How can the interaction between MMA media and MMA participants go when one acts as both, when the conversation is held from fighter to fighter? I had the chance to sit down with British UFC personality Luke Barnatt to find out, in my first of a new series titled "Gloves Off." In this inaugural entry, I delve into Luke's upcoming fight with Mark Munoz, as well as some interesting particulars that make Luke a truly unique competitor in the UFC rankings.
JS: While in LA you told me at UFC 185 that you were going to defeat Clint, then retire Mark Munoz in the Philippines. While the first part didn't materialize, you've set the stage for yourself in the Philippines as you said you would. Was this a case of cosmic coincidence or was there something more behind it?
LB: I’ve always said "What you think about you bring about." I’ve been after the Mark Munoz fight for a while now, over a year I’ve been asking Joe Silva for that fight. I was excited about the fight with Clint, I felt that was a tough fight that I was going to be able to showcase my skills in, and when the Hester fight got taken away from me I was worried. I was worried that I was gonna get an opponent that no one had ever heard of, that no one cared about, and that it would turn out a shit situation for me. How the Munoz fight finally came around, Joe Silva rang me and said "I’ve got two guys that are willing to fight you right now [if you want to stay on the card] but I’d really rather not sign anyone else right now, we’ve got a full roster." So I told him "Well you guys are going to the Philippines in a couple months, I know Munoz is gonna fight on that card, so why don’t I fight him?" He said "Eh, nah, I don’t know. Give me a day." And he went away, and the next day he called me back and said "You’re fighting Mark Munoz in the Philippines" and that was it.
JS: How do you see yourself beating Mark? Which of his skills are you most concerned with and how has your gameplan changed since preparing for Hester?
LB: Hester is obviously a very powerful guy, very strong striker, throws big, big bombs. The biggest difference I think is Munoz' cage time; he’s been in there with the best in the world, and his wrestling, obviously. He was a national champion, is a very good wrestler, but I’m 6’6", I have one of the longest reaches in the middleweight division, and I feel that that is my strength against Mark. The key to the fight is keeping distance. If I dictate the distance in the fight I win all day long. I’ve got the skill set to pick Mark apart on the feet; my jab especially. If I keep the fight on the feet and keep distance and have confidence, I know I can showcase myself as a well rounded martial artist. The fans know I can strike, they’ve seen it in my other fights. They know I’m willing to go strike for strike, blow for blow. In my debut with Collin we punched each other about 500 times, and they know I can do that. But now I get a wrestler. Being English, the one thing everyone says is, "oh they don’t know how do that wrestling stuff over there" and they’re right. But I’ve changed camps, I’m at Alliance, and I’ve been wrestling every single day. I want Mark to try to take me down to show them.
JS: Tell me about Alliance MMA. You have some incredible fighters on your team, who are you most impressed by, and how does the dynamic differ from your original gym of Tsunami in England?
LB: I have some great training back home in England, but around me the Tsunami gym has aged. They’ve been doing it for 15 years, and the guys that were at the top of the food chain in England, they’re not anymore. My team around me disappeared. I had around me two or three great guys, but that was it, and I needed more. I needed the next step, so I decided to make the move to Alliance where they have an abundance of talent. Everyone is hungry. And the biggest difference I found between my old gym and Alliance, at Tsunami everyone wanted to be good. Every day they went in there to get better, and that's good, but at Alliance they all want to be the best in the world. Not just "I want to be good", they all want to be the best in the world. And there’s 20 of them in one room.
JS: Give me some names. Who do you look up to the most? Who wants to be the best in the world most? Who’s among the most determined?
LB: For me the guy that inspires me the most, which may be surprising or not, but it’s Myles Jury. He’s always working hard, year round, he’s working out every day. I look up to him in a way because, his style is one I can emulate. He’s a long guy for the lightweight division. He’s very dynamic, and he can do everything. He’s always in the room, always training, always improving. He’s just fun to watch. I get to see him spar in the week, I don't even get to train with him, he's a lightweight, but I can develop just from watching him.
Besides that the biggest name guy there is Phil Davis. Just to feel that kind of guy grab a hold of you, at that level, wrestling and taking you down, getting in there with him is good. To see him at 6"4' move the way he moves, being a tall guy like me, and watching him wrestle, helps me improve immensely. Those two guys are the biggest inspirations to me.
JS: You once told me on The Ultimate Fighter while training with Team Sonnen that you never won a single round in practice. Is that still the case? Do you feel you're more of a guy that performs better under the bright lights or was that just because you were so early in your career that you weren’t adept at putting all the pieces together quite yet?
LB: The show was very tough for me. I was 5-0 at the time, but I had only had a year in professional competition. I had no background, and we were on the most talented season of The Ultimate Fighter ever. Just the range of talent that I had on my team was insane. You had Kevin Casey, who was a wizard on the ground, then Uriah Hall, who’s spinning around like a crazy man, then Jimmy who can wrestle. They all had specific skill sets that were very difficult. I didn’t have the experience that the guys around me had, and every day that we trained those guys found a weakness in my game and they exposed it. That was a long time ago, 2.5 years ago, and so many changes can be done in those time. I think, like you said, I had not been in the game very long. It was 2.5 years ago, so much can change in that time. For some it does. Like Kelvin, he was super athletic on the show, and is still very athletic now, but for me, I’ve completely changed. That’s because of the sacrifices I’ve made, left my home, left my gym, put my everything into it.
