A double header presented by Tanko at Victoria Warehouse last weekend offered further proof that Manchester is fast becoming the go-to place for combat sports – and it’s deliriously exciting stuff.
Bumper crowds piled into the Trafford Park venue for two events on Saturday and Sunday. The first featured twenty brutal bouts of MMA. The second boasted a dozen glorious exhibitions of Muay Thai – Thai kickboxing.
It was entertainment overload at the MMA spectacle Tanko Fighting Championships 3 from the word go. Saturday saw infamous and eccentric cult hero Charles “Felony” Bennett headline with fans across the country flocking to see him in the flesh for his debut bout on British turf. Gifted Liverpool Academy recruit Lawrence Fitzpatrick wowed the arena by unexpectedly forcing Felony to tap out in under five minutes, announcing himself as the fighter to look out for during 2017.
Mohammed Mokaev won the Flyweight Belt (the first ever Tanko title) on the amateur card, whilst the second half of the show consisted almost exclusively of first-round knockout and submissions, as Tim Barnett, James Duckett, Jack Cartwright, Gaz Corran, Dave Graham, Lerone Murphy and Conor Riordon all triumphed before the second bell.
Less than 14 hours after Victoria Warehouse closed the doors on TFC3, they were opening them again for the 2pm kick-off of Tanko Muay Thai League (TML).
Thai kickboxing/Muay Thai is a different kettle of fish to MMA. The crushing punches and crunching kicks are still there, but with this unique branch of combat sports, there are hundreds of years of Eastern tradition in each contest.
As combatants enter the ring, they perform rituals as a show of cultural respect and cathartic release of superstition. These can range from simply bowing to each corner to more elaborate routines where fighters use their bodies to banish bad luck from their ring. Drowsy oboe-laden music (known as the sarama) plays during each contest – a custom that has accompanied Muay Thai matches for centuries.
Muay Thai is to MMA what rugby is to football, attracting more of family-friendly crowd despite its roughhouse nature. For every flesh-ripping strike, there’s a supportive post-fight hug to compensate.
With twenty four idiosyncratic fighters taking part across twelve contests at TML, every fight had its own distinctive flavour. No two stars on the Sunday stage were remotely alike. From diminutive warrior Rajan Swali to hulking beast Jersey Pinto, each contestant played their own unique role in making TML a special occasion.
There were wins for Josh Turbill, Callum McGowan, Savvas Michael, Jacob Smith and Macauley Coyle during the afternoon, with British legend Liam Harrison defeating Jesus Romero in the co-headliner.
The marquee contest was a particularly mouth-watering affair for fans, as Michael Wakeling extended his miraculous unbeaten record (now nearing the fifteen year mark) with a win over kickboxing legend Marco Pique.
But perhaps the most memorable win of all came for Dakota Ditcheva. The teen sensation spent 2016 in the limelight after racking up nine consecutive victories and flying the flag for young women in sport, and her hotly anticipated comeback fight following a lengthy lay-off resulted in a comprehensive win over Kat Paton.
Manchester has embraced wild weekend-long events with open arms for as long as many of us can remember. With the ever-increasing popularity of combat sports, it looks as though we’re set for many more two-day martial arts binges like the Trafford crowd were treated to last weekend.
You can catch all the highlights from Tanko Fighting Championships 3 on Fight Life TV (Freeview Ch. 91) on 18th and 20th February. The best bits from Tanko Muay Thai League will also be screened on Fight Life TV on Friday 17th February