Elite #Squad

Two mixed martial artists enter the cage. But many more experts make a fight happen. Meet the professionals helping London MMA to thrive.

Photography by Ben Benoliel

The Matchmaker: Ian Dean

Cage Warriors’ fight planner for 15 years.

How did you get into the MMA industry?

“A lot of people find their position in MMA by accident – I studied politics and international relations. I feel like I’ve paid my dues, worked my way up. I’m originally from Romford. I met Cage Warriors’ founder Douggie Truman in 2002. I liked what he said online, and at the second ever Cage Warriors event I approached him and asked if there was anything I can do. He took me up on that, and I started working on the website, getting news, writing press releases. I built up a contact list – this is before social media, so putting it together was very different. By 2004 I was helping out more on the shows, I was at weigh-ins. I had contacts, so I was helping out fights.”

What are the challenges and rewards of your role in MMA?

“Richie Edwards from the Manic Street Preachers once said that, “Being in a rock band was the greatest thing ever until I was in a rock band.” There have definitely been times that I’ve been sick to death of this industry. It’s relentless, 24/7. But it can be really rewarding.
I’m really grateful for the opportunities I had; I’m not sure my career path would be possible now. I was 24 then, I’m nearly 38 now. I’ve grown up with MMA. This is all I really know.”

Who are the new stars of UK MMA?

“Paddy Pimblett is only 21, really marketable, a submission artist, just at the beginning of his potential. Alfie Davis is a flashy striker, and the cameras love that too. There’s a lot of amazing talent in the UK and it’ll be interesting to see them break out onto a world level. In the early 2000s guys got involved to test their skill set. Since 2007, people can see a future, a livelihood. Hardy, Bisping, McGregor have given people hope. Now it’s a career where they can be a star.”


The MMA Entrepreneur: Graham Boylan

President of Cage Warriors, Owner/founder of MMA Clinic Gyms, and owner of Intensiti Fighter Management.

Tell us about your MMA ventures?

“The MMA Clinic gyms are in Islington, Romford, and Perth in Australia. Intensiti is the one of the largest MMA management agencies in Europe with over 60 fighters. We look after Joe Duffy, Tom Breese, Nicholas Dalby, Arnold Allen, Anna Elmose, Ian Entwhistle. That’s seven UFC fighters right there, and we hope to be in double digits by the end of the year. Plus I’m the single largest shareholder and President of Cage Warriors, which is one of the biggest MMA organisations in Europe with the biggest digital broadcast reach.”

How did you become President of Cage Warriors?

“I got involved in 2010 – I was asked to be the CEO and rebuild the brand. I was given a website, three cardboard boxes and Ian Dean. Two of the cardboard boxes went in the bin and I kept the rest. In four years we built the biggest MMA organisation in Europe. We brought in a lot of structure: contracts for multiple fights, and a path for fighters to follow. We were strict on medical checks, brought in blood testing, were one of the founders of Safe MMA, and introduced hefty penalties for not making weight.”

What are the challenges and rewards of your role in London MMA?

“The challenges are putting an event together – getting the coaches and managers to agree on terms. Then we have to make sure they get their medicals done on time, then guys get injured… The rewards, after the show is done, is seen the prospects work their way to the top and see guys who work hard as hell get the win.”


The Trainer: Paul Hines

Hackney-raised head trainer MMA Clinic. formerly of London Shootfighters and Bas Rutten MMA Academy.

What surprises new MMA students the most?

“Peoples’ perception is that they can take care of themselves. They rapidly find out that they can’t. As a bloke, I reckon I can fix a car. But I pop open the bonnet and go, ‘Er…’  MMA is a reality check. It’s not going to lie to you or make you something you’re not. It’s going to make you something better – but you’re going to have to work at it.”

What mindset do you recommend for novices?

“MMA is not self-defence. It’s a sport. Learning how to defend yourself is a by-product, but it’s taught in the context of a sport. Some drills might seem useless to a beginner. It’s better when people have watched it on TV. Then they know what they’re in for.”

Does MMA training help with self-defence?

“It’s much better than a self-defence class. You’re pressure tested from the start. But you’ve no right to beat someone up until you’ve been beaten up a thousand times. Then you know the mental and physical consequences of it. And when you dish it out to somebody, you do it in a controlled manner.”

