by Jake Smith
Multiple time IMMAF medalist Christian Leroy Duncan was crowned Cage Warriors Middleweight World Champion on Saturday night (April 2nd, 2022), following a stunning display in the main event of Cage Warriors 135.
Duncan faced off against the previously unbeaten Djati Mélan in what was undoubtedly the 26-year-old’s toughest challenge of his professional career so far.
The opening round of the contest was always going to be Mélan’s biggest. Known for utilising his heavy wrestling presence in the early stages of a contest, the former Cage Warriors champion secured a takedown less than 60 seconds into the bout. Duncan managed to get his back up against the cage and worked tirelessly to get back to his feet, however, Mélan stayed strong and kept the challenger down for the majority of the round.
The sheer amount of energy expended to keep Duncan grounded was apparent as they came out for round two. Ducan was the fresher man, constantly stance switching, throwing feints and forward pressure from the challenger had Melan fighting on the back foot. And as the round played out, Duncan came into his own, unloading an array of eye-catching strikes to level things up going into the third of five scheduled rounds.
As the two men met in the middle for round three, they struck vastly different statures. A fresh Duncan sensed the finish was a far cry from Mélan’s heavy breathing, tight guard and minimal movement. Instantly, the challenger’s extensive striking proficiency was back on display, firing off a barrage of shots, culminating in just falling centimetres short with an outside crescent kick. Seconds later, Duncan leapt into the air and fired a devastating flying knee which dropped the former champion forcing Marc Goddard to wave the bout off immediately.
In his relatively short professional career, Duncan has become synonymous with a flying knee. Talking to Edith Labelle post-fight, the new Middleweight king admitted it was not something he’d planned.
“As much as you might be surprised it wasn’t part of the game plan. I saw the opportunity and I took it at the time.”
“I had to take my time with him. I couldn’t rush anything because I knew I had to make the most of my energy at certain times to get out of what he wasn’t trying to do to me. He’s a very strong fighter. I think slowly as the fight went on I started to break him down slowly then I saw the opportunity and took the knee.”
Cage Warriors have become one of the main proven routes to the UFC, having had over 100 athletes sign with the promotion. However, Duncan is not looking that far ahead. Having spent four years learning his craft on the amateur scene, with over half of his bouts coming at IMMAF championships. He understands the importance of developing his game before making any hasty moves. Discussing his future, he said:
“I think it’s something I have to talk through with the team to make the most sensible decision. The one that makes the most sense going forward and make sure that when I go forward. I’m making a statement wherever I go. The same as when I took time to go from amateur to come here. And now two years later I’m at this stage. I’m not in a rush. As long as I’m elevating with each fight, we will see where I go from here.”
It was a clean sweep for IMMAF Alumni on the Cage Warriors Double Header. With each athlete leaving the weekend in the win column. Alongside Duncan, there were notable victories for Milad Ahady, James Sheehan and Ander Sanchez.
Images via Cage Warriors/Dolly Crew