Flying Knee Awards 2019: Best fighter, KO, submission and fight of the year, plus much more

Steve Aimable, left, dropped a points decision to featherweight champion in a non-title fight Mads B

Steve Aimable, left, dropped a points decision to featherweight champion in a non-title fight Mads Burnell at Cage Warriors 111, but he's still my fighter of the year. Picture: ROSS HALLS - Credit: Archant

Fighters from this region have been making headlines at regional, national and international level again this year. Mark Heath hands out his third annual Flying Knee awards to the best of 2019.

Steve Aimable was the stand-out fighter in the region in 2019. Picture: BRETT KING

Steve Aimable was the stand-out fighter in the region in 2019. Picture: BRETT KING - Credit: Archant

Fighter of the Year: Steve Aimable

Previous winners: Arnold Allen (2017), James Webb (2018)

BKK Fighters product Aimable had a year to remember in 2019. He became a dad for the first time and earned a world title shot in Cage Warriors, having put together the most impressive winning streak in the featherweight division.

As it happened, having missed weight by just 90g, his clash with champ Mads Burnell at Cage Warriors 111 in November was a non-title affair.


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A lesser fighter would have crumbled under the disappointment, but Aimable is made of sterner stuff and, though he lost convincingly on points, he became the first foe to force feared submission machine Burnell to go the distance in Cage Warriors, and even rocked him in the second round.

Now 14-6 and having proved himself at the top level, Aimable deserves more in 2020 - be it a rematch with Burnell over five rounds for the title or, if he departs for the UFC again, a shot at the vacant title against fast-rising French star Morgan Charriere.

Jimmy Fell finished 2019 with two belts. Picture: BRETT KING

Jimmy Fell finished 2019 with two belts. Picture: BRETT KING - Credit: Archant

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Runner-up: Jimmy Fell

He may still be an amateur, but few can claim to have better years than featherweight Fell, who fights out of Blue Wave Martial Arts in Bury St Edmunds.

He entered 2019 with no titles and a 2-1 record, and finished it with two belts and a 5-1 slate.

First, he choked previously unbeaten Lee Miller to win the Contenders amateur 145 title in May, and then upset the super-talented George Tanasa with a brilliant all-round display to take his Cage Warriors Academy crown on points in October.

A move into the paid ranks looks to be on the cards for Fell in 2020, and with Tanasa also on the same path, what chance a rematch under pro rules?

Whatever happens, Fell is one to watch - a BJJ purple bet with underrated striking, great cardio and a never say die attitude.

Colchester's Cage Warriors world middleweight champion James Webb after his controversial draw with

Colchester's Cage Warriors world middleweight champion James Webb after his controversial draw with Nathias Frederick at Night of Champions - my fight of the year. Picture: DOLLY CLEW/CAGE WARRIORS - Credit: Archant

Fight of the Year: James Webb v Nathias Frederick 1, Cage Warriors Night of Champions, June

Previous winners: Jake Nichols v Chey Veal (2017), Corrin Eaton v Dean Trueman (2018)

Colchester's Webb won the Cage Warriors world middleweight title in March and defended it for the first time, fittingly, at the promotion's spectacular Night of Champions event at the Hammersmith Apollo in June.

What ensued was a remarkable battle of attrition, with Birmingham's Frederick showing unbelievable strength to continually get up and out from under the heavy top pressure of BJJ ace Webb, to unleash some huge bombs on his feet.

In the fifth and final round, with Webb again looking to score a takedown, Frederick spiked him on his head and had a point taken away - a point which proved crucial on the scorecards, as it turned out he would have won the belt were it not for that.

I personally scored it 48-46 Webb, who went on to lose the rematch in dramatic fashion at Cage Warriors 111 last month, stopped on his feet at the end of the fourth round, having won at least two of the first three stanzas. A trilogy fight must surely be on the cards in 2020.

Runner-up: Charlie Falco v Gregorz Pawlaczek, Cage Warriors Academy South East 24, October

Anytime one of the commentators for a fight screams 'I'm going to have a heart attack' it's a good sign that what you're seeing in the cage is pretty special.

That's exactly what happened here when, within seconds of the opening bell, BKK Fighters flyweight Falco had locked Pawlaczek in a tight triangle choke, only for his foe to refuse to tap and smash him back with hammerfists - and that's literally what happened for the whole first round!

Round two saw both fighters batter each other on the feet and against the cage, before Pawlaczek rocked and dropped Falco in the early seconds of round three and appeared close to a finish.

Fittingly though, teak-tough Falco somehow scored a takedown and threatened with submissions until the final bell.

The Polish fighter got his hand raised in the end, though neither man emerged as a loser from this war.

Knock-out of the Year: Brent Rose v Daniel Ballard, Contenders 27, September

Previous winners: Johan Segas v Joe Harding (2017), Konrad Jaskiewicz v Baruc Martin (2018)

Suffolk's Brent Rose was something of an unknown quantity before his K-1 clash with Daniel Ballard at Contenders 27 in Norwich back in September.

Having smiled his way down to the cage, and hailing from a gym I'd never heard of, I must admit I had my doubts as the first bell went.

But Felixstowe fighter Rose blew through Ballard like a storm, dropping him with a huge right hand in the opening seconds, and then connecting shin to chin with a bazooka of a headkick shortly afterwards.

Rose, who has fashioned his own unique martial arts style he calls 'Striding Dragon' through years of training, followed that win up with a points triumph over the skilled Raven Hunn last month.

Runner-up: Jack Clarke v William Timmis, Cage Warriors Academy South East 24, October

Knockouts from your back on the floor are as rare in MMA as rocking horse poo, but Clarke did just that in this bantamweight battle with Clacton's Timmis in October.

