From claiming benefits and living in his mum’s spare room with his girlfriend, to winning multiple championship belts and seven-figure pay packets, Conor McGregor’s story is unprecedented.
Ahead of this weeks release of Conor McGregor: Notorious documentary, loaded decided to hit the pads at London-based gym Urban Kings, joining the UK’s #4 ranked featherweight MMA fighter Ashleigh Grimshaw to put us through our paces. Grimshaw, the current UCMMA FW Champion, is an immensely popular fighter with UK fans having been in the MMA spotlight for over ten years, combined with teaching at Urban Kings in the last four years. He holds significant victories over UFC veterans Vaughan Lee, Phil Harris and David Lee, and is known for his aggressive grappling, submissions and ground and pound.
Following our sparing session with one of the fiercest fighters in the sport, we sat down to speak about the world of MMA, to find out what it’s like to get into the octagon, and of course the ineluctable Conor McGregor.
loaded: Why and how did you get into MMA?
Grimshaw: First of all I was terrible at football. It runs in my family; my dad and brother played semi-pro football and I just sucked at it. So I remembered seeing the first ever UFC, and thinking ‘I could do that, it doesn’t look too tough…’ and I’ve never looked back since then.
loaded: MMA fighters arrive at the sport from different angles – wrestling, boxing and various martial arts. What was your background?
Grimshaw: Initially I came from a Judo background, so that definitely helped. But having that background is not the be all and end all. As long as you are a little bit athletic, are willing to train and open to learn, then anyone can get into the sport?
loaded: How old were you when you first got into MMA? And when did you become professional?
Grimshaw: I think I was 18 or 19. I had my first fight in 2003. Back then there was no amateur so you had to fight pro from the beginning! I’ve been fighting pro since then!
loaded: Do you remember how you felt when you entered the octagon for the first time? Do you get nervous when you fight today?
Grimshaw: Scared is not a word I would, but you’re always going to be a bit nervous. To this day I still go ‘oh my god, this guy is going to punch me in the face and that will suck…’ but then as soon as my music plays I remember ‘oh yeah, I’m pretty good at this!’
loaded: Can you tell when your opponent is nervous?
Grimshaw: I always look my opponent in the face straight away. If they look away, then they may be a tad mentally broken already. One indicator is to try and play mind games. I will start walking from side to side and often they will start walking from side to side; I bounce on the floor, they’ll bounce on the floor. If they begin mimicking me, then they don’t actually know what they’re doing, and I know that they are mentally broken before we start.
loaded: What has been your toughest fight to date and why?
Grimshaw: I’ve had a lot of tough fights! The fights I’ve lost have all been tough, obviously. The toughest one that I’ve won… hard to say, because normally I put my opposition out! I either lose on decision or finish the guy! I have fought some of the best guys in England and abroad. Paddy Pimblett was a tough fight. Ronnie Mann was tough. Waylon Lowe broke my nose clean in two!
loaded: Conor McGregor’s new documentary film, Notorious, depicts his rags to riches story; going from a working class background in Dublin to fighting in front of thousands of fans in Las Vegas. What do you make of his incredible story?
Grimshaw: I mean, I don’t know how rags to riches it actually was. I have no idea how rich or poor he really was. He was a plumber and plumbers earn decent money! Taking away nothing that he’s done; that kid is amazing! I’m older than him but I have so much respect for him, he’s amazing.
loaded: Have you ever seen Conor fight? What’s it like in the flesh?
Grimshaw: I remember he was preparing to fight Steve O’Keefe. We were back-stage at Cage Warriors, Kentish Town in HMV Forum. He was absolutely obliterating his warm up partner, catching him with shots all over the place. It was weird. He moved so smoothly. It was something to behold. At the time I was thinking, thank god my guy isn’t fighting him!
loaded: Would you get in the octagon with Conor?
Grimshaw: Oh, of course. I have no fear of him in the slightest. I’d love to get in the cage with him, just to see what it’s like. I wonder if he hits as hard as they say. Is he as strong as that? Is he that smooth? Any fighter would love to do that and test themselves versus the best.
Grimshaw: I would definitely try and take him down straight away. He’s got a bigger reach than me; he’s a bigger featherweight than me. Hopefully, I’d run into the cage, take him down, submit him. Easy work! Just like no-one else has done…
loaded: Have you ever sustained any serious injuries? Is there any way of preventing serious injuries in such a violent sport?
Grimshaw: The worst thing I’ve ever received is a broken nose, which isn’t a big deal in combat sports. Serious injury-wise, all you can do is train smart, train with guys that are of your level. It’s often the guys who aren’t that good that cause injury. The guys who know what they’re doing look after their sparing partners.
loaded: As well as fighting for thirteen years, you’ve been teaching MMA for four years. What would be your advice for anyone trying to get into the sport?
Grimshaw: If you’re looking to start MMA, be ready to embrace all of the aspects of the sport. Don’t try and just be a grappler if you don’t enjoy striking, because you are going to get punched in the face. At the same time, don’t be a striker and not work at jujitsu, because you’re going to get submitted! Just embrace it all and eventually you will discover what you are best suited to and then you can work to your strengths.
I love teaching. I have one guy I’ve trained and he has obliterated everyone he has faced, because he does everything I say! I can see he is taking on every piece of information he is given. It’s nice to look at the next generation of fighters. It makes me proud.
loaded: You teach MMA here at Urban Kings in Kings Cross. Why Urban Kings and what do they offer that other London-based gyms don’t?
Grimshaw: It’s an amazing facility. You’ve got classes on classes in all sorts of disciplines. There’s not a point in the day that you can’t come and train. There are loads of expert fighters and trainers here, so there will always be someone who you know can help you train at any time of the day.
Conor McGregor: Notorious is out now on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Download.
For further info on Urban Kings gym classes, trainers, venue hire and memberships, go to http://urbankingsgym.com/