100 not out, Cage Warriors continues to lead Europe's path to the UFC

Nathaniel Wood is one of a number of European fighters to make the journey from Cage Warriors to the UFC. Dolly Clew

In a volatile and uncertain industry, it's not every day that a mixed martial arts promotion reaches its 100th event -- let alone one based out of Europe.

"Now we're at Cage Warriors 100 and I'm like s---, I've been doing this since 2010," says Graham Boylan, president of Europe's longest-running MMA promotion. "It's been a funny trip."

Not many make it this far. In a business where MMA promotions usually either get acquired or go under, trying to genuinely thrive while creating a legacy of producing top-tier talent is a hell of an accomplishment. Michael Bisping, Dan Hardy and Conor McGregor are just a few fighters who have cut their teeth under the Cage Warriors banner before ultimately going on to the UFC.

"When I first took over, it was three cardboard boxes, Ian Dean [Cage Warriors matchmaker] and a website," Boylan says. "It's a different story now, but I believe in the team effort with the fighters and them knowing what they get from us, when they fight on Cage Warriors and what they would get fighting for another organisation.

"Any fighter that's serious about being a superstar in this sport and getting to the top, then we're the obvious ladder to go with. I think that's what has kept us alive for so long."

It all could have worked out very differently had Boylan not taken a six-month break from the sport in 2014, citing personal burnout. But as it looked as if things were going south, Cage Warriors turned it around and has a record to be proud of ahead of its 100th event. Almost 80 fighters had moved on to the UFC by the promotions' 15-year anniversary last year, a pathway which looks set to continue.

"That's what we say to all of the guys that come in," Boylan says. "There's no secret in this sport. Guys can earn money elsewhere at federations in Europe, they can earn more money in Russia, they can earn even more money in Asia, but what we do for these guys is we promise them a pathway, promise them big fights on global TV, we promise them a path for the career they've been chasing from the moment they put their gloves on.

"The likes of Conor McGregor going to the UFC, that was a proud moment for us when he got there because the whole team was behind him, shouting for him from his first fight. To the scale that he's risen, it's only a testament to the pathway that's there to develop these guys."

Boylan believes there's a periodic timeline synced to the development of talent to reaching the UFC that has been proven over the years. He also thinks the next wave of up-and-coming fighters to emerge from the Cage Warriors ranks and make their way to the UFC is right around the corner.

"Every three years there's a wave of fighters that come along and the UFC just come and sign seven or eight guys in one swoop," Boylan says. "I believe, right now, we're in that cycle where in 2019, it's going to be that year where there is going to be five, maybe eight guys who are all going to be knocking on the UFC's door."

And as Cage Warriors gets ready to celebrate its centennial event on Saturday, the plans are in place build the business further in 2019. Four events across Europe are already set for early next year and there's also a brand-new broadcast partnership on the horizon.

"We've got a big roster so our plans are to keep them busy, keep developing these superstars and give them the platform on live TV," Boylan says. "We're going to keep the show running."