Over the years some of the biggest names in the sport of MMA have showcased their skills for Cage Warriors with it being a pathway to the UFC. Some of the UFC and sports top stars have passed through Cage Warriors during their ascension in MMA including the likes of Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Gegard Mousasi to name a few. Perhaps more importantly, some of the UK’S top fighters have used this platform and went on to great success such as Paul Daley, Dan Hardy and former UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping who is currently the only British fighter to capture UFC gold.
Now not only is the promotion used as a stepping stone to the UFC but it also is creating stars before they move on, stars that comprise perhaps the most ‘Notorious’ man in the sport, Conor McGregor. Another man who is also making waves in the Graham Boylen led promotion is Nathaniel ‘The Prospect’ Wood who will look to defend his bantamweight belt for the second time when he faces Luca Iovine at Cage Warriors 92 in London on March 24th.
Wood hopes to emulate successful 2017
It was a busy 2017 for Wood who fought three times, firstly securing a victory over former UFC alumni Vaughan Lee, then came his title-clinching, first-round win against Marko Kovacevic before he would go onto stop Josh Reed inside one round at CWFC 86 in perhaps one of the most memorable bouts of the year. In an interview with MMA Plus Wood admitted he felt the full effects of his busy year but is now more ready than ever to once again defend his title and push on to the next chapter of his career.
“The time off felt well needed, last year was a busy year it was a successful year but I went into the Josh Reed fight and I did feel a little over trained, I felt I had mentally in a way overdone it a little bit. You know I done a lot of dieting and training camp a lot it took its toll a bit.
I give credit to Josh he did catch me with a good shot and that was it, I had to sacrifice a lot but once it was all said and done it was worth it, I got my hand raised and I wouldn’t have changed any of it. Now I’ve had some time off, had Christmas went to Thailand for two weeks I feel refreshed and I honestly feel ready to go and I feel on a whole new level now.”
The London man fought three times in five months and now returns to his hometown to defend his 135lb strap after a six month break. As he heads into another pivotal bout in his career Wood labels it the best fight camp he’s ever had which has led to him feeling ‘stronger, faster, fitter than ever before.’ Now a champion with his success continuing to grow the 25-year old feels everything is finally falling into place.
“Everything seems to have fit into place now and because of it I feel at a whole new level. I think with the coaching and sparring partners’ people are sort of slightly putting more into me now; we’re almost at that top spot now and hitting the big lights. We’re taking things more seriously, I always did anyway but now being a world champion you need to act like one too and I can happily say that’s what I’ve been doing.”
All or nothing for the champion Wood
His most recent title defence against Josh Reed was one in which went viral, reaching over 20 million views online, this bout was also voted Cage Warriors’ 2017 fight of the year. The champion looked like he was moments away from being finished himself before overcoming adversity showing a true heart of a champion. Throughout Wood’s career, his fights have entertained the fans leaving little to the imagination, despite now being champion and that his last bout could have easily gone the other way he admits that he won’t be changing his aggressive all or nothing attitude anytime soon.
“It’s all well and good winning your fights but you’ve got to be entertaining and put on a show. The fight with Josh got people talking which in my eyes is a successful win.
The thing is for me I like to go in all guns blazing and bring my A game and for me that’s what works best. For the fighters who like to go in more calm and cautious you know that’s not me and it takes two to tango. It depends on what your opponent wants to do but for me every fight and [every] opponent is different and I just go in with my A game and plan it how it is.”
Wood envisions TKO win over challenger Iovine
Luca Iovine heads into this weekend’s title bout, making his promotional debut as one of the top prospects to come out of Italy and is currently ranked as their number one bantamweight. He holds a record of 12-1 having fought for a series of other promotions such as Shooto, WSFC and ACB, with the only loss of his pro career dates back nearly three years to June 2015. Despite this the bantamweight champ believes his challenger will be of no match and sees his hand being raised on the night of the bout.
