So, this is my first blog on my new website – about my last fight!
As you may have already seen, I’ll be taking on Henry Briones on March 18 in London. It’s third time lucky for Henry and I – we’ve been scheduled to fight twice before but it’s never quite happened. He seems like a really good guy, and I think it will be a great fight for the fans, so no matter what happens, I know I’ll go out on a high in my home town.
People have been asking me for the last couple of years about my retirement, and what my plans are post-UFC. I was increasingly baffled as to why people were so fixated on my retirement, until my lovely wife, Sarah, pointed out that after my loss to Thomas Almeida, I had told everybody I was going to retire. Well, I guess that would explain all those questions then. That was definitely the emotion talking – I had just lost my third fight in a row (for the first time) and I had given it my all, and yet still didn’t win.
This time, it’s a measured decision, one I am very sure of, and yet still sad about. It’s really hard to let go of – not just the fighting itself, but the community side of things, the camps, the fans, but yes, most of all the competing, that’s the most fun part. I’m a very competitive person, and that’s not going to change. It’s what I’m competitive at that will be different – whether it’s coaching, or taking on my little boy at chess, I’ll always want to be the best.
But the truth is that the training camps have gotten harder as I’ve gotten older, and to be blunt – losing isn’t very much fun. I’ve always said that I have learned as much from my losses as I do from my wins, and the lesson that I have been learning lately is that it’s the smartest thing to hang up my gloves now.
MMA is such a fast growing sport these days that there are people who barely know who Dominic Cruz is, never mind who I am. The sport has changed enormously in the 13 years that I’ve been competing, and I’ve been on quite the journey.
I’ll be writing about many, many aspects of my life and career as we approach my final fight, but I have to say that I wouldn’t be here without the support and guidance of some very important people. Most of all, the fans of course – this is a spectator sport, and the fans are what make my job barely even feel like a job.
I have to say a huge thanks to Grant Waterman who gave me my first ever fight down in Portsmouth, which I won in the first round! After that Dave O’Donnell and Andy Geer took me under their wing at Elite Fighting System and I fought on Cage Rage. My third fight saw my first loss, and I have to say that I genuinely learned a lot from that loss.
Chris Freeborn, my opponent came in with a 7-14 record and I thought he didn’t stand a chance – I planned to go in there, throw some bombs and get out. But he took me down, time and time again – I had zero ground game, and less than a minute of cage time to my name. I refused to tap to his triangle, so he elbowed me in the face – a lot. The ref (Grant Waterman!) stepped in and I was furious – I had a full on melt down, head butting the canvas, the lot. I had a proper meat head approach and couldn’t face that I was so unprepared. My head was so mangled I couldn’t get my hat on afterwards, and I vowed to never get that beaten up again.
Of course, I have been! But that was still a turning point for me, and I decided to take this sport seriously. And that’s how I found Mickey Papas. In the beginning I was Team Titan! Mickey has built up his gym and team over the years, and he’s been invaluable to my career progression.
I was the first person to win a fight in the UK via foot stomp! They bought in the open guard rule, so I took full advantage and beat the favourite by jumping with both feet on to his head and took home the Cage Rage belt. The rule didn’t last long…
Dave and Andy really invested in me, and sent me – along with Dan Hardy and Paul Daley – out to American Top Team in Florida. They had something of an exchange programme, and thanks to their foresight and generosity, my career developed even further. This is when I first met Mike Brown – he was working on the front desk at ATT and I was sent to stay with him whilst I trained. It was the beginning of a long and solid friendship.
Mike’s career progressed and by 2008 he was the WEC champion. I was always alongside Mike, in his corner, and as a consequence, I met Sean Shelby. Back then WEC wasn’t huge; it was expensive for them to have an international fighter because of visa costs and so on. But he put his trust in me as an athlete, and invested in me in such a career changing way.
To fight in Vegas and Japan were always on my bucket list and in my first WEC fight, I ticked off Vegas. I won the submission of the night $10k bonus which to me was an insane amount of money – and right before Christmas too! I was on the prelims and there were no other submissions the whole card… until Donald Cerrone! I actually felt sick watching his fight, praying that he didn’t get the submission, as I would win the bonus by default otherwise. However, my sub was a Peruvian Necktie – quite an unusual move, so I took home the money! And that was the beginning of my Zuffa career.
When I moved across to the UFC, I was still dealing with the same staff, and fighting the same guys. It was just the platform and the exposure that had changed. Dana White came to my first fight in Birmingham, and I won the fight of the night bonus, despite losing. It was an incredible fight, and I would have given back that money to keep on fighting to the end of the three rounds! It was such a buzz! Dana nearly had a kitten watching me – he was out of his seat and going crazy!
I’ve always said – the UFC give you a platform, and it’s up to you what you do with it! I feel like I’ve missed out on title eliminators a few times throughout my career, and fallen at the last hurdle, which is part of the reason I dropped down to flyweight. I wanted to know that I had done everything in my control to have given a title run my best shot. Flyweight didn’t suit me – the style was different with the smaller guys, and although I don’t regret it, I now believe it was the wrong decision to drop down.
Everybody who goes into this sport wants to be the champ. I am no exception, which is why I had to be sure I had pursued every avenue. No regrets!
But being a professional fighters is not just about the wins, it’s about fighting smart – and that extends to knowing when your time is up. It’s hard, and it’s emotional to leave it behind. But my priorities have changed over the last couple of years; I have a son, Buddy, who has changed my life. There is a shelf life to being a professional athlete; there was always going to be an end to this.
I owe a lot of thanks to a lot of people – I truly wouldn’t be where I am today without Paulie, Conan, Gary, Mickey, Dave, Andy, Matt, Mike, Sean, Reed, Nilesh, Becky, Dana, my brother, Russell – and of course, Sarah and Buddy.
I have always been a fighter who likes to put on a show for the fans – the support I’ve had, from Cage Rage right through to today, is incredible. I am humbled by the love and generosity from my incredible fans!
I’ll be blogging right here in the run up to my fight, so please stay tuned. I’ll also have a final fight shirt on sale soon – so I’ll keep you update on that!
See you in March!
– One Punch
Photos copyright Leo Cackett