Cage Rage was not the first British mixed martial arts promotion, and its 2002 debut event, Cage Rage: The Beginning was far from the first MMA card to take place in the United Kingdom, as the November 1993 inception of the Ultimate Fighting Championship had copycat events cropping up in Britain within months. Nonetheless, the organization known at the time as Cage Rage Championships and the event that took place in London on Sept. 7, 2002—just months after UFC 38 brought the Octagon to the Isles for the first time—were pivotal in the history of the sport, in the U.K. as well as worldwide.
Not that the show itself offered many indications of that future importance. A solid half of the fighters on the card were making their professional debuts that night and the only ones who would make any kind of splash internationally were Brazilian expat Jean Silva and future UFC welterweight Paul Taylor. Even worse, the peculiarities of Cage Rage’s initial ruleset—which would be scrapped immediately for an approximation of the Unified Rules—led to five draws in the 13-fight card, including Silva’s and Taylor’s fights.
From that somewhat inauspicious beginning, however, Cage Rage would go on to become Britain’s first truly long-lived and important MMA organization, and perhaps the most important European promotion of its era, period. From its 2002 inception to its 2008 dissolution in the wake of an ill-fated merger with EliteXC, every U.K. fighter of note passed through its eight-sided cage. In addition, Cage Rage served as a major stop-off point for international stars who were either at the beginning, end, or a transitional point in their careers. Vitor Belfort went there while in PED purgatory from North American promotions. Anderson Silva fought there after leaving Pride Fighting Championships but before signing with the UFC.
The who’s who of mid-00s fighters who turned up in Cage Rage is impressive enough that it is mildly surprising that the organization’s heyday was so relatively short, and it all started 18 years ago in London. Today, of course, there are several major MMA promotions in the U.K. and quite a few more in Continental Europe, and Cage Rage frontman Dave O’Donnell remains deeply involved in the sport as the founder and CEO of Ultimate Challenge MMA, a major pipeline of amateur and professional talent.