Bellator 158 in London, England proved an iconic night for British star Michael “Venom” Page, as his growing legacy was further qualified through the approval of Heavyweight boxing world champion Lennox Lewis.
The impact that Lewis had on the British boxing scene in the nineties and early noughties still remains pivotal to this day. Great Britain has produced many high calibre boxing world champions, from Lewis to David Haye and Tyson Fury, but the island has only recently started to find similar acclaim in mixed martial arts. Through Liam McGeary and Michael Bisping, the UK now has two world champions and with the likes of Page climbing the ranks, it might not be too long until he joins them.
MMA in the UK has seen serious amounts of growth over the past decade. From its early days shunned by the general consensus for its so-called barbarism, to drawing a live domestic TV audience of 865,000 in 2010 through mega-fight Alex Reid vs. Tom Watson, the sport has aged maturely and profoundly.
However, yet to reach the heights of popularity that the sport enjoys in North America – and yet to match the regard of Boxing – the significance behind Lewis’s approval for Page is a major milestone.
“This is the man right here,” claimed the 50-year-old former Olympic gold medallist as he swaggered into MVP’s post-fight media scrum. It’s the kind of support that; for a fighter like MVP who continues to climb the ladder, is invaluable when trying to build a fighter’s reputation and stock.
“If you went to the bathroom or turned to talk to your friend you would have missed it,” joked Lewis.
The British boxing legend went on to say: “I was amazed at his quickness and the way how he decided what to throw at that given moment.
“Unbelievable speed, quickness, accuracy, all combined and as far as his style is concerned I don’t know who is going to match that style, who’s going to be able to figure out what to do against him because he’s got so many different flavours that can come out at any moment.”
Not only was it a coming of age performance by Page at the o2, but a homecoming of great proportions. It was his first fight on home soil since 2012 and after furthering his exposure in Mumbai, India as well as Oklahoma, Mississippi and Connecticut, it felt like MVP’s monumental return home symbolised his evolution into a true main-eventer for Bellator.
Page wasn’t even the headline fight, but the electricity during his entrance and his phenomenal finish of Evangelista Santos clarified that he was the reason the majority had flocked to attend Bellator’s premier British event.
Ironically, it was a breakout performance akin to the one Lewis enjoyed in October 1992 where “The Lion” knocked out Donovan Ruddock within two rounds at the Earls Court Exhibition Centre to win the Commonwealth heavyweight title. That Halloween night was career defining for Lewis – who went into the fight as the underdog – beating the number one ranked WBC boxer Ruddock to claim the first major scalp on his budding fight record.
The original plan was for Lewis to challenge the winner of the Evander Holyfield vs. Riddick Bowe match for the undisputed heavyweight gold. Although, as history stands, Lewis would not meet Bowe, not then not ever, with Bowe refusing to fight Lewis, forcing the WBC to strip him of his gold. In the wake of this, the WBC awarded the title to Lewis, who used his new found stardom to kickstart his irrefutable legacy in boxing.
For Michael “Venom” Page, Saturday night at the o2 was an equally as crucial fight for his own reputation. Prior to the fight, fans had clamoured for the hope that Page would receive a hike in competition. Opponents such as Rudy Bears or Jermemie Holloway had failed to give MVP any real problems, but Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos was prepared to change that.
“Cyborg” was a Strikeforce veteran, a fighter Bellator MMA President Scott Coker was familiar with from his days with the promotion. The 38-year-old managed to grind out MVP in the first round of their fight, using his wrestling and superior grappling to hold the Londoner down. However, in the second round, Page showed exactly why he is one of the most devastating power strikers in MMA, with a flying knee, which in-turn caused a depressed fracture on the skull of Santos.
It’s not only his incredible ability inside the cage, but the way he holds himself out of it which defines the true popularity of his character. With his win over “Cyborg” moving him one step closer to the world welterweight title, MVP’s mature and calculated response at the post-fight media scrum solidified why the likes of Lennox Lewis are so drawn to his persona.
Page explained: “I don’t chase titles, I genuinely feel the title will come to me when it comes to me, 100 per cent. If I keep doing what I’m doing then it will come to me. Put as many people as you want before me, like let them have fun, when I’m ready to step in there it will come to me.
He may be a man of many weapons during combat, but his words undoubtedly possess just as much weight.
The Channel 5 broadcast earned a peak audience of 550,000 and Page’s inclusion is one of the detrimental factors towards that. His star power in this country continues to increase and internationally it is evident that Bellator have huge hopes for him to lead the promotional line.
“So many people have titles, not everyone can create a legacy in a sport,” he closed. That statement itself validates exactly why MVP has the potential to be a once in a lifetime superstar and the greatest thing; for those who continue to follow him on his unique journey, I doubt he has yet to even break the cusp of his true greatness.