Category Archives: A Day In The Life Of…

Bret ‘Hollywood’ Freeman

The world of MMA is dominated by fighters, some good, some bad, some new and some seasoned.  But there are so many people other than fighters who make the industry and Live Events what they are.  I love interviewing and covering the fighters but I also like to talk to the other people who are just as important and in this article I get to know Bret Freeman, Europe’s premier ring announcer and the man they call ‘Hollywood’, and find out about his life before he became an MC and also what a typical ‘fight night’ day is like for him.

I have spoken to Bret on numerous occasions but I finally met him for the first time on Saturday at Cage Rage 23.  It was mid-afternoon and relatively quiet at London’s The Troxy as it was many hours before the doors opened to the public for what turned out to be a terrific night of fights with no less than fourteen on the card.

After I wandered around a bit we managed to find half an hour to sit and have a chat and it was during this time that I found out about the man behind the sparkles.  Bret doesn’t look or sound any different in ‘real life’ than he does on the television, still very youthful in appearance and with the same distinctive American accent.

Bret was born in Southern California and attended a High School that specialised in wrestling.  Most schools in America include wrestling in their programme of sporting events but this school was more into it than most so Bret feels that wrestling found him rather than the other way around.   It was during these years that he was first introduced to it and spent his time training in the art.

His last year of school saw him move away from wrestling and enter the phase of life that a lot of youths go through.  He admits openly to going completely off the rails for a time and lost track by getting involved in drinking and the whole party lifestyle.  Most people go through a phase in their life where they experiment but Bret says for him it was a way of life for a time and he embraced the lifestyle.

Although Bret did start college, he found himself homeless after he was kicked out of the family home by his Step Father.  He is not entirely sure of the reasons, even to this day but says his partying is the likely culprit.  Now homeless, Bret spent a lot of time sleeping on friend’s couches and even spent a few nights sleeping in his car.

It was on a typical night out that Bret and a friend met a group of lads who they offered ‘pot’ to.  The guys had to turn down the offer as they were Marines and told Bret that in that profession they are drug tested regularly. This seemed to click a switch in Bret’s head and the very next day himself and his friend decided to join the Marine Corps.  He had just turned eighteen and it was en route to the recruiting station to enlist that he changed his mind and decided to try for the Air Force.  When explaining to the Air Force recruiter that he wanted to join up there and then, they explained that they drug test new recruits and wanted to know the last time Bret had taken an illegal substance.  As this was literally a few hours prior to his arrival, the Air Force told him he was better off trying for the Navy.

So back in the car and Bret and his friend headed to the Naval Recruiter.  The Navy had a delayed entry programme which gave Bret some time to clean up his act.  The next step was to take an exam, a test that Bret passed with a high score.  His friend didn’t pass as high but Bret stuck with him and they entered the delayed entry programme under another incentive called ‘The Buddy Programme’.  This guaranteed that Bret and his friend would be together through basic training and onto their first duty station.  During this time, they started an exercise and vitamins routine to basically get their body’s back into shape and clean up their act.

 

It was whilst on the programme that Bret and his friend fell out in quite a spectacular fashion and the very next day, Bret decided to go to the entry station to do what he wanted to do rather than wait around for his friend.  He took the entry test, had a medical and passed without any problems and told them he was ready to head out for duty straight away.

In his personal life he had met up with an old high school girlfriend and had been dating her for about a month. Bret was very interested in the Airman Apprentice Programme but to do this he had to undergo eight weeks of basic training.  He spent his time on the Crack Rifle Display Team and spent four weeks learning about the different roles the Navy had to offer.  He spent a lot of time with an already qualified Air Traffic Controller and it was learning through him that made Bret want to become an Air Traffic Controller himself but he learned that to accomplish this, he had to work in a squadron for two years which he did in California.

On completion of his two years Bret was shipped off to work aboard the USS Enterprise.  The ship was already deployed on a world cruise so Bret spent weeks trying to catch up to the boat.  It was during the Philippines riots and when all hell was breaking loose and there was more trouble in the middle east with Gadhafi so Bret would fly from one place to another to board the boat, only to be told that the ship had changed course and he would have to go somewhere else.  In total he spent six weeks chasing the ship!

Whilst we are talking, various people come over and say hello to Bret and it is evident he is a well-liked figure within the MMA industry.  He has time for everyone and makes sure he catches up and asks after everyone who comes by.

Whilst in the Navy, Bret’s girlfriend fell pregnant and they got married and had their daughter.  They moved to a Naval Base in Tennessee where Bret was training, then back to another base in northern California, but after four and a half years they divorced.

Whilst managing an airport, Bret was having a difficult time, he was recently divorced and his Mum sadly got cancer and passed away at the young age of 46, a time that he says was very difficult and sad for him.  Two years later he met his second wife and remarried.  His wife had two boys aged six and two from a previous relationship who lived with them and Bret also had his daughter stay off and on, although she lived with her Mum full time. 

A friend from the Navy was very much into Kung Fu and although he taught it, he was also interested in the philosophy of sport and the mind.  Bret started to train with him but because of the recent death of his mother, he also used to talk to him about life and eastern philosophy.  With his wife being very religious he would discuss these things with her as well.  It was during this time that Bret himself became an active member of the Church. Although he was still in the Navy at this point, Bret became a Teen Minister for his local Church and went on to become in charge of the Teen Ministry.

When he finally left the Navy after a thirteen year career, he was in Mississippi and his intention was to pursue ministry full time.  Sadly there was a large rift within the Church which caused a major upset and at this time Bret gave up on organised religion.  It helped him through tough times in his life and he still has his own beliefs but he is no longer an active member. 

But during these early years Bret not only joined the Navy but became an FA Licensed Air Traffic Controller and also a Fully Licensed Southern Baptist Preacher.  A man with more than one string to his bow!

