Petley wins title at first-ever Contenders London event

Jeremy Petley beat Azi Thomas to win the vacant featherweight title at Contenders 31

Jeremy Petley beat Azi Thomas to win the vacant featherweight title at Contenders 31 at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre - Credit: Brett King

Jeremy Petley lifted featherweight gold to cap the first-ever Contenders London event at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre last night.

Petley largely neutralised the striking threat of heavy-handed foe Azi Thomas in their main event clash, repeatedly taking him down and smothering him with a heavy top game over the course of five rounds.

Azi Thomas looks for an opening in his title fight with Jeremy Petley at Contenders 31

Azi Thomas looks for an opening in his title fight with Jeremy Petley at Contenders 31 - Credit: Brett King

There was little doubt as to whose hand would be raised at the end of the fight, and it was duly Petley (now 14-9-1) who walked away with the belt via unanimous decision.

'Ninja', who celebrated wildly atop the cage with his vocal and passionate fans, will look to defend his belt in 2022 while Thomas (now 9-4-1) said afterwards he felt he'll come back stronger having gone the full championship distance in his first MMA fight since 2017.

Jeremy Petley with the Contenders featherweight title after beating Azi Thomas

Jeremy Petley with the Contenders featherweight title after beating Azi Thomas - Credit: Brett King

Meanwhile, in the co-main event, Steven Hill emerged victorious from a bad-blood battle at middleweight between he and Matt Findlay.

The pair had traded numerous verbal barbs in the run-up to their much-anticipated dispute, both promising second round finishes.

Steven Hill lands heavy shots on Matt Findlay on route to winning their middleweight clash at Contenders 31 

Steven Hill lands heavy shots on Matt Findlay on route to winning their middleweight clash at Contenders 31 - Credit: Brett King

And it was Hill (now 4-0) who delivered on that promise, using his suffocating grappling attack to first soften up Findlay in the opening round, before dropping hellacious punches and elbows on him to earn a ground and pound stoppage in the second.

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The ebullient Hill says he wants a shot at the Contenders middleweight title next and it's hard to argue he doesn't merit that opportunity, while Findlay will go back to the drawing board after suffering his second straight defeat to drop to 3-2.

Steven Hill celebrates his win over Matt Findlay at Contenders 31 

Steven Hill celebrates his win over Matt Findlay at Contenders 31 - Credit: Brett King

Pleasingly, after all their trash talk in the build-up, both men embraced in the cage afterwards in a sign of the respect which runs through the sport.

Elsewhere on the main card, young prodigy Festus Ahorlu delivered a career best showing to earn a unanimous decision win over exciting opponent Diego Barbosa at featherweight.

After a fairly even opening round, Ahorlu accelerated through the gears to pull away from Barbosa, using his trademark accurate, explosive striking and an impressive wrestling and grappling attack to earn the decision.

He improves to 4-0 as a pro, while Barbosa drops to 6-3.

Festus Ahorlu celebrates his career-best win over Diego Barbosa at Contenders 31

Festus Ahorlu celebrates his career-best win over Diego Barbosa at Contenders 31 - Credit: Brett King

In the other main card fight, massively popular fan favourite Harry Davies' return to the cage was spoiled by the cruel knees and kicks of late replacement opponent Mathieu Rakotondrazanany in their catchweight clash at 79kg.

Davies just couldn't get going as his French opponent, making his pro debut, unloaded heavy artillery, forcing referee Sam Amidi to step in and stop the fight in the first round.

Davies, who slips to 5-3, will now look to drop back down to lightweight as he plans his path back from a second straight defeat.

On the undercard, young welterweight Tayo Odunjo showed he is a force to be reckoned with as he dominated the respected and experienced Quinten de Vreught on route to a second round stoppage.

Tayo Odunjo has his hand raised after stopping Quinten de Vreught at Contenders 31

Tayo Odunjo has his hand raised after stopping Quinten de Vreught at Contenders 31 - Credit: Brett King

Odunjo (now 3-1) looked every inch a future star as he picked off his opponent with hurtful southpaw jabs and rapier left hands, rocking de Vreught and forcing him backwards.

The stoppage came via a furious flurry of punches which left De Vreught (now 5-3) on shaky legs against the cage.

There were other impressive stoppage wins in the first round for popular local fighters Stelios Theo and Rico Biggs, as they scored TKO victories over Vitor Chagas and Lewis Beattie respectively.

Biggs (now 5-2) needed just 16 seconds to finish Beattie, dropping his man with a left-hook to the liver and then following up with a barrage of blows to force the referee to step in.

On the subject of speed, both knockout of the night contenders were also rapid.

First, 'Smooth' Simeon Powell needed just 33 seconds to put Ben Earl to sleep with a big right hand in their light heavyweight fight, Earl crashing to the mat unconscious. It was a scary sight, but thankfully Earl was soon back on his feet and congratulating Powell on the shot.

In the very next fight, Suffolk's Brent Rose was knocked out by a left high kick from Bachir Fakhouri after just 35 seconds of their K1 clash. For Rose, previously unbeaten on Contenders and owner of his own highlight reel headkick KO, it was an unfortunate change of fortunes.

Ethan Charlton took home submission of the night honours, throwing up multiple attempts and chaining them together beautifully before forcing Jordan Johnson to tap to an armbar in the second round of his pro debut at middleweight.

Bachir Fakhouri celebrates his highlight reel headkick KO of Brent Rose at Contenders 31

Bachir Fakhouri celebrates his highlight reel headkick KO of Brent Rose at Contenders 31 - Credit: Brett King

Heavyweight Mario Pinto also enjoyed an impressive debut in the paid ranks, finishing Joffie Kingsley Houlton via first round TKO.

And Norfolk boxer Carla McKenzie Le Roy returned from the capital with another win under her belt having totally outboxed Rox Mac over three rounds of their 80kg fight.

Le Roy, now 3-0, threw hurtful punches in bunches and showed great movement and footwork to claim a deserved win.

Carla McKenzie Le Roy, left, blocks a shot during her win over Rox Mac at Contenders 31

Carla McKenzie Le Roy, left, blocks a shot during her win over Rox Mac at Contenders 31 - Credit: Brett King

Contenders 31 London Results (pro MMA unless stated):

Main card 

- Jeremy Petley beat Azi Thomas via UD (wins vacant featherweight title)

- Steven Hill beat Matt Findlay by second round TKO (middleweight)

- Festus Ahorlu beat Diego Barbosa via UD (featherweight)

- Mathieu Rakotondrazanany beat Harry Davies via first round TKO (catchweight 79kg)

Undercard

- Tayo Odunjo beat Quinten de Vreught via second round TKO (welterweight)

- Stelios Theo beat Vitor Chagas via first round TKO (welterweight)

- Rico Biggs beat Lewis Beattie via first round TKO (lightweight)

- Bachir Fakhouri beat Brent Rose via first round KO (82kg K1)

- Simeon Powell beat Ben Earl via first round KO (light heavyweight)

- Ethan Charlton beat Jordan Johnson via second round armbar submission (middleweight)

- Mario Pinto beat Joffie Kingsley Houlton via first round TKO (heavyweight)

- Carla McKenzie Le Roy beat Rox Mac via UD (80kg boxing)

- Kiko Ayala beat Marcus Stephenson via first round TKO (72kg amateur MMA)

- Ali Ortac beat Alisher Rasulov via SD (72kg amateur MMA)

- Ayoub Tounsi beat Rhys Keys via second round guillotine submission (63kg amateur MMA) 

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