What other benefits does MMA training bring?

“It builds a lot of humility in people and makes them a lot calmer. I think it makes you a better human being. Fighters hug each other afterwards and offer words of encouragement – tennis players don’t. So you can see what it brings out in people.”

What are the challenges and rewards of the job?

“The challenge is getting the fighters into the gym as much as you want them here. As far as I’m concerned they haven’t got a life outside. I don’t care about their girlfriend, or their job. Chris Carly [Thai Boxing] and Michael Russell [BJJ] are my go-to guys. As head coach you get accolades, but I’ve got to give a lot to them. Watching the guys go out and win, that’s the biggest reward.”


The Referee: Rich Mitchell

Official for the UFC, Cage Warriors, Poland’s KSW, Italy’s Venator and more. Works as a fireman at Shoreditch station, central London.

How did you become an MMA ref?

“I’ve been in and around martial arts gyms since I was a kid. I did some competitive stuff as a teenager – submission wrestling and amateur MMA. I gave up on it for a while, and was cornering friends and family. I came to the MMA Clinic to help a friend and met Graham. We were complaining about a referee over lunch, when Graham said he’s putting together a fight card and I should referee.”

Was there any training?

Marc Goddard [highly respected UFC referee] holds a seminar which I attended. Initially it was trial and error, and I made a lot of mistakes at first. You have to do the reps.”

Is refereeing MMA difficult?

“It is, and referees get a lot of stick. But rightly so. You have people’s careers and aspirations in your hands, and if you don’t treat that with the respect it deserves – more fool you. It’s a professionalism thing – if you’re no good at your job and it effects other people then you should be criticised. Refer­eeing in any sport doesn’t win you any popularity contests. If you don’t like it, do something else.”


The Sports Therapist: Biliana Avromova

Owner, The Massage Lab. works with fighters including Cage Warriors’ Darren Springer-Stewart and the UFC’s Joe Duffy.

How did you start working with fighters?

“I’ve been watching MMA for a long time, and I do a bit of Jeet Kune Do at the Bob Breen Academy. We got involved with the MMA Clinic by treating Graham Boylan first. Before the fights they’ll come and see us to keep them nimble, and after to tune things up. They’re generally really fit people in tune with how their bodies work.”

How does The Massage Lab compare to a spa?

“We don’t offer a spa experience – that’s more of a relaxing treatment. A sports remedial therapist concen­trates on anatomy and physiology. We’re not taught a routine of movement and strokes, but how to figure out where pain comes from. So we need to understand how a body’s been used in a particular sport, or at least have an investigative mind.”

Can you explain how pain might originate in a different part of the body?

“The body is a complex bio-mechanical structure – the location of the pain might not be the sole source of it. Pain could be in the left shoulder, but originate in the ankle. That’s going to effect how the next joint functions, so the knee may compensate for the weaker muscle below. Ground forces are sent up through the hip and across the shoulders in a criss-cross; a damaged ankle will send slightly different forces up through the hip and effect how it leaves the body through the opposite shoulder. If you fell off a tree at five years old, your body will remember that in the brain. A sports remedial therapist will look for the long-term fix to your problems. We want people to be fixed, not dependent.”


The Protégé: Olly Battell

Cage Warriors fighter and MMA Clinic assistant trainer.

How did you start fighting?

“I used to watch a lot of UFC, and I came down to see how it all worked. I didn’t want to do sparring or get involved like that – I wanted to learn the moves. I was offered my first fight after six months of training, mostly through my natural aggression. I’d found out that I was a lot more aggressive than I actually thought. I’d never done any martial arts, but I had always been good at sports I’d applied myself to. I play a lot of golf and I played football for Wimbledon.”

When did the coaching start?

“I’d been riddled with injuries, so in the last year I started coaching. It helps me as well, because when you’re teaching someone you learn to break things down a little bit more.”

You have a 16 month old son, George. How do you make it work?

“I grew up locally in Islington, and still live round here. My girlfriend Victoria does a lot of the work of course, but it’s like any job where you have to dedicate yourself for a certain period. It’s tough, but one of the things you learn from martial arts is mental strength which helps.”

How is the fighting itself progressing?

“I opened the latest Cage Warriors card in April and won by technical knock­out in 37 seconds. My next fight is on the Cage Warriors event in London in December.”

Daniel Titchener