After leaving the church he moved back to Pennsylvania, he was unsure what he wanted to do with his life but eventually answered an advert in the paper for a role running a Shipping Department.  He got the job and worked it for six to eight weeks before being called in to see the management.  He was asked to move into Sales and run the New York territory which he readily agreed to.  His first task in his new position was to go to New York and fire the whole department which he did but still finds it amusing (in a non-callous way) that the guy from shipping had to go in and fire people way over him in the industry he was relatively new to.

For two years Bret spent his weekdays living in a hotel room and built a great business selling publishing services to the magazine industry until the company sold the division and he then had to find another job which he did very quickly. He found himself working for a company that was launching new software that basically helped companies organise and publish their information.  At the time this sort of software was very new to the market and Bret took it on without any experience but worked successfully for eight and a half years doing this.

This role involved him doing lots of presentations, something Bret has always found he has a natural talent at but he was eventually headhunted to a new company where he found himself running a Global Services Organisation for the largest software company in Japan.  It was in this role that he met the love of his life and his now wife Julia.

Bret used to travel quite extensively for his job and it was on a visit to Vancouver, Canada for a Sales Strategy meeting that he met Julia.  He then had a business trip where he was in the UK for eight days and it was during this time that Bret and Julia not only got to know each other and fell in love but decided they wanted to be together and get married. They have now been together for five years and married for three but it was a tough time trying to get Bret into the UK full time.

 

He eventually moved to the UK on a work visa and was working within the IT industry.  He then obtained an indefinite leave to remain and early in 2011 he became a British Citizen which gives him dual nationality.  Whilst living in a leafy village just west of London, he started to think about wrestling and martial arts again.  Whilst out one day he came across a rugby field with a hut in the middle of it.  The sign outside said Unity Martial Arts so after doing some research Bret decided to go along to the sessions.

He had always been a fan of the UFC whilst living in America and having a wrestling background, he was keen to get back into it.  When he went to a session he was surprised to find some pretty famous names training at this little place in the middle of nowhere:  Ze Marcello, Denniston Sutherland and David Lee.  It was here that Ze invited him to start sparring and at the same time he started to watch Cage Rage on the television and began to like the idea of being an MC.

Bret also started to manage a few guys within the industry and through this he started to become a face in the crowd and when David Lee asked him to MC a Kayo event on the Active Channel, Bret jumped at the chance.  He then went on to do commentary on Bushido and BAMMA2 and then had another go at being an MC on Bushido. Ian Freeman, the MC at the time for Cage Rage was busy and Bret carried out his third ‘gig’ as an MC for Dave O’Donnell, standing in for Ian.

It literally went from there; he carried on working and found himself getting more and more involved and was soon working with shows all over the country.  I asked Bret if he feels nervous when he is going into the cage to present the fighters but he says he never gets nervous, he absolutely thrives on having the mic in his hand, the live crowd reaction and really enjoys it.  He says he just wants to introduce each and every fighter the same way he would want to be introduced if he was the one about to fight.

Of late Bret has a lot of things he is working on and is promoting himself everywhere.  He doesn’t want to blend into the background and just be another face; he wants to make a big splash.  And he is certainly of celebrity status within the MMA industry, being televised on various programmes in over eighty countries in the world.  In fact there is hardly a day that goes by where you won’t find Bret on someone’s television somewhere in the world either talking about MMA, in his role as MC or even on Big Brothers Bit on the Side.  This is only the start. Watch this space because Hollywood will be popping up in even more places in the not too distant future but as the following photo shows he has always had Hollywood in him.

Anyone who has ever seen Bret in his role as MC will know, that he not only has the voice with a great vocal range but also the outfits to match the Hollywood personality.  He never dresses down and will always be seen wearing Jeffery West shoes, custom tailored Sir Tom Baker jackets, handmade ties and ornate cuff links. Bret’s flamboyant style is what earned him the nickname Hollywood and is one of the things that sets him apart from every other MC in the business.  Bret has also legally trademarked his ‘It’s Go Time’ catchphrase which is now exclusively his.  So any of you who want to use it to introduce something – that’s fine, as long as you seek permission and pay Bret the royalties first!

Nowadays Bret works around the world on different events and by the end of this year alone will have notched up somewhere in the neighbourhood of 40 live events.  He says he feeds off the crowd and the atmosphere and takes his role seriously enough to use a vocal coach to help him.  Julia is a great critic for Bret because she tells him what was good and what could have been better and supports him 100% in his chosen career.  She really is his number one fan.

Although Bret is heavily involved in the MMA industry, he also tries to take work outside of it and is very active outside of MMA. He has been the Master of Ceremonies at beauty pageants, weddings, charity auctions and will be hosting a fashion show in November in aid of the Katie Piper Foundation.  But not forgetting his own background in martial arts Bret trains regularly and also took part in a charity fight recently against Andy Gear. As is the obvious norm with Bret, he took it very seriously and trained for twenty five hours a week and had a mental coach to help him.  He said he felt nervous up until he reached the dressing room where he then went into the zone mentally remembering everything he had been taught. 

On the night, the fight ended up a draw after going the distance but Bret was overwhelmed with the amount of calls he received from all the top level fighters that he usually introduces.  He says the phone rang off the hook into the early hours and he couldn’t believe all of the messages of support and ‘well done’s’ from the very guys that he himself regards as MMA heroes.

My interview with Bret had to come to a close as he had to prepare for the night ahead.  But I was there in the capacity of ‘stalker’ so my day was not yet over.  I followed Bret around trying to get a feel for what it is like to be Bret ‘Hollywood’ Freeman on fight night.

At around 4pm it was time for a technical rehearsal, this involved all presenters to the cage to rehearse their presenting.  This gives the tech guys the chance to check all the lighting and the sound and it was comical watching them all working hard but still having fun.  Bret’s rehearsal included taking his first position and practising an introduction of the fighters and also practising the winner’s presentation. 

