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By: Dan Moore, MMATorch UK Contributor
If you're looking for a UK MMA team to join or follow, then look no further than the Trojan Free Fighters. I caught up with owner and MMA entrepreneur Dan Richards last week to discuss a variety of topics including Team Trojan fighter Che Mills and his current UFC run, which includes an upcoming co-main event fight at UFC 145 against Canadian Rory MacDonald:
Dan Moore: Hi Dan thanks for taking the time to speak to MMATorch.
Dan Richards: No problem, you're very welcome.
DM: After being part of the team set up since 2005. You took over full ownership of Trojan Free Fighters in August 2010. At that time the United Kingdom was in the middle of a major economic downturn. How much of a risk was it taking over the business then?
DR: I think taking over any business in this current climate is a difficult thing to do. But everyone says it's actually the best time to take on a business, and to then try to grow it. If you're able to succeed in times of difficulty, then we're very confident we'll be able to succeed when times get better. With the [London] Olympics coming up as well, there's going to be a lot more positivity around sport in general. We feel we're in the right place now to really do well moving forward.
DM: You've got your gyms in Cheltenham and Worcester, your evolving stable of Trojan Free Fighters, your own MMA clothing website, and you also coach MMA. All of this in addition to promoting your Ultimate Impact shows, which include Grappling, Kickboxing, and both professional and amateur MMA events. Did I miss anything off of that impressive list of accomplishments?
DR: (Laughs) Yes. I also have a full time job as well.
DM: Are you still a fitness trainer then?
DR: No not anymore. I'm the United Kingdom Sales Manager for a packaging company. I manage to fit in the other stuff around the job I have. It's a bit of a juggling act, but it's one of those things, where the harder you work, the luckier you get. I'm hoping that all of this hard work, will ultimately end up paying off.
DM: Definitely and that leads us on nicely to my next question. Trojan Free Fighters stand out Che [Mills] made his long overdue UFC debut at UFC 138 in Birmingham last November. Three years ago Che lost an Ultimate Fighter (UK vs. USA series) elimination bout to James Wilks. Was their ever a time, when the team felt that the opportunity for a UFC contract, might have passed Che by?
DR: No, well he hadn't actually joined Trojan Free Fighters when he went in for that Ultimate Fighter series.
DM: But he joined you shortly afterwards didn't he?
DR: Yeah he came to us after that. We certainly never gave up though. We felt that, as did Che, it was almost a blessing in disguise really. He was able to become more well rounded and more experienced. Going into the UFC now is a natural progression, rather than a shoot to stardom kind of thing. He certainly deserves this and has earned his chance to fight in the UFC. We can also see now, just how the UFC views him. It's almost like that's how it should have been.
DM: How did the opportunity for him to fight in the UFC last November come about?
DR: Obviously with the UFC coming to the UK, we simply just got a call, with the prospect of him fighting on that card. That came off the back of some impressive victories in BAMMA, and also his fight against Jake Hecht (Win at CWFC 38), so I think they had their eye on him anyway. This was just the perfect opportunity for him to take a fight with the UFC, with them coming over to the UK.
DM: In his that debut fight, he absolutely blitzed through Chris Cope (Dan agrees with a laugh) in just 40 seconds, whilst earning himself KOTN and $70,000 in the process. Living relatively close to Birmingham, Che was fighting in front of a partizan hometown crowd. Just how immense was that experience for both Che, and the Trojan Free Fighters team?
DR: It was huge. Definitely our proudest moment with the team. I mean it was immense and it doesn't get bigger than that. His debut, in your hometown, he also knocked the guy out, and he got the KOTN. It just couldn't have gone any better. I think for Che himself, the whole experience was one where, he just felt so relaxed. I think the whole thing just went absolutely perfectly. We could not have asked for anything more to be honest.
DM: If i remember rightly, it was two brutal knees that did the most damage with the last one completely exposing Cope's own inexperience. After taking one vicious knee, he had the opportunity to further protect himself by keeping three points of contact on the ground, yet he chose to stand up. Che took full advantage of it with that second vicious knee didn't he?
