Scenic valleys, rich folklore and plenty of sheep; all things which identify the rural country of Wales. Mixed Martial Arts is rarely something associated with these. And yet some of the brightest talents of the sport of MMA are rising up out of the small country.
Figures such as Jack Marshman and John Phillips have been established Welsh fighters in the UFC for some time now. However, whilst these fighters are undeniably deserving of their place in the UFC, they have never broken into the top-10 rankings of their respective divisions.
Until the emergence of these new prospects, Wales’ greatest hope for a Welsh champion was almost entirely centred around one man, Brett ‘The Pikey’ Johns. Brett was a consistently high performing fighter in the UFC’s bantamweight division, with wins over high-level opposition. However, losses to current number 1 contender Aljamain Sterling, and top-5 staple Pedro Munhoz limited his climb through the 135lb division. In 2020, despite riding a 2 fight win streak, Johns announced that he would not be renewing his UFC contract. He has since signed to Bellator, where he still holds a good chance in getting some gold for Wales.
With the departure of Johns, one might think that the future for Welsh MMA in the UFC is not particularly bright. However, there are three young fighters who could well be poised for greatness within the UFC.
Jack “Tank” Shore
The man leading the vanguard of this new wave of Welsh martial artists is no other than Abertillery’s own, Jack ‘Tank’ Shore. A teammate of the aforementioned Brett Johns, Jack Shore is an undefeated bantamweight, with two UFC wins under his belt already. Shore initially made his name on the Cage Warriors circuit, tearing through the 135lb division and capturing the belt along the way.
A versatile fighter, Shore is as happy to play out a technical battle on the feet, as much as he is willing to let his high level jiu-jitsu dominate the fight on the ground. A sharp crisp jab, and fast debilitating low kicks allow him to dictate the stand-up game, and the constant threat of a takedown keeps his opponent guessing. Even the form in which the takedown will emerge is varied, with ‘Tank’ using a bodylock from the clinch, just as often as he shoots in for a double leg.
Once the fight hits the ground, Shore’s ability to transition through positions is a sight to behold. Especially adept at taking the back, his submission of choice is the rear naked choke. 8 submission finishes, 7 of which are by RNC speak to it’s effectiveness for the young Welshman.
At the age of 25, Shore is perfectly poised to make a run through the 135lb division, and one would think he may be looking at a ranking should he rack up a couple more wins. Shore was booked to fight Khalid Taha in what would have been his highest profile fight yet, though he was unfortunately forced to withdraw due to Visa issues.
Despite this, Shore remains on the cusp of the top 15, and undeniably has a bright future ahead of him.
Cory “Hobbit/Poppins” McKenna
“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” Words written by JRR Tolkein, in regards to Cory McKenna’s ‘nickname-sake’, the Hobbits. Amusing fantasy literature comparisons aside, Cory McKenna is paving the way for Welsh MMA. In 2020, Cory became the first female Welsh mixed martial artist to grace the UFC octagon.
Her debut was in no way a walk in the park either. She was matched up with Kay Hansen, one of the highest touted American prospects at the time. However, fans of McKenna knew that Hansen would have her hands full with the young Welsh prospect. Whilst Hansen’s technical jiu-jitsu saw her eek out some success at times, the gritty pressure from McKenna quickly put paid to Hansen’s undefeated UFC career. McKenna holds a 6-1 record, with (T)KO’s, submissions and decisions all on her resume. For her last two fights, McKenna has been training in Sacramento, at the prestigious Team Alpha Male, with likes of UFC royalty Urijah Faber.
Despite a constantly polite and pleasant demeanour outside of the cage, whenever McKenna steps into that octagon a different side to her quickly comes to play. An intriguing mix of technical striking, and complete willingness to turn every fight into an absolute brawl, leads to high octane fights from the 21 year old.
Rapid roundhouse kicks, and an agile superman punch often appear on her highlight reels. However, just as effective is her gritty ground game, where she will deliver ruthless G&P to either force a stoppage, or allow openings for submission attempts. Following McKenna’s win over Hansen, it is likely that her next fight will be against a mainstay of the strawweight division.
Mason “The Dragon” Jones
UFC’s latest signing from Wales, Mason Jones is following in the footsteps of greatness. Yet another Cage Warriors alumni, Jones held both the lightweight and welterweight belts for the promotion. The only men to do so before him are UFC legend Dan Hardy, and the ‘Notorious’ Conor McGregor.
‘The Dragon’ dominated the Cage Warriors lightweight division, ending up with an undefeated record and two belts. As a result, Jones recently made his UFC debut on the 2021 Fight Island venture. Despite picking up a decision loss, it would appear that ‘The Dragon’s’ stock has only grown. Jones, and his opponent Mike Davis, put on an incredible fight of the night performance. Both men displayed grit, determination, technique and power. This would be the first loss in Jones’ career. However, the Welshman has taken it in his stride, and is looking to get back in the octagon as soon as possible.
As seems to be a running theme with Welsh prospects, Jones is a solid well-rounded fighter. Fans of MMA, who had only seen Jones’ UFC performance, might be shocked to hear that he has an equal number of (T)KO’s to submissions. The style he brings to a fight is one that will likely excel in the 155lb division. Strong boxing fundamentals allow him to build a game that also incorporates elements of muay thai, especially within the clinch. Just to mix things up further, occasionally taekwondo spinning techniques will materialize, creating space or cutting off angles.
Lightweight is a stacked division in the UFC, however Jones really does have a chance breaking into the top 15. A fan-friendly style of fighting, a likeable and outspoken personality, and the experience to boot, Jones has all the attributes the UFC seem to love in a fighter.
Wales’ 3-1 Cage Warriors fighter, Oban Elliot may well be one to watch for the future. All three of his wins come by finish, and despite his most recent fight ending in a loss, he has the potential to leave his mark on the MMA world in the future.
What’s your opinion on Wales’ young blood? Let us know in the comments.