After this, Bret gets changed out of his civvies and into his Hollywood attire.  Maybe you think he is now ready to go and just waits around for the action to begin.  But it is so much more involved than that.  Bret likes to write his own fight cards and this involves checking with the Floor Manager as to what side the fighters are going to be in the cage, red or blue, which fighter will come out first and timings for entrances. He uses his fight card sheet to take down names and basic statistics but also likes to ensure that he has the correct fight nicknames that the fighters like to use.

This involved a trip upstairs into the rooms where the guys were relaxing and training to check with some of them, exactly what they wanted to be introduced as.  We then head back downstairs and outside to speak to the TV crew who have all information about the fighters on screen ready to load at the appropriate part.

The thing is, if Bret is reading out names, weights, heights etc. he has to be matching with the screen shot that is telling the audience the same thing or else the whole thing would look totally unprofessional.  This is why it isn’t as easy as just picking up a card and reading, Bret writes it himself, checks the facts himself and can then confidently go into the cage knowing he has done all he can to ensure a good evening as an MC.

Time was now pushing on and with a card of fourteen fights; the night was starting at half past six on the dot.  At this point there was only so much stalking and following that I could do, I couldn’t be in the cage with Bret so I watched from cage side as Bret introduced his first fight of the night.  This was a pretty quick fight ending with a stoppage.  So it was then back to Bret to announce the winner.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner.  Referee Danielle Curzon calls a stop to this fight at four minutes 36 seconds of the very first round, declaring your winner by Tapout from a Guillotine Choke Florian Calin”.

And so the night went on with Bret in and out of the cage announcing the fighters and winners.  I managed to catch up with him in the interval between the undercard and the main card.  We wandered around trying to find someone who looked sparkly and basically worthy of the Hollywood A List award of £50 for best dressed person (another side project that Bret has been working on).  There wasn’t a lot of sparkle around on Saturday but eventually Bret found someone who was thrilled to be awarded for such an enviable competition. 

Remember girls and indeed boys that whenever Hollywood is around, you need to be dressed for the best and you may just be the next winner to go away £50 richer and most importantly, a member of the exclusive Hollywood A List!

The main event was long awaited – John ‘The One’ Maguire defending his belt against the number one contender, Peter Irving.  It had been a hyped up fight with both doing publicity and training hard.  Peter looked quite scary coming into the ring with manic eyes.  John however looked composed and at home.  He looked like a winner before the fight had even started.

But what I and the crowd were waiting for was the announcement that it was the main event.  The crowd were ready for the fight and then amid the lights and the left over smoke from the fighter’s entrances, Bret’s voice could be heard.  Above everything else, the theatre seemed to quieten and at last……….

“IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT’S GO TIME”

……..rang out around the theatre.  The crowd literally went crazy and people were on their feet.  Bret had once again mastered the master of ceremonies role.  He gave the people what they wanted, the adrenaline buzz, the hype and the words that gets it all started.  There really is no feeling quite like it.

And with John going on to win his fight by Unanimous Decision, after a very entertaining three rounds and a Kimura like nothing I have ever seen executed by John, the fight was over.  John ‘The One’ Maguire retained his Cage Rage Welterweight Championship belt and The Troxy was literally jumping for joy.

The day and indeed night went extremely fast and I was surprised to find it was time for me to catch my taxi home. 

I learned a lot about Bret Freeman the young teenage tearaway, through to the Naval man and on to the Hollywood gem he now is.  I learned how he fell in love with his wife Julia immediately and how he spends time preparing for a show.  But ultimately, I learned that Bret ‘Hollywood’ Freeman, whatever he is doing, does now and always will shine and sparkle like a diamond both with his attire but most importantly with his personality. 

Dodging Denniston Sutherland

Denniston ‘Mad Max’ Sutherland is a name that those of you in the MMA World will know.  For those of you that don’t, read on to find out more about the six times title winning champion fighter.  I spent the day with Denniston to find out a little about Mad Max the fighter and Denniston the person.  I then go beyond the realms of comprehension and undergo a few hours of technique training. 

At age 16 Denniston started boxing, inspired by the legend that is Mike Tyson and whilst still in his home country of Jamaica, joined a local boxing club.  Of his first lesson, Denniston tells me that he spent hours standing in a corner, just him and a punch bag, practising his jab.  As I found out, practising movements in any form of MMA discipline is the key to success. 

Denniston is a dedicated family man, married with one daughter aged six.  On September 11th 1999 he moved over to England and found himself in Harlesden before moving another three times between Wembley and Birmingham.  He eventually settled in Harrow where he still lives.  When Denniston started boxing, he trained until he was eighteen or nineteen but he has only been training in MMA since the age of 32.  He originally got into it after watching UFC and he tells me that in Jamaica it was unheard of to have events such as UFC broadcast on the television but on this particular night in November 1993, something unusual happened with the Jamaican television and the very first UFC was broadcast straight into his house.  From that moment on, Denniston tells me he was hooked and really got the bug for MMA. In Jamaica there were no opportunities to get into the world of MMA so it wasn’t until he moved to England that he had the chance to pursue his dream.  Although being the family man that he is, Denniston knew he had to get a job and dedicate time to his family before he could commit fully to training and fighting.  Having worked various jobs such as, a gardener, kitchen and floor fitter and also as a drivers mate, Denniston has lots of skills which still come in handy although now he can say that his day job is as a fighter and no longer as a lorry driver.  He finally gave up driving in February 2010 to dedicate to MMA full time, although he had been training since 2005. 