“If I’m honest I don’t think he has anything on me at all, I think I beat him in all areas. If you look at his record he hasn’t fought anyone of the calibre I’ve fought, I’ve looked at Luca’s style and you know I kind of see myself getting a TKO in the first round, if not and it takes a lot longer so be it but I definitely see my hand getting raised on March 24th.”
With no top 135lb challengers in the Cage Warriors ranks the Team Titan man has no problem with the promotion flying Iovine in and handing him a title shot on his Cage Warriors debut. Although he admits there have been calls for him to defend his belt against welsh phenom Jack Shaw but the 24-year old admits he felt the Welshman was undeserving at the time.
“There are not many other guys who have been making waves who deserve a shot, people have mentioned Jack Shaw but the guy has never fought at bantamweight so does he get a shot, I don’t think that’d be fair.”
Prior to the announcement that Jack Shaw would be facing Vaughan Lee on March 24 in a bout which will determine the number one contender; Wood revealed he’d of preferred to fight Shaw at featherweight rather than bantamweight belt due to his interest in becoming dual-weight champion. The fact Shaw has now made the drop down from featherweight has led to a possible missed chance for ‘The Prospect’ and a possible super-fight with Shaw for the 145lb belt after the recent news of Nad Narimani signing to the UFC London card. Wood insisted he would have no trouble making the step up in weight and revealed he had already been calling for the featherweight strap.
“For me I was calling out for the title shot at the weight above and nothing really got said about that, Nad Narimani was the champ and hasn’t fought since April last year. The way I see it is, it just means I have to diet slightly less but on the day of the fight I shouldn’t be much lighter then them guys and the way I see it is Nad has not fought so vacate him of that belt. Originally I was going to call out Jack Shaw at featherweight but before I got to do that he called me out at bantamweight so I’ll just take each fight as it comes and I’d say fingers crossed but I know I’m going to get the win March 24th and whatever Cage Warriors want to give me after that, I’ll take each fight as it comes.”
Wood in no rush to chase a UFC call-up
Although there have been many Cage Warriors stars linked with the crossover to the UFC such as former featherweight champion Paddy Pimblett and lightweight champion Chris Fishgold, Wood is not looking to chase the move and knows he will get the call when the time is right.
“You know I think Cage Warriors is a very high-level platform for me to be showcasing my skills on, they’ve promoted me very well and that’s a big thing. If you get into the UFC early you might not get the promotion that you need and therefore you’re just a small fish in a big pond. For me at the moment I’m getting good fights on Cage Warriors and I’m getting a lot of promotion off them; so I’m slowly becoming worth more so when I do get to the UFC I’d like to already be a bigger fish and I think in the long run that’s going to help my career a lot more.”
Many fighters are caught with the mindset that the UFC is the be all and end all however, Wood admits he has former UFC fighter and UK MMA pioneer Brad Pickett to thank for his level-headed approach.
“Brad has definitely been a big part and he’s reined me in a little bit, he’s always taught me good things. Don’t chase money chase success and the money will come with it, I’d definitely say Brad’s like a mentor to me he’s been there done it and he’s definitely showed me the right pathway to take in terms of my career.”
Wood: I’d deffo love to get on that UFC Dublin Card
Despite this the Cage Warriors champ admitted he does have his eye on a UFC card if they were to approach him and believes he will be in the UFC ranks this time next year.
“Line them up and I’ll knock them down, if the UFC do come calling then you know I’d deffo love to get on that Dublin Card, have a week off get straight back into camp and start knocking some UFC fighters out. If they don’t call and I’m staying on Cage Warriors I’ll take each fight as it comes and I’ll face anyone they decide to give me.
I’d like to think in a year’s time I’d be knocking on the top ten rankings in the UFC, I honestly think skill wise I’m ready here to handle myself with anyone in the world. When I get that opportunity you know I’m confident I can showcase my skills and get the W’s.”