The Battles of London Review of the Year
Featuring MMA's most talked-about FIGHTERS, white jeans, endurance running, WILD BOAR and more…
The popular vote has 2016 down as ‘The Worst Year Ever’. But the MMA world displayed a characteristic contrariness by going dam busters over the past twelve months.
The UFC itself was sold for a sporting record sum, and a young man from Dublin became the first ever champion in two weight classes while more fine European talent emerged in his wake. Hell, Manchester's Mike Bisping even defied his critics to become middleweight champion. And the cover star of our first ever house publication, Darren 'The Dentist' Stewart, landed a UFC contract while the magazine was at the printers.
Our review of the year though avoids significant developments in favour of the more esoteric concerns often associated with avid fandom. Such as…
Thinking Fan's Fighter of the Year: DominicK Cruz
The new cerebral fan’s favourite is like Georges St Pierre for a leaner, more unforgiving time. Even back when the bantamweight champ was a coach on The Ultimate Fighter in 2011, slinking around in a leatherette bomber jacket, he was known to all on set simply as ‘Cruz’ – like how Michael Ironside’s character in V was only ever referred to by his surname ‘Tyler’ (his first name was Ham, 80s trivia hawks).
An impressive return from a long battle with his own knee and groin ligaments only served to sharpen Cruz's gritty rep. Vitally, though, to the Thinking Fan he complemented this side to his image with an impressive sideline as an analyst, honing a loquacious and adroit style – fittingly, as he uses volume and skill to fight too. When he finally clambered into the commentary box even Jon Anik couldn’t get a word in edgeways. A ‘Dominator’, indeed.
Addendum: Cruz's year ended with him losing that bantamweight title, relatively closely, to Cody Garbrandt in a superb display from the new champion. He addressed the media soon after, taking to the press conference stage by himself. "No fighter enjoys a loss, but few – if any – handled it as well as Cruz did," said foxsports.com. Watch him here.
Raver's FIGHTER of the Year:
The international breakthrough fighter of 2016, and Cage Warriors featherweight champ, worked and played hard as befits his 21 years.
In a 'beltar' year that saw the youngster win four times – twice in spectacular fashion – Paddy edged into mainstream fame during May, when Liverpool FC fans unveiled a banner at the Europa League final in Basel proclaiming ‘MCGREGOR - YOU’RE GETTIN SMOKED LAD’ and bearing Paddy’s fight face.
Not content with appearing on to top-rated US broadcast The MMA Hour in September, Paddy had host Ariel Helwani salivating over the thought that he was about to announce signing with the UFC – when in fact the contract he ‘couldn’t tell anybody about’ was a renewal with Europe’s Cage Warriors.
When a ‘Mini Baddy’ appeared on social media at Halloween chirping the catchphrase “Scousers don’t get knocked out", Paddy did what any People’s Champ would do and invited the child superfan to the top-rated Next Gen gym. It’s more surprising Paddy and his crew didn’t try to smuggle Mini-Baddy into Circus, MODULAR or any of the other switched-on underground house clubs they frequent for added rave-lolz. His younger fanbase aside, other good causes Paddy accommodated included Alder Hay children's hospital and the Hillsborough Justice Campaign.
In November, the brightest upcoming star in martial arts vomited during his interview after winning the main event of Cage Warriors: Unplugged from the BT Sport studio, after wolfing down vast quantities of “hot chocolate and Ferrero Rocher” to get his strength back after a tough weight cut.
The world is his.
Flashy Move of the Year:
The Imanari Roll
In a year that solidified the status of karate expert Steven ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson, fighters could hardly wait to bust out some exotic moves.
Both Tony Ferguson and Rory McDonald went for the Imanari roll, a tumble-to-heel hook technique pioneered by contemporary BJJ icon Masakazu Imanari, a veteran of One FC and Dream who also competed in the UK’s Polaris grappling competition in October. Watch Imanari himself pull it off on Mike Brown here, and demonstrate it here.
Ferguson has been seen using the move since a 2014 bout against Katsunori Kikuno; “I wanted to put you guys [on notice] that I’m not a stick in the mud,” he told MMA Junkie, “I want to be original; I want to leave my mark for 100 years after this.” Back here in 2016, Mike Chisea even warned Ferguson against using it on him before a cancelled bout in the summer.
McDonald used the roll multiple times trying to get hold of the notoriously elusive Thompson in their September clash.
Mind those heel hooks in any open mat sessions, everybody.
