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Fight Club: Nottingham Cagefighters

22 February 10 interview: Jared Wilson
photos: Dom Henry

"For the last few minutes I’m just buzzing to get in there, but that’s the whole fun of it. If you didn’t have that feeling then it wouldn’t mean anything"

It’s a concept that, to most people, evokes brutality, sadism and horror. Two men entering a cage and beating the hell out of each other until one can’t stand up anymore.That’s not a TV sport, it’s ancient Roman stuff - that’s the end of civilisation, right?

But, the rising popularity of mixed martial arts, in both the US and now the UK, is undeniable. Many see it as the natural heir to boxing as TV’s top combat sport and after a little investigation you can see why. For starters boxers can actually compete in it if they are so inclined - but against wrestlers, kickboxers, karate masters and dozens of other fighters from various disciplines. It’s hard on the eye at first, but also exciting, intriguing and competitive - and there is no match fixing to be had here.

Nottingham is currently the home of some of the best in the business and already a well-trodden route to the American-based Ultimate Fighting Championship (the leading world MMA body and already a multi-billion dollar business). Thanks to trailblazers like Dan ‘The Outlaw’ Hardy and Paul ‘Semtex’ Daley - there is a tangible and growing scene in our city and behind those bigger names stand a host of up-and-coming fighters. Read what some of them say about the sport and it might just change your preconceptions...

'Judo' Jimmy Wallhead

Jimmy Wallhead is a 25-year-old member of the East Midlands-based Team Rough House, a feared MMA crew known for producing well-respected welterweight fighters. He currently holds three titles (House of Pain British Champion, Cage Gladiator British Champion and Clash of Warriors World Champion) and is ranked in the top ten welterweights in both the UK and Europe. His professional record currently stands at nineteen wins and five losses.

How often do you train in an average week?
I train at least once a day when I’m not fighting. But in the build-up to a fight I take twelve weeks out and then increase the schedule to two or three times a day. Sunday is always my day of rest though.

Is this a full-time job for you now?
Yes. I’ve been full-time for almost three years on the British circuit and picked up two British and one world title. That got me noticed in America and I’ve just signed a deal with
a company called Bellator. So now my fights will go out to 150million in America on NBC, CBS and Telemundo. It’s a pretty big deal… there’s a lot of money at stake. Bellator are different to all the other MMA promoters - the others just do single fights - whereas they do eight-man tournaments. The promoters don’t choose who gets the title shots, you have to beat everyone else to get one.

How do you mentally prepare for a fight?
Just by training hard. Training is harder than the actual bouts – the fights themselves are fun. But training is miserable and you have to do it every day. I don’t even watch my old fights as it would be cringeworthy. Obviously you gain experience throughout your fights,
but mentally you grow as well. The best things that have happened to me are my losses - I’ve come back mentally stronger and won eleven out of my last twelve.
The coaches around me are amazing and study the other fighters I’m up against. They know everything about them in advance - when he’s going to jab, when he’s going to shoot - they could probably tell me how many times they blink during a bout.

What background do you have in combat sport?
I started judo aged seven. I’d watched The Karate Kid and loved it, but my mum took me to judo by mistake. There was a guy called Rocky there who used to work with my dad down the pit and he got me to stay. Within a few weeks I was winning in competitions and ended up winning seven titles and eventually competing in European championships.

How did you first get into MMA?
After I stopped judo I went off the rails and got in with a bad crowd. But eventually I started training again and was offered a fight on my previous credentials. At first I was awful, throwing windmill punches, but I won a few like that as well as getting my ass kicked a couple of times. Then Dan Hardy and Owen Comrie came to me and said: “You’re a bit of a nutcase, you’ve got a lot of aggression and you don’t have any MMA skill, but we can work on that. Come train with us.” I never looked back. It’s just spiralled ever since. I’ve gone from being a scumbag going nowhere, to a good fighter and a family man - I’m expecting my second kid soon, I don’t go out drinking anymore, there are better things in life than that and I’m happier than I’ve ever been. It’s wicked! The sport has changed my life!

