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‘Back in my day, you had to be a champ to fight in UFC’ – Ian Freeman to RT Sport (VIDEO)

Former English fighter Ian Freeman, who competed in the UFC in the early 2000s, shared his thoughts on the current state of MMA with RT Sport.

Nicknamed ‘The Machine,’ Freeman fought most of his professional career in the mixed martial arts in British promotions such as Cage Rage and British Vale Tudo, but also had six bouts in the early era of UFC, recording a TKO victory over the future two-time heavyweight world champion Frank Mir.

Born and raised in Sunderland, in the northeast of England, Freeman also was a presenter of the UK TV series ‘Britain’s Hardest’ – a last-man-standing-style show in which contestants competed and eventually fought against each other to win £10,000 (US$12,500) and the title of ‘Britain’s Hardest.’

Now fully retired from professional sport, Freeman is among other things working as an announcer and commentator for the Russian MMA promotion M-1 Global.

M-1 Global’s latest tournament – M-1 Challenge 74, hosted in St. Petersburg, Russia, last Saturday – was headlined by the heavyweight bout between Rashid Yusupov and Stephan Puetz. The fight that made the headlines, however, was the co-main event in which Abukar Yandiev took the championship belt from Alexander Butuneko in explosive fashion.

Catching up with RT Sport after the tournament, Freeman spoke of how he started to work with the Russian promotion, as well as giving his thoughts on the current state of UFC and mixed martial arts in general.

RT: How did you come to work with M-1 Global?

Ian Freeman: I can’t really remember the deal I started with. But I got involved because they wanted the fighters to come over. I brought some fighters. My fighters did well. I kind of was semi-retired. I wasn’t retired completely. And one day they wanted a ring announcer. So I said, ‘I’ll do it!’ So I did the ring announcing. Then the commentator actually left to go to another organization. I stepped in to do the commentary, and I never looked back. I absolutely love it. You either have a knack for commentary or you haven’t. And you know, I think I’m a natural.

RT: How do you see the current state of MMA?

IF: It’s obviously progressing. It’s like football. It’s like looking back in the days of 1966 football with (FA Cup-winning Sunderland captain) Bobby Kerr. The sport is a lot faster. The movements a lot quicker. They curve the ball, and all that. You know, MMA’s been improved. Striking has become a better art in mixed martial arts. The ground and pound is a better art. The submissions are faster. Everything is just progressing. You put the champions of, let’s say 2000, and the champions of 2017, the guys from 2017 are more than likely going to win. Everything has evolved. The nutrition’s evolved. The fitness side of things has evolved. The strength and conditioning has evolved. You know, back then when I was doing it in 2000 – if you went for a 5-mile run, that was your conditioning. Now, there’s everything. There’s sleds, there’s prowlers, the hammer and the tire. There’s loads and loads of different things.

RT: What do you see as the main difference in UFC now and back in your day?

IF: The UFC is doing the best things they can do for the UFC. They are making it worldwide, they are making it public. Everybody is fighting in the UFC now. When I was in the UFC, you had to be a champion to get in there. If you were on a loss record, you couldn’t get in. You had to be a champion to get in. I had to beat some big skulls to get in the UFC. Now you’ve just got to watch your record and fight a few plums and you get in there. Because there are so many fights every month. Two a month. They need the fighters. But it has its pros and cons as well. You’ve got guys who don’t want to get a loss on their record, so they are more cautious about what they are doing and the fights can be a little bit boring. Anderson Silva for one – been knocked out, had his leg broke. The last fights I’ve seen him with lately – my God, I’d rather watch paint dry. The guy should retire. He’s no longer Anderson Silva. He’s a fighter in the UFC, but he’s not the same guy. He’s starting to slow down. He’s starting to look boring. Get him out, get a new breed in. That’s what I say. But you know there are some exciting fighters and some slow fighters. It’s like in every sport.

RT: Do you see anyone in M-1 who could compete in the UFC?

IF: I mean, Yandiev. What a finish. Nobody’s ever put Butenko out like that. In less than two minutes. I mean, wow! That’s his style. So his style is just to finish the fights quick. If he can’t finish the fight quick, then he may burn himself out. But we’re yet to find out. Because he’s such an awesome fighter. So maybe time will tell. But if this guy went into the UFC, nothing would change. He would still try to finish fights as quick as he can. He’s ready for the UFC, he’s better than the half of the plums that are in there. But the champions of UFC are real champions.

RT: Do people confuse you with Jeff Monson in Russia?

IF: Too many times. Too many times. I’m actually going to get a T-shirt made, in Russian, that says: ‘I am not Jeff Monson.’ It’s going to get to the point when I’m going to have a photograph of me and him together, and I’m gonna go – ‘The Machine, Jeff Monson’ (laughs).