Congratulations on the new gym, Shore MMA. What has the process been like to get to this point now? What kind of facilities did you use previously?
Well, we started off training in a nightclub cellar. No heating! This was how bad it was: if you wanted to go to the (nightclub) toilet you had to wear a head torch. Obviously, because there was nobody in the nightclub the lights were off! We then moved from there down to the same industrial site that we’re on now but a much smaller unit than what we have now. Don’t get me wrong, it was bigger than that cellar but it was still small.
I remember some winters; it must have been around -10 (°C) down there. You’d leave a bottle of water on the side and forget to take it home with you, you’d come in the next day and it would be frozen solid! The first unit was so small, it was like a tin shed. You’d do a full session in joggers and a hoodie, you could see the steam coming out of your mouth and you would barely be sweating because it was so cold, even 90 minutes into a session. Not exactly the glitz and glamour that we have now.
We then moved to Blaina, which was a much better facility. It was an old office space, a lot bigger than what we had. One of our sponsors purchased the building and rented it to my old man for a really good price. We were there for like nine years. We extended it out the back where we had the fighter’s room with the cage. That’s where we did our sparring. A great space but, again, you go up there in the winter and it was fucking freezing! It’d take 45 minutes of the session to actually get warm or be brave enough to take your socks and hoodie off. But in the end, we just outgrew it. We’ve always just gone up and up and up. Obviously, with (Jack) Marshman getting into the UFC, me being on a tear with Cage Warriors and having a good amateur team, we just outgrew the gym, it was just too small.
What I found was, I was jumping around everywhere. I’d be doing my morning session in a leisure centre, then I’d have to drive to Caerphilly to do my S&C (strength and conditioning), drive to Cardiff to box, then back up to Blaina in the night to train again. Now we’ve got this facility where I only have to leave the gym once a week when I go down to Gary Lockett’s gym (Jack’s striking coach) in Cardiff. Every other session takes part in the gym. My running, my S&C, my physio, my sparring, my technique, my Thai boxing – it’s all under one roof.
To think about what we’ve got now compared to 12 years ago. I remember when I was about 13, you love it at that age, you don’t give a fuck for the cold. But looking back, if I had to train in that gym now as a 25-year old, I don’t think the motivation would be there. I’m fortunate that my old man has stuck at it for so long and built the team he has. It’s all well and good me being the guy on tv but without the amateur boys, the jiu-jitsu boys and the casual guys training, we wouldn’t be able to afford to run a facility like that.
Moving to the big facility now, everyone loves it. You’ve got jiu-jitsu boys who are having a go at the Thai boxing, the S&C and then going upstairs to use the runners. Normally, they wouldn’t think to do it but now it’s all under one roof everyone is having a go. It’s great to see everyone making use of it, we’re very fortunate.
Do you find people are willing to go out of their way to get to this new facility?
Yes, definitely. Now we’ve got kids coming from Newport, from Pontypool, from Cwmbran. There’s plenty of gyms about, if they wanted to train in a gym in Newport they could, there’s gyms nearer to Pontypool than ours. There’s Abertillery kids, Blaina kids, Brynmawr kids. It’s the same in the jiu-jitsu classes. I mean, we’ve got a team now with the likes of Brett (Johns, Bellator Bantamweight]), Scottie, Oban (Elliot, Cage Warriors Lightweight]), Roan (Crocker, amateur middleweight) – they’re coming from all over to train. We’ve got a team of about 6 or 7 coming from Swansea every day, that’s an hour drive! Cardiff, the Rhondda (Valley), Merthyr. There’s about 10-15 boys from Merthyr that come over. You’re talking a 30-40 minute drive for some of them every night and they never miss a session! The fact that the facility is as good as it is, speaks for itself.
Now we’re getting people coming down to spar from Birmingham, Lewis Long (Bellator Welterweight) is coming down to spar. We’ve had a guy coming down to spar from Northampton and Nottingham, the name is getting out now. People can see that the facility speaks for itself, they see the pictures and think that they’d love to come and have a couple of sessions. Upgrading our facilities has definitely brought a lot more attention to us. Our name as a gym was out there anyway. We looked the part in the cage, now we look the part on the mats!
Do you see yourself ever taking over Shore MMA?
Yeah possibly. It’s my dad’s gym so in essence I probably will end up taking over. But if I know my old man, he’ll be in that gym coaching until the day he pops his clogs. We could be hanging about a while for that one! Obviously, when I hang it up in however many years, I’ll probably go down the coaching route. I’m not qualified in nutrition and stuff like that but I’ve done enough of it. I did a bit in college and I’ve done enough myself and (learnt) off people who have helped me out with my diet in the past. I’m not sure whether I go down the route of becoming officially qualified but I imagine I’ll always be in the gym. Whether it’s coaching, working at a desk or cleaning the mats, I’ll never be too far away.
You’ve been to Jackson’s MMA (Jon Jones’ Gym) out in New Mexico. What one thing from these elite MMA gyms in the US would you adopt to advance your gym to the next level?
The biggest lesson I took from Jackson’s was the amount you could get done in a day. Over here the majority of guys are training once a day, maybe twice a day or they’re doing a five-kilometre run in the morning, then training at night. That was my routine for a long time. When you go out to Jackson’s, there’s sparring in the morning, a session in the night and although there’s no real classes in the day the gym is constantly full, there’s constantly people working the bags, doing weights or drilling technique. It really opened my eyes. When you’ve got a facility like that, open 24/7, you’d be surprised how much you can do in a day. I didn’t even have a fight coming up, I was doing 3-4 sessions in a day comfortably. My body was recovering really well. I carried that mindset when I came home then. I stopped the two (sessions) a day, because I knew I could now get in at least three sessions a day. Don’t get me wrong, there’s days when you can only get two sessions in. Maybe you’ve got a grueller in the night and you hold back a bit in the day to be ready for that.
Obviously, MMA is a much bigger thing out there (the US), it’s got a much bigger audience. The big thing I noticed was how many people that were out there on the mats. Whereas over here, for an MMA/sparring session, you might have 20 to 25 boys on the mats, you go out there and there’s 60 to 70. Say you’re due to fight a striker, there’s 10 to 15 boys who can offer you what you need.
That’s the two biggest things I took from Jackson’s, the amount you can get done in a day and the quantity of sparring. The quality isn’t much better, it’s just the quantity. There’s so many different boys out there that will give you so many different looks, that’s the big thing. Hopefully, with the way it’s going in the UK we can continue to build. Obviously, there’s more eyes on the sport now thanks to people like Darren Till and Conor McGregor. We’ll be going down that route, with boys that can do this full time or can at least train two to three times a day, even as amateurs or low-level pros.
***In part three: ‘Tank’ discusses his views on the mainstream media in regards to MMA and his ambitions for the future of his UFC career.***