(The Hyde MMA fighters and coach, Alan Williams)
This Friday, UCC MMA will put on their debut show in Manchester, England. This has been named the ‘Blitz at the Ritz,’ and all 1,200 tickets were sold four weeks ago, showing this is no small event. Promoter Danny Hornsby is determined to make this the ‘Cage Rage/Ultimate Challenge of the North,’ which is why it is no insignificant feat for Hyde MMA to have two of their fighters in title bouts on the card, as well as one other pro and a semi-pro fighter also on the bill.
Alan Williams, head coach of the Hyde team, talked through the history of his gym. “It actually started in June 2002, he began. “We had this little gym, with two mats in it; just that, and it just spread. It got bigger and bigger, and people came to the gym and started entering shows and competitions, and we’re now one of the biggest gyms in Manchester.”
Now, far from being a mere two mats training spot, Hyde MMA is a spacious facility equipped with two large matted areas and good quality heavy bags. “We moved here in June,” continued Alan. “All the guys and myself actually spent £3,000 of our own money and bought all the gear. Gyms don’t do that do they? But we actually spent our own cash; each of the guys put in £100 each and bought all the stuff in our gym, and basically, we’ve got about ten guys who were there in June 2002 when this all started.”
Williams carried on to explain what he likes about being the head coach at an ever growing gym, which is planning to expand even further by installing a cage there in July. “I enjoy it, because it’s giving people a chance and taking kids off the street, and turning them into pros. That’s what I’m doing, and I’m actually quite proud to achieve this.
“My personal background is that I actually started as a boxer, and I did pretty well at that. After boxing I did Ju Jitsu, and I’ve got two black belts in that, and I’ve also done wrestling. All this has been put together, and that’s what we call ‘mixed martial arts’. People think it’s a new sport, but it’s been about years really; it’s just someone put it in a cage and got the ball rolling from there. I did open Ju Jitsu events in a Gi, so this for me was a different challenge, but I’ve taken to it well.”
“I still take part and I still spar all the guys when a contest is coming up,” continued Alan. “I get beaten black and blue most days, but it’s well worth it.”
Another thing which Alan has created is a ‘Hyde MMA mentality,’ and he believes that this is down to the way his fighters train. “The lads never take easy fights, unlike those at some overprotective gyms; they just want to learn all the time and get better, and the only way to do that is hard training and a having will to win. We drill quite a lot, which I think is the key to our success, and we train to win, even in the gym! We have a great bunch of lads here from every walk of life, and we are mates inside and outside the gym. We are going to The Ritz to win,” warned Alan.
The ‘Blitz at the Ritz’ show represents a massive test for Alan and his army, but he is confident his team can pull through. “They’re all going to win,” the determined trainer asserted. “There will be no problems about that, and touch wood, we’ll bring back two title belts. It is an important show. They’re all important, but you’ve just got to take each one as it comes. When it’s a title shot though, you’ve got to really try harder.”
Leigh Cohoon, 3-2, will partake in a pivotal bout in his career on the show, as he will aim to take home the UCC Welterweight crown. The fighter himself feels ready for war, and seems massively confident.”I’m buzzing,” beamed Leigh. “It’s my first show in Manchester and I’ve got loads of people coming so it’s going to be really good. The fact that it’s a title fight makes it extra special. I’ve been dying for a belt since I started, so I’m excited now I’ve got an opportunity. I’ve learned absolutely loads here, and I owe it all to Alan really. He’s been like a father to me since I started here about three years ago, and he’s always there for me, even outside fighting and training. I did a bit of boxing when I left school, but not much really. It’s my forte; I love striking. If I can keep it standing, I definitely prefer to keep it there.”
His ‘father figure’ Alan lauded the abilities of his charge. “Leigh Cohoon is a striker, come Jiu Jitsu guy,” he explained. “He’s doing quite well. He’s just had a bit of bad luck, but I guess that’s how things go. He got disqualified [in his last fight] after he got caught in a choke, and he tried to drop down, but his knee came into contact with the guy’s [Jason Kubiac’s] head, and they actually stopped it and gave it to him. It’s just one of them things, but we’ll bounce straight back; we’re not that bothered.”