Of his first training session with Mark Chen, Denniston says he literally went in to the session at 115kg against Mark’s 68kg and found himself beaten up.  Maybe some would run a mile but Denniston said he fell in love with it there and then.  He had been secretly yearning to give fighting a go for many years but he knew he had to wait until the right moment.  Denniston attended a class being taught by Dave Waters and Mark Chen and they also brought in Dave Scarborough who Denniston did some Muay Thai with.  In October of 2009 Denniston went to Jamaica but on his return in November 2009 he started teaching grappling classes for the gym.  And by December 2009 he was working part time within the gym, as by this time, his full time job said he was taking too much time off and he was given the choice of driving the lorry or dedicating his time to Martial Arts.  So in January 2010 Denniston made the decision to give up driving and by February was concentrating his efforts full time on Martial Arts and working at the gym. 

He runs classes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 6.30pm until 8pm undertaking an hour of stand-up and pad work and half an hour of kick checking and jab crossing for MMA fighters.  On a Monday and Wednesday he also runs a Grappling class from 8-9.30pm which concentrates on wrestling, take downs and ground work.  Saturdays at 3pm and Sundays at 10am is an open mat where anyone can go along and have a go at sparring.  The open mat sessions are £5 and all other sessions are £7, although there are payment options for people who would rather pay monthly.  Denniston also offers private lessons and trains other fighters such as Crazy James Caird.  He says he enjoys training the guys and cornering them as he loves, amongst other things, teaching them how to conserve energy levels before a fight. 

Of the people who say MMA is a dangerous sport, Denniston simply says there are a lot of people out there just looking to make money and these are the ones that you want to stay away from.  There is nothing wrong with people fighting and after the controversy over the ‘Kids Cage Fighting’, Denniston adds that grappling for children is fine but it should not be carried out in an adult environment. 

Although Denniston is happily married, his wife does not get involved in the fighting side of his life.  When he originally told her that he wanted to pursue his fighting, she thought he was having a mid-life crisis and would grow out of it. When he returned from his first professional fight against Neil Groves, Denniston had damage to his face and his wife literally said to him ‘do not come home like that again’!  Nowadays, other than not being too keen on the time he has to spend away from home, Mrs Sutherland plays a passive role in the Mad Max side of her husband.  And as Denniston has such good coaches and has learned to parry, he doesn’t get hit as much as he would of back in the beginning so his wife isn’t faced with a battered and bruised husband after each fight.  Denniston’s daughter actually loves what her Daddy does but she doesn’t like it when people hit him although she can often be found giggling when the tables are turned and it is Daddy doing the hitting. 

Denniston tells me that as a fighter he has his own style that works for him, especially being very active with his hands but as he respects lots of different fighters, he also takes pieces of different people and brings those skills to his own game.  Looking back to Denniston’s first professional fight, he tells me that he fought at Heavyweight against an opponent 30kg heavier than him.  Denniston managed to slam his opponent and ended up breaking the cage!  He ended up losing the fight in the second round but says this only made him strive harder and from April 2008 to May 2009, Denniston was on a seven win streak.  Dennistons next fight is on 29th October against Andrew Punshon.  He will be fighting for the Middleweight Title for ‘Made For The Cage’ in Sunderland so at the time of this interview, being three weeks out, he is well into his pre-fight training regime.  From the third week out he trains technical and then moves onto cardio two weeks out.  The last week of the three is spent managing his weight, healing up and resting.  He is confident he will weigh in at the 84kg required for this title fight and is conscious of the fact that if fighters don’t weigh in at the correct weight, the fight can easily be called off or someone has to fight a heavier opponent.  Will Denniston be adding a seventh title win to his already amazing achievements?  Take a look at the list: 

Pride & Glory British Light Heavyweight Champion

Survival FC British Light Heavyweight Champion

Fx3 World Light Heavyweight Champion

Ultimate Force British Light Heavyweight Champion

Total Combat British Middleweight Champion

Ultimate Challenge (UCMMA) Middleweight Champion 

I am sure that come October 29th Denniston will be wearing the Made for the Cage Middleweight belt.  So watch this space. 

Having sat down and learned a little about Denniston the fighter, husband, father and person, it was now my turn to become a pupil.  I lived to tell the tale and here is my account of my time being taught by the champion and wonderful person Mr Denniston ‘Mad Max’ Sutherland.  Wearing my UFC oversize training top and leggings, I think I look the part and being armed with a bottle of water, I was ready for my meet.  We eventually arrived at HMA after getting lost on the M1 but as usual, we were early so that gave me time to sit down with Denniston and get all the factual information and then it was time for my lessons!  Was I nervous?  I actually get nervous about a lot of things but for once I felt calm and excited.  Maybe because I had met Denniston prior to this day or maybe because whenever I had spoken to anyone about him, all I heard were the most wonderful things, or maybe it was just a mix of the two.  Whatever the reason, I was looking forward to giving something a go. 

At first Denniston talked about me having a cardio workout but I had to stop him there.  I am unfit and do not exercise at all, plus I am a smoker.  So being as I wanted to get through the session and live another day, I steered it round to learning some techniques instead. Denniston said to me ‘so you don’t want to sweat then’?  I don’t mind hard work and I am very determined to complete things once I get going so although a cardio workout was off the card, I wasn’t scared of sweating with the technique training and sweat I certainly did. 

Firstly, I had to get padded up which was quite amusing, there I was with shin guards covering the whole of my lower leg.  And then the boxing gloves came out.  I struggled to get them on as I usually use my fingers and thumbs for tasks but obviously once one hand was in, I was having trouble getting the other one in the glove! I got there in the end though. Dressed for the part and ready to start the first lesson, I was feeling a little self-conscious.  I knew I had random photographs being taken and I was very aware that I wasn’t messing around in my lounge with the children or my partner, but being taught by a champion fighter.  This wasn’t helped by me totally fluffing the first question that Denniston asked me.‘Where does a fight start’?  Simple question right?  So what do I go and say?  ‘In the middle’!  I think poor Denniston probably realised that I was going to be one of his toughest pupils albeit not in the strength sense of the word!  We soon established that what I actually should have said was that an MMA fight always starts on the feet! 