JS: Speaking of, how do you see Kelvin bouncing back for his loss against Woodley?
LB: A split decision loss to the #3 guy in the world, when you didn’t have a very good weight cut, and you had all those eyes on you and you’re 23 years old. I don’t know much worse of a situation to be in. He’s now with another TUF gig, which is great because it gives him a moment away. That whole process takes quite a bit of time, so got time and he’s already back to training, already getting his weight down, already trying to prove to the UFC that he can stay at welterweight. If they give him the chance he will fight at either weight to get back in the Octagon and show people what he’s made of. It can go one of two ways for Kelvin. He can do great in his next fight, and it will be like the Woodley fight never even happened, or if he has another performance like he did, it could start to unravel. He’s been riding on such a high momentum with unlimited skill set, young in the sport, but was not doing everything he should have been. He was not being 100% professional about it, not dieting 100%, not doing those things, but that’s how he’d always done it, and for the longest time it was "if it’s not broke don’t fix it", but now it’s broken. If he starts questioning himself, he might struggle. If he gets another quick win under his belt and goes back to that momentum, I’ll think he’ll do just fine. Either way, it’s a long road, a long career ahead of him, it just depends on how he handles it.
JS: You at one point were 3-0 in the UFC, before falling victim to questionable judging not once but twice, in a row, and your last official win was March of last year. What have you learned about yourself and about the sport since that date? What personal growth have you made?
LB: It’s been a year since I’ve won, and I just realized that the other day. When I realized that, it amazed me how time has flown by. I’ve got so much going on that time doesn’t really matter for me, although I didn’t realize it had been that long. I’m getting married, I’ve training out here, I’ve made lots of changes in my life, but I keep going, keep going, keep going. I felt like my last two fights weren’t my best performances. Although I dictated what I wanted to do in the fight, and I felt that I won, I know they weren’t that exciting. That’s something that needs to change. In my mind, I’m in the UFC, I should be fighting better than that. I feel like I was fighting to my opponents level. Bad choices and bad decisions. I need to stop doing that, I need to fight to my ability. I just didn’t go for it, I was content with just winning the fight, but it turned out that I had lost.
JS: You’ve began working with a bit of television last year, what has been your favorite part of that experience?
LB: I’ve been doing TV stuff with BT Sport back in the UK. Worked with Ariel on a couple things, worked on the pre-show and post-fight show in the last Sweden event, been on their weekly show helping them develop. I feel comfortable in front of the camera, I enjoy that work. I like to talk about my life, which is the sport. This is all we do all day every day. I feel like I have a good insight into the sport. It helps me break down opponents and think about fights. I’m one of those guys. I watch a lot of fights, I like to think about what they’re gonna do, and think of myself as a bit of a tactician.
JS: Something many fans may not know, before becoming a cast member on The Ultimate Fighter 17, you once owned a series of fashion stores in your home country. What was that experience like?
LB: My partner in crime was a friend of mine back home named Paul. We were good friends, and opened up five clothing stores in total. Across the country from the south, up to the midlands in Cambridge, we had five stores. They were under two names. Blue Orange, three under that name, and two under a brand called Traffic. I helped, and was co-owner, but I joined the team after Paul started it. I was part owner then, and now Paul has it all going on now.
It was a great experience for me. I was quite young, trying to do something different than the 9-5. I was in charge of a lot of things. In charge of stock, in charge of buying and selling, meeting different brands. It taught me to set goals, and to meet those goals, and to live a different lifestyle than everyone else, and it’s translated very well to mixed martial arts. If you run your own business, if you don’t set goals and set targets and push yourself, no one else is going to do it for you. You can’t rely on other people to get things done, you have to do it. I learned that early in business, and when I transferred to mixed martial arts, I used that same mindset in using my body as a business. I see myself as a business enterprise, and I operate myself as a business to get the results that I want.
JS: Now is your chance to call your fate again, on a more public forum. Suppose you beat Munoz on May 16th, who is next on your projected path, and how soon do you look to compete again?
LB: I think I beat Mark, and I beat him in the first round with a knockout. He’s been great to the sport but he’s already announced his retirement, and I just don’t think his heart is going to be in it. We may be fighting in front of his people, but I'm just going to be too much for him. Moving forward, I want to fight at home, in Scotland on July 18th. Eight weeks in between the two fights. This fight with Munoz will hopefully elevate my profile, and while I don’t have an opponent yet that I want, I want to fight at home in Europe. I’m getting married shortly after the July card so I will have to focus on that for a bit then, and then who knows. If I had a name I wanted for Scotland, trust me, I would tell you.
Follow Luke and Josh on Twitter @LukeBarnatt and @JoshSamman