Knapp And Champ Ready To Shine In Finland

(Greg Knapp; attempting to take the ‘Best Beard in MMA’ accolade. Courtesy of Sherdog)

This Saturday night, Olympian MMA teammates Greg Knapp (5-2) and Nathan Champ (5-2) will represent the UK in Finland in featherweight and welterweight contests respectively. Both are excited at the opportunity to travel abroad for fights.

“I haven’t fought in a little while now,” said Knapp, explaining why he is really chomping at the bit to get in the cage. “My last fight got cancelled. I was meant to fight Mick Sinclair, and that was the first time I’ve been to a fight and the guy’s been pulled out, and that was a bit disappointing, so I’ve really been itching to get back in there and I’m really looking forward to it; especially going down to Finland. It should be a good trip.”

Indeed for the aforementioned fight, scheduled to be on the BAMMA 2 card, Sinclair came in two kilos over the permitted 66kg limit. Greg explained how the situation worked from this point onwards. He said,

“We gave him a couple of options. He’s notorious for coming in big as a featherweight and there’s a lot of talk with people as to whether he should be fighting in that division or at lightweight with him not making the weight a couple of times now. It’s just one of those things though isn’t it, and what can you do when it happens? I’ll give him his due, he looked pretty bad, but then again, everybody’s got to make weight. I’ve got no ill feeling towards the guy though.”

Knapp continued to divulge that after this debacle, a bout with Mick is not something he’s actively pursuing. “To be perfectly honest, I think Ian Dean’s released a statement saying he won’t be fighting at featherweight anymore,” reasoned Greg. “I think he struggles with the weight because the guy walks around at about 80 kilos. I’m not a particularly big featherweight to be honest. I managed to bulk up to about 73 kilos when I realised he’d be so big, but that’s nothing. My training partner Paul Reed; he walks around at about 77kg, and when you get to that level the guys you’re fighting are around 77 or more. I’m just not big enough really to be fighting at featherweight at the top level, so I think after this one, I’m going to be dropping down to bantamweight.”

In spite of the Sinclair setback though, Knapp has managed to get himself in top shape for his upcoming encounter. “It was a bit difficult, because it was a disappointment and it messed with my head a little bit,” he revealed. “I had a couple of days drinking, but I got up to an awesome fitness level for that fight. That was the hardest I’d ever trained so my fitness was already there by the start of this training camp, so it’s just given me a chance to work on other things. My fitness is superb now; I’m fitter than I’ve ever been and I think I’m stronger, faster and better generally all round than I’ve ever been.”

Opposing him next will be Joni Salovaara, a tough Finn who has won his last two, and will show no ring rust having last fought on 13th March. “I know his record’s pretty decent,” said Greg of his foe. “We can only go off what we’ve found off the internet, but from what we can see, he’s pretty good all round but it’s hard to tell really from watching a couple of things of him on YouTube. I’m not going in underestimating the guy by any means though; all these European guys are pretty tough so we’ll see what happens.”

He continued, “We haven’t really gone over much of a gameplan. I generally just go in there and just figure them out and see where I want to go with it. I’ll test the guys strength and if I don’t think that’s up to much then I’ll go in for a takedown, wrestle the guy to the floor and go for an early ground and pound victory. I think I’ll have a bit of reach on this guy too, because I’m about 5’11” which is pretty tall for a featherweight.”

In his last outing, Knapp beat Paddy Doherty by submission on the Knuckleup II show, and he was content with how he fared that night. “I was very happy with my performance against Paddy. He’s a really, really nice guy as well; I’ve spoken to him a couple of times now at different events, and I offered for him to come to our gym and train in Bristol anytime he wants, but I fought a good fight that night. I stuck to the plan and didn’t feel in trouble at any stage in that fight, so now I just want to capitalise on that last win.”

Knapp is also convinced that one physical attribute in particular will help him through his future fights. “I’m still sporting the biggest and best beard in UK MMA – it’s a whole two inches now,” boasted Knapp. “I’ve had to chop it down a couple of times now because it’s just gone too crazy, but I’m taking on Kimbo Slice for the biggest one in all of MMA. Even with him though, I reckon that I have what is ‘pound for pound’ the biggest beard in MMA!”

To use ‘beard power’ though, Greg needs to have fights lined up, and he readily admits he would like to stay busier in the coming months. “I quit work at the end of last year, so this is what I do full time now. I’m looking to stay a lot busier,” he revealed. “I’ve potentially got a fight coming up a few weeks after this one, and that would be in Bristol if they can find me a match. I’m also currently the Knuckleup Featherweight Champion, so I’m either going to be defending that belt or giving it back and going for the Bantamweight belt in June or July.”

Recently there has been some upheaval with his training, but now Knapp is convinced is future looks bright. “I’ve been having to move around gyms for the past few weeks because our gym [Olympians MMA] closed down and has moved venues, and that’s literally just been back open for a week. It’s massive now though; it’s a great space and there’s a huge cage in there now which is awesome. Things are looking very, very good.”

(Champ in action against Eugene Fadiora at BAMMA)

His teammate, hard-hitting Nathan Champ is also looking forward to the intriguing test that is fighting away from home. “I’m looking forward to fighting abroad mainly,” he divulged. “Fighting outside your hometown is one thing, but to go to a different country is something else. With every fight you gain some kind of experience anyway, but going to a foreign country is one of those things which builds on you as a fighter, and strengthens you physically and mentally.”

On the 3rd, he will take on the 4-2 Markus Niskanen, who trains out of MMA Imatra. “Paul Reed sent me a link the other day on YouTube, and from what I’ve seen of the fella, he does look quite a tough character,” said Champ. “He looks like he can take a whack, he’s got a good takedown, and I think he’s a very strong guy.”