What crosses your mind before you head to the ring?
It’s a lot of tunnel vision. There’s are nerves and fear and I’ve lost fights because of those. But you grow and learn to control your fear and use it as a positive. When you realise he’s scared as well and probably has more to lose than me - he’s a pretty boy and I’m an ugly looking bastard - then you’re ready.

Do you have any pre-fight rituals?
Yeah I have, but not as many anymore. At one point I wore the same shorts for five fights running. I do a lot of stretching, hit a few pads and then squirt water into my face to keep my head cool.

What music do you come out to?
Some promotions don’t let you come out to anything with copyright for obvious reasons. But for the last few fights I’ve come out to The Contender theme from the Sylvester Stallone TV show. It’s pretty epic and gets me going.

While out in town do you find yourself sizing up other people and deciding whether you could have ‘em?
Not at all. You can’t tell anything from a man’s size - looks can be deceptive.

What do you do when you’re not training or fighting?
Training and fighting is pretty much all I do to be honest. Though on off days I spend a lot of time with my daughter playing princesses and watching films like Enchanted and The
Little Mermaid.

If you could fight any celebrity who would you choose?
I don’t really dislike many people to be honest. Is Alex Reid considered a celebrity yet? I’d fight him. I spent a bit of time with him in Vegas and he’s a good guy. A bit weird at times,
but he’s been in this sport since the beginning. In theory he should be the best MMA fighter in the UK. But for some reason it’s never quite clicked for him. He’s a tough dude and I respect him as a fighter and the exposure he’s got on Celebrity Big Brother can only be good for the sport. But yeah I’d give fighting him a go.

Michelle 'Warrior Queen' Baron

Michelle Baron is a 28-year-old boxer from Bestwood. She trains at Majestic boxing academy and her current fight record is a mixed bag with one win, one draw and one loss.

What would you say to people who think ladies shouldn’t be fighters?
Times change. Women never used to be allowed to go to work. If we were fighting men then I could see problems. But I don’t think women should try and be masculine, there’s no reason to do that. Just be a lady and treat it as a sport.

How often do you train in an average week?
I do my running in the morning before work. Then I work nine ‘til five and go to the gym afterwards. I take every Saturday off and then on a Sunday I do a long run. It all pretty much stays the same for me in the build up to a fight as well.

How do you mentally prepare for a fight?
I’m usually quite relaxed. Mentally I think the best thing to do is to stay calm and be confident in your own abilities. I’m a Christian as well, so I pray a lot.

What background do you have in combat sports?
Aside from the boxing I did Muay Thai, but I fractured my shin in an accident. I also do a bit of Brazilian Jujitsu with some friends who come down from Chesterfield - we show them our boxing techniques and then they show us some of theirs.

How did you first get into this?
Boxing is something I’ve been into since I was about two years old. I remember it was a treat to stay up late and watch it on TV with my parents - and growing up I remained a good observer of it. I was bullied when I was younger and when I got to about fifteen I decided I wasn’t having it anymore and knocked a boy out in school after he bashed my head on a wall. So, after that, my parents sent me to some classes to get my
anger out.

What crosses your mind before you head out to the ring?
I always hope that I won’t break my nose as that wouldn’t look nice. I get nervous about people watching me - I’m probably more scared of tripping up on the carpet on the way in than I am of the fight itself. But once I’m in there and the bell goes I just switch off.

Do you have any pre-fight rituals?
The day before I always have a Dead Sea salt bath. Then on the morning of the fight I always get my hair done. But these are just because they make me feel better rather than for superstitious reasons.

What music do you come out to?
A track called Done With It, a charity song by various Nottingham rappers against gun and knife crime.

