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UFC debutante Stewart: ‘I hated cagefighting’

UK fighter Darren Stewart talks about his upcoming UFC debut in Brazil, the costs involved, and why he’s not worried about whether or not you watch his fight.

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Light heavyweight Darren ‘The Dentist’ Stewart will be the first man to walk to the Octagon at Saturday night’s UFC Fight Night 100 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. For the him, the walk will be his first ever in a UFC uniform.

Stewart, who was born and bred in east London, is undefeated in seven professional fights (as well as five amateur fights). The majority of his contests occurred in Killacam Fight Night (KFN) and Cage Warriors Fighting Championship (CWFC) around the UK. Five of his pro wins have come by TKO/KO, by means of punches, knees, and elbows.

The Brit has been training and competing in combat sports for approximately thirteen years, starting with taekwondo.

“Did that for about eight or nine years, and then I got to my black belt,” Stewart told Bloody Elbow. “Then that was it really, once you’re a black belt you can’t move on from there, just be like second degree, third degree – it’s all black belt. So I thought I’d try and do something different.”

That something different was mixed martial arts, which is a surprise considering how Stewart initially felt about the sport.

“I hated cagefighting,” admitted Stewart. “I used to call it cagefighting, I was like, I’m not gonna do that stuff that I see on TV, all that blood and that.” After Stewart decided to give the sport a chance, he was hooked.

“Once you do it, it’s different to what you see on TV, you know?” Most attractive to Stewart about MMA was the ability to learn something other than stand-up fighting, as well as being able to strike with full-contact, unlike what he was used to in taekwondo.

To see Stewart’s ‘full-contact’ striking, watch the brutal finish of his match versus Chris Kennell, courtesy of KFN’s official YouTube channel:

After five years of dedicating himself to MMA Stewart received the call from the UFC. With the news came mixed emotions from Stewart.

“It took me a while to take it in,” remembered Stewart. “When I heard about it first, yeah I was overwhelmed, tears all that stuff, but then I was like, ‘Ok well, it’s meant to happen because I worked so hard to get there.’ But at the beginning, when I was told it, it was a big thing, but the next day – normal. Like any other event.”

For financial reasons, Stewart was especially pleased to be signed by the richest MMA promotion on the planet. “Times are tough at the moment,” admitted Stewart, echoing the struggles many mixed martial artists go through trying to support their expensive and time-consuming careers.

Now a member of the UFC roster, Stewart is hoping that he and his fiancee will finally be able to afford a wedding. However, Stewart knows this is something which can’t happen off the back of a single UFC fight.

“It’s a good thing now [that I’m fighting in the UFC], but obviously I’m not there yet, I have to work hard for it,” said Stewart, who was keen to remind people that a rookie UFC purse wasn’t extremely lucrative. “Everyone thinks that the UFC is good [money] yeah, but they don’t know what’s behind-the-scenes. Obviously you get some sort of money, but then it gets converted to pounds and then you get taxes, and you gotta pay so and so.”

“I had to pay like £40 ($50) for like a police check they want,” continued Stewart. “Another £40 pound for a visa, a couple pounds here and there to get photos done. Had to pay out a grand for my medicals. It’s so much money man. I mean, I’ve got to pay for my team to come over to Brazil, which they take out my purse. So, a lot money goes into it.”

For these reasons Stewart said, “The wedding won’t be just yet, but it’ll be soon, very soon.”

Despite the concerns over costs Stewart enforced that he is extremely excited to fight for the UFC. So excited, that it didn’t make a difference to him where he had to fight.

“The country [where I fight] doesn’t bother me,” explained Stewart. “Others say it’s good, everyone else takes it bigger than what I take it for. They’re like, ‘Oh my god, you’re fighting in Brazil, I wish I could do that.’ I’m just like, ‘Ok, it’s just another country.’ I’m still fighting in the same cage.”

Stewart’s attitude to being in Brazil extends to the his feelings about performing in front of a famously rabid (and partisan) crowd. Asked how he felt about fighting in front of an audience who will be heavily favoring his opponent, Stewart had an adversarial answer.

“I’m looking forward to that man. The more aggressive they are the more their man gets beat up. So, it’s not a problem.”

The crowd’s man in this fight will be Francimar Barroso (18-5), who last fought at UFC Fight Night 87 (losing to Nikita Krylov).

Stewart isn’t exactly impressed by what he’s seen in the 36-year-old Brazilian’s previous UFC contests. “He’s the same for all five fights, he hasn’t changed,” said Stewart. “So, I don’t see him changing for this fight, but I still go in there thinking he’s better than what I think.”

Having finished his last two fights with punches, Stewart (whose nickname refers to him knocking an opponent’s teeth out in an amateur fight) believes onlookers can expect to see a knockout, even if that’s not part of his game-plan.

“I don’t look for the knockout,” said Stewart. “If you look for the knockout, you’re doing it wrong. You just fight and you hope for the best, and when I do that I knock people out. I never felt I was going to knock them out, it’s just what I’m used to, it just happens. If it’s there, it’s there, if it’s not, it’s not.”

‘If it’s there, it’s there’ can also sum up Stewart’s feelings regarding whether or not a large audience tunes in to watch him open the show on Saturday night. The light heavyweight (who will likely move down to middleweight after this fight) balked at the opportunity to hype his fight. Instead he was honest, and realistic about the interest he could generate on the prelims.

“I don’t know, I’m not really that big headed man,” stated Stewart. “If they watch me, they watch me. I’d love people to watch me because if they do watch me, look out for a good show, but if you don’t, it’s no biggie. I’ve been that way for the last twelve fights. So I don’t wanna say, ‘Yeah look out for me, I’m the best,’ if I’m only gonna be fighting on the prelims. If I was on the main card or something I’d say, ‘Yeah, look out for me,’ but if you don’t see me it’s not a problem.”

However, Stewart did offer some insight into what you might to see, should you bother with his fight. “Look out for my aggressiveness, speed, power, possibly a finish. If you do look out for me on the prelims.”

You can check out Stewart versus Barroso at UFC Fight Night: Bader vs. Nogueira 2 this Saturday night on FS1.

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