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The dream team! L-R: Peter Davies, Myself, Jason Tan, Mike Wootten

The dream team!
L-R: Peter Davies, Myself, Jason Tan, Mike Wootten

Well, the transition is complete!

This weekend I finally made my MMA debut. I’m no longer a boxer. I’m now an ex-boxer!  It’s been a long time coming. Injuries, illnesses, and rule changes in amateur boxing have all delayed what was inevitable…stepping inside the cage to represent the MMA Academy.

I’d been matched up a couple of times over the past year.  The first one didn’t go ahead due to me being ill.  The second one didn’t go ahead due to me wanting one last crack at the ABAs, and the championship committee enforcing new rules that you can’t box amateur if you compete in any other combat sport (even a non-striking sport such as jiu jitsu!) and the last match up fell through after I tore my intercostal muscles in training for a bout on the Shinobi War 6 card.  So it was fitting that my actual debut came around on the very next Shinobi instalment –SW7!

Training camp for this began about 6 weeks out and if I’m honest it was pretty much perfect.  The setbacks I’d encountered with them past fights falling through meant that I was more prepared for this one. It merely allowed more training time, more time to soak up new techniques, more time to get my head right.  There was only myself representing our gym on this show, but over the past month a lot of the other fighters have been busy with their own outings, so there’s been loads of lads in camps at varying stages. It made for great variety, – top class sparring in all shapes and sizes, the only thing to be careful of was what size gloves you’d wear and what level of intensity to go.  “Big gloves or little gloves?” was a question that got asked most Saturday mornings!

So onto the fight itself and one of the weird things for me was the day before weigh in.  With amateur boxing you normally weigh in on the night. Hit the scales and then you’re in the ring about 90mins later.  Here I had over a day (about 30 hours) to replenish. Which was good because the agreed weight was a figure I hadn’t seen since 2010!  It was originally set at lightweight (70kg) but a few weeks ago my opponent’s team got in touch and requested a further 2kg to make it at a 72kg catch-weight. I was on course to make the original weight easy enough anyway, but this change meant I could enjoy all my Easter eggs actually on Easter, and not save them until May (like I’d always had to do the last few years with the ABAs.)  But there was still no Maccy’s Monopoly for me this year 

Anyway, with the help of some very knowledgeable people in my gym, I was down to a really light weight but feeling well-fed, stronger and fitter than ever.  MMA really is cutting edge with its weight-making techniques (if done correctly, that is!)  Water loading came easy to me as I drink like a fish anyway, and my body is one of those that disperses of water dead effectively. If you are ever in a hot yoga studio with me you’ll notice I’m the one at the back, wearing arm bands as I’m slipping in a paddling pool of sweat.

I mentioned above the postponement with injuries allowed more time to prepare, not only training-wise but also getting my head right. After 50 amateur fights you’d think I’d be an expert at dealing with the nerves that come with a combat sport.  No so! I am one of those people who can let negative thoughts overcome them. It’s always been a problem for me.  So it was much appreciated that one of my team-mates Mark Kinsella lent me a book called The Chimp Paradox, which is like a mind-management tool that has helped me instantly!  It was first brought to my attention by Chris Green, who won’t mind me saying is probably the most improved fighter in the gym by a mile over the past year. So I owe Kinny big time for borrowing me the book. That’s not all though…

My good mate at the Academy – Adam McGahon – made his own MMA debut not so long ago.  He made a good observation that everyone having their first fight seems to have that 1 person who helps them through camp. Don’t get me wrong, the coaches at the Academy are first class. They genuinely care. They’re friends first and coaches second. But as Macca observed, there’s always a fellow fighter who you go through camp with who’s there to lean on. Someone to answer the millions of questions you have and calm you through it.  His was Mike Wootten.  Mine has been Mark Kinsella.  He’s been an absolute diamond throughout all the build up to my debut.  We’ve trained together, ran together, sparred together, he’s helped me with my diet, we even went for cryotherapy together!  Mike Wootten has always been on call for me aswell, but that’s to be expected as I see Wootang as an integral part of the coaching set up.  Kinny is solely one of the fighters but he’s always going that extra mile for me, even with little things like sending me screenshots of important info from Facebook posts that I might otherwise miss (I deactivated my account years ago.)  In the words of my missus – “Everyone needs a mate like Kinny!”  He even commentated on my fight (the promoters asked him to as he’s the champ of that organisation at the weight above me) and a fine job he did of staying impartial!  He’s becoming a bit of a Joe Rogan type broadcaster, as that very same morning he recorded the first episode of his new podcast with my other team mate and all round lovely fella – the talented Tim Barnett.  Check it out here, I reckon it’s the start of something big.

So the end of fight week came and let me tell you it was a killer of a week for me.  I’ve finally pulled my finger out in work and tried to get promoted. Being stuck on the same salary for about ten years is no good when you’re in grand loads of wedding debt and you’re in fight camp spending truckloads on proteins, supplements, healthy foods, and your shed of a car’s MPG is worse than Fred Flintstones where his feet poke through while you’re constantly driving to the gym and back.  But in my attempt to get promoted it means doing exams to get to the next grade. And the exams are tough! The week of the fight I was trying to juggle 2 training sessions (a technique session down the academy with Jason in the morning and then a fat burner S&C or run in the night) doing an 8 hour work day, rushing home in between to give my sick dog his medication, revising for the exams, and then all your normal household stuff like cooking and cleaning as my missus is working away down south.  I was burned out. Stress levels were high!