The first thing I learned was the different ranges within a fight.  The first thing a fighter will do is use a kick to test his range and then they will come in with hands.  So our first bit of training was in kicking and boxing.  The first most important thing was to get the correct stance which took longer than I thought, purely because it is vital to get the right balance.  Once I managed to more or less get in the correct position it was time to learn some kicks.  I am a huge fan of kickboxing and always have been so I was excited to be learning how to kick.  I learned how to pivot on the back foot, bring up the front leg and turn it into a kick.  I also learned early on that kicking with the toe is not the way forward and to avoid injury and to maximise the effect, you have to land using the shin.  So I spent some time practising the actual moves to get my leg in the right place for outside leg kicks and then went on to practise the inside thigh kicks.  Where I was trying to remember the way to actually place myself, I found I was too slow at putting the pivot, lift and turn together in a fluid movement but being as it was my first time, I wasn’t too hard on myself.  I also learned whilst kicking that it is important to keep your hands up at all times to protect yourself.  On numerous occasions I dropped my hands, so in the end Denniston made me put them on the top of my head rather than to the side of my head, so I didn’t automatically drop them!  And then I had to drop one hand back whilst I kicked keeping the other one up as protection so my arms and hands were in a confused state!  My brain was whirling with all the information but it made sense totally and as the awful picture of me shows, I think I actually managed to get the whole move right, more or less, just the once! 

With regards to punching, we moved over to the punch bag and here I tested my reach and checked the stance was again okay.  And then I got the chance to punch and kick Denniston for real!  The only trouble with that is I have no power in my punches, or kicks for that matter, but I still didn’t want to hit him because and yes you can laugh, I didn’t want to hurt him!  I know I wouldn’t have hurt him but hitting and kicking someone for me is alien but I gave it a go.  We went round in circles and I attempted some punches and kicks.  I am sure I heard Denniston say ‘well done’ for one of my kicks as I may have landed one at least.  I found doing the moves in that scenario was easier than doing them slowly.  But then Denniston told me to go at him hard so I got into it and started punching and punching and punching!  I tried to be angry and let rip but these arms of mine are just not strong at all and every time I threw a punch I’d drop my other hand leaving myself wide open.  But what did I learn from this?  I learned that the kicking and punching side is not just a free for all, waiting to see where you can land shots, it is as technical as every other part of an MMA fight.  You need to balance, protect yourself, throw kicks and punches that reach, be fast on your feet and also you need to know where to look.  I spent the whole time looking straight into Dennistons eyes until he told me to concentrate on his chest, just below his chin.  As he rightly pointed out, by looking in his eyes, he will give me false signals as to what his next move will be and I will instinctively go to protect/block that move when really, he will be coming in at an angle I haven’t got covered.  By looking just below the chin, I can see the movements from his arms and legs, therefore making me more alert to the moves.  I will always love kickboxing but whether I would ever be able to do it myself, is very doubtful.  It is hard work and requires a lot of power and me being a weakling, it probably isn’t the discipline for me, although I still loved my lesson and would definitely like to give it another go sometime. 

After a quick drink and a few notes taken, it was time to move on to the Trapping part of the MMA game.  I have to say I really enjoyed this part. With the gloves off, one of the first things Denniston taught me was how to do the Hubud Drill.  It isn’t something you literally do in a fight but it teaches you how to block effectively.  I’d like to say, being as I am quite intelligent that I got this straight away but sadly I think I have to admit that my co-ordination isn’t quite what I thought it was.  I found myself feeling really embarrassed about not being able to master something, that in slow motion was quite simple.  For those who do not know what it is, I will attempt to explain it.  Denniston asked me to pretend he was stabbing me.  I then had to block his right arm coming towards me, with my left hand.  I then, with my right forearm push his arm up and then with my left hand grab his elbow and push his arm down.  I do not let go of the elbow until I then repeat the process with me as the aggressor and him as the defender. One thing I noticed when I blocked the incoming aggression, was that instead of just using my palm to block, I actually grabbed the wrist.  Denniston explained that I needed to relax but I had demonstrated how different twists/techniques are used by people and when you are experienced it is about understanding what works best for you.  We spent a lot of time on this movement and eventually I managed to understand it and do the movement start to finish.  Since being home and using my thirteen year old as a guinea pig, I think I now have the Hubud movement mastered although the next time I see Denniston I am sure he will let me know! 

After the Hubud drill, which incidentally you can find on YouTube for a better understanding, we moved on to learning about under hooks.  All fighters want to be in the position of having double under hooks.  So we started out with a scene resembling Strictly Come Dancing, with both of us having one under hook each.  The next part of the drill was for me to attempt getting double under hooks.  For some reason I really found my aggressive streak and went hell for leather, trying to get doubles.  Obviously, I wasn’t going to manage it against Denniston but I did not give up and felt myself gritting my teeth in determination.  Even Denniston commented on how I really went for it and once again my poor teenage son has had to practise with me and I am pleased to say I am unbeaten when it comes to him! 

The next part was learning how to throw your opponent.  I have seen the guys thrown in fights and I have to say I wasn’t looking forward to taking a tumble, soft mats or not!  This must have shown in my face as Denniston was quick to tell me not to worry and that he wouldn’t hurt me!  So I put myself in the position of him having my back which was my back against his front.  I then had to hold on to the under part of his left arm, bend so my bottom was just beneath his groin and then stretch up lifting him off of his feet.  This movement unbalances your opponent and you are then able to throw them over, still holding onto the arm.  I did throw Denniston but I am not naïve enough to think that I did this with pure strength; I think I managed to get the positioning right so as I went to throw, Mr Sutherland probably threw himself for my benefit.  I did end up on top in half guard though so I did something right!  We tried this a few times and I understood this better than all the drills and boxing!  I was beginning to think my game was going to be wrestling. 

