Wales has a long and successful history in professional fighting. For a small nation, there have been countless boxing champions throughout the years – from Tommy “Tonypandy Terror” Farr to the Pride of Wales himself, Joe Calzaghe. Welsh fighters have certainly punched above their weight, as it were. But now the Welsh fighting tradition is beginning to make its presence felt in another discipline.
Welsh boxers remain hopefuls for success at the highest levels, while mixed martial arts has taken off exponentially over recent years and Welsh fighters have shown great promise within it. Undoubtedly the ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), established over 30 years ago now and hosting their UFC 297 event at the end of January are leaders of their discipline with decades of history behind them and an impressive list of fighters already participating.
As we embark on another exciting year of mixed martial arts (MMA) competition across Wales and beyond, it seemed timely to highlight seven Welsh fighters who have reached the pinnacle in this extremely physical sport.
Hailing from Merthyr Tydfil, “The Welsh Gangster” is the latest fighter from this country to be awarded a prestigious UFC contract. Elliott first competed as an amateur, then joined Cage Warriors. Later he competed as part of Dana White’s Contender Series before winning it and taking his career into professional fights for Dana White last year.
Now he is part of UFC, this 9-2 professional record holds even greater meaning as he seeks to compete alongside some of MMA’s elite fighters. Elliott has fought hard to get where he is today and has combined fighting with tough, manual jobs. Now he can concentrate solely on being the latest Welsh fighter in the UFC.
Jones followed in Conor McGregor’s footsteps when he became only the second two-division champion ever in Cage Warriors history, making headlines and earning him his shot to fight at UFC in Abu Dhabi against Mike Davis in 2021.
Jones spent nearly 18 months fighting in the UFC, ending with one win, two losses, and one no contest decision. Instead of renewing with UFC after this experience, “The Dragon” elected not to renew and after taking some time away from fighting returned to Cage Warriors, where he has won two more bouts to bring his record up to 13-2 overall.
“Poppins” holds the unique honor of being the only Welsh woman to ever sign a contract with UFC. She was also the youngest ever fighter to join the organization, at the age of 21 years old. Born in Cwmbran, McKenna journeyed through the ranks of a number of martial arts before impressing in Cage Warriors.
After winning Dana White’s Contender Series 2020, McKenna made her UFC debut and made three wins out of four UFC bouts to boast an 8-2 professional record and become an integral member of Team McKenna – and she seems set for future success!
“Tank” returned to featherweight after briefly competing as a bantamweight, having taken up kickboxing at six years of age and amassed an undefeated amateur record before joining Cage Warriors before signing with UFC in 2009.
He has continued his remarkable form since moving up to the top tier and won a performance of the night award on his debut – another victory – against Nohelin Hernandez in Copenhagen, Denmark. His overall record now stands at 17-1 and Shore looks like he could end up being one of the best Welsh MMA fighters of all time.
John Phillips earned himself the moniker, “The Welsh Wrecking Machine”, to give you some idea of his fighting ability. Born in Swansea, Phillips fought under a number of different banners before becoming BAMMA middleweight champion in 2016. A move to UFC would not be too long in coming.
Phillips found UFC life more challenging, winning just one out of his six fights – though winning performance of the night for his knockout of Alen Amedovski in 2019 won him performance award of that night! Now retired with 22 wins to 11 losses under his belt.
Figure 2 Fighters across the country are putting in the hours to emulate these seven UFC stars
“The Hammer” served as a paratrooper while fighting professionally for a time and it was that commitment that earned him the honor of being the first-ever Welshman to sign for UFC. Before that, he had chalked up an impressive 20-5 record and had won the Cage Warriors middleweight title.
Marshman earned himself the performance of the night award on his UFC debut and went on to compete at catchweight level for another four years before finally retiring after losing to Sean Strickland in a catchweight contest. A pioneer among Welsh MMA fighters, Marshman ended his career with 23-10 record.
Although Marshman was the first Welsh fighter to sign with UFC, it was Brett Johns who first entered the famous octagon in 2016. He had already won bantamweight titles in Cage Warriors and Titan FC and is yet another MMA fighter who was born in Swansea.
Johns ended up fighting seven times under the Ultimate Fighting Champion banner, including a bout on the UFC 227 card in Los Angeles, California in 2018. After initially moving to Bellator, Johns made his first appearance in the PFL at the end of last year – recording a TKO win in three rounds.