Ahead of the eagerly-awaited UFC return to British soils, top-tier coach and underground MMA pioneer Dean Garnett sits down with Louis Evans.
Garnett, 33, has catalogued epic bouts with the likes of Magomed Magomedov (the only man to have a ‘legitimate’ win over UFC Interim Bantamweight Champ Petr Yan) and a win over current Cage Warriors Bantam king Dominique Wooding. An impressive, if understated, CV inside the cage.
Now, fronting his own Liverpool-based Aspire Combat Sports Academy, the martial arts veteran bestows his considerable wisdom on the next generation of combatants, including touted UFC flyweight flier, Muhammad ‘The Punisher’ Mokaev.
With a plethora of Mersey-based talent showcasing at London’s O2 Arena extravaganza on 19th March, ‘Don’ Dean dispenses his foresight and sets expectations for our local lads and lady.
Tom Aspinall vs Alexander Volkov
After two KO victories against Andrei Arlovski and Sergey Spivak in 2021, Wigan Warlord Aspinall steps up to face the no.5 ranked Russian Volkov, in his first headline billing with the UFC. Fighting out of Liverpool’s Team Kaobon, whose alumni include fellow UFC compatriots Darren ‘The Gorrilla’ Till and Mike Grundy, Aspinall will be looking to make a statement as he approaches the summit of the heavyweight rankings.
LE: What did we learn from Tom Aspinal in 2021?
DG: Ciryl Gane said it recently, there’s a new breed of heavyweight and that is Tom Aspinall! You remember that double leg he did on Arlovski? Just the speed of his drive, he looks a little bit quicker than your average heavyweight.
We’ve learnt he’s definitely meant to be fighting at this level. Volkov is a tough, tough fight for him though. It’s definitely winnable. Navigating Volkov’s range is gonna be the biggest problem, but Tom’s good enough to mix it up. He’s got boxing ability, boxing awareness, he’s got speed. He’ll be the faster of the two fighters, potentially the more powerful athlete as well. He’s got the athleticism over Volkov, just not the range.
It’s a 50/50 fight, in my opinion. It would be hard to bet on someone, but I’m gonna go with Tom. He’s gonna use the home advantage and his extra athleticism on the day. He could mix it up, put some takedowns in there, possibly.
LE: Ok, but if you were coaching Volkov, what would your game plan be to get past Aspinall?
DG: It’s about Volkov playing to his strengths and fighting nice and long – mixing it up. Not just headhunting, make sure he’s working the body, using his kicks to keep Tom on the outside. Tom’s got better hands than he has kicks. If I was training Volkov for this fight, it’d be about keeping Tom on the end of straight punches and outscoring him. Not letting him change the game, not letting him nick a takedown in any of the rounds. Just outpoint him, outwork him on the outside.
LE: With a win over Volkov, how reasonable is it for Aspinall to call for a title shot?
DG: At heavyweight, it’s not that far-fetched. That’s a big enough win to at least put you right in contention. If Aspinall gets a win over Volkov, which I hope he does, I’m definitely hoping he’s in the mix for a title shot. I do believe he’s got the potential to be our UFC Champ. That’ll be interesting.
Molly McCann vs Luana Carolina
In a make-or-break unanimous decision win in her last bout against Ji Yeon Kim, Norris Green’s McCann showed true grit to outpoint her physically bigger foe. Her victory was compensated with a new four-fight UFC deal, as she now goes into extra time to try and breach the coveted top 15.
LE: What did we learn about McCann from her last outing?
DG: I wouldn’t say we learnt anything new. People know Molly is very tough. She’s like a ‘fighter’s fighter’. She likes hard fights. She’s happy to get hit, to hit you twice! It just reinforced that she’s tough and that she’s skilled. She’s definitely got potential in terms of the geopolitical picture on the women’s divisions. Molly’s got a good chance of pressing on towards a title in the next couple of years.
