Video interview with George Hardwick above
On 25th June 2021, Belfast fighter Joe McColgan punched a career-best performance when he submitted Agy Sardari in the main event of Cage Warriors 124. The third-round guillotine choke put an end to the champion’s title reign and announced McColgan as the new king of the Cage Warriors lightweights.
However, 13 months on, the 155lbs division lies in limbo.
With his fighting future unclear, McColgan relinquished his title in November, so as not to hold up the division. But despite his best efforts, the belt still remains vacant. A throne without a king.
While McColgan enjoyed the spoils of war that June night in London’s iconic York Hall, Middlesbrough fighter George Hardwick stamped his mark on the promotion on the prelims portion of the card, knocking out former Cage Warriors featherweight champion Dean Trueman with a ferocious body shot in what was the lone other lightweight contest.
It was Hardwick’s reintroduction to the Cage Warriors brass, and finishing a former champion was a statement that this time things would be different.
Having previously fought to a decision loss in his promotional debut against Madars Fleminas in 2019, the sole blemish on his pro scorecard, Hardwick ventured over to Bellator. Quickly returning to winning ways, Hardwick notched back-to-back wins over SBG Ireland fighters Richard Kiely and Nicolò Solli. It was the finish of Trueman, while donning the yellow gloves that have become so synonymous with Cage Warriors, that really drew attention to the Middlesbrough Fight Academy athlete though.
After Hardwick dispatched of 9-1 Czech prospect Jakub Dohnal last October, it was clear that matchmaker Ian Dean had a new title contender in his hands. With McColgan clearing the pathway for a new champion, Hardwick was booked a December date with French finisher Mehdi Ben Lakhdhar. The fight never came to fruition though. Ben Lakhdhar tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of the bout, so Hardwick’s title shot was postponed.
Unfortunately, that has been the recurring theme since. Hardwick was subsequently paired with Italian Danilo Belluardo three months later, but like the Ben Lakhdhar fight, his opponent never made it to the cage and again Hardwick was unable to fight for gold. Łukasz Kopera stepped in on short notice for a catchweight matchup in Belluardo’s absence, and similar to Hardwick’s two previous bouts, he stopped the Polish fighter inside two rounds. While the opportunity to compete for all the marbles has evaded Hardwick thus far, the Kopera win cemented the 25-year-old as the number-one contender in the division.
On Friday night, at Cage Warriors’ 20th anniversary show in London, it seems that the lightweight division will finally move on.
Hardwick is set to square off against American Kyle Driscoll. Since joining the esteemed American Kickboxing Academy, Driscoll is unbeaten in his past 8 encounters, dating back to 2017. Driscoll was within touching distance of a UFC contract following his 2020 Contender Series win, but Dana White and co-opted not to sign the former wrestler from Oklahoma. While much of the focus in the Cage Warriors lightweight division was on prospects rising up through the UK scene, Driscoll let his presence be known when he extended his winning streak in the main event of CW133, the third instalment of the promotion’s recent expansion into SoCal.
So, Hardwick and Driscoll were pitted against each other to determine a new 155lbs champion, at long last. It will be the first crossover fight with title implications since Cage Warriors branched out into the North American market last year. Like many fans/media, it was a surprise to George Hardwick:
“When I was thinking who would be the title guy, the picture was really McColgan, Figlak, Mehdi. I was expecting one of these three, so Kyle was really out of the blue. In a way, I’m more excited for Kyle, even though his style is probably less exciting.” Hardwick told MyMMANews.com.
Training alongside the likes of recently-inducted UFC hall of famers Khabib Nurmagomedov and Daniel Cormier on a daily basis, Driscoll represents a lineage of fighters that excites Hardwick.
“It’s more exciting, this fight with Kyle, because of the team he trains at. Because he’s coming from America, there’s more questions there, and I like questions. I like seeing what happens.”
Though the San Jose fight team has produced multiple UFC champions, and continues to churn out future contenders, Hardwick insists that he isn’t going to get swept up in awe by the MMA powerhouse.
“I always think people can over rate a big gym. They go to a big gym and assume that just by being there they’re going to be better.“ Hardwick explained.
“A good example is Demetrious Johnson. In his whole title run, he said he didn’t have any other professional fighters he trained with apart from like Bibiano Fernandes. He didn’t bring anyone in. He didn’t travel loads to train, but he whooped everyone from all the best teams. I think it’s always a very interesting mix between the smaller gym and the big globally known gym, and I don’t think the big globally known gym is better in every situation.”
It feels like we should still be whispering when talking about this matchup, knowing Hardwick’s recent luck, but this time it’s starting to feel real. The stars appear, at least, to be aligning. With the UFC in town for their own London card, and Cage Warriors celebrating their 20th year, the grandeur of the moment is befitting of a coronation. While you could forgive either fighter’s eyes for wandering in the direction of the UFC—and how could they not when Cage Warriors have previously graduated over 100 fighters to the world leader—Hardwick isn’t fixated on grabbing the belt and running. If the throne runs through Middlesbrough, Hardwick is ready to be the king it’s been missing.
“It will be the biggest, by far, moment of my career, but I’m not going to just put myself on the shelf, sit around and wait for the UFC. I need to compete. Some people have maybe defended the belt once and think they’re owed some UFC opportunity.”
“At no point will I ever feel like I’m owed anything, because I do this for myself and I do this for the enjoyment of fighting. So, I’m not going to lose a year or two of my career by sitting back trying to negotiate with everyone. I’m going to compete, that’s what I do!”