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'No pressure' for TUF 9 vet Stapleton ahead of Bellator 125 clash with Yamauchi

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Former commando Martin Stapleton was popular with fans after his appearance on season nine of The Ultimate Fighter but his subsequent competition appearances were sporadic. This Friday he returns to the Bellator cage for a clash with young Japanese featherweight Goiti Yamauchi at Bellator 125.

This Friday, British featherweight Martin ".50 Cal" Stapleton (13-3) returns to the Bellator cage.

The TUF 9 vet faces Goiti Yamauchi (17-2), born in Japan but resident in Brazil. The 21-year old has gone 3-1 in Bellator.

Stapleton is yet to secure his first win in Bellator but is coming off a submission win in a June outing in the UK. He fought for Bellator in September and November last year, those fights following a year-long layoff.

According to Stapleton various factors were at play in his absence from competition but he says these are behind him. A former Royal Marine Commando, Stapleton considers his mental strength to be an asset.

"He's experienced, he's boxed professional and he's a BJJ black belt. I've seen a lot of his fights but I am not really focused on him, I am focused on what I am doing," he tells Bloody Elbow.

"There's no pressure, I don't feel pressure. I am doing this for myself, nobody else. I literally couldn't give a shit what anybody else thinks. I am doing this for myself because I want to fight and I love to do it, so there is no pressure."

Stapleton has his own gym - the Full Contact Performance Center in Rochdale, Manchester, England - but for his own professional training he recently joined the ranks of SBG Mainline, based under the railway station in downtown Manchester.

The team has a strong presence on the UK scene and has recently been making its presence felt internationally. Head coach Karl Tanswell has a reputation as a ‘go to guy' for professionals who want an analytical trainer. The gym is a regular stop-off for UFC welterweight, who had Tanswell in his corner for his UFC debut.

"Karl Tanswell in my opinion is an MMA genius. I have been training with him for six months now and his influence has been massive on me, he has completely changed the way that I think. Not just on the mat but the way I think about training and everything around training," says Stapleton.

"He just puts things together in ways I have never thought of before and it has opened my mind up to a completely different way of learning, and it's working for me.

"There's amateur guys here who would whip half the pros in the UK. But they are being kept amateur because Karl is doing it the right way and getting them the experience first. But there's no easy spars here, they are all killers. It is hard."

Being part of the SBG network has also benefited Stapleton by allowing a little short-haul globe-trotting. Nelson's Mjolnir gym is no longer affiliated to SBG's headquarters in the USA but retains close ties with the Manchester and Ireland branches. They all regularly cross paths and visit each other.

"Twice now Karl has sorted it out for us to go over to Mjolnir in Rejkavik, Iceland and train with Gunnar Nelson and the SBG Ireland guys. And recently we went over to Dublin to train with the SBG Ireland guys," says Stapleton.

"Both trips were perfect: hard, intense but intelligent training with really good coaches and training partners. And now this week we're going to meet up with the SBG Ireland guys again in America because Conor [McGregor] is fighting over there, so we're going to get that last few days of training in.

"Do a five-minute round with Gunnar [Nelson] you will learn a week's worth of skills. He is a phenomenal grappler but the way he moves and the way he rolls with you, you get to learn off him. He doesn't just come in and smash you, you get to learn off him as you roll with him."

And there has been no shortage of training partners back in Manchester, England either. The SBG Mainline team has several fighters signed to top European organization CageWarriors, which has a reputation for being both a UFC talent-factory and a top-tier league in its own right.

"Two guys who have helped me in particular for this camp are Saul Rogers and Matt Inman. They are both on the way to title shots in CageWarriors," says Stapleton.

"You've got Jordan [Desborough] as well, a bantamweight but he kicks all our arses. I've no doubt he will win that [CageWarriors] title, he will be the best bantamweight in the UK. It's hard to say who's [making me sharp here] because there's that many good guys.

"Matt Inman is going to be CageWarriors welterweight champion and Saul Rogers will be CageWarriors lightweight champion. I am telling you these things, you'll see them next year. I think if you matched Conor [McGregor] with Jose Aldo right now he would beat him. Gunnar can beat anyone in that UFC welterweight division as well.

"That's what we are all here for. I want to win that Bellator world title and I am going to win it. But one step at time."