DG: I remember losing two fights on the bounce. I’d never lost a fight and then I lost two on the bounce! I was fighting Dominique Wooding on ACB (Absolute Championship Berkut) and I remember going into that fight thinking ‘Wow, if I lose three fights in a row, this is going to be bad’. It definitely is a factor. I don’t care what anyone says, there’s not a fighter in the world that’s not gonna have some sort of doubt off the back of two losses. But when a fighter is put in that position, they’re a dangerous fighter. They’re fighting for their lives, aren’t they?
LE: What kind of fight do you anticipate? Technical? Brawl?
DG: For Molly, she is technical but brawling suits her at times. You don’t get a name like ‘Meatball Molly’ for nothing. She can use technique in this fight and be tactically better, but she can also brawl and be successful as well.
LE: Looking past this fight, what would Molly have to do to reach the upper echelons of the women’s flyweight division?
DG: When you think about the top 15 fighters in each division, they’re usually really well-rounded. They don’t have areas where they can be exploited. As Molly’s overall MMA game progresses, that’s when we’ll see her establish herself in the top 15. If she’s in a striking match that’s close, can she nick rounds with takedowns? Just having that tactical edge, not that she hasn’t worked that into her game already. I’m just talking about being top of the division in all different facets of the game, whereas she probably feels more comfortable striking. If she builds on the grappling aspects of her game, there’s no doubt she’ll be a top contender.
Muhammad Mokaev vs Cody Durden
One of Garnett’s proteges at Aspire Combat Sports Academy, the Dagestani-born dynamo Mokaev aims to live up to the hype in his debut, after a series of electric performances at Brave CF.
LE: How has life changed for Mokaev since signing with the UFC?
DG: It hasn’t really changed for him. More and more people are becoming aware of Muhammad and what he brings to the table as an entertainment factor. He’s got a great opportunity in front of him to achieve his main goal which is to become the youngest fighter ever to achieve a championship belt in the UFC. He’s got two years and four months to do it. If there was a division that you could do it in, it would be flyweight. I think the stars are gonna align for him and he’s gonna do it!
I’ve got to give props to KHK (Khalid Bin Hamad Al Khalifa Mixed Martial Arts), they’re a big funder of Mo’s training and they’re paying me to be out there (in Bahrain) with him. They’re gonna cover all our expenses come fight week, all that stuff.
He’s training out there at the moment (Brave CF Super Lightweight) under reigning champion Eldar Eldarov and top striking coach Renat Abu Ahmad. I’m gonna be over there soon to help with the camp, but we’ll be back (in the UK) two weeks before (UFC Fight Night London) just to acclimatise again.
Knowing Mo better than anyone, in terms of his fighting, what we’re gonna see from him in his next few fights is a bigger belief in his own striking ability – the wrestling is always there. For Mo, it’s about becoming a more well-rounded fighter. Not just in the gym, but in the cage. As far as the Cody fight goes, Mo’s better than him everywhere. He’s a better athlete, his striking is better, his wrestling is better.
LE: What are Cody Durden’s best attributes?
DG: He seems to be good in the scramble and chaining his takedowns together, but I’m not overly impressed with his groundwork or his striking ability. Mo is better versed in those areas. Cody’s only way to win this fight would be outwrestling Mo for three rounds, but I don’t see that happening. Mo’s attacks are gonna be too dynamic for him, Mo’s belief is better than his and Mo’s a better athlete. It’s gonna be a tough night for Cody, to be honest. It’s gonna be a big introduction to the UFC for Mokaev, definitely.
LE: What will he be looking to showcase on fight night?
DG: It’s all about winning. When Mo fights, you know you’re gonna see some big takedowns. You know you’re gonna see some impressive scrambles – spinning wheel kicks into double legs! Things that are just unorthodox. As his coach – and I know his other coaches are gonna be saying the same things – we want him to believe in his hands and his striking more, showcasing how good his striking is. When Mo starts striking with you, it puts you off, it sets his takedowns up even better. On the day, I wanna see him faking takedowns into his punches. It’s all about mixing it up for him and believing in his striking. It wouldn’t surprise me if he KO’d Cody as well.
DG: I’m gonna say round two KO. Mo could catch him with an uppercut, maybe, or with a straight right.
Who are you most excited to see at UFC London?
Let us know in the comments!