A Decade To Remember For Merseyside Combat: 2016-2020
By James Lee
Again and as the theme throughout the decade, it was Tony Bellew who had the most notable achievement in 2016 when he finally claimed his first world title in May of the year. The fight with Ilunga Makabu at Goodison Park will forever have a place in British boxing history for the emotion and feeling upon Bellew recognising his dream.
The Evertonian would defend his title once in the year with a comprehensive win over BJ Flores, and his 2016 success along with others was the beginning of a few years of scouse dominance.
Contrastingly, Liam Smith challenged Canelo Alvarez for the WBO light-middleweight title in Texas. ‘Beefy’ was unsuccessful but earned many fans with his performance.
2016 also saw one of the best fights in the area’s history take place at Shinobi War 8 with Next Generation MMA’s Adam Ventre fighting Dylan Tuke. The Olympia witnessed one of the best live fights as the pair went back-and-forth for as long as it lasted.
That was also the year Ventre’s teammate Paddy Pimblett claimed the Cage Warriors featherweight title amongst four massive wins in the year, including one over UFC veteran Julian Erosa.
Chris Fishgold also won the Cage Warriors lightweight title in what will be remembered as a defining year for Next Generation MMA.
Aside from all the success, Anthony Fowler failed in his Olympics attempt as he bowed out in the opening round in Rio de Janeiro.
Although the current generation was building for major success, a notable announcement in the year came when Liverpool legend John Conteh was awarded an MBE for his services to boxing and various charities since his retirement.
The Toxteth fighter remains an icon to boxers across the city and especially Tony Bellew, who made his own history in 2017 when he beat former heavyweight champion David Haye in one of the biggest grudge matches of the year.
The same card also saw city boxing legend Derry Matthews retire after losing to Ohara Davies. He left the sport with a professional record of 38-12-2 with notable wins over Anthony Crolla and Tommy Coyle.
Fellow scouse legend Paul Smith would also retire from the sport after losing to German Tyron Zeuge. His brother Callum was successful though in the quarter-final stage of the World Boxing Super Series tournament and Liam would return back to the ring with three wins in the year. His two-over Liam Williams ended a British rivalry that amassed attention.
Darren Till finally broke out on the worldwide stage late into the year with a win over Cowboy Cerrone in Gdansk, Poland. After a few years of waiting for the next Team Kaobon talent, Till became that man after beating the veteran in his first UFC main event.
The welterweight fighter recorded two wins over Jessin Ayari and Bojan Velickovic earlier in the year before being awarded the chance to headline a card against a big name in Cerrone. The first round finish set him up for stardom.
A disappointing time for the city came when Paddy Pimblett lost his featherweight title in April of the year. However, Chris Fishgold successfully defended his title against Alexander Jacobsen in October of the year. In addition, Lee Chadwick won the promotion’s middleweight title after beating Victor Cheng in October.
2018 was no doubt the best year in history for Liverpool combat. A flood of stars took over the world stage in all combat formats.
A sad part saw Tony Bellew retire after being beaten by Oleksandr Usyk. He did beat David Haye for a second time earlier in the year and bowed out in a sold-out Manchester Arena with the whole country wearing their pride at his accomplishments. Just like his hero John Conteh did, Bellew will inspire the next generation in boxing.
On another sad note, David Price was devastatingly knocked out by Alexander Povetkin, despite some early success in the fight.
As Bellew retired, Callum Smith took over the Liverpool boxing reigns by winning the WBA (Super) super-middleweight world title after winning the World Boxing Super Series final against George Groves.
Another scouser in Darren Till became the first from the city to challenge for a UFC title, but was unsuccessful in Dallas, losing to Tyron Woodley via second-round submission.
Previously in the year, all his hype made sure the UFC held an event in Liverpool for the first time, which was memorable. The event sold out in minutes and provided the sport with one of the best walkouts of the decade. He would beat Stephen Thompson by decision to put himself in line for the welterweight title opportunity.
Molly McCann became the first female world champion from the city in February when she headlined the Echo Arena and stopped Bryony Tyrell to claim the women’s inaugural Cage Warriors flyweight title. Unfortunately for her, she would lose her UFC debut in Liverpool.
That same night in February saw Paddy Pimblett secure a flying triangle finish over Alexis Savvidis, before losing to Soren Bak later in the year for the lightweight title.
In December of the year, Rocky Fielding challenged global star Canelo Alvarez in New York but faltered to the pound for pound number one after three rounds. He had beaten Tyron Zeuge to win the WBA (Regular) super middleweight title earlier in the year before losing the belt to his Mexican counterpart.
As mentioned previously, and with Bellew retired, the boxing crown for the city fell on Callum Smith and he stepped up to the plate with two wins including a title defence in the M&S Bank Arena.
He secured one of the knockouts of the year on the Joshua-Ruiz undercard in New York, before beating John Ryder by decision in Liverpool. Smith is in line to fight Canelo Alvarez shortly.
In the biggest MMA story of the year for the area, Liverpool’s Darren Till found success in his middleweight debut, beating Kelvin Gastelum by split decision at UFC 244. The judges’ scorecards (30-27 Gastelum, 30-27 Till and 29-28 Till) saw the Liverpudlian earn his sixth UFC win.
He fortunately kept his opponent at bay and landed the harder strikes, with the American failing to land anything significant and the Englishman being awarded as the rightful victor.
The start of the year was the lowest point of Till’s career as a devastating knockout loss to Jorge Masvidal at UFC London halted his progression. However, he reignited his career in the year’s biggest event.
Fellow Team Kaobon fighters Mike Grundy and Tom Aspinall went unbeaten in the year and bantamweight Raphael Ughebu made his professional debut as well on Bellator and went 2-0 in the promotion, with a bright future looking promising.
Molly McCann especially had a special 2019 with three victories and no losses to rectify her UFC debut loss. Danny Roberts had a mixed year as he turned around two losses early in the year with a big knockout win in Russia over prospect Zelim Imadaev. Chris Fishgold similarly found mixed progress as he went 1-1 for the year.