(Matt ’12 Gauge’ Thorpe, UK MMA legend. Copyright – Ian Edmondson / Escape Photography)
At the recent Knuckleup: Origins show which took place on the 20th February, a career was finished as UK MMA mainstay Matt ’12 Gauge’ Thorpe was stopped in a round by Wales’ hard-hitting John Phillips. This represented a sad day for some as, in recent times, Thorpe has entertained many by only ever taking tough fights, and utilising an exciting all-action style which never disappoints. Tributes have rained in for Matt over the past few weeks from many notable names on the UK scene, who concur with this writer in saying that ’12 Gauge’ was truly a special and unheralded fighter that helped shape the now successful face of mixed martial arts in the British Isles.
Aaron Chatfield, a long time friend of Matt’s, who has acted as both a coach and a training partner in the past certainly rated his charge. “I genuinely believe that Matt had the skills, fitness and strength to be a world class fighter,” beamed the man once nicknamed ‘Red Mist’. “I’ve trained with him for a long time and there’s nothing he can’t do: he can box with top boxers, he can Thai box with top Thai boxers, he can wrestle with good wrestlers and compete on the ground with black belt BJJers – he’s got all of those attributes, and I have never seen anybody that trains as hard as he does.”
He continued, “The things he does are unbelievable. An old boxing saying goes, ‘A champion is a guy that trains like a champion when nobody is around to watch him,’ and Matt used to go and do his hill sprints on his own and absolutely hammer them. It’s easy to do when you’ve got a coach shouting at you, or when you’ve got other fighters to compete with, but to go and do your hill sprints on your own until the point where you’re sick takes a very special individual.”
Chatfield also praised Thorpe’s personality outside the cage. He divulged, “It’s interesting, because Matt is the complete opposite to what most would think an MMA fighter is – he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. He has a very nice, gentle personality and he will do amazing things for people. I promoted ‘King of the Cage’ in the UK, and the event wasn’t too popular, and I lost a lot of money. Matt was the only fighter that came up to me and said, ‘Don’t pay me, I know you’ve lost a lot of money’.”
Back in 2005, Matt took on Dan ‘The Outlaw’ Hardy who, on the 27th of March, will become the first Brit ever to fight for a UFC title when he takes on the phenomenal Georges St. Pierre in New Jersey, with the aim of taking the welterweight crown back to Nottingham. Thorpe took him to a five round split decision, with just one point being the difference maker and rendering Hardy the victor, and Aaron admits to wondering where Matt might be now if one judge looked at it the other way.
“We look at that so many times – it’s that big what if,” he revealed. “There was one point difference [between the two] and one judge saw it for one point to Dan Hardy. If that point had gone in the other direction, then who knows if it would have been Matt fighting GSP? Maybe not, but you still look back on that and think on a better day, that might have gone our way and we would have been in the UFC.
“Something that a lot of people don’t even consider with the fight,” he carried on, “Is that Matt fought with sciatica, and after that he had surgery, didn’t train for six months and didn’t fight for another year. And that’s Matt – he just cracked on with it; he doesn’t complain. That moment sticks in our minds though, because to go five rounds with Dan Hardy and take it to a split decision is something no one else has done. Also, if you look at the fight, Dan Hardy went out of his game. He’s known as a striker, and he didn’t strike with Matt. He definitely thought, ‘I’m not going to strike with Matt; I’m going to have to change my gameplan,’ and that was good to see someone of Dan Hardy’s capabilities think he’s got to adapt and do something different to beat Matt. I seriously have a lot of respect for Dan Hardy, and I think his biggest strength has always been his self belief and the fact that he doesn’t think can lose – it doesn’t even enter his mind, and Matt had him in so many of those things. The triangle [in the first] for example, any other fighter I can think of would have tapped out; the same with the arm bar.”
Hardy himself, now 23-6, was also full of praise for the fighter who pushed him to his limits in 2005.
“My fight with Matt back in 2005 is still my toughest fight to date,” admitted ‘The Outlaw’. “Looking back on it, I realise that it was an important learning curve in my career. It was the first time I tried to out-think a fighter through a gameplan, and the first time I stepped into the cage to force a ground fight.”
Hardy also talked of the close nature of the bout, and how he thinks Thorpe will make a fantastic trainer.
“Matt gave me all I could handle that night, and on another day it could have gone the other way. I think he will make a great coach – he has a lot to teach and is a very well rounded fighter. I wish him the best of luck on the other side of the fence, and expect to be seeing him cornering future MMA stars in the UFC one day.”
