Heading into the mind of an MMA fighter

McGregor has been a key figure in the UFC's rise to the top. Photograph: Andrius Petrucenia

I’m sure by this point most of you have heard of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts for those of you who haven’t). It is a sport rising like a salmon throughout the sporting world and is fast catching up to some of its competitors, most notably the long running and hugely popular sport of boxing. As yet another highly anticipated UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championships) clash takes place at the weekend, it is without question that MMA has progressed substantially over recent years; both talent-wise and commercially. Conor McGregor v Khabib Nurmagomedov has been a war of words so far, which on Saturday night turns into a war of fists, feet… and elbows.

The Irishman has travelled on a long journey since he first set out as an MMA fighter, all the way back in 2008 as an amateur. Ten years have now passed, and numerous titles and a boxing exploits later, his celebrity status has coincided with the rise in popularity in the sport as a whole, along with the emergence of the UFC. You have to wonder to yourself whether the front he exposes to the world is his real personality, or whether it is just a clever tactic to promote himself as the king of MMA. Either way, he certainly gets people talking.

One man who has witnessed the emergence of MMA from the inside is 39-year-old Gavin Sterritt.  Starting out in Muay Thai (otherwise known as Thai boxing), his career consisted of around 60 fights, winning a few titles along the way. Sterritt then opted for a career change. “Once I was asked by a mutual friend to go and do some stand up sparring with a couple of guys.

They happened to be Michael Bisping and Rampage Jackson. I heard what they were getting paid to do MMA compared to what I was getting in Muay Thai and that was my decision made… and the rest is history.”

Since turning into a full time fighter since the age of 29, and without the distractions of outside work, Gerritt was able to focus on his game. “That’s when I was able to pack in my job, which I hated, and train full time. It wasn’t easy and I was skint most of the time but eventually I started making OK money and started getting bigger fights, while being signed to

Sterritt goes in hard on his opponent. Picture: Gavin Sterritt

a good promotion.”

This was a decade ago now, and while not perfect at the time, it is clear to see that the sport was going places.

Case in point? During 2017 alone, UFC pulled in over a million viewers on five of its fights in the USA, whilst Boxing mustered only one in the same time-span. While this doesn’t capture everything regarding the popularity of the two sports, it at the very least gives you a glimpse of what is yet to come.

“MMA nowadays has better educated athletes, and fighters are now a lot more aware of how their bodies work in terms of what is physically and nutritionally good and bad.”

It all seems relatively simple in hindsight, doesn’t it? But like any sport in the world, athletes need time to progress and adapt to what is demanded for their particular field. “Also, most fighters are better funded so they can afford to spend longer with better coaches than ever before. With more exposure, fighters and coaches are seeing more and more things so that ideas are constantly being exchanged. I wouldn’t even call them fighters these days really… they’re more like athletes.”

Now in the latter stages of his career, the Warrington-born fighter has been fighting off injury for the majority of 2018, and isn’t so sure what is next to come. “Unless a fight I really like comes up I’m not too sure what I’ll do yet. I’m back training properly now and I feel strong so we will see… maybe one more?”

 

Out of the ring, the veteran’s interest is fairly limited as he talks about his lack of engrossment in the majority of fights, but McGregor taking on Khabib certainly arouses his curiosity. “I’ll get up for this one. I want McGregor to win and I think he might have too much on his feet for Khabib, but the latter is a great wrestler. I think it’s a really hard one to pick, but I’m going to say McGregor to win.”

Who would have believed, even since the turn of the decade, that this somewhat unknown sport in the past would now have such a commercial reach, along with many fights that peak the interest of sports fans? People that didn’t bat an eyelid at the abbreviation “MMA” not so long ago. Having a professional basically confirm the hypothesis that MMA is a sport only going one way, definitely leaves no doubt in my mind that it is an exciting road ahead for this sport, and I for one will be staying tuned.