CW boss Graham Boylan on promotion's magic formula: 'We build stars'
On Saturday night at the iconic Eventim Apollo, British promotion Cage Warriors will stage one of its biggest shows ever as they stack the deck with six world title fights at Cage Warriors 106, which streams worldwide on UFC Fight Pass.
Dubbed “Night of Champions,” it’s an event that has taken a lot of planning from the mastermind behind the promotion, president Graham Boylan. Speaking to MMA Junkie ahead of this weekend’s landmark show, the Irishman said the extra legwork will pay off on fight night.
“It was tricky, but I think it’s an historic night in the organization’s history,” he said. “Being at such an iconic venue as the Apollo, moving along the lines of world-renowned acts and having the tagline ‘Live at the Apollo’ made a lot of things fall into line. It kind of came together quite naturally when we started that snowball and, before we knew it, we had a pretty big snowball on our hands.”
Boylan says the secret of Cage Warriors’ success is a lack of promotional ego, with the Irishman explaining that recognizing and embracing their place in the MMA world has been instrumental to their success.
“I think that’s the common mistake in this industry,” he said. “Everybody thinks they’re the king in the room, and I think that when you step back and realize and accept that you’re not the king in the room, you’re not the be-all and end-all in the sport, and you realize where you fit in in the hierarchy, I think it’s easier. It’s called acceptance. When you accept it, you can move on, embrace the situation and roll with that.”
That acceptance has led to Cage Warriors embracing their position as Europe’s premier feeder league to the UFC, with the organization consistently delivering UFC-ready talent to the world’s biggest MMA organization. It’s become the promotion’s M.O. and Boylan is happy with how things have progressed.
“For Cage Warriors and the team and what we do here, we’re under no illusions,” he said. “We build stars. We put a platform in front of them that they wouldn’t have on other shows. We go live into 150+ million homes around the world across 110 countries, including, on top of that, UFC Fight Pass. So to have the UFC as a broadcast partner, to have all those TV stations in different countries showing the fights, it gives these guys the exposure they need to go on to bigger things.”
Boylan and Cage Warriors are rapidly approaching a notable milestone – their 100th fighter to graduate from Cage Warriors to the UFC – and he says he has taken great satisfaction from seeing his fighters not only make it to the big show, but thrive once they’re there.
Cage Warriors’ most notorious graduate, of course, is Conor McGregor, who became a “champ champ” under the Cage Warriors banner before going on to repeat the feat in the UFC. But he’s just one of a plethora of household names to have come through Cage Warriors’ doors. Michael Bisping, Dan Hardy, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Joanne Calderwood, Molly McCann, Jack Hermansson and Arnold Allen, to name just a few, are among the lengthy list of Cage Warriors alumni to have made it to the big show. Even former Cage Warriors play-by-play man John Gooden made the jump to the UFC.
And the latest name to make that jump, undefeated Welsh bantamweight prospect Jack Shore, is one athlete Boylan says he takes particular satisfaction from seeing succeed.
“Jack Shore has grown up in Cage Warriors,” he explained. “He fought in amateur Cage Warriors, he had his pro debut in Cage Warriors, he went through all the prelims, then on to the main card, then into the main event, then became the Cage Warriors bantamweight champion.”
And while some fighters, like Shore, work their way through the Cage Warriors system, others arrived in the organization already UFC-ready, but just needed the right exposure to earn the opportunity their skills deserved.
“Joanna Jedrzejczyk is probably one of those examples,” Boylan suggested. “She had an amazing track record in MMA and Muay Thai, but she was still there for us to pick up and put on Cage Warriors – she wasn’t signed at the time. She fought in Cage Warriors, and she was signed to the UFC the following month, so that’s a prime example. Whether it’s one fight or whether you’ve grown up with us, Cage Warriors is the platform if you want to move on to the UFC.”
Cage Warriors’ close ties with the UFC offer a host of promotional possibilities and, with the Las Vegas promotion’s recent opening of their new Apex facility, the prospect of a future Cage Warriors show at the venue is one that has piqued Boylan’s interest.
“We love doing things outside the box,” he said. “We’ve done shows in places people would never have dreamed we would have gone, and it’s confused the hell out of people. It’s outside-the-box thinking, and it’s creative thinking. Cage Warriors at the Apex in Vegas? That sounds good to me, man.”
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