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Karate Combat preview: Chelmiah, Mardhi close out Season 3 with inaugural bantamweight title fight

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Season 3 of Karate Combat comes to a close this Thursday night on CBS Sports Network with a hard-hitting finale featuring heavy-handed Irish upstart Eoghan Chelmiah and French rival Ilies “The Madman” Mardhi facing off for the inaugural Karate Combat World Bantamweight Championship.

For a refresher on the Karate Combat rules and fighting styles click here.

Chelmiah has been one of the standout performers of Season 3, entering the newly-launched bantamweight division and immediately putting together a pair of spectacular wins, showcasing a very fan-friendly style.

Having won his debut by knockout, Chelmiah went on to capture a dominant decision in his very next fight — as well as the love of combat sports fans — after deliberately standing still and allowing his opponent to hit him throughout the contest.

What’s a few extra contusions in the name of entertainment?

Chelmiah is no stranger to the world of martial arts. His mother is a Shotokan black belt and has trained her two sons twice a day since infancy, waking them at 5 a.m. to go running in the country lanes while she drove along behind, shouting encouragement through the window.

It wasn’t 3 a.m. armbars, but the results speak for themselves.

No country lanes for Mardhi. He comes from a suburb of Paris which for many years was held to be the worst of the metropolitan area’s many ghettoes: Saint-Denis, otherwise known as “The 93,” on account of its area code.

Fighters often joke how they would be “dead or in jail” if they weren’t pursuing their chosen profession. Mardhi is one them (though he may actually mean it) after watching the street life lay claim to many of his friends.

Some lost their liberty, a few lost their lives.

Mardhi was put into karate as a youngster. As he got older, that martial arts foundation kept him (mostly) off the streets and (generally) out of harm’s way. Despite this, it’s worth noting that his nickname “Le Fou” (“The Madman”) apparently wasn’t earned in the dojo.

“His nickname doesn’t mean anything to me,” says Chelmiah. “I think he’s quite a timid fighter, actually. He likes to hang back, pick his shots. I like to get stuck in and do damage. I don’t think he enjoys that kind of fight, so he’s not going to enjoy this one.

“Obviously the world title means a lot to me, but also the chance to go out there and put Irish karate on the map is a big motivation. Everyone knows about Ireland’s success in boxing and obviously MMA with Conor McGregor, but we have a great karate circuit too and I’m proud to represent that.”

Mardhi, already a man of few words, had little to say in response to Chelmiah’s comments.

“Anyone can talk,” he shrugged. “The fight is what matters.”

Watching closely will be former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida, a combatant who can lay claim to being the most successful karate fighter in history. He returns to the commentary booth for tomorrow night’s finale, alongside MMA legend Bas Rutten, as he has been for the past few weeks.

“To have Lyoto Machida watching and commentating on your fight, that’s just surreal,” Chelmiah said. “He was a huge influence on me growing up. If it’s him wrapping the belt around me after I get my hand raised, that’s a dream come true.”

Karate Combat’s Season 3 Finale airs in the U.S. at 9 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network, while international viewers can watch a live free stream at Karate.com.