Interview: Jimi Manuwa

Jimi Manuwa
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Sports Mole speaks to 13-0 knockout artist Jimi Manuwa ahead of his fight with Ryan Jimmo at UFC:Manchester on October 26.

A knockout artist yet to even go the distance in 13 professional contests let alone taste defeat, Jimi Manuwa is a fighter determined to make the most of his chance to shine in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Manuwa didn't throw his first punch professionally until 2008 but has made each one count to date, racking up 13 successive stoppage wins.

The 33-year-old has found a home in Mixed Martial Arts, opening his own gym to share his passion for one of the fastest growing sports on the planet.

The 'Poster Boy' is currently preparing for his third fight in the UFC next month, which will come against Canadian contender Ryan Jimmo in Manchester.

Sports Mole went one-on-one with Manuwa this week to talk Lions, Spiders and the hunt for UFC gold.

We're a month out from your third UFC fight against Ryan Jimmo and it's been six months since we last saw you in action. How have you spent the time and how are preparations going for the Manchester showdown?

"To be honest it's the same as usual, I'm in a good place now and it's been full on. Training, sparring, double sessions, triple sessions. I'm always working on becoming an all-round fighter, strength, conditioning and cardio. That's my reality."

You've retired both of your opponents in the UFC so far in Kyle Kingsbury and Cyrille Diabate, breaking them down with clinical striking. Are you confident of doing something similar against Jimmo on October 26?

"It's actually my last three opponents who've called it a day! It's the same gameplan as usual, go in there and take people out. Nothing's changed for me there. I'm not really worried about bonuses or chasing a knockout, if it comes it comes. I just want to give a good display of my skills, which I feel are getting better all the time. I want to take something away from every fight, but the focus has to on winning first."

You didn't make your professional debut until the age of 28 but have adapted quickly to MMA. At 33 do you feel at your peak as a fighter or still have room for progression?

"I always feel like I can get better and put the work in in training to make that happen. I'm not just saying that either, I'm making it happen. I'm still young in the sport of MMA. Every day I'm learning new things, new skills and I'm enjoying every minute of it."

You own your own gym, Lions Pride MMA in Croydon. Is it tough to maintain a balance between training and coaching?

"It's full-on but it all comes naturally to me, I'm in the gym every day working and teaching. That's something that keeps me busy but focused at the same time. I spar with my students as well, so the balance works well. From the outside it may look like a lot to take on but as I say it's just normal, I see it as a natural."

Last week you had former UFC middleweight king Anderson Silva at Lions Pride, how was that experience for the gym and you personally?

"Yeah it was great to get him down, Anderson Silva is my favourite MMA fighter of all time so it was great to meet him. I'll be doing a lot of things with him in the future actually. He's probably the only fighter I really look up to, well in MMA anyway. It's great to work with him and do a few things with him that's for sure. He put a seminar on down at the gym and it was great for the students to meet him, he's an inspiring guy."

Did 'The Spider' give you any advice and what did you take away from your time with him?

"We had a couple of meals together and talked a bit, he gave me a lot of confidence, but to be honest my confidence is sky-high anyway. It's good when someone like that can look at you, see how you train and watch your fights and everything and give you compliments."

Silva aside were there any other fighters who you looked up to when considering turning fighting into a profession?

"Everyone knows that Mike Tyson is my favourite, with Muhammad Ali just behind. It's always been about the knockout specialists for me. Everything about Tyson, his aggression, his killer instinct, he was always exciting, always an event. People will always remember him. People may not always remember other great fighters, like Joe Calzaghe because his style wasn't always that entertaining. Tyson finished fights and had people out of their seats and that's how I fight as well."

Is that something you're conscious of as you move up the ladder, staying entertaining and memorable?

"It comes naturally to me, it always has and it should do. At the end of the day when the cage closes someone's stood in front of you trying to beat you and I'm doing the same. That's just how I fight, I'm not in there forcing it straight away or putting it on, I take my time and break people down with a mix of aggression and technique."

