A future UFC superstar, a history-maker and two future world champs – meet the top 15 MMA fighters from the region
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Mixed Martial Arts continues to go from strength-to-strength in the region – so Mark Heath lists the top 15 fighters from the east and a few more besides to keep your eye on.
1) Arnold Allen (UFC)
There can be no argument at all about the number one spot. The boy from Trimley is one of the hottest prospects in all of MMA, and has been tipped as a future UFC featherweight champion by British legend of the sport Dan Hardy.
Allen (15-1 MMA, 6-0 UFC) finally broke into the world top 15 rankings after a dominant points win over the legendary Gilbert Melendez at UFC 239 in Las Vegas last month.
The 25-year-old southpaw can do it all and boasts blazing hand speed, superb movement and dangerous, under-rated grappling. He's looking up the rankings for his next battle, and a fight at the iconic Madison Square Garden in New York at UFC 244 on November 2 is a possibility.
2) James Webb (Cage Warriors)
While Allen is the only fighter from the region currently in the UFC, Webb is our first-ever world champion, having won the Cage Warriors middleweight title with a submission of Thomas Robertsen at the O2 in March.
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The Colchester fighter (6-1-1) defended the belt in a controversial draw against slugger Nathias Frederick in June, and will put the strap on the line for the second time at Cage Warriors London on November 22.
Win that, and it won't be long before Webb, who's based at Team KF in Dublin and also trains at ZR Team in Colchester, joins Allen in the big leagues of the UFC.
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3) Steve Aimable (Cage Warriors)
The man known as 'Diddy Kong' is currently riding a four-fight winning streak in Cage Warriors, and looks to be on collision course with featherweight champion Mads Burnell - perhaps at Cage Warriors London, where he's due to fight.
Aimable, 31, who fights out of Colchester powerhouse gym BKK Fighters, is 14-5 overall, and has won six of his last seven.
The new dad is a grinder, a vastly-improved striker with good grappling and wrestling, who rarely takes a backward step and seems impervious to pain. He'll be a dangerous opponent for submission ace Burnell if and when they do meet.
4) Cory McKenna (Cage Warriors)
Another fighter with the BKK link, the super talented McKenna has long been talked about as one of the best prospects in European MMA.
The strawweight (4-1) is nicknamed 'The Hobbit', grew up and started training in Colchester before moving to her current base at Tillery Combat in Wales, and also trains across the pond at the famous Team Alpha Male in Sacramento.
She's only lost once in her entire career - both amateur and pro - and that was a contentious decision to the much more experienced Micol di Segni. She'll be fighting for the Cage Warriors title before too long.
5) Luke Barnatt (ACA)
The former Chelmsford schoolboy is one of the most travelled and experienced fighters in the game.
'Big Slow' - he's 6ft 6ins - appeared on season 17 of the UFC reality show The Ultimate Fighter as a middleweight and went on to a decent run in the world-famous organisation, winning his first three fights before dropping three straight and getting cut.
Now a light-heavyweight, the 31-year-old (15-7) has since been fighting on some of the biggest shows around Europe and is currently plying his trade for ACA, where he's scored some highlight reel finishes.
6) Sean Carter (Cage Warriors)
Carter's nickname is 'Sexy Curls', but it could just as easily be 'Mr Entertainment', because he just isn't in bad fights, win or lose.
The 34-year-old from Colchester (12-7) who fights out of BKK, is a veteran of Cage Warriors, and lost an absolute thriller to Tim Barnett in Colchester back in May last time out, in what was being talked about as an eliminator for the lightweight title.
His style on the feet was once described as 'willing to take two to land one', and he's very dangerous on the floor - bottom line is, don't pass up the chance to watch Carter fight!
7) John Maguire (Various)
The first fighter from our region to appear in the UFC, Cambridge's Maguire is as respected as they come in the fight business.
Having made his debut in the UFC all the way back in November 2011 with a win over Justin Edwards, he went 2-3 in the organisation, and has since faced a who's who of Europe's best talent.
Welterweight Maguire, now 36, is 26-13 as a pro and famed for his brilliant ground game. He's dropped his last three fights though, and will be desperate to get back in the win column as soon as possible.
8) Jack Mason (Cage Warriors)
The OG of MMA fighters from the region, Mason started his pro career all the way back in 2005, and boasts a 29-17-1 record.
A powerful striker and grappler, Mason - also the head coach at BKK - has fought across Europe, against many of the biggest names in the sport.
