prove to be the foundations for one of the most successful careers of any UK competitor to date.
Celebrate Brad’s #LastDance at UFC London on March 18 with his final fight t-shirt, available HERE.
Hegarty, Tasha – Digital Spy. “EastEnders: First look at new villain played by Richard Blackwood”
Williams, Harry – YourMMA. “Where Are They? Ozzy Haluk”
http://www.yourmma.co.uk/where-are-they-ozzy-haluk/ 10 May, 2015
Kaplowitz, Matthew – Bloody Elbow. “The night Kimbo closed EliteXC”