Following your fight in Copenhagen, you commented on how the media in Wales lost interest in you now you were no longer selling out arenas in Cardiff. Has that attitude changed since Fight Island and, if not, when do you think the penny will drop?
I think the mainstream media only want to know you when you can bring in a headline for them. I’ve never had a bad experience with the media but, when you’ve got people like Brett Johns, Lew Long and Marshman, it’s disappointing. It only seems to be BBC Wales or BBC Sport Wales that have started to give us the exposure we deserve in the mainstream. It is what it is. We’re still a relatively new sport. Conor McGregor doesn’t really get a headline for doing something good. Then he’ll kick-off or be accused of this and that and it’s everywhere. I don’t wanna be one of those guys who falls into the trap of acting like a dickhead just because I want to get clicks on the internet. It makes no difference to me, I’m happy with the money I’m making and doing what I’m doing. If people wanna take notice then they will. It’ll all come full circle when you’re climbing through the ranks and fighting for the title.
When you’re a young pro, you’ve gotta do every interview that comes your way because you wanna get your name out there. I’m at the stage now where, alright, I’m not the biggest name in the UFC but I’m fairly well known, especially in the UK and Europe. I don’t need to be doing interviews for the sake of it. I think the penny will drop eventually, maybe when we have a Welsh or British UFC champion. I know we had (Michael) Bisping but he was living in America for a long time beforehand. If we had someone like myself or Darren Till, someone who’s British through and through, who can draw a crowd, that’s when the penny will drop. That’s when it’ll come full circle but you never know with the mainstream.
Dana White dubbed you ‘the hottest prospect out of the UK’. What lessons can you take from the other ‘hype trains’ that have come before you i.e. Sean O’Malley, Sage Northcutt, Johnny Walker?
Everyone’s different but I think the worst thing you can do in this game is let it all go to your head, allowing people to let you think that you’re better than what you are. You’ve got to keep yourself humble. I’m not saying that’s the case with these guys They may have just lost to the better man but, more often than not, you see they start to believe their own hype, that they’re untouchable. That’s when it all goes tits up! You’ve gotta have a group of strong-minded people around you, people who can say “look, you were shit tonight, you need to work on this and that”. The worst thing you can want is someone saying “you can knock him out, he can’t stop your takedown” because that’s when you start to get overconfident, that’s when the quiet guys come up and stump you.
I look up to people like Conor McGregor, I know that’s stupid because McGregor is ultimately a trash talker and I’m not. I don’t think he never believed his own hype. You could see it as he was coming up, the work ethic he had was constant. It’s well documented, he was constantly in the gym. Every fight he had was bigger stakes and more money but he was training twice as hard each time! You look at Khabib Nurmagomedov, he’s not stuck for money, he’s one of the most influential people to come out of the Muslim community. He’s got all this pressure on his shoulders and could quite easily ride off into the sunset with his money or let it go to his head but he doesn’t. He turns up every camp. You can see it in his training videos, he’s grafting like he’s 1 and 0, nothing has changed in his mindset.
Same with Nate Diaz. How long have those guys been in the sport? Won a couple, lost a couple, plugged away, wasn’t on great money. Got the McGregor fight, now he’s got his money and he can fight on his own terms. But again, you know when he does fight, he’s gonna turn up and fight! Every time they turn up, they turn up and scrap. I think there’s a lot to be learnt. Stay humble, there’s something to be learnt in that. I try to say it to the kids coming up. Don’t get ahead of yourself, there’s always someone better. You might be doing alright in the kids’ class but you jump in with the men and they’re gonna sub you! You might be subbing the white belts but then there’s gonna be blue belts that can sub you, there’s gonna be purple belts that can sub you, brown belts, black belts. There’s always someone better.
I just keep my head down, keep grinding. I treat every fight like its bigger than the last one. More often than not, at the stage I’m at in my career, they usually are! They seem to be getting better, scarier and tougher with every fight at the minute. You can’t ever get too far ahead of yourself, don’t ever believe your own hype. That’s my mindset.
Aside from winning a title, what’s on your MMA bucket list?
(Featuring on) the Joe Rogan Podcast would be nice, obviously. That’s a big one in the MMA world. I’m not too concerned with coaching on TUF (The Ultimate Fighter) or stuff like that. However, I would like to have a go at being an analyst. You see people like DC (Daniel Cormier), Paul Felder and Dominick Cruz, all working regularly now for the UFC. Dan Hardy might be the best example. I think I would be pretty good at analysis work and commentary; I’ve done bits and bobs on Cage Warriors. I speak pretty well, I’m not too much of a mongo or stumble over my words. I don’t feel nervous on the camera, I don’t say things for the sake of saying them. I would be nice to do that a little later on in my career. They seem to have a pretty good gig of it out in Vegas and Abu Dhabi. I’ve seen on Instagram, they’ve got these big suites and get to enjoy fight week without actually having to cut weight and have a fight! That’s something I’d love to do. Whether they’ll ever have a Welshman talking commentary on the UFC I’ll never know. But I’d definitely go for it!
Where most intrigues you as a fight destination?
Well, there’s always been two on the bucket list and that’s been Vegas and New York. Despite the next fight being in Vegas, it is in the Apex. When the crowds come back, I’d love to fight in the T-Mobile Arena. And obviously, Madison Square Garden in New York, that’s an iconic venue in itself. I’d knock them two off.
But, I mean, a stadium show anywhere proper interests me. I remember when I first turned pro, watching Anthony Joshua walking out for his fights at the Millennium Stadium (now called the Principality Stadium) and walking out at Wembley (Stadium). It hasn’t necessarily gotta be a British Stadium, even a stadium in America. The size of some of them NFL stadiums and the Marvel Stadium in Australia, something like that would intrigue me as well. I’ve already fought in big arenas but being in a stadium where there could potentially be 80 to 100,000 people there, that would be a special one. That’s something I’d definitely like to tick off before the career comes to an end. In an ideal world it would be the Millennium, wouldn’t it? But whether that’s gonna happen in the future is yet to be seen.