The Flying Knee 2017 awards: Who won fighter of the year, best knockout and more?
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The region’s MMA and combat sports scene continued to go from strength to strength in 2017 with some fantastic shows, incredible fights and thrilling knockouts. MARK HEATH hands out his first annual Flying Knee awards.
Fighter of the Year: Arnold Allen
He may only have had one fight in 2017, but it’s only right that Suffolk’s Allen gets my fighter of the year nod. Our only representative so far in the UFC, the 23-year-old improved his record to 12-1 overall and a perfect 3-0 in the UFC with a split decision win over fellow featherweight prospect Makwan Amirkhani at the O2 in London in March.
Injuries have hampered his progress since, but he’s just returned to the world-famous Tristar Gym in Montreal to begin preparations for a possible clash in early 2018. He’s on the very brink of crashing the world top 15 rankings.
Runners up: Emrah Sonmez and Scott Butters
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The ‘Antolian Wolf’ Sonmez became a ‘champ champ’ in Colchester’s much respected BCMMA promotion this year, winning both their featherweight and lightweight pro titles by KO and improving his record to 8-1. A call-up to the big leagues can’t be far away.
Dereham’s Butters, meanwhile, had a fantastic year for slightly different reasons – having been told he’d never fight again due to a nose injury, he returned and won his comeback bout before turning pro and winning his paid debut by stoppage at Contenders 21 last month.
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Fight of the Year: Jake Nichols v Chey Veal, Contenders 20, September.
Before Bury St Edmunds bantamweight Nichols made his debut at this event, his coach, martial arts pioneer Windy Miller, told me that he could be ‘something special’.
And so he proved here, surviving a back-and-forth brawl with Veal which saw him rock his foe with numerous right hands before finally stopping him with a remarkable 360 degree helicopter punch. The fight had everything - blood and guts aplenty, battles on the feet and the ground and an outstanding finish.
Do yourself a favour and give it a watch.
Runner-up: Bryony Tyrell v Kate Jackson, BCMMA 18, February.
The Ultimate Fighter alumni Jackson took pal Tyrell’s straw-weight title in an engaging technical scrap. Jackson dominated the first round with ground and pound before Tyrell stormed back in the second to take her foe down, take her back and threaten submissions.
But the more experienced Jackson won the war, taking Tyrell down again in the third, working for mount, taking her back and eventually getting the TKO stoppage with some vicious elbow shots.
Knockout of the Year: Johan Segas (v Joe Harding, BCMMA 18, February).
The headkick seen around the world. Uber-talented BKK Fighters product Harding was dominating Frenchman Segas and was just a round from claiming his second amateur title in the promotion.
Indeed, he was so confident of victory that he’d taken to dancing after throwing combinations - and unfortunately for him Segas seized on one such rhythmic interlude to kick him in the head and knock him out cold. The clip quickly went viral and was even tweeted about by UFC president Dana White. The likeable Harding, to his credit, was full of praise for Segas, learned from his mistake and duly won his comeback fight in 14.9 seconds.
Runners-up: Jake Nichols (v Chey Veal, Contenders 20) and Modestas Andrijauskas (v Corrin Eaton, Contenders 19).
The aforementioned Nichols effort was incredible - I have never seen a 360 degree punch, yet alone one which lands, drops an opponent and ends a fight. It’s reflective of the unorthodox attacks Nichols will throw, which makes him a fascinating prospect.
And the knee which Andrijauskas detonated on Ipswich MMA star Eaton in their K1 title clash in June was probably the most violent thing I have witnessed in person. It was timed perfectly, and shut down Eaton as soon as it landed. Corrin, thankfully, has recovered and will be back in MMA action next year.
Submission of the Year: Sigmund Hollerud (v Adam Spalding, BCMMA 20, November).
A flying armbar sounds like a video game move. And in real life, you very rarely see them. But Hollerud needed just 30 seconds to slap one on Ipswich’s Spalding, from the clinch, in their scrap at BCMMA 20.
A remarkably skilful submission, worthy of topping any chart.
Runner-up: Tom Mearns (v Marco Bosca, Contenders 18, February).
Unbeaten prospect Mearns obviously had a train to catch after this fight because he wasted no time in tapping out Italian Bosca to win the Contenders European title. He quickly took the fight to the mat, took Bosca’s back and then sunk in one of the deepest rear naked chokes you will ever see, using a modified gable grip to add extra torque.
As nasty a choke as I have seen this year.
Prospect of the year: Cory McKenna
McKenna, still a teenager, is probably among the top MMA prospects in all of Europe. Fighting out of Colchester’s BKK Fighters, she won BCMMA’s amateur titles at both straw-weight and flyweight in her unbeaten (7-0) career in the unpaid ranks, emulating her mum Wendy. Deadly on the ground, and a handful on the feet, she’s now set to make her pro debut at Cage Warriors 91 in Wales on March 3 at straw-weight against Italian Maria Vittoria Colonna.
McKenna is a special talent – and she could potentially be the youngest woman to fight in the UFC.
Runners-up: Leigh Mitchell and Jake Nichols
Mitchell (6-2) is another from the BKK Fighters production line, one of the best young amateur flyweights in the country and the reigning BCMMA 125lbs champion. A big year awaits in 2018, where he will be part of the BCMMA flyweight tournament which starts on April 7 and should be sensational. Bury’s Nichols is a bit greener than the other two on this list, but has started his career with a bang, winning two straight by stoppage.
He’s long, unorthodox and exciting to watch - it will be interesting to see how he develops in 2018.
Best social media: Kerry Hughes
Hughes, a pro bantamweight with dynamite in her fists, will tell you herself that she’s not really a people person.
But her social media – @rocksteadymma – belies that claim, as she interacts with fans and trolls alike, often with hilarious consequences. My favourite exchanges are often with ‘admirers’ who have unusual requests – like paying her to carry them around on her shoulders.
Runner-up: Andre Goncalves
Goncalves, a rising pro lightweight out of Tsunami in Thetford, is one of the more charismatic, engaging folks you could meet.
His Instagram (andre.gOncalves) gives you an insight into that personality, be it adorable exchanges with his daughter, adventures with his dog or some inspirational words.