The uncovering of a new MMA star. A tale of a teenager with immense mental strength. A flawless fifteen-year record still standing. Both Tanko Fighting Championships 3 and Tanko Muay Thai League were full of fascinating stories.
Here are five things we learnt during the course of this game-changing bumper combat sports weekender.
1. Lawrence Fitzpatrick is the fighter to watch during 2017
The TFC3 star headliner – Charles “Felony” Bennett – has a habit of stirring uncertainty. A lot has changed during Felony’s two decades spent in MMA, but his volatility has never wavered. In fight style and demeanour, he’s like a wild animal. Ask anyone in MMA and they’ll you it’s often impossible to predict what the fighter formerly known as “Krazy Horse” might do next.
But whilst everyone spent the weeks and days leading up to TFC guessing how Bennett might act at Victoria Warehouse, the opponent – Lawrence Fitzpatrick – shifted his focus elsewhere. The MMA Academy fighter kept his head down and his eyes on his own development. Everybody else was talking about Bennett’s first fight on British turf, and Fitzpatrick was happy to let them. All he wanted to discuss was his own game.
A lesser fighter might have been distracted by Bennett’s bravado, and most would be unsettled at the very prospect of sharing a cage with an infamously hot-blooded competitor. Fitzpatrick, however, smartly shielded himself from all the pre-fight “Krazy”-ness and kept his eyes on the prize. Both on the stage and inside the cage, Fitzpatrick’s focus remained sharp and intact. He was dumped to the ground by a body slam and thrown aside during a submission attempt, but his concentration levels never bent under Bennett’s crunching blows. Persistence and patience paid off for the Liverpudlian, as he proceeded to stun the arena after wrapping himself around Bennett and forcing Felony to tap out.
Fitzpatrick had turned many heads before this contest (he was 4-0 coming into the clash), but after defeating a veteran in such style, it’s safe to say he’ll be the fighter everyone is looking at during 2017. His approach to the fight was mature and admirable, and he paid Bennett just the right amount of respect whilst sticking to his own strategy. He is a smart and talented boy, and MMA stardom awaits him on the horizon.
2. Dakota Ditcheva is mentally stronger than we ever could have imagined
To call Dakota Ditcheva a decorated athlete would be doing the Tanko teen a disservice. The Muay Thai fighter has won domestic and world titles. She’s triumphed in Thailand. She’s even picked up the coveted Young Sportsperson of the Year award. Nonetheless, her victory over Kat Paton at Tanko Muay Thai League was perhaps her greatest achievement yet.
There was no tangible accolade up for grabs in this particular contest, but it revealed far more about Ditcheva’s character than a thousand belts ever could.
After rising to fame during 2015, Ditcheva found herself consistently compared to fellow female inspiration Ronda Rousey – a fighter who, at the time, was flying the flag for women’s combat sports across the world. Within the next year, both Rousey and Ditcheva suffered major setbacks. Rousey was bested for the first time ever by Holly Holm, and Ditcheva was forced to pull out of her huge contest with Amy Pirnie due to injury.
The pair drew countless parallels, even being sidelined around the same period. Yet, when Ditcheva and Rousey made their respective comebacks, these two fighters suddenly didn’t seem so similar after all.
Rousey, a shadow of her former self, was blown away by Amanda Nunes inside the first round at UFC 207. Contrarily, Ditcheva looked like she’d never been away, blasting past Paton at TML in a matter of minutes.
If Rousey – perhaps the greatest female fighter of a generation – can crumble when times get tough, then it’s true that mental pressure is every athlete’s greatest adversary. Ditcheva fought her demons off with admirable aplomb to return in style at TML, revealing she is so much more than just a fight talent – she’s born to succeed.
TML served as a necessary warmup for Ditcheva’s rescheduled bout with Pirnie in March, and the highlander will need to be prepared. At YOKKAO 24, Pirnie will be competing against a girl who’s mentally strong beyond her years. TML showed us that.
3. Legends don’t lose it
Regrettably, we haven’t seen much of Michael Wakeling in the ring in recent years. The UK Muay Thai icon has matured into a family man with a business to run, and has wisely focused on carefully selecting his fights rather than embracing every challenger who comes his way.
But TML revealed that legends like him don’t lose their talent or hunger for success. No matter how long they’ve been away.
Wakeling proceeded to produce a familiar masterclass in Muay Thai against similarly reputable opponent in Marco Pique at Victoria Warehouse, besting “Sniper” over the course of five rounds.
Wakeling is evidently still a box office draw for fight fans, with members of the crowd travelling from far and wide to see him step inside a combat sports arena once again. But the Scorpion’s Gym athlete never once relied on his reputation to see him through TML’s headline contest. He trained hard and fought smart to earn a deserved victory – just like he’s been doing since the very beginning.
Unbeaten for fifteen years and counting, Wakeling’s status as a legend is set in stone. What TML told us is that he remains as capable as ever at delivering the thrills that made him such a superstar in the first place.
4. The homegrown fight talent in Manchester is a joy to behold
In some ways, Manchester was the ultimate winner over the course of the Tanko combat sports weekend. Not only did this city host two incredible events over 48 hours, it also nurtured and raised some of the biggest winners on both shows.
At TFC3, SBG Manchester claimed four massive victories with Dave Graham, James Duckett, Conor Riordon and Abdul Choudhury all triumphing. Elsewhere, Brendan Loughnane’s All Powers Gym (Stockport) recruits served up some superb performances, with Lerone Murphy and Loz James picking up wins on the main card.
Vacilio Barbosa bagged a win for Franks Manchester, and there was also success for Jack Cartwright who represented a gym a little further afield – Saul Rogers’ MMA in Bolton.
At TML, Sale’s Northern Spirit gym claimed a hat trick of scalps (with wins for Harry Burton, Darius Palma and Dakota Ditcheva), whilst All Powers Gym fighter Josh Turbill edged his way past Artur Saladiak.
Manchester training centres are producing some of the most exciting young fighters we’ve seen on the combat sport circuit for decades. If you’re looking to see up and coming fight stars in the flesh, the rainy city is apparently the place to be.
5. The future for UK combat sports looks brighter than ever before
Sometimes it can be difficult to notice when a revolution is rising, but not in this instance. The growth of combat sports in Britain is noisy enough to shatter a decibel meter into a thousand tiny pieces.
TFC3 saw a pro card littered (almost exclusively) with first round knockouts, whilst TML saw legends return to action (Michael Wakeling, Liam Harrison, Marco Pique) and young stars making a name for themselves on a big stage (Callum Mcgowan, Jacob Smith, Rajan Swali).
But once all the pulsating action of the Tanko combat sport weekender died down, one burning question remained. How on earth do you top two back-to-back events?
The answer: Host a hat-trick of shows instead.
Tanko Fighting Championships 4, Tanko Muay Thai League 2, and the first ever Tanko Submission Championships all come to town in May. Incredibly, we’re set for an even bigger weekend than the one that shook the foundations of Victoria Warehouse as recently as two weekends ago.
The future of combat sports is brighter than ever. And Tanko are leading the way.