We head back to the North West of England in this edition of Prospect Profiles by Brad MMA, particularly the beautiful city of Liverpool. Again we will scratch the surface of the amateur leagues from the area and look at another rising talent that has all of the tools to be a future world champion.
I think we can all agree that with the current day’s game, a fighter that solely relies on striking within their competitive MMA career is somewhat doomed from the start. As the sport evolves, so do the styles and coaching methods, which in turn hugely effects the new bloodline of young fighters that are being injected into the competitive ranks. Long gone are the days that British gyms lacked quality in the grappling department. Now, we see young, amateur fighters coming into the fray with a more complete toolbox of skills to express once locked in the cage.
Nestled in amongst the Stoneycroft district of Liverpool is the Aspire Combat Sports Academy (ACSA). Headed up by veteran Cage Warriors, ACB and Bellator fighter, Dean Garnett and BJJ black belt, Phil Turner, ACSA have its fair share of experience when it comes to providing their fighters with a complete skill set, especially on the mat.
One particular member of their team is 17 years old, Liam McCracken. Fighting as a junior amateur since 2015, McCracken has already accumulated seven amateur fights picking up four impressive wins. Delving into that further, two of those have come by way of submission and the other two have been lopsided unanimous decisions where it has seen Liam showcase an aggressive yet patient grappling game to dominate his opponent to the buzzer.
In 2018, it is clear to see that McCracken is really hitting his stride and developing into a tremendously exciting talent. After losing his initial fight under the Celtic Gladiator banner in February, Liam got back on the proverbial horse in June against Estonian born Sandro Gogoladze on the UK Fighting Championships 7 card.
Gogoladze was most certainly the longer-limbed fighter in the contest posing a threat from distance. However, from the offset, whether it be a coach-influenced game plan or his own fight IQ, McCracken pushed forward to dominate the centre and attempt to pressure his opponent against the cage. After an initial unsuccessful scramble for a double-leg, a persistent Liam grasped his hands around the hips and sent Gogoladze to the canvass via a slamming double leg takedown. From side control, McCracken manages to pressure Gogoladze into exposing his neck and without further ado, grasped a slick guillotine choke to put an end to the fight with only 1:40 on the clock in the first round.
Now, this is a good point to mention what I find most impressive about McCracken. Referring back to my mention of his ground fundamentals by way of his coaches at ACSA, it seems that there is a noticeable switch in his character once the fight hits the canvass. Whilst the fight is standing, Liam shows his determination and ferocity in trying to get the fight to the ground, but when he obtains that authority and feels comfortable, his mentality seems to switch to be a more patient, technical and calculated mindset in order to advance his transitions and work towards control. This “comfort” in these positions is surely derived from his time under Dean Garnett and Phil Turner.
After his win over Gogoladze, McCracken kept the momentum going with a unanimous decision win over highly touted Sam Gittins and moved on to arguably the toughest test of his amateur career within the Cage Warriors Academy North West promotion on December 1st to see out the year.
Cage Warriors Academy is the regional level of the main Cage Warriors promotion. Ingeniously, it develops young, talented fighters through the ranks of amateur, and then feeds them into the main Cage Warriors promotion and on to greener pastures. Top notch UK and Northern Irish talents such as Cory McKenna and Cage Warriors’ new signing Liam Gittins have paid their dues in the development program.
For the vacant Cage Warriors Academy North West junior bantamweight belt, McCracken drew MMA Academy Liverpool protege, Curtis Campbell. Campbell, another leggy, distance-based striker would attempt to avoid the wrestling pressure game of McCracken to no avail.
The first round was one-sided, seeing Liam assertively slam Campbell to the canvass on four occasions and look for control of the back. Unable to lock in a choke, the penultimate round commenced, seeing McCracken’s dominant groundwork prevail again. Observing a 17-year-old amateur having the experience to lace his opponent’s legs and remove his base against the fence to keep full control speaks volumes, and it is this type of virtuosity that is not only a pleasure to watch for grappling fanatics but sets a young fighter apart from peers.
Another impressive and well-drilled part of McCracken’s skill-set is his ability to mix up the entries into takedowns. A lot of fighters that have a predominant grappling style tend to repeat their same preferred takedown entry to their detriment – this is not the case here. Whether it be a snatched single leg from outside or a level change with a trip from the clinch, McCracken has an assortment of options to exploit to keep his opponent guessing.
The third round saw a somewhat desperate Campbell, now heavily down on the scorecards over two rounds, look for a much-needed finish to see out the contest. A shift in momentum and pace saw McCracken go on the defensive, receiving an airborne slam of his own in the process. However, his aforementioned “comfort” with all things grappling allowed him to avoid any serious danger and see out the final round for the unanimous decision win.
As McCracken’s 2018 comes to an end on a certain high, he is morphing into a legitimate prospect that has the scouse fight fans feeling the excitement. It will be interesting to see how he defends his amateur title in such a high-level environment as the Cage Warriors Academy. Everyone on their roster has a hunger to impress. They are well versed and eager to make a name for themselves to calve their path into the Cage Warriors professional world and onwards with the likes of Paddy Pimblett and Darren Till.
One thing is for sure, McCraken’s early start in the business has been a tremendous learning curve for him and his confidence and enthusiasm, along with his fan base, has only grown. It is exciting to see how his career will blossom come 2019 under the tutorage of Garnett and Turner.
I will be catching up with Liam in the coming weeks for an interview so standby for the second part of this instalment.
– Brad Dalrymple
Follow me on Twitter @Brad_MMA