When did you first discover power punching/striking was your forte?

"I always knew I had it in me, before I even started fighting. I always knew I could hit hard, that I had the aggression to match it. Well not aggression but that killer instinct that you need. When I started training finishing opponents just seemed to come natural to me, I hit hard. Some people have it, some people don't and I've just got it naturally."

The light heavyweight division is still reeling from the war between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson last weekend. Is that the level you are aspiring to and what did you think of of the fight?

"That was a great fight, one of the best this year. To be honest from my first fight I've always know I'm gonna get there, it's just a matter of the right time. The whole plan when I started fighting was to reach the top, that's the goal I set for myself. Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson put on a great fight with high-level striking but I know I'll get there soon."

With that in mind where do you see yourself right now in the light heavyweight division?

"To be honest with you I don't really care about anyone in the division but myself. I've just gotta keep stopping my opponents and the big fights will have to come. Rankings are just for the fans and the reporters to discuss, I don't care about top 10s or being compared to other guys. I just care about stopping fighters put in my path, do that and the rest takes care of itself."

You're gearing up for a second fight this year and fought the same number of times in 2012. Are you worried about inactivity at all and would you like to be busier?

"Not at all. Everyone knows if you follow me on Twitter (@POSTERBOYJM) I train all the time, I don't take days off or have breaks, I'm always working and improving. I'm still young in the sport and I'm always learning. Every time I step in the cage I'm bringing new skills. I think fighting two or three times a year is enough for me. That will be enough for me to get to the top if I deliver on those nights. Working like that all year round is gonna make sure when the big fights do come along, and they will, that I'm in the best position to make them count."

You're a rarity in that you turned down the UFC's advances originally. Why did you turn down their first contract offer and looking back do you think it was the right decision?

"I look at it as a lot of fighters have come and gone quickly in the UFC recently. There now just fighting where they can, just journeymen. That was never my plan, I'm genuinely in this to reach the top. Some might say that but I mean it. I turned them down because I didn't think I was ready, my coaches didn't think I was ready. I needed more fights, more experience. I'm not in any rush to make my name or my legacy or get top-10 fights, I'm still improving all the time."

Other British UFC fighters like Michael Bisping and Ross Pearson have recently decided to leave this country and base themselves in the United States to further their careers. Is that something you have ever considered?

"I can see where they're coming from but I've got great sparring here in the UK. I spar with unbeaten boxers, world kickboxing champions. I'm regularly training with jiu-jitsu black-belts, so in my mind I don't feel like have to move to America. I trained at Alliance in San Diego last year for a couple of my fights. The quality of MMA sparring was fantastic, I sparred with Phil Davis and other top guys. That was a great experience and everything but I don't have to base my camp out there full stop."

What do you take from sparring with a top-tier guy like Phil Davis?

"Well I've sparred with him and Rampage Jackson as well. It's great to compete with these top fighters that I used to watch on TV. You learn so much from it, I still use one move I picked up off Phil Davis. I used a roundhouse I learnt off Rampage in my last fight. Then there are other experienced guys I've worked with like Brandon Vera too. I'm still learning and picking stuff up as I go along so it's good for what I'm building towards."

Finally let's look ahead to your next opponent in Ryan Jimmo, have you studied him at all and what can we expect from the fight?

"Yeah I've watched some of his fights, my coaches have watched a couple of his fights. We've put a course of action in place for the fight. He's an experienced guy, he's only lost twice in 20 fights. I expect a good fight from him, he's by no means a shit fighter. He likes to stand and punch, he also likes to clinch a lot which is perfect for me. He's been on the ground a few times. I don't really like to talk much about my opponents until I've beaten them. The fans will get a good fight, we both like to stand but this is MMA and it could go anywhere. I'll be ready to knock him out, submit him, anything I need to. I'll be ready."

The UFC is returning to the UK on Saturday 26th October at the Phones4U Arena in Manchester. Tickets are available now from www.ticketmaster.co.uk

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