Boom time for Scottish MMA

Thanks to Ross Houston’s win over Stefano Paterno at Cage Warriors 98, Scotland has a major MMA champion again.

Houston follows in the footsteps of recent champions Paul Craig (BAMMA) and Danny Henry (EFC) and joins Steven Ray on the list of winning a Cage Warriors belt.

This period could be seen as a boom time for MMA in Scotland and MMA UK has spoken to a few of the people involved in the sport in Scotland to find out how they feel the sport is faring at the moment.

At present Scotland has 4 UFC fighters, Steven Ray, who fights in Canada for his 9th UFC appearance tonight is possibly the most experienced fighter. Ray won the Cage Warriors lightweight title twice in 2013 and 2014 and also won the BAMMA strap at the end of 2012.

Joanne Calderwood has appeared on Invicta and The Ultimate Fighter series before going on to compete in the UFC. Calderwood finally has the division, flyweight, that she has been asking for in the UFC and if she strings a few wins together could see herself fighting for the title.

Paul Craig made his UFC debut in December 2016 when he defeated Luis Henrique da Silva by arm bar. Craig is a BJJ specialist and used his skills to win on his last UFC appearance in London in March in the final seconds of his bout against much-fancied debutant Magomed Ankalaev. Before moving to the UFC, Craig won the BAMMA light heavyweight title against Marcin Lazarz.

Danny Henry made his UFC debut on the Glasgow card in 2017 against Daniel Teymur in what was the fight of the night. Henry returned in London in March and put in another great performance to beat Hakeem Dawodu. Henry is also a former 2 times EFC featherweight champion.

The UFC has been to Scotland twice now and this undoubtedly brings a lot more exposure to the sport in Scotland and a boost in people trying the sport out at the various gyms around the country.

As yet Bellator has not put on a show in Scotland however with their recent announcements of more European shows and also signing the first Scot to the promotion, Chris Bungard, then we could see them here in the future.

Likewise, Cage Warriors have not put a show on in Scotland for a number of years but with Ross Houston winning the welterweight title and with Scott Malone and Paull McBain both putting in good performances it would seem an obvious choice for a return of Cage Warriors.

Outwith the larger promotions, Scotland has a good domestic scene with Budo, Headhunters and On Top Promotions, to name just three, regularly putting good shows on throughout the year.

James Lake from On Top tells us about where he sees MMA in Scotland.

“MMA has grown a lot in the last few years. There seem to be more gyms opening up, more fighters looking to fight and the flow of amateurs going pro looks to be increasing going into 2019. I think 2019 will be a great year for Scottish MMA. Maybe we will see a return of the UFC or a large European show come to Scotland next year?.

“It’s up to everyone to push the sport for the future. Whether it be promoting your own fight/profile, putting on quality events, carrying yourself in a professional manner, educating non-MMA fans/detractors, media pushing positivity/coverage, it all makes a difference.

“I can see some more big stars coming out of Scotland and hopefully through the On Top shows!”

With a growing amateur scene in the country, I spoke to current On Top amateur bantamweight champion, Reece McEwan, he agreed the sport is in a good position now and is excited about being part of the future.

“I think MMA in Scotland is looking great right now. We have fighters in the UFC, Bellator, Cage Warriors, ACB. Looking deeper than that, the fighters we have across the promotions are from different teams around the country. DNFT have always had a presence in the big promotions and it’s good to see the growth of other fight gyms – it speaks volumes of the level we are at as a country.

“On top of that, local shows are growing and producing really good competitive fights 3/4 times a year, On Top, for example, are so professionally run it’s a great starting point to stimulate the amateur and early professional scene.

“Scottish MMA definitely has an exciting future, if we could bring the bigger shows to Scotland consistently and show our presence I think that would help. The standard across the amateur and professional scene is generally high across all teams and I feel it brings a lot of prospect to the future of Scottish MMA.”

A big part of where MMA is now is due in part to the exploits of the Dinky Ninja Fight Team, who were among the early pioneers of the sport in Scotland.

One of the early members of that team is former UFC fighter Robert Whiteford, who has been on a 3 fight win streak since leaving the UFC and appearing for ACB.

Another member is James Doolan who now runs the Higher Level Martial Arts gym in Bathgate.

Doolan is the head coach for Stevie Ray, Danny Henry and recent EFC title challenger Calum Murrie.

Doolan believes the sport has grown in Scotland in part due to the popularity of Conor McGregor and also with the UFC coming here twice.

“The sport’s grown almost everywhere due to Conor McGregor with the way he’s captured the public’s imagination, Scotland’s no different. I think the sport’s growth in Scotland can be directly correlated with the UFC coming to Glasgow the first time. And the work put in by the more credible gyms over the years.

“In terms of making the sport bigger, I feel some kind of governing body controlling the standard of the sport in terms of matchmaking and general safety practices would help. For the future some kind of involvement of a Scottish IMMAF team would make sense, England, Wales and Ireland are seeing the benefits in the pro ranks of guys like Jack Shore, who came through that system.

“I think it’s a pretty strong time in some regards with the 4 Scottish fighters in the UFC, Rab Whiteford doing well at ACB, Murrie at EFC, Bungard going to Bellator and the Scottish fighters doing well at Cage Warriors. It’s strong in those terms, but it’s strong in most countries right now.”

Calum Murrie who recently fought for the EFC featherweight title in South Africa also believes the sport is in a good place.

“I think the sport has grown to where it is because of how exciting it is, there are so many different ways to win a fight. Conor McGregor has obviously been a huge impact in MMA as well bringing all his trash talking and an exciting style that everybody likes to watch. Everybody knows who he is whether your an MMA fan or not.

“I think it will gradually reach the next level the way it’s going. So many gyms out there now with high-level coaching, kids classes, inter clubs, amateur worlds and euro opportunities. All these really help with taking it to the next level.

“It’s great to be a part of MMA and to have been a part in it for the last 8 or 9 years, I myself have had a great journey with ups and downs. I’m hoping to have another few years in it yet.
MMA has a bright future for sure, the game is evolving fast.”

Ross Houston not only competes but is a coach at SBG in Inverness and he believes the fighters and coaches improving the mental aspect of the fighter would benefit everyone.

“I think the MMA Scene in Scotland is amazing right now.

“I think maybe all the clubs trying to work on building up their fighters mental approach to fight game as I feel this is massive and something I’m trying to install in my fighters. I think most clubs train near enough the same but on fight night its won or lost in the mindset.”

As several of the above names said, they would like to see more of the bigger promotions come to Scotland more regularly as they feel this benefits the growth of the sport.

Clan Wars recently had highlights of their last Belfast show on BBC iPlayer and have announced that their next show will also feature due to good reviews for BBC Northern Ireland. This could be something that comes for one of the Scottish domestic promotions in the future and would help with the popularity of the sport. More mainstream coverage of the sport across the different media channels would help as there is very little at the moment.

It’s certainly an exciting time for MMA in Scotland and we can only hope that the sport continues to grow and develop in the future.

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