By the time I got to the scales on the Friday I felt like I’d only slept about 20mins in total the entire week. But thanks to that Chimp Paradox book I was still in good spirits.  I jumped on the scale – 72.1kg. A bit of a surprise as I’d been under before I left the house. It just meant that my personal scales must need re-calibrating. I had gear with me ready to skip off that 0.1 if need be, but coach Jason said if they held a towel around me and I stripped completely naked then I should be fine.  I did, and he was right…just!  I was apprehensive because the skimpy boxers I had on didn’t look like they weighed anywhere near 100g! Tell you what though, back when Mike Wootten was on The Ultimate Fighter he had to do the same, and coined a phrase called ‘Weight Cut Penis’ when his towel slipped. Well from the state of my little button mushroom I can vouch for weight cut penis being a real syndrome!

The next 24 hours was a bizarre feeling for me. My stomach had shrunk yet here I was forcing myself to eat every two hours. Anyone who knows me will know the words “forcing” and “eat” have never been used in the same sentence. Yet I’d gone from basically zero carbs and salt the last few days to carb-loading and sodium overload. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds.  By the time I left for the Olympia on the Saturday I was back up to 79kg, which shows how cutting edge the MMA lads have this down to! (I’m up to 84kg as I type this, but that’s another story.)

So I arrive at the venue and I’ve gotta say it was brilliant from start to finish.  The Shinobi promoters are all so nice, especially Jay Matthews.  The show is well ran from start to finish.  For an amateur show they are pioneers in that they offer win bonuses. Nice win bonuses!  It’s the little things though, like the way they looked after the fighters with complimentary refreshments backstage. There was tv screens showing the action in the cage as we were warming up so you always knew where you were up to.  A piece of advice I kept receiving beforehand was to take it all in and enjoy it. And I made sure I did just that. I loved the entrance/ring walk aspect. I’m smiling now as I think about it.Once in there and with the cage door closed behind me I have to admit I started flapping a bit again. It was difficult to adjust to the range, to wearing little gloves as opposed to boxing gloves, to the threat of kicks, etc.

The first round was nip and tuck.  I felt like I’d lost it as I’d took too many leg kicks, but in between rounds Jason said he thought I’d edged it due to having him on the floor. Hearing that instantly lifted my confidence going into round 2 (sign of a great coach.)  The second stanza was a bit more in my favour, I landed some nice combos with my hands, and going into the last Jason done a Mystic Meg and predicted he was gonna break in the next session, as I was coming on stronger and he was starting to fade.  About a minute into the last round I had him down again and finished him with some ground ‘n pound whilst in his guard.  I’m a nice lad, feel guilty if I hurt someone (as you’ll see by the way I was instantly over to him) but for a split second there I’ve got to admit it felt boss to land them crucial blows. It’s hard to explain…must be some sort of primitive feeling in our caveman make up!  Here’s the full fight.

When I watched the video back I was disappointed. It’s like when we spar of a Saturday, sometimes Jason films it and will send us the link later that day with notes on adjustments we can make.
In your head at the time of the spar you feel like Conor McGregor. Then you watch it back and think “Who’s this fat stump fighting in slow motion?”  I was hesitant, and made a good few mistakes, but you know what…it was my debut, against a tough man, and it just means there’s plenty to improve upon for my next one.  I’m more than happy with it since I watched it again (and again, and again…)

Backstage afterwards the adrenaline wore off, my ankle ballooned up from rolling it in the first round, and both my hands swelled up like I was wearing baseball gloves.  I’m still in pain now, it’s doing my head in, but it was all worth it!!  Overall it’s honestly been up there with the best experiences of my life. If I wasn’t hooked before then I certainly am now. It’s just the start for me…but thanks to Shinobi I’ve got the vid, and if it all ended tomorrow then at least I’ve can always look back on it.  Although I’ll probably look back and see what a terrible barnet I’ve got (I’d been growing my hair to hide the onset of cauliflower ears!)  It’s been a pleasure and an honour to represent the MMA Academy. I can’t thank the coaching staff and teammates enough, especially Jason Tan who has been unbelievably patient with me.

I’ve had amazing feedback since the weekend, mostly from a lot of boxers, funnily enough. I know there’s a load out there who are considering changing disciplines, all I can say is you MUST be interested if you’ve got to the end of this blog – it’s been a bumper one (I know, I’m sorry, but I’ve actually had to cut it down as I wrote twice as much at first.)  So I’ll say to any curious boxers the same thing I’ll say to anyone in general who’s interested in MMA, or even just keeping fit, learning self-defence, etc.  Get yourself down the academy.

I put on twitter the other day that it’s no coincidence we have a freakish win ratio going on at the moment.  Just last weekend Matty Crozier won his Muay Thai bout at a canter, then on Saturday the BJJ team returned from ‘Roll Models’ with something like 9 medals between them.  And it’s not a gym full of scary fighters. It’s a family orientated gym. With a family atmosphere.
You will get looked after. You won’t get threw in at the deep end. You won’t get threw to the lions.  3 years after starting my 30 day free trial – I am living proof of that.