Chippenham’s Leigh Remedios, a long-time training partner of ’12 Gauge’ also lauded the abilities of an ‘on-form’ Matt Thorpe. “He trains pretty much as he fights – he could be hot or cold,” remarked Remedios. “Sometimes, he’d come over and train and I’d feel like I could handle him really well, but when he was on form, he just smashed me!
“On his day,” he continued, “He was world class – there’s no doubt in my mind about that. He could fight anyone in the world and do well. If he brought his ‘A game’, he was fine against anyone. He is the fighter that has fluctuated the most at such an extreme level. The nickname ‘Shotgun’ is appropriate, because he’s awesome in all ranges.
“I’m not sure how much people in this country know about Matt, but he’s been fighting a long time and was fighting pro years and years ago, on a lot of the shows before MMA became big. He was one of the ones that laid down the roots, before it was cool to be a fighter – he fought just because he wanted to fight, not to be on TV or anything.”
To finish up, Leigh added that he thinks Matt has some of the positive attributes required to be a great coach. “He’s a very technical fighter,” Remedios explained. “He’s not like a ‘one trick pony’ and he doesn’t get by on natural attributes or anything like that. He’s got a lot of information to pass on that’s for sure.”
(Thorpe, as a part of the Team England M-1 team in Japan. Courtesy of CageWarriors)
Fellow Northern Cartel teammate and Team England M-1 Challenge representative Ian Butlin was also keen to sing the praises of Thorpe, who made his pro debut in 2002.
“Matt Thorpe is without doubt the hardest working fighter I have had the pleasure to train with. He was willing to fight anyone, and I’m sure he will pass this on to his students!”
One of Ian’s brothers, David, a coach of the aforementioned M-1 Challenge team, and a training partner of Matt in his own right also only had good things to say about him. “Matt is one of the nicest guys I have ever trained with,” enthused David. “I don’t usually like people, but Matt is always a cool guy to be around; maybe too nice would be my only criticism. He has amazing skills and no weakness in any technique. He trains more professionally than anyone I have trained with, and has been a pleasure to train with over the years. The up and comers who have the opportunity to train with him should consider themselves lucky and jump at the chance. I’d like to thank him for all the great memories and enjoy more to come on his new path! Matt and his wife Jenny are a great asset to UK MMA.”
The third battling Butlin sibling, ‘Big’ Andy also commented on Thorpe’s retirement.
“I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Matt for around 8 years,” he divulged. “Throughout this time, he has become a very good friend and one I have a lot of respect for.
“As a fighter, Matt has always been dedicated with a proper fighters’ work ethic, and his natural attributes are awesome. He’s a very skilled fighter in all areas and naturally gifted. His long range boxing at its sharpest could cause good pros trouble, and I’ve brought seasoned amateurs and pros to spar with him and they only had good things to say. Having been with Matt for many of his fights both in the UK and abroad, I’ve been able to witness first hand some quality performances at a very high level. I’d like to wish Matt all the best in the future, and I know he still has a huge amount to offer the sport.”
Danny Wallace was a coach at Team Colosseum during Thorpe’s tenure there, and he described a brief history of how Matt ended up at his gym. “I first met Matt when he was training with Phil Wright, who used to coach under Straight Blast Gym,” began Wallace. “He had a little club in Marple. Back then, when we were running the Colosseum, and we used to travel round and visit other clubs, Phil’s was one of them. Matt was only about 18 then, and he was as tall as he is now, but he was very thin. We had a bit of a chat, and a little spar, and he was clearly very good. Even back then he was very technical. He was a lot lighter then, and there was stuff that I could get away with then that I couldn’t do now. When I first sparred with Matt, I could pick him up with one arm. Nowadays, he would tear it off and slap me with it!”
The narrative continued, “Phil’s club hit a few difficulties, as many MMA clubs did in the early days, and he shut it down. What Phil did, and I thought this was quite admirable, was he went round his students, and said ‘you need to train with suchabody, because their way of training suits you,’ and when he got to Aaron Chatfield and Matt, he said they needed to train at the Colosseum.
“Matt and Aaron came as a bit of a double act really, for better or worse, and they started training with us. When they came along, they really injected a positive frame of mind, and they really were buzzing for it. They progressed from there really. Myself and Aaron would corner Matt and, initially, he would take a long ‘warm up’ time, and a long fight prep, but as his career progressed, that time got smaller, he took less time to prepare.”
Danny also emphasised how good a person Matt is, and how that could hinder his performances. “He’s very laid back and very easy going, to an extent where it was a hurdle me and Aaron had to overcome to make a fighter out of him. He’s a very nice guy, and we almost had to train that ‘niceness’ out of him. He’s more naturally nice, and you’re never going to find Matt fighting on the street! If you did ever find him fighting on the street though, I wouldn’t want to be the poor guy that made that error!”
Wallace concluded by depicting how he thinks Matt’s life as a coach may play out, and how training techniques picked up along the way may help him in the future.
“He should do very well as a coach,” beamed Danny. “At the Colosseum, we had a very open way of training. At a club, you don’t simply learn off the coach, you learn off the guy holding the pads; he’ll point things out and mention things. We used to open up the teaching side, because there is a lot to be learned simply by teaching.
“Sometimes as well, if somebody else teaches a technique, you can see it from a different outlook and learn. That’s what MMA is all about; this open frame of mind, and that’s how the traditional arts have stagnated themselves. I came up through Karate, and it makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck now, because we always used to think that you could only learn off the guy at the front. That’s not the case, the guy at the front can help the guy at the back. Matt should make the transition very well, and he’s certainly got a great support mechanism in place with his friends at the Colosseum, and others he’s met. I would also hope he’ll be keeping his sessions open, and encouraging others to chip in and assist.”
Danny Rushton was another trainer at Team Colosseum who was crucial in the development of ’12 Gauge,’ and he described his relationship with Matt.
“I trained with Matt for a good while,” he revealed. “Other than a few months at his original club, I think mine was the one he came to straight after that. He’s learned quite a lot since I first met him, and he’s gone from a young lad that didn’t know a great deal to a quality fighter. I don’t think he ever quite reached his potential; he’s got a lot of skills without any real weak area. Sometimes, he’d put it all together and be absolutely superb, and other times he wouldn’t quite fight to his potential.
“He was always on the brink of doing something great,” flowed Rushton, “But he never quite got there. You get some fighters that are awesome in the gym, but when they get in the cage; the pressure just gets to them, and I think that it was maybe the pressure which stopped Matt showing his full skills in the cage. In the training room, Matt was class and his skills are absolutely second to none, and I always took him as one of the best welterweights around when he was in that weight.”
Rushton continued to describe why he thought Matt didn’t get the opportunities he maybe should have in his eight year pro-career. He said,
“There were a couple of key fights in his career where he could have really achieved greatness, but he underperformed in, and was maybe underestimated because of this. Saying that though, there were also fights where he performed exceedingly well and couldn’t get the easy fights that a lot of fighters pad out their records with. He didn’t get a lot of easy match-ups; they were all tough, challenging matches on either the international stage or at a very high British level. There was no ten fight winning streak fighting cannon fodder, which some fighters build a reputation through.
“Matt’s very understated, a very quiet individual and very modest. He’s a good student too, and was always keen to pick things up and learn more. He’d go and train with various other clubs and coaches to better himself, and that was partly why his skill base is so good. When he’s trained with me, I’ve always considered him to be a coach anyway, apart from in the very early days. He’s done quite a lot of coaching, and in the last few years, we’ve all shared the duties really. He’s got a really good knowledge, can transfer that knowledge accross and he keeps learning which is quite important.”
Tom Blackledge was a comrade of Thorpe, representing England in the M-1 Challenge, and he had plenty of good things to say about his friend. “He was great as a teammate,” said the TUF 10 ‘Team Rampage’ assistant coach. “We were all close mates, and he was always making sure we all made weight; he was always there with us in the saunas for hours when we were cutting. As a fighter, he’s very good. Sometimes he’s had a bit of bad luck, and he was unfortunate that he couldn’t focus fully on his training, with his work.
“I’ve known Matt for about ten years now,” he continued, “And we’ve trained together on and off. I rate him highly – he has a good skill set and he trains hard; it was just hard for him probably because he had to hold down a full time job as well as training, and at a high level, that’s a difficult thing. He’s a nice, regular, quiet guy – a cool guy and good to get along with. I think he’ll do great [as a trainer]. He’s had a lot of years of doing the sport, he’s made a lot of good contacts, I’m sure he’ll call on Aaron [Chatfield] for support as well if he needs it, and hopefully he’ll do well as a coach.”
In his fourth contest, Matt took on a young debutant named Che Mills, who has now gone on to fight at a top domestic standard and soon heads to Japan to fight in Astra. Matt finished the fight in a mere 42 seconds, and Gloucester man Mills admits he didn’t know what hit him.
“Before that fight, I’d only had one semi-pro fight, so really, that was my first proper experience of MMA,” revealed Che, whose last outing was a losing effort against ‘Judo’ Jimmy Wallhead. “I don’t think he got enough attention really for what he achieved, but that’s probably down to the fact that every time I see him, he’s always respectful and not big headed. A lot of other people out there are very boastful, and that’s how they get where they get to, even if their skills aren’t really up to par.
“With that fight I had with him, I was going in there just ready to have a fight, and obviously he submitted me, so after that, I was like, ‘Wow – This is not as I thought it would be!’. It just taught me that I needed to focus more on things like the ground game, and that MMA is more like a sport.”
Mills also stated that he thought Matt would make a great coach. “I think his personality will help,” he reasoned, “Because with me personally, that’s what I respond to, and he’s nice and calm. I can’t take all the army style slapping you around the head and things, so I think he will be a good trainer because he’s got the knowledge, and the personality to get on with people as well.”
Another past opponent, Tor Troeng, who faced Matt in December 2009 had this to say about ’12 Gauge’. “Matt was not only a fighter that put me in a lot of trouble in the ring, but he is one hell of a nice guy with a cool and humble attitude to the sport. It was an honour to fight him.”
Matt may have been a nightmare to fight, but to promote, he was the exact opposite. Alex Burzotta, UWC Promoter revealed, “I first met Matt Thorpe when he fought at UWC 5 on Saturday 10th November, 2007. My first impressions of him were that he was very polite and quiet. He was also professional in the way he was punctual, made weight and fought the following day. He won his bout due to his opponent being disqualified. He was a true pleasure to have worked with and I wish him all the best for the future.”
Warrior Promotions supremo Ian Dean, Thorpe’s manager, continued the good vibes by sending more praise the Bredbury man’s way.
“I’ve always had a lot of respect for Matt Thorpe,” admitted Dean. “He’s never shied away from a tough fight and always looked to prove himself against the very best guys out there. In an age where many domestic fighters will stay at their home event and often be spoon fed their way to the top, Thorpe did it the hard way and travelled around the UK and fought on many of the domestic circuit’s top shows. Then, when he got the opportunity to fight overseas at Bodog, M-1 and in Finland, he jumped at the chance and put in some solid performances, especially when he represented Team England in last year’s M-1 Challenge.
“Like many people, I will always remember Matt for his fights at Cage Warriors, and especially the epic five round war against Dan Hardy back at CW Strike Force 4: ‘Night of Champions’ in 2005. He put on a fantastic display that night, and I think his place in UK MMA history will always be assured due to that epic contest. It’s still one of the best fights ever to take place in the UK. But most of all, Matt is a humble guy who was a pleasure to work with, and I’m honoured to have worked with him over the past few years. I think he will do good things as a coach and I wish him all the best.”
Some would argue that Wolfslair’s Rob Broughton is the premier heavyweight in the UK after winning the ZT Fight Night Heavyweight Tournament, and as an M-1 teammate to Matt, he got to know ’12 Gauge’ quite well.
“Matt was sound – all the M1 guys were great and we had a right laugh out there,” beamed Broughton. “He’s a good, skilled guy, a good fighter and a good coach. Matt’s a nice, quiet fella, that keeps himself to himself and I’ve always got on well with him, and he’s always helped me out with my side of the game. I think he’ll do very well in the future as a coach, but I think it would be good to see him fight again to be honest.”
Top flight referee Marc Goddard concluded the tributes that came in for Matt, saying “To me, Matt’s always been an exciting fighter. If you were to single out one fight, his one against Dan Hardy is still probably single-handedly the best British fight that I’ve ever had the pleasure of officiating. That was when he really caught my eye. I always thought he was a real handful; especially when he was at welterweight. He’s a skilled kid with good hands, long arms, long legs and had a good game off his back. He’s just a regular kid, and he was a pleasure. He was unassuming, a genuinely nice guy and everything good about the sport. As far as being a coach, for such a young guy, he’s been around quite a long time, and he has the experience with the M-1, the fact he’s fought all over the world and also that he’s been in with some top guys. I’m sure he’s going to be a massive plus to any young, aspiring fighters.”
If you are one of the new breed of fans that has never seen Matt fight, try to find his epic war with Dan Hardy at all costs. This highlighted Thorpe’s huge amount of skills, as well as his will to win and determination to finish fights. He also has all the attributes to be a superb coach, and ’12 Gauge MMA’ and ‘Team Colosseum’ (which he will continue to help out at) are certainly teams to watch over the coming years, and from everyone who has contributed to this, Matt, if you are reading, thank you for everything you have done for MMA in the UK.
(Thorpe, victorious in the M-1 Challenge last year, courtesy of M-1 Global)