Open your mind to MMA – and meet Arnold Allen, our very own star

Our very own Arnold Allen is one of the best young fighters on the planet.

Our very own Arnold Allen is one of the best young fighters on the planet. - Credit: Archant

It's the fastest growing sport in the world – so we at Archant Towers decided it's high time we introduced you, fellow sports fans, to mixed martial arts (MMA).

Irelands Conor McGregor is one of the sports biggest stars.

Irelands Conor McGregor is one of the sports biggest stars. - Credit: AP

Urgh, I can hear you say, that's that cage fighting isn't it? Two thugs in a cage, no rules, fights akin to a drunken brawl outside a kebab shop at 2am on a Saturday morning?

I'd urge you to think again – all those unfortunate stereotypes are completely wrong. For a start, top MMA fighters are among the best-conditioned and most-skilled athletes on earth.

They bring video games and action films to life when they fight - the flying knee which lends its name to this column is a real move, as are the likes of the superman punch and tornado kick. YouTube them!

And there are in fact many, many rules to adhere to, which make MMA a far safer sport than say boxing, or the likes of horse racing, motor sport and rugby.

Demetrious Johnson is another name to look out for.

Demetrious Johnson is another name to look out for. - Credit: AP

Yes, they do fight in a 'cage' – but that's only to ensure the combatants are safe from the danger of falling through or over the ropes of a more-traditional boxing ring.

So, with your mind hopefully opened, let me welcome you to my new monthly column on all things MMA and combat sports-related. As a brief introduction, I've been an MMA fan ever since I first stumbled across it on TV back in the early noughties, and have been training in Thai Boxing – one of the key elements of MMA – for years as a result of my interest in the new sport. I'm no thug – honest, ask my mum – and I hope I can pass my passion for MMA on to you.

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Now you're a fan too, you need someone to root for – and you'll be pleased to hear that we have one of the brightest young MMA stars in Europe right on our doorstep.

Arnold Allen is just 22 years old, but has already had two fights in the top MMA organisation in the world, the UFC, winning them both, and is tipped by many to be among the challengers for the featherweight belt – currently held by Irish superstar Conor McGregor – in the years to come.

Hailing from tiny Trimley St Martin in Suffolk, Allen used to travel to the Kickstop Gym, in Norwich, to spar with top boxers as part of his training, before heading off to the world-famous Tristar Gym in Montreal, home of UFC legend Georges St Pierre, where he's currently based.

But how does a lad from a sleepy Suffolk village end up among the world's best fighters? Blame martial arts movies, he says.

'For as long as I can remember, me and my brother wanted to be martial artists or professional wrestlers,' he said.

'Dragon Ball Z, Bruce Lee and old school Kung Fu movies were all inspirations, and I started training seriously when I was about 12, where I competed in the ABA (boxing) championships, winning the eastern counties championship with a KO.'

From there young Arnold – nicknamed 'Almighty' – continued to sharpen his skills in a range of combat sports before turning pro in 2012.

He made his UFC debut at short notice, submitting foe Alan Omer in Berlin last June and winning a $50,000 performance bonus in the process.

He was back inside the UFC octagon – not cage! – in February at the O2 in London, and looked sensational on his way to a dominant decision win over experienced grappler Yaotzin Meza.

I was there watching, and it's fair to say Arnold got the fans around me more excited than many of the 'name' fighters on the card.

He's now back at Tristar, waiting for the UFC call for his next fight. He told me: 'It's sometimes a bit humbling (at Tristar). You can have some of the amateurs there putting a whupping on you – there's high level training partners left, right and centre.

'I just feel I've matured as a fighter – I'm using my brain a lot more. The only thing I miss from home is my dog, Trafford!'

He's still a few wins away from seriously challenging the top 15 in his division, but Arnold deserves success – a humble, thoughtful and driven young man who's carrying the flag for our region at the very highest level of the sport.

Remember his name.

• 'BADMAN' TO MAKE MMA COMEBACK

There's a chance to see for yourself what MMA is all about and perhaps watch a future star or two at Contenders Norwich 15 at the Norfolk Showground Arena on June 4.

The event boasts a mix of MMA and K-1 kickboxing fights, from amateur through to professional level.

One of the highlights will be the long-awaited MMA return of Norwich star-in-the-making Iain 'Badman' Martell. The light-heavyweight (11-1) is one of the most-promising fighters in the country and is rarely in a dull bout.

It is also hoped that Wisbech flyweight Jamie Powell will be on the card.

Promoter Steve Newman said: 'If you've not been to a fight night before, just try it.

'It's a cracking atmosphere, there's 1,000 plus people in there, and I think you get more excitement perhaps than your traditional boxing event.'

Tickets are on sale now, priced from £30-£60, available from Newman on 07983 334603 or online at www.contendersea.com

Look out for more build-up and news on the event in this column and on our sports pages over the next couple of months.

• TALE OF THE TAPE

Every month I'll rank my top five pound-for-pound fighters in the world. Here's my first pop...

1. Jon Jones

(Light-heavyweight, 21-1): He lost his UFC title due to legal issues outside the octagon, but there's no disputing he's as good as it gets inside. Makes his return against Ovince St Preux at UFC 197 on April 23 after a fight with the man who won the title in his absence, Daniel Cormier, was scrapped through injury.

2. Demetrious Johnson

(Flyweight, 22-2-1): Say what you like about 'Mighty Mouse' – and many call him dull – but he has beaten every challenger for his belt. Lightning quick and equally skilled standing up and on the floor, the only reason you could call him dull is because no one can touch him. Defends his belt for the eighth time against Henry Cejudo at UFC 197.

3. Conor McGregor

(Featherweight, 19-3): The Notorious is Europe's first MMA uberstar. A ridiculously fluid striker, he lost his first UFC fight against Nate Diaz at welterweight last month – and has insisted on a rematch, at the same weight, at UFC 200 in July. Love him or hate him, you have to watch him.

4. Luke Rockhold

(Middleweight, 15-2): Smooth and slick in all aspects of the game, Rockhold dethroned champion Chris Weidman back in December. The pair meet again in June at UFC 199 – and I expect Rockhold to stop Weidman for the second time.

5. Joanna Jedrzejcyzk

(Straw-weight, 11-1): One of the best strikers on earth, with a real mean streak, 'Joanna Champion' is exhilarating to watch. Defends her title against old foe Claudia Gadelha in July in a classic 'striker versus grappler' match-up.

• Fighter to watch

Michael Page – Another rising English star, the 29-year-old Londoner is a brilliantly unorthodox striker – watch his tornado kick knockout online to see for yourself. Fights next at Bellator 153 on April 22.

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