While out in town do you find yourself sizing up other people and deciding whether you could have ‘em?
No. When I was younger maybe and when I worked on nightclub doors - as I felt I had something to prove. But now I’m much calmer. If I saw someone getting bullied or beaten up then I’d have to intervene, but I wouldn’t try and hurt anyone.

If you could fight any celebrity who would you choose?
David Beckham - he needs to man up. I don’t like footballers anyway and he’s too much of a girl. I wouldn’t really fight him though; I’d probably just give him a bitchslap.

Anything else you want to say to our readers?
Thanks to my coach Barrington Brown, Nash at King of The Ring and Clayton Byfield, founder and director of Done With It.  I think us fighters could all do with more support from Nottingham as a whole. And the reason I’m supporting anti-gun and knife charities is because we’ve had too much street violence in this city. Last year one of my friends, Bernard Langton, was shot and killed on a night out and left behind two kids and partner. There needs to be more education and more workshops out there for the kids. You tend to find that people who do combat sports are much calmer and nicer people for it.

Mahmood 'Persian Pride' Besharate

Mahmood Besharate is a 31-year-old taekwando specialist from Beeston who trains at the Cobra Gym and Sport Nottingham. Until recently he fought in K-1 tournaments where he won nine fights and lost three. He then switched to MMA where he won his first, and to
date only, fight.

How often do you train?
Usually twice every day. I do jogging, thai boxing, sparring, wrestling, running and loads of work on my cardio. I always take Saturday as my day of rest.

Is this a full-time job for you?
I wish it was, but I need to work on the side as well. I’m an engineer by trade, but right now I’m out of work so it gives me even more time to train.

How do you mentally prepare for a fight?
A week before I try to cut everything down and concentrate on my techniques. I’m quite a relaxed guy, even before a fight - but when I step into the ring it’s a totally different story.

What background do you have in combat sports?
I’d been doing taekwando for over fifteen years. In 2006 I was in a fight against someone who was really aggressive. I was beating him and so his brother jumped into the ring and tried to knock me out. After that I decided it wasn’t the sport for me, so I trained with Owen Comrie and started to win quite a few fights. In MMA you can use all different types of styles as tools and it makes it more exciting - you constantly learn a lot of new things.

What crosses your mind before heading out to face your opponent?
For the last few minutes before a fight I’m just buzzing to get in there, but that’s the whole fun of it. If you didn’t have that feeling then it wouldn’t mean anything - you can use those nerves to make you perform better.

Do you have any pre-fight rituals?
Not really. I just try to relax as much as I can because once you’re there you’ve got to go
through with it.

What music do you come out to?
I’ve had quite a few different tunes, but my favourite is Jesus Walks by Kanye West. That’s my knockout tune!

Who are your favourite other sports people?
Floyd Mayweather Jr is my current favourite. From the old school I used to love Bruce Lee - he was my biggest inspiration when I was a kid! Oh and Masutatsu Oyama was an amazing guy.

While out in town do you find yourself sizing up other people and deciding whether you could have ‘em?
No. I’m not into trouble and I’d just walk away from it. Most of us don’t go down town drinking anyway - it would be bad for our performances.

What do you do when you’re not fighting?
I like having fun with girls. But I try not to let it get in the way of my training.

They say love and hate are intertwined. Is there anything erotic about fighting?
No. I don’t really know how to answer that. But no, there’s nothing sexual about fighting for me.

If you could fight any celebrity who would you choose?
I can’t really think of any. I get on with everyone as long as they’re cool with me.

What about Floyd Mayweather Jr?
Nah man. He’s in a different class to me - he’s gifted! Even if I trained for another 200 years then I wouldn’t be able to catch him. And I’m not going to live that long.

Anything else you want to say to our readers?
Thanks to all the people who helped me out to get me where I am right now. My Thai boxing coach Owen Comrie, Nathan Leverton from Shootfighters, my condition coach Guy Baker and King of The Ring promoter Nash Somani. I couldn’t have done any of this without you.


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