Mike Ekundayo takes on Jack Shore in the main event of Cage Warriors 100 Saturday in Cardiff, Wales, but the London bantamweight was calling for a title shot before he even made his debut under the promotional banner.
While Shore’s progression has been more visible as he scaled through the Cage Warriors ranks, Ekundayo has been diligently working behind the scenes, fortifying his own unbeaten record that, like his opponent’s, can be traced back to his days as an amateur.
Despite plaudits from former Cage Warriors champion and current UFC fighter, Nathaniel Wood, who insists that Ekundayo is “the strongest bantamweight” he’s ever sparred, “Airlines”—a name bestowed on him due to his powerful takedown ability—feels as though he’s somewhat of an unknown quantity going into Saturday night’s title fight.
“I’ve always seen myself as a grafter that’s been grafting under the woodworks, [I’m] not necessarily in the spotlight like some other fighters have been,” Ekundayo told Eurobash.
“I’ve grafted in silence and now it’s my time to be in front of everyone and shine. You’re gonna hear it from my teammates…they’re going to say my name and stuff. In the gym, I was always regarded as Team Titan’s top secret, so now the secret is loose.”
It’s not often that we see two unbeaten, high touted prospects face off against each other for a coveted promotional title. Cage Warriors belts have proved to be a calling card for the UFC with nearly 100 fighters making their way to the Octagon following appearances with the promotion.
Perhaps that’s why the Titan talent was calling for a shot at the strap before he made his first outing under the banner.
“Even before I fought on Cage Warriors that time, it’s like I’m always looking at the next thing,” he said.
“I was at Cage Warriors Super Saturday when Nathan Greyson won the [flyweight] belt and Nathaniel [Wood] defended [the bantamweight title] for last time, that was before I had even fought on Cage Warriors. The whole evening I was on Ian [Dean’s] case. I was like, ‘Ian, you need to get me on the show!’
“He finally got me on the show and before that fight even happened I was like, ‘Ian, you’re giving me a title shot after this fight!’ You get what you ask for I guess, so it didn’t surprise me.”
A student of the game, the Londoner prides himself on his knowledge of the bantamweight field, regionally and internationally, but he kept his cards close to his chest when asked to give an estimation of Shore’s ability.
“His ability? He’s good…he’s good…he’s good. I’ve got nothing more to say…he’s good,” he stated.
Ekundayo does not believe he will be fazed by Shore’s passionate Welsh support, regardless of it being the first time he’s fought on enemy territory.
“I haven’t gone into enemy territory before, but I know who I am as a person, so all of that is minor. The crowd is the crowd, it doesn’t win you fights, you have to perform to win the fights. That is new compared to all the fights that I’ve had, but to be honest, that’s the only thing that is new—everything else, I’ve done it before,” he explained.
“I’ve been on the big stage, I’ve main evented before and I’ve main evented for a title before. I’ve fought on Bellator 200 and this is Cage Warriors 100, so I’ve done the big milestone show before. I’ve been the underdog before; I’ve gone in with legitimate contenders before, so the only thing that’s new is the hostile territory, but that’s only one thing and I know how I am. It’s just tunnel vision, crowd’s don’t win you fights.”
A win for either fighter will launch their stock into the stratosphere, but “Airlines” remains grounded, focusing on victory instead of everything that could potentially come along with it.
“It will put me out there to a whole new audience, but it is what it is. It feels like it’s another day in the office. I don’t put it on such a high pedestal, to me it’s just another day in the office. I’ve been here before, I’ve done all of this before, I’m just doing it once more. And when I do it again it isn’t in the back of my mind that people are going to care more than my other ones, but it comes with the territory.”