Dave O’Donnell Talks to



Andy Geer (left) and Dave O'Donnell (right).


©Marc Wickert
11 August, 2006

photos© Cage Rage



Since 2002, Cage Rage promoters Dave O’Donnell and Andy Geer have been presenting UK’s premier ultimate fighting events. And from humble beginnings to now packing out Wembley Arena, they are currently delivering some of the world’s best MMA contests.


The boys had consistently filled Wembley Convention Centre, and were forced to pack up their mats and move to the bigger Wembley Arena for Cage Rage 17 (July1, 2006) – a problem Dave and Andy welcomed with open arms.


“We were over the moon - it being England’s semi-finals day. All the magazines, all the forums… Everyone was saying it was such a shame it was going to clash with World Cup fever. That was going to lose half the stand. They wouldn’t turn up. We were over the moon with the support we actually had,” says O’Donnell.


For Cage Rage 17, they filled the short hall of six-and-a-half thousand. Cage Rage 18 is set for eight thousand, but the arena can open out to hold fourteen thousand. At the rate CR is growing, it won’t be long before they’re using the entire complex.


But it wasn’t always like this: “September, 2002, that was our first show in Elephant Castle, London. We only did that to raise some money for mats for the club. We now run six martial arts clubs as well as Cage Rage.


“I’ve been doing martial arts for 29 years. And I saw UFC about eight years ago (November 12, 1993). I watched a little man called Royce Gracie rewriting martial arts with takedowns and BJJ. I mean, I’ve got some good shit… I was doing this street fighting style, which is an excellent style, but after watching Royce, I thought, I’m going to leave that and do mixed martial arts. It’s just a way forward.


“It was a bit of a shock for everyone, but you can either shy away from MMA and go back to what you were doing or you go forward. And I was one of the ones who just went forward – luckily at the right time. I was a bit before my time in England, so it was fantastic.”


Dave O'Donnell, Royce Gracie & Andy Geer at Cage Rage 2


Then Geer came along, and the pair forged a bond that would later change the course of UK’s fighting disciplines by combining the best of all styles. “Andy’s done a bit of judo and boxing through the years, and then he heard about my club - probably about four-and-a-half years ago. He liked the combat bit, where we actually fight each other, and he said, ‘Yeah, I’ll have some of this.’ He joined in and then we became friends.


“We actually sat down - after putting our guys into different tournaments and realizing how badly they were run… We said it would be nice to put them in a tournament that we would run, and show how to do it properly. Basically, we were just going to do one tournament, and after the first one, we said never again. But so many people wanted more, more, more.


“Then for our second one, we were lucky because I’d just trained with Royce Gracie and received my blue belt with him, and we asked him to be our special guest at Cage Rage number two. He actually refereed some of the fights for us. That was after having Frank Shamrock as our special guest at number one. Both were sell-outs and both had documentaries made about them, so we’ve done really well.”


Dave O'Donnell with Royce Gracie


Dave, a lot of sound is muffled by the audience when you have a full house. But Gilbert Yvel’s punches rang right through the arena, didn’t they?


“Yeah, man, that guy… We were just on the phone to his manager yesterday, and they want to come back in December and fight for the heavyweight title. It should be an awesome fight. I actually felt for Fabiano Sherner because Gilbert’s punches were incredible.


“And a bit of information, just hot off the press: We’re probably having Kimo at Cage Rage 18, and if contracts come back from his managers, he’ll be fighting Dave Legeno. Dave’s in America at the moment. He trained with Don Frye last night. He’s doing a little tour, training with different camps over there.”


With the likes of such international names as Gilbert Yvel, Melvin Manhoef, and UK’s own Ian Freeman, have UK fighters had to grow up fast?


“Three years ago we were behind, but now we’ve got so many black-belt jiu jitsu guys here… The guys go to America. We send them to America’s Top Team, Brazil’s Top Team, Shoot Box…They train at world-class camps, so now we’re catching up to the rest of the world.


“Look at Ross ‘The Boss’ Mason fighting Chris ‘Lights Out’ Lytle, Paul Daley vs Dave Strasser, Alex Reid fighting Tony Fryklund… I mean, they’re fighting world-class fighters. And you look at Zelg (Gesiac); he tapped out Curtis Stout at Cage Rage 17. They’re unbelievable, some of these guys.”


Would Mark Epstein’s KO of Dave Legeno be the biggest you’ve seen?


“No. Sol Gilbert’s one of Curtis Stout was our biggest KO, and it’s still playing all around the world. It was even bigger than Mark Epstein’s.”


You’ve got Mark up against Ian Freeman at Cage Rage 18. How will fans take to that?


“They’re loving it already over here. You’ve got a legend (Freeman) and an up-and-comer (Epstein). People say how do you call it? And it’s really hard.”


There’s a lot at stake for both men, isn’t there?


“They both need to win it: Epstein because he wants to move on and have a shot at Melvin (Manhoef), and Ian because he wants to win the title back.”


What did you think of the James ‘Colossus’ Thompson vs Robert ‘Bear’ Broughton fight?


“Actually, I was on the phone to James yesterday, and he was going, ‘Dave, just let me have another shot at him and I’ll smash him up.’ He just took Robert lightly. He looked at him as a pie man and took it easy for the last three weeks. James just knows he under-trained himself. That’s what let him down.”


How much does crowd support play in the outcome of a bout? The crowd seemed to get behind Robert and lift him.


“If you watch Rocky IV, when Rocky was fighting the Russian, that was the same thing. We had six-and a-half thousand people shouting for the pie man, and they turned it around because he was such an underdog. And that’s what happens some times. The crowd loves an underdog.”


Dave applying a rear naked choke


As well as bringing international ultimate-fighting stars to the UK, you’re also creating your own international-standard fighters, aren’t you?


“Oh, yes. I mean, Paul Daley has now been flown over to Japan to fight in Shooto, and I’ve been speaking to the PRIDE organizers of Bushido and I think he may be going over there in November. UFC were after him as well because he’s a young man with an awful lot of talent.”


Do you see this as leading to an exchange where Cage Rage fighters go to UFC and PRIDE?


“We’ve already had Mark Weir over in Bushido, and we’ve got the thing with PRIDE, where we do swap fighters. But UFC have so many shows at the moment… When I spoke to Joe Silva, he said they’ve got to feed their own shows, which is understandable. I think they’re doing 24 shows this year. Whereas PRIDE are not doing that many and they can rest send and say, ‘Right, can you go and fight in Cage Rage?’ But they’ll be borrowing some of our big stars like Mark Weir, Alex Reid, Paul Daley…”


What are your thoughts on the Paul Daley vs Sol Gilbert contest ?


“That will be another stand-up battle. They’ve both promised someone’s going to get knocked out.”


Who draws up the matches for Cage Rage?


“I do most of the matchmaking. Andy and I always run ideas past each other, but normally I’ve got stuff sorted out already.”


So it’s not like playing Hypothetical, where you and Andy sit down over a drink and say, “Who do you reckon would win out of this guy and that guy?


“No. A lot of the time we do have plans. You look at some of the guys and think, ‘He might fight him in a few shows time, and he can fight him, and that will be a great match… trying to build pyramids all the time… trying to work out good matches.”


Will the Tony Fryklund vs Alex Reid contest be a tough one?


“It’s definitely one to take Alex to the next level. He’s so confident of winning this match. But we’ve contracted Tony to come back a welterweight, which is more his true weight, I do believe. So in the future, you could see Tony Fryklund vs Paul Daley, Tony Fryklund vs Sol Gilbert.”


Ian Freeman said more and more fight fans are switching from boxing matches to ultimate fighting, where boxing is just one aspect of a match. Would you agree?


“One-hundred percent. I’ve just read a big article from the United States that said they had a major boxing show, and the pay-per-view got nowhere near what the UFC are getting. What stars have you got left in boxing? In the UFC, they’re creating stars every couple of months. Every six months there’s another rising star to set the crowd alight.”


In the UK, a lot of people would know who Ian Freeman is, wouldn’t they?




Years ago, everybody knew that Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson were the heavyweight champs at the time. But now, nobody knows who the world heavyweight champion is.


“Precisely. In fact, you could ask me that now and I wouldn’t know. I probably couldn’t name you five top boxing stars at the moment. It’s just the way it’s gone, and I think a lot of the boxing federation people over here are running scared. It’ll just take one big channel to pick up MMA over here and it will knock boxing off its perch.”


Dave, is there anything you’d like to add?


“I’d like to thank all the fans who fly from America, Australia, Spain, Portugal, Japan … all the international fans who come here to support Cage Rage.” 


Andy and Dave with Cage Rage dolls



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