Ian Freeman might not be the most well known British MMA fighter of all time, and other Brits such as Michael Bisping, Dan Hardy and Darren Till have certainly achieved much more than ‘The Machine’ was ever able to do. But what cannot be denied is the importance Freeman’s early 2000’s rise had on the growth of MMA in the UK, paving the way for future generations to build on the foundations he put in place.
It was whilst working on the door of a Sunderland bar that Ian Freeman’s routes in MMA began, fighting with a drunk man, a friend asked him why he didn’t just break the mans arm, lighting a fuse inside the inquisitive Freeman who began training jiu-jitsu not long after. Turning pro in 1999, Freeman fought seven times, winning all seven including the 1999 British Grand Prix and British Vale Tudo titles.
This early success saw him receive the call up to the UFC, becoming the first Brit to compete in the promotion and suffering his first professional loss to Scott Adams in the process. This blip was followed up with three wins over Nate Schroeder, Bob Stines and Ted Williams, two of which took place in the UFC and the other in Pancrase.
After a mixed run away from the UFC, Freeman returned in 2002, stopping the UFC’s golden boy Frank Mir on home soil at UFC 38, cementing his name in the history books and catapulting himself into title contention in the heavyweight division. What makes the victory all the more remarkable is the fact Freeman’s father passed away the day before the fight from cancer.
A loss in his next bout to future heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski ended his brief flirtation with the heavyweight crown and a draw against Vernon White ended his run with the promotion, leaving with a 3-2-1 record.
From there the then 37 year old returned to the British regional scene, where he enjoyed success with Cage Rage, winning their heavyweight title and twice winning their British light heavyweight strap. He finally retired in 2013 following a first round TKO of former UFC heavyweight champion Ricco Rodriguez, ending his career with a record of 20-7-1 (nine TKO/KO’s and seven submissions).
Standing at around 5′ foot 10” Freeman was always a small heavyweight, and would’ve greatly benefited from a move down in weight much sooner than when he eventually did at age 39. As well as this he did not start competing until his early 30’s, packing an awful lot into such a sort period. Away from the cage Freeman made a number of TV and film appearances, wrote a biography and is now involved in his daughters MMA career, herself an undefeated prospect recently signing with Bellator.
Having enjoyed a successful career in and out of the cage, Ian Freeman has come a long way from the doors of Sunderland, reaching the pinnacle of the sport and blazing a trail for others to follow.