Marcin Held is part of a rare breed in the MMA world: the leg lock artist. It's a style of fighting that has very few successful practitioners, but for those that do it well (and Held most certainly does), they are capable of beating just about any opponent on any night. Unlike some other fighters who have cut their teeth on knee bars and ankle locks, Held's game seems to be evolving around his core skill set, he's slowly become a better striker and better wrestler, and while he's known for his dedication to a specific set of submissions, he's always been the kind of grappler to take what his opponents give him. They just tend to give him a lot of legs.
On Friday, October 6th in St. Louis, Missouri, Held will fight Will Brooks for the Bellator lightweight title. It's Brooks' second defense of the belt after beating Michael Chandler for the vacant strap in the wake of Eddie Alvarez's departure to the UFC. For Held, it's an opportunity to take a belt back to Poland to hold alongside Joanna Jedrzejczyk's UFC strawweight title as examples of great success for Polish fighters in international MMA competition. Held spoke to Bloody Elbow about his upcoming fight alongside and about his game in general.
So, why leg locks?
"I didn't choose leg locks. I didn't like, 'Oh, it will be my weapon.' I was training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu from since I was 9. I am black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, so I am pretty good in fighting on the ground. And then I realized leg locks are really dangerous and really good to use in MMA. So, I know how to do this, but it is not that I'm training only this, only leg locks. I'm not really focused on this, I'm doing a lot of grappling, a lot of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. The leg locks are a technique you can do when your ground game level is really high. It's not a thing you can learn when you are not good on the ground."
Is it getting tougher to implement your style as your career goes forward?
"Now a lot of fighters... There's a lot of my fights are on the internet, a lot of fighters know me, they know my style, so they are training a lot to block my techniques now. So, every fight, to fight the fight I'm preparing a new thing, a new style that can surprise my opponent. And of course, now my opponents are much better than before, it's harder to submit them. But, I'll always try. I'm the fighter who is going to submit and finish the fight before time. I'm not a fighter who will try to take down and get a win by decision. I will always try to finish the fight on the ground."
Are you ever worried about getting a reputation for injuring fighters like some other leg lock artists have, most notably Rousimar Palhares?
"I think I don't have a reputation like Palhares, because I'm not trying to hurt nobody. If someone is tapping, I don't pull harder because I know their health is really important and knee injuries are really serious. I'm never thinking about hurting my opponent. Sometimes it happens, but it's not my fault, it's the fault of my opponent, because they don't want to tap. They want to win too much and they don't care about the hurt. It's like with every other submission. If a guy don't tap to the armbar the fighter can break an arm. With the leg it's just easier because leg injuries are more dangerous. But I never try to hurt my opponent, I always try to submit them."
Will Brooks went so far as to call your style of fighting "cowardly," would you ever consider changing your approach in a fight to prove a point?
"Will Brooks is talking a lot on Twitter, but I don't know why he does it. A lot of fighters do some of this, but I don't want to do this. I think the most important thing is to be able to fight the fight good and it's not important what you say in the Twitter or on Facebook, social media. I don't know if he wants to make some noise for the fight or get more fans, but I don't think it's good. I don't like this. I will never do stuff like this. I think people will like me, but I will get my fans from my style, from how I fight, but not because I'm saying something bad about someone. He can do this, but I don't think about it. I also don't care about what he says, I don't read it. My friends told me, 'Have you seen what he thought about you?' But, I don't follow him and I don't care.
"I train for a lot of standing, a lot of wrestling, so I will improve my game. But if something works, why should I change it? I'm fighting to win the fight; it's also a style that people like, so I will not change anything just because Will Brooks says he doesn't like this style. That's his problem."
Is there anything you've had to change for this fight, anything in particular you're looking to take advantage of or defend against in Brooks' game?
"Because it is my first five round, five minute fight, so I had a lot of sparring for this. It will be my first fight like this, so the cardio was really important, so I focused a lot on this. And of course I've been watching a lot of his fights, we have a plan for him. I have also a few surprises for him. I will surprise him and we will see during the fight. There's nothing special I was focused on. Like I said before, he's a complete fighter, so he's not excellent in something. I was preparing in the normal way."
You can follow Marcin Held on Twitter @MarcinHeld