By Dean Parr
Dublin's National Basketball Arena will play host to Cage Contender XII this weekend, which sees Icelandic prodigy Gunnar Nelson (8-0-1) return to take on the 12-3 Alexander Butenko. Promoter, John Ferguson, is getting the expected pre-show nerves, but is confident that this event will deliver on all levels. He stated,
"Every event that we do fills me with an equal mix of excitement and fear if I'm honest. The MMA market in Ireland, like many other countries, is pretty crowded so it's massively important that we deliver.
"We have been building the brand at a steady pace over the last two years and fans seem to enjoy the product while fighters enjoy the platform we create for them to further their career.
"XII has the potential to throw up some real cracking fights, and I have said from the outset that the Cage Contender brand would be about meaningful fights. That's meaningful for the fighters, fans and broadcasters alike. So far it's working and long may it continue."
Ferguson is delighted to feature Nelson on his event again, although admits finding an opponent was not the easiest task he has ever encountered.
"We are always happy to fighters of Gunnar's pedigree on our cards," noted John. "Nelson and his team are great to work with; totally professional in every aspect, but my God he is hard to find a match for. I was really taken aback by some of the big names who turned down a fight with him because he was 'too dangerous.'
"He is a national hero in Iceland and has a massive following. Gunnar's fight will be going out live in Iceland on national broadcaster 365 Sport. Irish fans have seen Gunnar on small events when he was coming through the ranks, and I've no doubt that they will be there in their droves to support him like an adopted son."
Despite almost thirty changes to the card, the Cage Contender figurehead is pleased with the card as a whole. Upon being asked if he saw any of the undercard bouts as a standout offering, Ferguson retorted,
"For me, it has to be the unbeaten John Michael Shiel vs. Ross Pointon. JMS is on a roll at the minute under John Kavanagh's guidance, and really fancies himself for this one. Five of his six wins are by TKO; he is explosive. The Gladiator on the other hand will not lay down for anyone and his pedigree is well known."
It was recently announced that in the summer, the brand will co-operate with Chris Zorba in the UK to put on a Featherweight tournament at the Liverpool Olympia. John explained how this came about.
"It's well known that our last visit to the UK had mixed results," admitted Ferguson. "The fights were some of the best we have ever seen on the promotion but due to various reasons tickets sales were poor by our usual standards. I had planned to go back to the UK in 2011 but the idea was shelved due to me having to take time off because of illness.
"This time round it's a joint venture with Chris Zorba, the man behind some of the best known MMA brands in the history of UK MMA. There is no bull with Chris, he is straight talking and straight to the point. We both feel we each can bring enough to the table to make this venture work and deliver a great entertaining event for fighters, fans and broadcasters.
"I'm really looking forward to it. Promoters working together can only be a good thing in my view, there's no need for the chest beating and bitching that goes on between many of them. We are all chasing the same market; it makes more sense to grow it together where the sport as a whole will benefit.
"The format for the Cage Contender Fight Star tourney will be a simple knock out style. The winner walks away with four grand on the night but to add some spice we have introduced a feature called Power Play where fighters can wager each other a percentage of their purse."
This does not signal a quietening down of the organisation on Irish shores though.
"Our plans are to keep doing what we do; broadcast more Irish MMA than anyone else and bring more Irish fighters onto more TV screens than anyone else," said John. "It's also important for us to maintain and grow our fanbase.
"Cage Contender arenas have a great buzz which is all part of the experience. Our MC, Bret 'Hollywood' Freeman has said that the CC fans are the loudest he has ever encountered. Let's face it, who wants to sit in a nearly empty arena where you can hear a pin drop. This is sports entertainment, meaningful fights in packed arenas."
As a parting message, Ferguson opted for a 'short and sweet' message for the fans.
"Simply, thanks. The fans come to our events in their thousands every time and we truly appreciate their support."
More information on CC XII can be found on the official website of Cage Contender.