Three of Niskanen’s four wins have come by way of submission, but going to the floor is not something the banger is worried about. He stated,

“When you go into the cage it’s 50/50 all the way. The ground game is obviously not my forte, but I’ve got pretty good takedown defence and I’ve been working on that quite a lot. I’m also pretty good at out-strengthing guys and people underestimate how strong I am in the cage or ring. I’m going to look to keep him up; quite possibly just wear him down and then hammer him with clusters of punches hopefully.”

In his younger days, Nathan was an outstanding amateur boxer. “It’s going back some years because I’m getting on a bit, but in 1999 I got to the semi-finals and fought a guy called Joe Ainscough from Liverpool, who went on to win the whole thing, and he was the first guy to go pro and move back down to the amateurs again,” beamed Champ, evidently happy with the accomplishment of getting so far in one of the most prestigious amateur boxing tournaments in the world. “There’s a lot of people that go for that, and at the time it was quite tough competition. There were a lot of people boxing and there were a lot of fights going on. I was boxing at light-heavyweight at the time, which is obviously quite different from the MMA weight, and that’s probably about Welterweight in MMA. I worked my way through it though, just through brute force and ignorance mainly.”

“That was the main thing that got me in,” he carried on, now telling of how he began his MMA career. “To be honest, I was never interested in cage-fighting at all, and I’ve got Paul Reed to thank for that, because he saw the striking potential that I had and said that my boxing would get me through it. He’s right – that can come in handy. You can’t dominate everyone with it, but when you can, it does work quite well.”

However, despite his excellent striking base, Nathan feels that under no circumstances should people perceive him to be a ‘one trick pony.’

“I’ve only been doing it for a couple of years and it has come on quite well,” he said of his ever evolving ground game. “Defensively I’m quite good; offensively I’m not as clever, but when it comes to mixing punches with Jiu Jitsu, that’s my forte. My positioning is pretty good, as well as my general defence and escapes.”

He also revealed how he’s had to switch up his training with the move from boxing to MMA. “When I was boxing as an amateur, I was doing no more than four two-minute rounds,” Nathan revealed. “In hindsight, I was probably training wrong when I boxed anyway, but I’ve cut right down on the long-distance running, and now it’s all sprints, five minute hill runs at top whack and just mixing up loads of different things with weights and explosive movements and plyometrics. You’ve got so many different things to do in MMA, and I think the more varied your training is the better.”

It seems important to point out that this Saturday’s bout will mark Niskanen’s debut at 77kg; previously he’s only fought at lightweight. Champ is notoriously big as a Welter, and is glad to posess this extra poundage. “That will be nice,” enthused Nathan on the topic. “That’s something that will be going for me. He’s obviously not going to have too many struggles to get down to the weight, whereas for me, it’s always hard work getting down there, but I’m always tip-top by fight time, I get really well hydrated and I always feel strong. I’ve never felt chinny either from taking any of the punches, so that’s obviously a good advantage for me.”

Last time out, Champ was beaten by Stu Rickman on the BAMMA 2 undercard, but he is adamant he’s learned from the experience, and this has just added more coal to an already burning fire.

“I was absolutely gutted,” he said. “It was probably the fittest I’d ever been. I felt strong with my ground game, but I made a couple of little mistakes; one of them being when I lost my head a little bit – I had Stu in lockdown in half guard and the ref was saying quite a lot of things. No disrespect to the ref, but I thought he said he was going to stop it, whereas what he actually said was that he was going to stand it up, so I should have held on to the lockdown. However, I let go of the lockdown and it went downhill from there.”

He continued, “I wanted to fight the next day. Since then, I’ve been training hard and I was in the gym straight away. I gave everyone hell that I was sparring with and posed some real problems. A rematch with him would be great down the line; I would be up for that.”

So how far does Champ think he can go in the world of MMA? “As far as I can take it,” declared the striking specialist. “I honestly don’t know because I’m getting on a bit. I feel stronger and fitter than I ever have done, out of my years of boxing, fitness and training and what-not, but I’ll just see where it goes really. It would be great to fight for a title or a belt or two, and take it that way and make a bit of money out of MMA if possible, but I’m just giving it a go.”

To date, Nathan has registered five wins in his pro MMA career, although he still considers his first to be the most memorable. “I don’t think the opponent was anything special, but it was going to be my first and last cage fight, and the buzz was so good I had to keep on doing it,” he told. “It really opened my eyes. I was throwing my feet in at the deep end to be honest with you, as I’d not competed for about ten years, then all of a sudden I’m in a professional fight, and wondering what the hell I was doing in there!”

Champ rounded off by expressing his confidence in his good friend Greg to do the business on the Finland card. “Greg is a very wily fighter and the kind of person you could never underestimate,” he explained. “When I first saw Greg in the gym, I just thought he was a wiry, gangly kind of guy, but he’s dead strong, everything he does he does aggressively, he’s got an aggressive Jiu Jitsu style, he’s got awkward punches and he’s one of these guys that will give the best of them nightmares. I think Greg will do really well.”

Despite Nathan not posessing a bushy beard to help him through, Knapp is similarly convinced that he is sharing the flight to Finland with a winner. “I think Nathan will do very, very well,” Greg exclaimed. “He may not have shown it amazingly in his last couple of fights, but his hands are absolutely phenomenal. If he lets his hands go, then he’s going to knock this guy out for sure. His wrestling’s very good, he’s no chump on the ground; he’s very, very good. He’s good all round, but if this guy drops his hands, Nathan’s going to smash him all around the ring. It will be good.”

Look out for the Olympians representing the UK with fervour this weekend at Turku Fight – Ressurection.

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