But then we moved onto the ground game.  For the purposes of the drill, Denniston used my partner David aka Photographer for the day, to demonstrate what he wanted me to do.  David was on his back with his knees up and hands in the T-Rex position.  The name of the drill is the Star Drill.  This basically takes you round your opponent starting off in a very ungainly position with knees spread as wide as possible and heels together.  Being face down laying across your opponent, holding on to your opponents elbow, still on your knees, you then have to bring the furthest leg through and under the other leg so you are laying on your side almost.  The next step is taking the furthest leg from your opponent and stepping over their head so your torso is on top of their head and your arms pinning their elbows to their sides.  You then have to step round in the same way so you have side control on the other side all the time holding the arms down and from this position you have the chance of many different submissions, such as an arm bar, wrist lock, foot lock and a choke. 

So with all the practising over, it was time for Denniston and me to have a go at the ground game.  He lay down and asked me to take a position on him.  I spared him the torso on the face one and went for the side control.  We then went the other way, with Denniston on top and me having to get out of it.  Well I battled and battled, tried bridging and rolling to get him off, wriggled a hell of a lot and grabbed his arms and legs.  But still he had the top position.  Having a foot phobia, when he attempted a foot grab, I literally screamed and kicked!  Did I end up on top?  Don’t be silly, I ended up with Dennistons full weight on me in side control and ended up in an arm bar above my head!  Obviously, all carried out in a gentle fashion!  So I lost but then I didn’t expect it any other way.  All I can say is I did try, I did learn a lot and I did enjoy it so much.  I definitely love the wrestling and ground game and found that I understood that a little better.  Will I ever be fit?  Will I ever be strong?  Will I ever be a fighter?  I know it is down to me to get fit and I know I can improve my strength but as for actual fighting, I think I will stick to journalism. 

I would love to train some more and my only regret of the day is that Denniston lives so far away from me, which he is probably secretly pleased about, for had he lived nearer, I think I would have signed up for more lessons.  Anyone who wants to start in MMA or indeed established fighters should go to HMA and train with Denniston Sutherland.  You won’t meet a better teacher and I am proud to have spent the day being taught by not only a champion fighter but also one of the nicest guys I have ever met and all that is left for me to do is cling on to my memories, giggle at my photos and thank Denniston for all his time, patience and effort with me.  But I will say, if he ever offers again, I for one would definitely love to grace the mats of HMA again one day!  For more information on HMA (Hemel Martial Arts) please contact Denniston on his email bigjoe766@gmail.com