Also in title contention at The Ritz will be 3-1 middleweight Lee Johnson, who takes on Andy Evans for the strap. In his last fight, Lee won quickly by arm bar, and this pleased the Hyde mainstay.
“It’s always good to win,” analysed Lee. “I would say I feel more comfortable on the ground, but I’m happy to stand. I’d never done anything before this; I just came straight in to doing MMA, and this was my first gym. I love it here. Alan’s a great coach who makes you feel welcome and comfortable – it’s a great place to train.”
He expanded, “I’m looking forward to it this Friday because I’ve trained really hard for it. It’s good for the confidence to fight so soon after my last fight [which was just two weeks ago], and coming off a win straight into this is good. Some people might find it not to be a good idea, but I won’t be doing this all the time and it’s a one off. It’s nice to know it’s a title fight as well, so we’ll see what happens.”
Head coach Alan is also happy with the progress of Johnson under his guidance. “What can I say about Lee Johnson,” pondered Williams. “It doesn’t take him long at all to choke out his opponents, and they usually get choked out; his last one got arm barred which was a bit different and keeps things interesting.”
The other pro on the card is Craig Chesters, a super-strong 1-1 welterweight who is nicknamed ‘Tyson’ by his comrades. “I’m really looking forward to it,” he divulged. “I’ve been training hard, and I’ve put a lot of time into this fight so hopefully I’ll get a good result. It all depends on the fight and the opponent, but I like to stand and bang, although sometimes you have to grind out results and maybe alter your style.”
In his last outing, also at the Clash of Warriors show which both Leigh Cohoon and Lee Johnson fought on two weeks ago, Chesters beat Danny Mack by unanimous decision. His performance that night pleased him.”Yeah, I was happy with it,” Craig beamed. “I was up against a really tough opponent in Danny Mack, who’s basically a really good Thai boxer with a lot of experience. I worked to the gameplan though, and took him out of his comfort zone by taking him down. I used my ground and pound and got the win.”
Chesters was also quick to laud the impact of Hyde MMA on his fighting career. He pointed out that, “It’s awesome here! We’ve got a good set of lads with no egos, and it’s a really good place to train. I’ve always done some form of combat sport; whether that’s karate or boxing, but I came here with a friend and just really stuck to it. It’s just over two years now that I’ve been here, and I’ve definitely come on a lot. We’ve got a good boxing coach, and a good head coach in Alan, who’s been in the game a long time, as well as a couple of other instructors like Dave and Ian, and we can benefit off any one of those.”
Williams admitted to being impressed by the workrate and attitude of the 28 year-old. “We like to call him our ‘Mark Coleman’ guy,” said Alan, “Because his takedowns are getting really good, and each time he enters the cage, he works harder and harder, and he takes everything I ask him to do on board and does it.”
Rounding of the Hyde MMA crew is semi-pro Danny Boomer, who is looking ahead to the challenges professional MMA could eventually pose to him. “I can’t wait to get in and get it stopped early,” exclaimed Danny. “It’s a good gym here with a good trainer and a good group of lads. I think I’ve been here for about eight months. I’ve done a bit of karate when I was younger, and I’d trained at a BJJ gym in town for about four or five months, but then I stopped and came here. I’m a semi-pro now, but Alan’s said if everything in this fight goes well to turn pro. I can’t wait for that. I’ll just deal with this fight when I get in the cage though; I’m not one for mouthing off. I feel alright everywhere though to be honest. Obviously, I’ve got my weaknesses, and I prefer to stand, but I think I’m equally good on the floor.”
So where will Hyde MMA be in the future? “In ten years time – who can say,” admitted Williams, the influential master of ceremonies. “I’m hoping that we’ll be a well known name by then though. We’re getting there now, but in ten years, we should have a whole new breed of people and be much, much bigger.”
To finish up, Alan had a message to his fighters that will go for glory this Friday. “I just want to say to all the guys in this upcoming contest that they’ve worked really hard, and I hope all that hard work pays off, which I’m sure it will.”
More information about this show, and future UCC events can be found at www.uccmma.com.