European MMA promotions have for years proved fertile breeding ground for some of MMA’s biggest stars. The likes of Conor McGregor, Michael Bisping and Jan Blachowicz cut their teeth in the region’s top promotions prior to gaining mainstream success. And now more than ever, we’re seeing an increasing number of European fighters funnel through these promotions into the UFC, Bellator and the PFL.
Here we rank the top 4 European MMA promotions right now.
1. Cage Warriors
No other European MMA promotion has produced such a star-studded list of fighters than Cage Warriors. The likes of Conor McGregor, Michael Bisping, Joanna Jędrzejczyk and Dan Hardy all rose through the promotion’s ranks prior to achieving global success. So too current UFC stars Paddy Pimblett, Ian Garry, Jack Hermansson and Molly McCann, among others. Bellator’s Gegard Mousasi also cut his teeth in Cage Warriors.
Since its founding in 2001, Cage Warriors has hosted over 150 events across the United Kingdom, Ireland and continental Europe. The Irish-owned, London-based promotion has even made its way onto US shores, having staged three events in San Diego, California in the past year.
Formally known as Konfrontacja Sztuk Walki, which translates from Polish into “Martial Arts Confrontation,” KSW rose from the humblest beginnings to become one of the biggest European MMA promotions.
The Poland based outfit was founded in the early 2000’s by Martin Lewandowski, at the time a manager at the Hotel Marriot in Warsaw, and friend Maciej Kawulski. Back then, MMA was a little-known sport in Poland, and the duo quickly realized that there was an untapped opportunity to bring MMA to the Eastern European country.
“My personal goal was to find new sports which weren’t so well known and try to grow them in the country,” Lewandowski told Bloody Elbow in 2019. “I tried with Formula 1 and American Football, but those efforts didn’t really come to anything. Myself and Maciej thought we saw a gap in the market for MMA so that is when KSW was born.”
In 2004, KSW held its first event in a sports bar within the Warsaw Marriot Hotel, before just 300 fans. Fast forward to 2017, and the promotion broke the then record for the largest live attendance at a European MMA event, and achieved the second largest in history, with over 57,000 attending KSW 39 in Warsaw. KSW has now held over seventy events in Poland, the UK and even in the US.
Like other European promotions, KSW was also the old stomping ground for some of the best talent in the UFC. Former UFC light heavyweight champ Jan Blachowicz is the most famous KSW alum. Surging lightweight Mateusz Gamrot, middleweight Dricus Du Plessis, and women’s flyweight Karolina Kowalkiewicz also once plied their trade in KSW.
Even UFC heavyweight Alexander Gustafson once graced the KSW ring early in his career, so too all-round combat sports icon and TV personality Butterbean.
3. M-1 Global
If you’re wondering why so much top talent from the former Soviet states has entered the UFC in recent years, part of the reason is M1-Global. Since 2018, the St. Petersburg, Russia based promotion has been in partnership with the UFC, serving as a farm league for the world’s premier MMA outfit to scout fighters.
Most recently, we’ve seen surging welterweight prospect Shavkat Rakhmonov and featherweight Movsar Evloev enter the UFC via M1-Global. Heavyweights Alexander Volkov, Marcin Tybura and Alexey Oliynyk also travelled the same path. And MMA greats Khabib Nurmagomedov and Fedor Emelianenko also briefly fought in M1-Global.
M1-Global is one of the oldest European MMA promotions, with a history stretching back to 1997. It’s also one of the more unconventional. In 2015, the promotion debuted M1-Medieval, which features full-contact jousting matches between “knights” dressed in chain mail and wielding swords. Surely there can’t be a more European take on MMA than this.
4. Absolute Championship Akhmat
The talent that has sprung forth from Absolute Championship Akhmat (ACB) over the years surely warrants its inclusion among the top European MMA promotions. However, the Russian based outfit is also notorious for its close ties to one of the region’s most ruthless dictators, the MMA-obsessed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
Petr Yan, Askar Askarov and the recently retired Zabit Magomedsharapov were all ACB champions prior to entering the UFC. The promotion also boasts Artem Lobov and UFC light heavyweight contender Magomed Ankalaev as alums.
Since 2012, ACB has held over 140 MMA, kickboxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu events in Russia, the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Australia and the US. But since late 2020, the promotion has been forced to remain within Russia due to US sanctions imposed on Kadyrov. Russia’s pariah status since its invasion of Ukraine also hasn’t helped ACB’s cause.
In years past, the promotion stuck to a regular schedule of monthly events, but it’s now been over a year since its last. It’s likely that difficulties securing visas for foreign fighters, and the reluctance of international partners willing to do business, are key contributors to ACB’s present troubles.
What do you think? Are there any other top European MMA promotions worthy of a mention?