He last appeared at welterweight against Hakan Foss at Cage Warriors 93 in April 2018, suffering what was described as one of the worst cuts in MMA history in the stoppage defeat. Now spending more time promoting his Cage Warriors academy event and managing fighters than fighting himself, 'The Stone' plans to reach 50 career bouts before calling time on an incredible career.
9) Kerry Hughes (Bellator)
Hughes is building a career on taking the toughest fights available, often against the odds.
Colchester's 'Rocksteady' is just 3-4 as a pro but, starting with her upset knockout of former Muay Thai world champion Amanda Kelly at Cage Warriors 69, she's often fighting foes who are expected to beat her.
Continuing the theme, she travels to Dublin for Bellator 227 on September 27 to face much-hyped Irish prospect Leah McCourt in a fight where she'll again be the underdog. As she proved against Kelly though, the heavy-handed Hughes, a MET Police Inspector by day, has the power to switch anyone off with one shot.
10) Emrah Sonmez (Cage Warriors)
I'm calling it now - featherweight Sonmez has the best nickname on this list. 'The Anatolian Wolf' has just returned from a lengthy spell on the sidelines following a serious knee injury and won his comeback bout, against Keitano Fournillier at Fightstar Championship 18, by stoppage in June.
Sonmez, 27, is now 9-2 as a pro, with all but one of those wins coming by stoppage.
A brutal striker with strong grappling, Sonmez makes the step up to the big leagues with his first Cage Warriors fight at the O2 in November.
11) Jamie Powell (Various)
Flyweight Powell surged out to a 6-0 start to his pro career, using his fast hands, solid boxing and powerful wrestling to cement himself as one of the best young 125-lb fighters in the country.
But, since suffering his first loss to slick Spainard Daniel Barez at Contenders 17 in October 2016, the Wisbech 27-year-old has dropped three straight, including a battle with the highly-rated Amir Albazi at Bellator 179.
He's not fought now since losing via doctor stoppage to Bryan Creighton in April 2018 - hopefully we'll see him back in action and back in the win column soon.
12) Andre Goncalves (Contenders)
The man they call 'Tugapower' is someone who could surge up this list in the next 12-18 months - and actually holds a win over the fighter just below him, Craig Edwards, in their first-ever amateur fight.
Proud Portugese Goncalves, who fights out of Tsunami Thetford, had an enforced perioid out of the sport as fights on both BAMMA and Bellator fell through, before returning after more than two years away with a submission win over Julien Bouteix on Contenders 26 in May.
He's 4-1-1 as a pro, with that draw against current Cage Warriors star Aaron Khalid, so is unquestionably capable of mixing it at the top level. He's charismatic and confident too - if he can stay active and get on a roll, he'll be another you'll see on a top flight promotion soon.
13) Craig Edwards (Various)
If this list was based on talent and athletic gifts alone, BKK product Edwards could well be top five. A physical specimen who boasts all the qualities needed to be a star, one gets the feeling that he'll go on an extraordinary run through the lightweight division one day soon.
As it stands, he's 3-4 as a pro, having overwhelmed fellow local star Scott Butters (see number 14) in the first round of their much-hyped 'Battle of Anglia' scrap at Cage Warriors Academy 23 in Colchester back in April, only to lose to Steven Hooper at Cage Warriors 105 the next month.
But he beat Stelios Theocharous by choke at Celtic Gladiator in July and just needs to string a couple of wins together before he gets back on the big shows. Like Goncalves, someone you could see rocket up this ranking in the next year or so.
14) Scott Butters (Contenders/Cage Warriors Academy)
The man with perhaps the best back story on this entire list, Butters thought his fighting story was over before it began when, as a promising amateur, complications from a broken nose suffered in sparring saw him told that he couldn't fight any more.
After a very tough period coming to terms with that, he got a second opinion and was cleared to resume his career, winning his final amateur fight and stopping both of his first two pro foes.
The Dereham grappling ace, 31, always takes the toughest fight available, which means he's dropped his last two - to respected veteran Kim Thinghaugen and the aforementioned Edwards - and next faces a crossroads clash, down at featherweight, with fellow prospect Richard Mearns at Contenders 27 in September.
15) George Tanasa (Cage Warriors Academy)
The only amateur on this list, 'the Son of Dracula' is a champ champ in the Cage Warriors Academy South East, having won both the lightweight and featherweight belts.
It's at featherweight where he'll campaign though, and he next faces an amateur superfight with Contenders 145lbs champion Jimmy Fell at Cage Warriors Academy in Colchester on October 19.
Another from the BKK production line, Tanasa (6-1) is likely to turn pro in the next 12 months, where his combination of elite wrestling and powerful striking will be a threat to anyone.
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