DR: I think by that point, his senses had completely eluded him. It went exactly as Paul Sutherland (Trojan Freefighers Head Coach) and Che had wanted it to, and it was exactly how it played out. Keep the range and strike from distance. Then close ranks quickly when the time came, and fortunately for us, that time came pretty early on.
DM: All with out breaking sweat too (laughs). Next up is Rory MacDonald at UFC 145. I don't recall a fighter before, who has faced two consecutive opponents, so far removed in terms of ability. Obviously Che impressed the UFC with his performance but it did it feel like Che was kind of being thrown into the lions den when first offered the MacDonald fight?
DR: I don't know. Look at it on paper, and you can certainly say yes, he is being thrown into the lions den a little bit. However the people who say that obviously under estimate Che's abilities, and we certainly don't because Che has tremendous ability. Certain people, especially some over in the US, just say he's got no absolutely no chance but that's just not the case. These opportunities come around and you have to take them, and on the 21st April that's what will happen. We're very very confident that Che is going to take this fight.
DM: Originally the card was set for MacDonalds adopted hometown in Montreal, Canada but now the fight is taking place in Atlanta, USA. Does that make a difference fighting in a neutral venue?
DR: None at all. I really don't think it matters where this fight takes place. Whether it's there in his hometown or over in Atlanta it really doesn't matter to us. It all comes down to the preparation before hand and then on the night itself. I personally don't think the location of this fight makes any difference at all.
DM: Have the team prepared any differently for this fight?
DR: No I don't think they have as we take every fight really seriously. In terms of the game plan and strategy then yes, there are things that we will specifically work on. It's the same surroundings though with the same guys. It's just the whole level of the gym has gone up. Not only because of Che, but also because of other guys in the camp who are really doing very well right now on both the domestic and European scene. It's a matter of, as the cliche goes, everybody's game is going up, and the training camps are getting harder and harder for everybody. But it's not just because Che is fighting in the UFC though.
DM: But Che has so much extra motivation now to prove these doubter wrong. Paticulary those who aren't quite so familiar with him?
DR: Yeah its huge and this is life changing stuff. You suddenly win against a guy like Rory MacDonald and you are instantly catapulted into the (welterweight) top 10 rankings. As I said before it really is a life changing situation that Che finds himself in here.
DM: Not only is he fighting MacDonald. He's also the co-main event that proceeds the highly anticipated Jon Jones vs. Rashard Evans title fight. How has the increased media spotlight affected the camp thus far?
DR: That's something we are all getting used to in all honesty. The camp itself and also for me, who deals with the sponsorship aspect, plus the media and all that kind of stuff. It's been a learning experience for everybody. I've tried to not let it affect what he's been doing. We try to filter a lot of it out, to make sure that he's not being constantly disturbed. We try to fit it all in around his training. Before training, just after training. So he's not having to try to satisfy the media all of the time. But it's also an opportunity you want to take, and make the most of though. We're doing as much as we can, and trying to please everybody, but yeah there is a lot of attention, but that's great.
DM: I remember the (UFC 138) post fight interview Che did in Octagon with Joe Rogan. He came across as very humble and quite shy individual?
DR: Yeah he is quite quiet and with a lot of media, it can become a little bit daunting. Sometimes we never know what to say at these things. However it's a learning experience, and it's a part of the game. Any professional athlete has to understand that this is part of the game now. It's simply all about being professional, and just getting on with the job.
DM: He's not going to go all Nick Diaz on us is he?
DR: (Laughs) No, no, no definitely not.
DM: Are you planning on being in Atlanta yourself?
DR: I won't be going over, no. It will just be his coaches that are going out there with him, and I'll be at home watching it on my TV like everyone else.
In part two of the interview (out later this week) I asked Dan about other members of Trojan Free Fighters. I also got his thoughts on what UK channel should get the next UFC TV contract this August. In addition to all of this I also got the opportunity to speak to Che Mills on his upcoming fight at UFC 145.
For more information on Dan, Che and Team Trojan go to www.trojanfreefighters.com or follow them on Twitter @danrichmma @CheMillsMMA and @teamtrojan
Please feel free to follow me on Twitter and share your opinions - @dannymoore5515
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