When one takes a proper look past the daily drama and the online trash-talking, it is clear to see that we are in a golden age for Mixed Martial Arts. There have never been more eyes on the sport, certainly not as many different promotions from which to see the sport. There have never been so many different discussion points in the Greatest Of All Time conversation. Nor have there been as many fighters coming from so many different places; no longer is the sport defined by Brazil and America. There are fighters coming strong from places like Italy, France, Nigeria, Indonesia and here in my home nation of Scotland.
Where England has been steadily on the radar of MMA thanks to the profile of fighters like Jimi Manuwa, Linton Vassel, Darren Till, and Michael Bisping; the bordering nation of Scotland has never been synonymous with MMA. However; there are rumblings and stirrings here that are only natural given the ever-increasing popularity of the sport as a whole. There are more and more MMA teams popping u across the country, whether it’s The Griphouse in Glasgow, the Spartan Fight Team in Aberdeen, Scottish Hit Squad in Coatbridge and even SBG gyms in Aberdeen, Elgin, and Inverness.
There’s also a healthy degree of local shows being put on through the country, giving fighters a chance to flex their skills as well as give us fans an up-close look at our country’s sportsmen. On Top Promotions is the one such company here, steadily increasing their profile, having put on their twelfth show back in September of this year. There’s also Scottish Fighting Championship, which puts on solid shows through the south of the country, though the shows are perhaps inconsistent in their timing. There has also been First Fighting Championship, though it is now defunct.
Obviously, where there’s an MMA scene, there are standout fighters. As such, here are six fighters to watch in the coming year.
Ross “The Hitman” Houston
Ross Houston is making very real waves at Cage Warriors Fighting Championships and it’s easy to see why. Undefeated in seven professional bouts with three of those wins coming by way of submission, he is considered one of the top 10 MMA fighters in the UK. Fighting out of SBG Gym in Inverness, where he serves as the head coach. His recent rear-naked choke win over England’s Nathan Jones earned him a shot at the newly crowned Cage Warriors welterweight champion Stefano Paterno. It’s easy to see why, given that Jones is an established submission specialist himself. To follow it up, The Hitman battles through a five-round war to claim the belt by split decision, making him an 8-0, undefeated champion. 2019 will doubtlessly see Houston’s first title defense and potentially a rematch with Paterno, either way; this is one Scottish fighter you do not want to miss out on!
Joanne “Jojo” Calderwood
Scotland’s most well-known fighter is Irvine’s, Joanne Calderwood. In 2012, Calderwood took her experience gained from a soon-finalized 19-2, championship Muay Thai record and began competing in MMA. After a run of eight wins, the majority of them at Invicta FC, she competed on The Ultimate Fighter season 20. Whilst she didn’t win the season, she made a statement by showing her striking prowess and took part in the Fight Of The Season against the now strawweight champion Rose Namajunas. Throw in a Fight Of The Night victory against Courtney Casey in 2015 and it’s easy to see why she was awarded Newcomer Of The Year and Fan Favourite Fighter Of The Year in the Women’s MMA Press Awards of 2012 and 2014, respectively. Earlier this year Jojo earned a slick submission win against well-rounded Brazillian flyweight Kalindra Faria, showing that her recent relocation to Las Vegas, where she trains at the UFC Performance Institute and with Syndicate MMA is paying dividends.
Paull “The Locomotive” McBain
A fighter with a well-earned nickname, this Cage Warriors prospect has burst onto the scene, undefeated until October 20th where he faced Aiden Lee in the Cage Warriors Featherweight Tournament. Training out of Spartan Fight Team in Aberdeen, McBain’s measured pressure game proved too much for Sam Spencer, whom he beat by doctor’s stoppage at the end of the first round at Cage Warriors 88 in October 2017. Fast forward to July of this year and McBain was the unanimous decision victory over Steve Aimiable, showcasing a well-rounded style with unpredictable striking, range control and solid grappling dominance to boot. He may not be progressing towards the upcoming featherweight title bout but one would imagine that another dominant win with the promotion may well put him in line for a fight against whomever the champion is when the time comes.
Paul “Bearjew” Craig
This light heavyweight may just become Scotland’s premier fighter. After cutting his teeth at promotions such as BAMMA and Scotland’s First Fighting Championship, Craig entered the UFC with an 8-0 record and a 100% finishing rate. This BJJ brown belt out of Scottish Hit Squad debuted with a second-round submission over Henrique de Silva before taking his first defeats from division standouts Khalil Rountree Jr and Tyson Pedro. It was in March of 2018 that Bearjew would truly drop jaws as he welcomed the 9-0 Dagestani combat sambo phenom Magomed Ankalaev to the promotion. The hotly-touted Russian prospect dominated the entire three-round fight before Paul Craig managed to clamp down on a hail-mary triangle choke and get the tap in the very last second of the fight, upsetting Ankalaev’s heralded arrival with the UFC. Needless to say; I’m very excited to see what this fighter can pull off in December when he faces Jim Crute in Australia.
A Scottish lightweight who splits his time training with Scottish Hit Squad and SBG in Ireland (yes; THAT SBG) Chris Bungard made headlines earlier this month by becoming the first Scottish fighter ever to sign with Bellator. It’s clear to see why the world’s second-largest MMA promotion scooped Bungard up; his 13-4 record shows a vastness of experience and the variety of technique makes him an exciting fighter to watch. Whether throwing sharp elbows, satisfying rear-naked chokes or flashy flying armbars, the Coatbridge fighter keeps his opponents guessing. Competing in the most stacked division of the MMA landscape can’t hurt the potential for glory that Bungard clearly has, either. He’s shown a dab hand for maintaining a Twitter presence, most notably by trash talking Bellator standout Aaron Chalmers, showing that he’s aiming high.
Scott “Boom Boom” Malone
Boom Boom Malone is a solid prospect at 135lbs. With four professional wins and one defeat, this Dundee bantamweight has had his last two victories at Cage Warriors with the most recent coming on October 20th in a prelim fight against Adam Amarasinghe, which ended by third-round TKO. Malone is listed as a judoka but is never short of a violent charge and some sharp, vicious ground and pound. A look at his positional control on the ground in his fight against Jason Jenkins shows a cool and collected approach to ground fighting. With the CW bantamweight title about to be claimed by either Mike Ekundayo or Jack Shore in December, it’s easy to imagine that many in that division will be aiming to challenge the new champion next year and that Scott Malone will be looking to grind out the wins to earn the shot.
All of these fighters are achieving great things within this most challenging of sports. It’s easy to imagine that they will go on to influence other young Scots to put on a pair of gloves and start their own journey into the sport, which is what will keep the scene in Scotland growing.
Daniel .R. Warnes