BEST Day Job:
Alan Jouban models for Versace
alongside Gigi Hadid
Sure, we hugely admire the likes of Shane Carwin and Chris Lytle for hammering away at their long-term careers (as an engineer and fireman respectively) while pursuing UFC glory. But when it comes to moonlighting, one can’t beat appearing in a Versace advertising campaign flanking Gig Hadid. In the film shot by seriously major fashion photographer Bruce Webber (who also directed this classic Pet Shop Boys video), Jouban even snogs the supermodel.
Jouban, who has worked his way up the MMA ladder with a resumé including Vegas’ amateur show Tuff-N-Nuff and California’s Tachi Palace Fights, went undefeated in 2016, including most recently ending Mike Perry’s undefeated run earlier in December.
Strongest Look: Conor McGregor
Either astride the top of the fence bearing a UFC championship belt over each shoulder, or shopping on Rodeo Drive in January wearing a buttoned-up lincoln green polo shirt, tucked in to white jeans, with a gold Hermes belt buckle and python skin loafers. Pic props: Just Jared.
Protein of the Year: Wild Boar
Top MMA dietician Mike Dolce of The Dolce Diet fame has been hammering elk as the combat sports’ athlete’s meat of choice – it’s a lean meat that’s high in protein and makes a great alternative to beef. But there’s not a bunch of that about on European shores. The equivalent is wild boar, growing in number here in Britain where not only is it farmed, but heroic escapees have founded new wild populations in areas including the Forest of Dean. Pick up the first issue of Battles of London magazine to find out more in our feature.
Warlike Furniture of the Year:
Cleon Peterson X Modernica Day Bed
Los Angeles artist Cleon Peterson is art director for top-flight street artist Shepard ‘Obey’ Fairey. Over the last few years he’s become established in his own right, painting the first mural to go underneath Paris’ Eiffel Tower. Cleon also isn’t afraid of putting his work on skate decks, streetwear and the like – including this epic day bed (‘sofa’ to those of us outside of the interior design industry) in collaboration with the brand Modernica.
Book of the Year:
Chad Dundas' Champion of the World
As journalists we love to see one of our own catapulted to contemporary fiction fame with their first novel. Chad is co-host of the superb Co-Main Event Podcast alongside arguably the top feature writer in MMA, Ben Fowlkes. He’s also a former ESPN.com and golden-era Cage Potato journo who’s currently lead MMA writer for Bleacher Report. Chad’s smash hit debut novel is “a brilliant novel about life and sport at the cusp of the modern age”, to quote acclaimed novelist Phillip Meyer, that refreshingly avoids the usual pieties and purple prose of contemporary fiction. UK readers may have to order it via their local bookstore – our US copy from Amazon took six weeks or so to ship from the US. On what? A turtle?
Finest Seafaring Vessel:
Sea Shepherd’s Ocean Warrior
The ‘pro active’, direct-action focussed environmental organisation with an awesome ‘skull and trident’ logo, Sea Shepherd, bought its new ship with donations from The People’s Postcode Lottery in Holland, Sweden and the UK. Details of its capacity are top secret, but if we were crewing a Japanese whaling fleet (just say), we'd get below deck, sharpish.
MOONSHOT OF THE YEAR:
MARATHON IN UNDER TWO HOURS
Our ‘award’ for the most pleasingly ambitious project of 2016 goes to the endurance sports arena – to whit, Nike's ballsy public programme to try and finally push a marathon runner through the two-hour barrier. Conventional wisdom is that this is borderline impossible – the current record stands at 2:02:57 (set by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya on September 28, 2014 at the Berlin Marathon) – and while shaving off that time might not sound like much, as a distance record it comes down incrementally (for comparison, it's taken since 1999 for it to come down by just under three minutes). However, this is now the holy grail of distance running, and let's not forget that the four minute mile was considered medically impossible until Roger Bannister did it. Nike think that by applying logical scientific rigour to training and the final race, a current runner can be optimised to break the barrier - without drugs, or gimmicks. If they succeed, it will be a truly historic moment for endurance sports, and rewrite the rules of what is considered possible.
Trainers/sneakers of the year:
Acronym X NikeLab Air Presto Mid
Predictably, we fawn over technical wear label Acronym and its designer Erolsson Hugh. We really wanted these trainers, and even had a pair in our hands mulling the discretionary purchase over back in September. But we're too old. Younger Battles fans, let us dress vicariously through you.
Metal comeback of the Year: Darkthrone's Arctic Thunder
Eschew Metallica's flabby effort and instead celebrate the Norwegians' sixteenth long-player. "Don't worry, it sounds like Motorhead" say the headbanger desk.
Have a magnificent 2017, everybody.
Extra thanks to Justin Quirk and Josh Woodfin for their contributions