BJJ talent Timmis, who pushed George Tananasa all the way in a featherweight title dust-up in his previous fight, scored the early takedown and looked to be enforcing his will on Team Underground's Clarke.

But, as Timmis looked to pass his legs and improve his top position, Clarke landed a big right hand hammerfist to the side of his head - and kept them going.

Timmis went limp as Clarke continued his ground-based battery, forcing ref Sam Amidi to step in with less then two minutes gone in the fight.

A KO you're unlikely to see again in 2020!

Submission of the year: Leigh Mitchell v Rico Biggs, Cage Warriors Academy South East 24, October

Previous winners: Sigmund Hollerud v Adam Spalding (2017), Muhidin Abubakar v Alex Boyd (2018)

There was a lot of pressure on Witham's Mitchell going into his main event clash with Biggs back in October - headlining a show practically in his hometown, moving up to bantamweight for the first time, and having lost his pro debut after breaking his hand.

Across the cage, Biggs came in boasting a 4-1 pro record and all the advantages in terms of reach and height.

But wrestler Mitchell was in inspired form, scoring multiple takedowns in the first before fighting out of a D'Arce choke early in the second and jumping on one of the tightest arm-in guillotines you will ever see to force the tap and prompt wild celebrations.

Mitchell finished the year in Italy, scoring another pro win via choke against Michele Clemente on December 21.

Runner-up: Richard Mearns v Scott Butters, Contenders 27, September

Mearns v Butters was a pivotal crossroads clash in the featherweight division, both men entering with 2-2 professional records and the knowledge that another loss would set them back.

As it turned out, Mearns was the man with the better gameplan, grounding Butters early and often in a dominant first round.

Norfolk star Butters came charging out of the gate in the second, rocking Mearns with a big right hand before the BST Northampton man took him back to the floor and mounted him.

From there he took Butters' back, ended up locking in a triangle choke and, as his opponent tried to stand up, switched it to an armbar to prompt the tap.

A beautiful display of BJJ transitions from Mearns, who's set up to make a run at a title in 2020.

Prospect of the Year (five fights or fewer): Felix Klinkhammer

Previous winners: Cory McKenna (2017), Fabio Wardley (2018)

Remember this name - and to be fair it's hard to forget!

Welterweight Klinkhammer, who fights out of the incredibly stacked London Shootfighters gym, is as good of a prospect as I've seen in years.

He's 4-0 as a pro, with four first round submissons wins. But don't let that fool you into thinking he's just a ground specialist, because he's terrifying on the feet too!

Indeed, because he's so good on the mat, Klinkhammer throws incredibly fast, crisp and flashy techniques - spinning kicks especially - with impunity, knowing that if a leg gets caught he's just as dangerous on the floor.

We saw him last tapping out the talented Laid Zerhouni via rear naked choke at Contenders 27 in September - and I hope we see him in the region a couple more times before he explodes on the international scene.

A star in the making - Bury St Edmunds teenager Cameron Cunningham Picture: BRETT KING

A star in the making - Bury St Edmunds teenager Cameron Cunningham Picture: BRETT KING - Credit: Archant

Runner-up: Cameron Cunningham

Featherweight Cunningham is just 2-0 as an amateur, but boasts an extraordinary natural ability which means he's very much one to keep an eye on.

The Blue Wave fighter has only been training in MMA for a couple of years, having come to the sport with a background in Muay Thai, K-1 and gymnastics, and he's taken to it like the proverbial duck to water.

He's a freakishly gifted athlete - fluid and explosive in the striking realm plus, so I'm told, a natural in the wrestling and grappling exchanges too.

The teenager's won both his fights so far by ground and pound stoppage and, if he keeps on improving at the same rate, he's destined for stardom.

His only problem now is finding opponents willing to fight him!

Thetford's lightweight talent Andre Goncalves is 4-1-1 as a pro - and boasts a strong Instagram game

Thetford's lightweight talent Andre Goncalves is 4-1-1 as a pro - and boasts a strong Instagram game! Picture: BRETT KING - Credit: Archant

Best social media: Andre Goncalves

Previous winners: Kerry Hughes (2017), Fabio Wardley (2018)

Thetford's Goncalves has had a stop-start couple of years in his fighting career, but one thing remains consistent - his Instagram game (@andr3_goncalv3s) is most entertaining.

From a peak into his daily working life and security jobs, to training insights, family fun and adventures with his beatiful hound, 'Tugapower' often raises a smile with his stories and pictures.

The lightweight (4-1) returned to the cage for the first time in more than two years at Contenders 26 in May, submitting Julien Bouteix in the second round.

Goncalves has bags of talent, plus the charisma to match - so let's hope 2020 is a big one for him both inside and outside of the cage. Follow him for updates!

Craig Edwards celebrates his victory in the Battle of Anglia main event at Cage Warriors Academy Sou

Craig Edwards celebrates his victory in the Battle of Anglia main event at Cage Warriors Academy South East 23 in Colchester - he gets as excited about garlic bread! Picture: BRETT KING - Credit: Archant

Runner-up: Craig Edwards

Essex lightweight Edwards went 2-1 this year, scoring perhaps the biggest win of his career against the aforementioned Butters in their much-hyped 'Battle of Anglia' back in April.

His Instagram (@edwardsteiner74) is always worth a look too, especially when it comes to some interesting fashion choices, his fondness for garlic bread and banter with his BKK team-mates.

Edwards, who's 3-4 as a pro, is as naturally talented as they come and, if he can string a couple of wins together, could turn 2020 into his best year yet.

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