Nick The Headhunter Chapman

It is 5.35am on a rather pleasant Wednesday morning in Surrey, a time when I would usually be sleeping soundly. But today I am up and getting myself ready for my day out with Nick ‘HeadHunter’ Chapman. A day that had been planned a few weeks before and that I was really looking forward to. I wanted to get an insight into a day in his life and find out a little more about him.
I actually feel dizzy being awake so early but I manage to grab some breakfast and leave the house at the ungodly hour of 7am. I didn’t want to be late as anyone who knows Nick, will know he has a routine and schedule that he sticks to and doesn’t like to be late for anything.
Luckily I was being driven to Nicks house in the lovely town of Guildford so with traffic unusually light, I sat back and enjoyed the journey along the misty Hogs Back. As is usual with me, I find myself half an hour early and after a quick confirmation by text to ascertain that it was indeed okay to knock on Nick’s door at such a time, I headed in to his house.
Nick lives with his wife Karen who I had the pleasure of meeting, albeit at such a silly hour of the day. She works in the city so after a few words she was off for her own busy day. I did manage to ask Karen if Nick was at his grumpy stage yet. For those that don’t know and haven’t read my previous article, Nick finds not being able to eat what he wants coming up to a fight a little difficult and can often be a grumpy so and so. But luckily for Karen he isn’t so bad this time round.
Thankfully I had time for a cup of tea made by Nick before we had to head off for a busy morning. Nick was in good spirits and we talked a little, whilst I sipped my tea, about Karen who is also a very athletic lady and competes as a triathlete. I commented that it must make life a lot easier knowing the person you live with is also very fit and health conscious and Nick said that for him it is important to be with someone who understands him and what he does. He could never see himself being with someone who was unhealthy and unfit. Although I hasten to add that Nick has a huge amount of respect for Karen and tells me he loved her as soon as he met her. So although some people may think he looks big and scary, inside he is actually a gentle giant.
Now there is one thing that I have to share with Nick’s fans. Perhaps his male fans will want to slap him on the back and high five him but his female fans will be tutting under their breath! But if I explain the story maybe you will all come around to his way of thinking, like I did.
We were ready to go but couldn’t leave as we were waiting for Nick’s Mum to come round with his washing. Yes you heard correctly! I had to ask why a grown, married man was having his washing done by his Mum, as being the mother of two boys myself, it was a little worrying to think that, that would be me in twenty years!
Nick tells me that he isn’t a domesticated male and although he is at home more often than his wife, he just doesn’t have an inclination towards such chores. He also, has no idea how to work the washing machine so to be honest, I am glad he didn’t decide to put a wash on or else I imagine we would have been paddling out of the house!
Karen works very long hours and Nick’s Mum loves to help out and as Nick pays her to do it, the situation works well for everyone involved. I still smile when I think of my reaction to seeing Mrs Chapman at the back door with a huge gym bag full of clean washing but I admit everyone is happy and if someone offered to do your washing, there aren’t many who would turn it down.
So now the washing was delivered it was time to head off to Farnborough to Andy Roberts BJJ Academy. I really love Surrey and Hampshire for its beautiful countryside so our drive there was a pleasant one. I can talk and talk so I think poor Nick probably wished he’d never agreed to this interview!
We chatted about Nick’s childhood and how he used to do Judo and got as far as a green belt and how he is also a Black Belt in Tai Kwando. We also talked a little about his troubled youth and how having dyslexia at school made studying such a challenge. As I said in my other article, Nick had the capacity to learn as he is very intelligent but he needed to do it his way, which was not accepted by the school.
Nick said he was suspended and realised that his bad behaviour at school was being rewarded by him being allowed to stay home from school for a week. When he cottoned on even further, he ended up being expelled and we both said the punishments that schools give out, such as suspension, to children aren’t really punishments at all.
Although Nick did spend some of his youth getting into many scraps, he believes this was because he had nowhere to channel his aggression. Nowadays there are many more things children can do such as MMA and Nick is constantly trying to give back to kids. He tells me that he does give back now he has turned his life around and will continue to do so for the rest of his life.
Nick also has a belief in God. When I asked him what religion he follows, he simply tells me that he doesn’t. He believes in a God rather than a God he is told to believe in. His faith is his personal belief and he does not attend church regularly but with all the troubled years, he now feels that something is shining down on him and telling him this is his time to succeed.
By this time we are at Andy Roberts BJJ Academy and waiting outside in the glorious sunshine. First to arrive is Barney who is Nick’s wrestling coach. I knew we were there for an hour of wrestling and then an hour of BJJ but I have to admit my brain was unable to work out the difference between the two. I can now say how dumb I am because as soon as it was explained to me, I realised. But my theory is, if you don’t know something you are better off asking than messing it up completely.
Barney is from Hungary and I noticed a lot smaller than Nick. I now realise this doesn’t actually make a huge difference when you are actually wrestling. Once Andy arrived and opened up, we went inside the academy and I found myself a seat by the door.
The first thing that happened made me jealous! Nick is laid out on the mats and Barney is stretching him and then massaging his muscles. Now if that is what happens when you go wrestling, someone sign me up!
I wasn’t sure what to expect in this lesson as although I have seen wrestling in MMA fights, where all disciplines are combined, you tend as a newbie not to notice particular things. After the massage and warm up, Nick and Barney got down to practising moves. I wrote lots of notes on what moves they were doing and I honestly could make sense of what they were doing and learned a lot. But I am not going to report what they were actually doing as the moves could be used in Nick’s fight on October 22nd against Jimmy Manuwa and although I am sure it wouldn’t make a difference even if Jimmy were watching himself, I am not going to write specifics.
I was quite surprised at just how hard wrestling is. Obviously it is physical and uses lots of muscles but the sweat was pouring and the mat being pounded. Nick did tell me that he always knows when he has mastered a move because Barney doesn’t say ‘again’ but just giggles! One thing I did learn is that although wrestling is about taking down your opponent it is also about where you land once you have your opponent on the ground. You need to land in the best position so you can finish the fight so it is all about where to place your feet and which parts of your body to use and which of your opponents to grab. Sadly I cannot share anymore but I will be testing these out on my partner, although on the trampoline so I don’t hurt myself!
As Nick was wrestling with Barney, his sparring partner for BJJ arrived so I spent some time chatting with Lee Doyle who is a fireman but also a fantastic BJJ partner for Nick who works with him every week. Lee and I discussed nutrition and diet and again I learned a little about what I should be eating and what I should be avoiding. Nick joined in our conversation once wrestling was over and I have to say I am pretty embarrassed at my own view of food.
Lee reiterated a point that I have heard in the past but never take any notice of. Everyone should eat breakfast. Now he has explained to me how my body feels not having breakfast, I am going to start to force myself to eat it. I admit, I didn’t today but I am going to. And this is purely because he told me how when I go from say 11pm the night before and not eat again until 12pm the next day, my body is storing everything I ate because it knows it may not get fed again for a long period. This is obviously storing nasty things, whereas if I eat little and often, it will know that I am going to feed it again soon and will work to rid itself of the things I have eaten. Lesson learned and onwards for me.
Nick never eats bad food, he is very conscious of what he eats and only eats the things he knows are going to benefit his body. You will never find him in McDonalds or Burger King. And the following analogy is a brilliant one.
