Mike Wood recalls his Cage Contender VIII experience to PETER CARROLL where he suffered a devastating knockout loss to Conor McGregor. Taking the fight on just two days’ notice, Wood discusses how he was contacted in relation to the fight, his first encounters with McGregor, the fight itself and the implications the loss had on his career.
Cage Contender VIII was arguably the most highly anticipated national MMA event to date when it was originally announced. Chris Fields was set to defend his middleweight title against John Redmond, Cathal Pendred was penned for a rematch against Liam Shannon for the welterweight title and a host of other talent including Norman Parke, Paddy Holohan, Greg Loughran and Conor McGregor were also set for action on Saturday, March 12th 2011.
The card suffered several casualties with Fields, Parke and Loughran dropping out due to injury and a lack of willing opponents, but it was the journey to find McGregor an opponent that seemed to be the hardest task. The Dubliner was originally matched with Dominic McConnell at featherweight, but when the NFT fighter pulled out of the bout veteran Martin Begley answered the call to face the daunting prospect at lightweight.
However, Begley was reported to have suffered a wrist injury (despite later taking another fight a week before Cage Contender VIII) and the ball fell to Team Ryano’s Liam O’Toole. The Ryano man injured himself in training only to be replaced by French fighter Nicolas Garcia who did not show up for the event’s weigh-in, allegedly citing “car trouble” for his no show.
On the Thursday before the fight, Mike Wood was contacted in England and he jumped at the chance to compete having been looking for an opponent for some time before Cage Contender got in touch.
“I arrived in Dublin on the Saturday, the day of the event, after taking the fight on two days’ notice,” explained Wood. “I hadn’t been told what had happened with the other opponents. I was looking for a fight at the time for my own reasons and I think the offer came to me by proxy from Ian Freeman.
“It was a simple decision for me to make. I needed a fight and these guys wanted me to fight in Ireland, so I took them up on their offer. All I was told was that I was fighting a heavy handed south paw.”
McGregor’s reputation was on the rise having bounced back from his loss to Joseph Duffy with a first round TKO win against Hugh Brady, but Wood revealed that he had no previous knowledge of the Straight Blast Gym charge before their meeting.
“I took it on such short notice that I couldn’t really do any homework on him. I had been told he was a good striker, and although I’m more of a grappler, I thought it would be a good chance for me to see if I could hang in on the feet with this guy. I really had no idea how talented Conor was,” acknowledged the Englishman.
Wood recalled his first time seeing McGregor at the event’s rules meeting and the customary intimidating scowl of the Irishman that has become commonplace at weigh-ins and press conferences was nowhere to be seen.
“Conor showed up a bit late and when he came in we recognised each other and we just said ‘Hi’. He went off to hang around with his mates and because I had no corner or anything sorted I had to go and get that arranged. I had nobody with me but I managed to get some guys that were going to the event to do it for me.
“He struck me as a nice guy. There were no airs and graces about him, he didn’t get in my face like ‘I’m going to fucking kill you’ or anything like that. He’s obviously a very dangerous person once that cage door closes but when he’s outside it he struck me as a grounded person,” he said.
The fight was one of the most devastating declarations of international intent from an Irish MMA competitor. Throwing out a couple of jabs as feelers, McGregor threw a straight left hand that connected with Wood, then a left hook that broke through his opponent’s raised hands before switching to uppercuts as the Englishman tried to take the fight to the floor.
Scrambling their way across the cage with Wood still trying to complete the takedown, McGregor whipped his power hand three more times signalling the end of the bout in just 16 seconds.
“Of the 16 second fight I think I can remember a good 14,” he laughed. “The first thing I always remember about it was the crowd, they were phenomenal. I had thought that we were on the undercard and it wasn’t until later that I realised that we’d be on the main card.
“Even though it was intimidating, I remember thinking it was really cool to be involved in this fight with the way the crowd were. I think we double touched gloves and then I just remember being hit five times, really fucking hard.
“I think I was backed up against the cage after that and he was just teeing off on me with left hands. I tried to go for the takedown and he sprawled, he has an amazing sprawl, and the last thing I remember was getting cracked with left hands again,” he said.
Wood spoke of how McGregor contacted him after the bout and discussed why he doesn’t regret taking the bout, despite leaving the arena with a permanent reminder of their clash.
“He made inroads to talk to me after the fight, he actually broke my orbital bone and he checked up on me. I still don’t regret taking the fight and I’d never use only having two days to prepare as an excuse.
“The better man won on the day. I think a lot of guys get involved in this sport for the glory, but I just genuinely love fighting. There are a lot of wannabes that get into the sport because they like the image. They get into the cage and have tickling contests with one another, fuck that.
“Yeah, I’ve got a piece of metal in my face now because of that fight, I get stopped every time I go through the airport but I’m happy I had the experience.
“Maybe it was a mismatch, but it certainly wasn’t Conor’s fault and I wouldn’t use it as an excuse. There are some dodgy promoters out there that will do anything to see certain fighters perform on their cards, but I don’t think that was the case.
“I was given plenty of warning that it was a talented knockout artist that I would be facing and I wanted the fight,” said the straight talking Brit.
Wood also brought to light what consequences the bout had on his career which forced him to accept how far he would go in the sport.
“I suppose the fight did have a knock on effect on my career,” he admitted. “The reason why I needed a fight so badly at the time was because I had to have three fights on my record to try out for a season of The Ultimate Fighter in New Jersey and when I was made aware of it I only had two.
“As soon as I woke up inside the cage I knew that I wouldn’t make it to that level. I’m still fighting, but I have no real ambition to make it to the UFC. There is a massive gulf between regional shows and the UFC and Conor proved that to me, I just couldn’t match him.”
“I’ve tried to stop fighting in the past but there’s always that devil on my shoulder telling me to get back in there. I just love it too much.”
As for his opinion of McGregor, where the Irish knockout artist has ended up is no surprise to Wood.
“I’m not surprised that he’s ended up in the UFC at all, he’s a fantastic fighter and I’ve got the metal in my face to prove it. It’s not only the awesome ability he has, he’s a showman, when he talks people listen and he’s got great self-belief.
“The fact that he won both the Cage Warriors lightweight and featherweight titles is unbelievable too, that’s such a hard thing to do. The way he did it too, he smashed through everyone they put in front of him.
“I did feel bad about how I lost to him for a while, but I remember hearing that he put the next guy he fought away even quicker than me. Thank Christ for that, at least I wasn’t the quickest.
“I’m glad that I got to get in there with him and I’d like to thank Conor for the traditional Irish welcome,” he laughed. “The Dublin crowd were amazing even though they weren’t shouting for me and I’d love to get the chance to fight in front of them again.”
You can check out other editions of Petesy Carroll’s “Facing McGregor”
Conor Dillon ¦ Paddy Doherty ¦ Gary Morris ¦ Joseph Duffy
You can see the fight highlights in our McGregor interview below: