The Cage Turns 10 in Finland

By Markus Wikholm and Heikki Hujala Apr 28, 2008
HELSINKI, Finland, April 26 -- In 2004 the Finnish MMA scene experienced something it had never seen before when a new promotion called The Cage introduced the single most recognizable icon of mixed martial arts: the eight-sided cage.

After four years of bouts and beatdowns, it was time for a celebration Saturday as The Cage held its 10th event, "Neoblood." Not letting the moniker down, the night was filled with both impressive performances by new prospects and some revivals of old blood.

The main event offered a bout between two competitors who can't be called rookies by any stretch of the imagination. Two men considered top-10 European lightweights, Jarkko Latomäki of Finland and Furdjel de Windt (Pictures) of Dutch Team Schrijber, brought their combined experience of more than 50 bouts to the cage.

Latomäki is originally a boxer who has shed his skin in MMA to become a devastating ground-and-pound-machine, while De Windt is a submission master who has never been knocked out or submitted in his career.

Early, Latomäki seemed light on his feet, using a lot of head movement and feints that didn't really seem to faze the more stable and relaxed de Windt. The punches were only a setup for Latomäki to explode into a long and deep double-leg that had no trouble getting de Windt on his back.

On the ground it was clear why de Windt has never been stopped. He showed excellent guard skills in keeping Latomäki at bay by tying him down and consistently working for a submission or sweep. After they were stood up, Latomäki once again impressed by changing quickly from a striking combination to another strong shot. De Windt again managed to avoid most of the punishment offered for the rest of the round, though.

Come round two the name of the game was clear. De Windt had nothing to counter the impressive takedown tactics of Latomäki, but on the ground the Finn wasn't able to impose his will on the crafty Dutchman and served only pitter-patter pounding. De Windt tried everything in his arsenal, from triangles to guillotines and gogoplatas, but to no avail.

Standups due to inactivity did nothing but offer Latomäki a chance to show more of his takedown game, which probably at this stage is Finland's best. The same stalemate reigned through rounds two and three, and Latomäki eventually won the unanimous decision after a bout that had consisted of more tactical nuances than hard-hitting action.

"I knew how dangerous he was and that I had to be cautious," Latomäki told after the fight. "Furdjel had me on the defense for the whole time we were on the ground. Every time I was going for something, I felt that I was putting myself in danger. I've never faced a guard like that. All the praise to de Windt."

In preparing for the bout, Latomäki had traveled to the United States.

"With the help of Martin Kampmann (Pictures), me and Mikko Suvanto (Pictures) went to train at Randy Couture (Pictures)'s gym in Las Vegas for two weeks," he said. "It really opened my eyes. I saw what the next level is like. In Finland it's hard to find good sparring partners. At Xtreme Couture you have something like 15 guys who compete in the UFC. You are training with the likes of Wanderlei Silva (Pictures) and Phil Baroni (Pictures), who don't care who you are and just train hard all the time."

While the veterans were in charge of the main event action, it was the rising prospects who were responsible for the fight of the night when featherweights Sirwan Kakai of Sweden and Michael Grönfors of Finland's GB Gym clashed in a two-round war.

The story between the two men was a familiar one. Earlier in an amateur bout, Kakai had tapped Grönfors. Now the Finn was after a professional payback.

Grönfors started the fight by actively circling the Swede and opening with clean combos. Once the Finn started to mix in some high kicks, the shorter Kakai felt the need to nullify the distance by pushing the Finn against the cage. Both men actively fought for the superior position against the cage, with Kakai repeatedly attempting takedowns and Grönfors kneeing him along the way.

As the men broke, Grönfors capitalized on the space by connecting with a big one-two combo, stunning his opponent and getting a Thai plum on him. He delivered some knees and used the plum to aggressively throw Kakai on the ground. The Finn then quickly pounced, but Kakai stayed composed, transitioning from an armbar attempt to a kneebar. The round ended with the fighters stuck midway in the submission.

After the break they shared smirks, touched gloves and exchanged some strikes until a shot from the outside by Kakai resulted in a scramble against the cage. Grönfors eventually got his opponent down and delivered some big strikes from the top.

But Kakai once again was active off his back and scrambled to his feet. Grönfors took use of being vertical once again, and he clipped the Swede with a flying knee. Kakai stumbled back on the mat but recovered hastily, surviving the pounding barrage and the last moments of the bout.

After an action-packed 10 minutes, Grönfors earned the decision and Kakai learned that payback indeed is as unpleasant as the saying implies.

A fellow countryman of Kakai in David Lejenäs had more success in his bout. A Shooto Europe champion at 135 pounds, Lejenäs was the clear favorite in his bout against Heikki Tillikka of MMA Rauma. The champion did not disappoint by reversing Tillikka's single-leg attempt with a technically beautiful kimura sweep to get a submission victory early in the first round.

While the card offered champions and close fights, the loudest cheers were definitely heard when Tuomas Murdoch, one of the godfathers of MMA in Finland, revived some old blood for a comeback. Murdoch had had a two and a half year absence from fighting, during which he had been concentrating on promoting The Cage and coaching.

The ring rust was not apparent. He took down Jaroslav Poborsky of Czech Republic at will and delivered a buffet of pounding before finishing with a neat arm triangle to the great delight of the crowd.

A kickboxing champion who's become an MMA wrecking machine, Mathias Klockars defeated fellow bantamweight Erikas Suslovas (Pictures) of Lithuania. While Klockars seemed to basically use Suslovas as a heavy bag standing up, he struggled to defend the Lithuanian's takedowns. Klockars eventually made use of Suslovas overcomitting on an attempt, however, and tapped the Lithuanian with a rear-naked choke after pounding on him.

Another overcommitment was the case in Juha-Pekka Vainikainen succumbing to lightweight prospect Edvardas Norkeliunas. As Vainikainen worked against the cage and tried to hip throw his opponent, he accidentally gave up his back. Norkeliunas capitalized for another choke victory.

Bohumil Lungrik, another Czech national, looked impressive in his bout against Timo Suhonen (Pictures) of Espoon Kehähait. For most of the fight, Lungrik was on his way to a decision victory, as he punished Suhonen by avoiding being taken down while delivering solid knees.

In the final round, though, it seemed Lungrik thought that the referee had called a break. The referee and Suhonen went on normally, and Suhonen accidentally hit Lungrik around the eye, which led to Lungrik opting to quit with seconds left on the clock.

Russian Welterweight Sergei Bal impressed by hurting opponent Pekka Rantala with heavy hands and ending the bout off his back with an armbar.

The night was topped off with welterweight Olli-Jaakko Uitto quickly submitting countryman Timo Lång with a triangle choke, and Teemu Inkeroinen outworking Czech Republic's Patrik Kincel for a decision win at middleweight.
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