He asked me what car I would have if I could choose any in the world. Without hesitation I said a Lotus. He did ask me which type but as I am not that hot on cars, I had no clue. We worked out the perfect interior and bodywork with all the extras. I had the perfect vision of it. He then asked me if, once it had arrived and it was time to fill it up, would I pee in the petrol tank. Obviously, I said I wouldn’t and he asked me why. I answered with ‘well it would ruin it and it wouldn’t run properly.’ As I said it I could see where it was going. So Nick is right when he says that I look after my car better than I look after my body because the way I eat is literally ruining my body! Lesson learned and I now have a fridge of salad, avocado, prawns and for snacks gone is the chocolate and crisps replaced with Snack A Jacks!
After my lesson Nick was ready to start his BJJ hour. Once again I sat and watched and marvelled at just how much fitness is required for it. Now I know the difference between wrestling and BJJ it will not be news to everyone else when I say that Nick was practising from his back on the mats with Lee on top. The purpose was learning how to escape and I learned that it is very important where the arms and feet are placed to do this.
Andy Roberts, as I said is the coach and he exudes a calm confidence in his teaching. I listened to what he was telling Nick whilst I was watching and found that it all made sense. He is firm with Nick, making him work hard but the firmness pays off as Nick mastered a few different moves. With twenty minutes of hard drill with Lee to finish the session, the sweat was pouring and I for one was ready for a nap just watching. But at the same time, I found I loved the movement of BJJ and really fancied a go to which Andy told me I could jump in but I figured I’d leave it for another day! I haven’t given up though; I am seriously considering finding a local class to find out more. Obviously, I will first be going to Andy for my free lesson and would recommend his classes to anyone.
After we said our goodbyes, Nick and I headed back to his house so he could freshen up before we headed into Woking for lunch. Nick goes to the same restaurant regularly because they make exactly what he requires. I opted for something healthy myself for a change and have to say the food in L’AROMA was fantastic and I would recommend it.
We chatted over lunch about how hard Nick trains and how he wants to be the best of the best. I have to admire how much hard work and dedication Nick puts into his training and although he has upped the intensity as we are now just over two weeks out from his Title Challenge against Jimmy Manuwa, even when he doesn’t have a fight, he still trains every day.
Our afternoon started with a visit to his Mums house for a cup of coffee. I remembered that she used instant coffee rather than fresh and I for one much prefer the instant stuff, so I settled down for a cuppa and a natter whilst Nick spent ten minutes logged into his brothers Facebook leaving status updates that were from Nick rather than his brother. There is nothing like sibling wind-ups! Nicks Mum and I talked about what she does for a living and how proud she is of all Nick has achieved.
She told me she will be proud of him no matter what he does and you can see the admiration in her eyes. We talked about Nick and Karen having children and Nick definitely wants a baby in the future but wants to achieve his goals first so that he will feel complete and not like he has had to stop before he reaches the top. He wants to be number one for the foreseeable future but this is not in an arrogant way and personally I think it makes sense to have children when the time is right, as that way you are never going to think ‘what if’ I had waited. Nick tells me he isn’t keen on the whole nappy changing scenario to which I made the mistake of saying ‘you have to change your own child’s nappy’. He just looked at me and said ‘have to’ and I realised he has never been one to be told what he has to do! I guess a lot of us are like that and we figured cajoling is going to work better for Nick when nappy changing comes along!
But one day there will be a mini HeadHunter running around and it doesn’t matter which sex the baby is, Nick is adamant it will be World Champion one day.
We headed off from Nicks Mums and I asked her if I would see her on fight night. Both Nick and his Mum laughed. His Mum gets too nervous and stays at home, pacing around waiting for the phone to ring; her nerves wouldn’t stand it at The Troxy! Karen also told me that she would see me on the night but that she would be a nervous wreck. It must be harder for the people watching, especially loved ones because for Nick he has control and he can change his fate from one move to the next but for Karen, she has no control and can only watch from cage side. I do feel for her and even though I am not close to Nick, he is the only person in the MMA world that I have spent time with so I will be feeling it more than I ever have watching other fighters in the past.
At 2pm we head over to Guildford Lido where Nick’s team of fitness instructors work for Fight Science until his own gym opens in the very near future in Aldershot. Nick is very excited about having his very own gym and says it is his ultimate dream
Instructors work with clients of all calibres. People looking to lose weight and get fit, to up and coming fighters who are given a gruelling sessions of five, five minute rounds of different fitness activities with just a minute between each round. Nick likes to meet his clients as often as he can but knows they are in safe hands with the people he employs.
I noticed that everyone knows their stuff, not just what to do but why to do it and what the next step will be to further increase fitness and stamina. It really is scientific and not just about getting someone running or skipping, they tailor make the programmes for the individuals and focus their attention on each person 100% when they come to the sessions.
We were meeting Jay ‘The Prodigy’ Dods who is an up and coming young fighter who is undefeated in his Semi Professional career with a record of 3-0. Jay fights in the light weight division at 70kg and watching him doing his five minute rounds again had me feeling respect. Jay is in his last year at college and hopes to go to University after to study Strength and Conditioning. Nick thinks he is fantastic and has the potential.
The same goes for Andy Reynolds who had his session after Jay. Andy is a 90kg fighter who fights at catchweight. He will be making his professional debut on October 15th having won his first Semi Professional fight.
Nick has a lot of time and respect for both Andy and Jay and is looking for sponsorship for them. So if anyone is interested they should get in touch with Nick because these guys are going to go far and you will be proud to have your name associated with either one.
My day was coming to an end mid-afternoon as Nick was heading off for something to eat and to catch up with his emails, Facebook and twitter messages. He always makes time for his fans and supporters. I was invited to go back with Nick and to watch his evening sparring session but I had to head back to Essex so I was unable to.
We talked a little more about what a typical week is like for Nick and he tells me his usual routine.
Monday he does Kickboxing on the pads in the morning, followed by lunch at L’Aroma in Woking mid-morning. He then goes to Fight Science to meet clients.
Tuesday mornings are BJJ sessions and Strength and Conditioning in the afternoon.
Wednesday he does Wrestling and BJJ in the mornings followed by grappling and sparring in the evenings.
Thursday is his killer day as he goes to Harley Street for Strength and Conditioning with the Professor of Pain Greg White.
Friday he goes to the TKO Boxing Gym in London for sparring.
Saturday he does Shark Tanking which is five rounds of full contact MMA sparring with a one minute break between rounds and a fresh opponent every minute.
Sunday is his day off where he spends quality time with Karen and rests up before starting the whole week all over again.
I have to say my day with Nick was both educational and fun. I learned about nutrition and fitness but also about Nick behind the fighter. I think to fully understand his dedication and commitment would mean spending a week following him around but for now I am happy with all that I have taken away from this day.
All that is left for me to do is see Nick in his ‘HeadHunter’ persona on October 22nd at The Troxy in London when he challenges Jimmy Manuwa for the belt. I have a feeling I won’t recognise him as the person I spent the day with but I am quietly confident that the HeadHunter will be the one owning the cage that night and ultimately coming away with the belt. I do wish him luck but I don’t think he needs it; he has it covered mark my words.
For more information on Nick or to get in touch follow him on twitter by searching NickHeadHunter you can also find him on Facebook under Nick HeadHunter Chapman – he loves to hear from you so don’t hesitate in saying hello.
To purchase tickets for the next Cage Rage please visit the website at http://www.cagerageuk.com