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By: Dan Moore, MMATorch Columnist
I'm from Plymouth, Devon, a relatively isolated city in the South-West of England, two-hundred plus miles from London. Readers in the United States will think nothing of two-hundred miles, but it's all relative to the size of our respective countries. With it being so isolated, historically, it hasn't been a proven breeding ground for nationally or internationally recognised sporting superstars.
Sharron Davies (Swimming), Trevor Francis (Football), and most recently Tom Daley (Diving) have all had great success at home and abroad. In a few years time, Plymouth native Harry McLeman might very well be another name added to that illustrious list. The highly touted middleweight prospect fights for the British Lonsdale Middleweight Championship this weekend on an excellent looking BAMMA 15 card taking place in London, England.
I caught up with Harry last week and this is what he had to say:
Dan Moore: Taking things back to the start, you used to be in the Armed Forces (RAF Regiment), how long did you serve for?
Harry McLeman: I did about four and a half years from 2004 until 2008. I was based at RAF Honington in Suffolk. I made some good friends and had some good experiences but I'm glad I'm away from it now if I'm honest. I'm quite happy with how my life is at the moment.
Like many others is that how you got into MMA?
No, I did a little bit of Boxing when I was in the Military but to be honest when I left in 2008, heading into 2009 I wasn't doing an awful lot. Obviously I was working but I needed something else. I slipped off the rails a little bit because when I left it was exactly when the recession kicked in and it was a rough time. Then I found MMA and it sort of worked itself out after that and it has been good for me.
You only made your professional debut in October 2011. Did you think it would take longer to get to where you are now?
Yeah I'm surprised at just how quickly I've progressed, but, I train hard and I work hard, so if you take care of yourself the more you put in, the more you get out.
Going into your BAMMA debut against Scott Askham (as a replacement), you only had three professional fights (all first round submission wins) under you belt. In hindsight was that fight too much, too soon?
Yeah I suppose so. Look, Scott is a fantastic fighter, but going in I had nothing to lose by fighting him. The way I saw it, it was a way of getting my foot through the door because it's not easy to get on a show like BAMMA. I originally wasn't supposed to be fighting Scott because he was fighting some other guy whose name I forget. I was supposed to fight Bola Omoyele (he of TUF Smashes fame) but he got injured so they asked me if I would fight Scott. I just wanted the opportunity to fight on BAMMA, and, if I had to choose again I would [do the same]. The way I see it, it has got me to where I am now. It's been a pretty good move for me. I learned a lot fighting a World Champion and I went the best part of three-rounds with him.
You're 6-2 and on a two-fight win streak, so whatever you're doing in training is paying dividends, but do you think you'll have to leave Plymouth in order to progress your career?
Danny Mcmillan is a really really great coach who's much underrated. He's a [Jiu Jitsu] black belt under Royce Gracie and for me he just doesn't get the recognition he deserves. Royce comes over [to help out] and it's great. I will look at traveling and spending time at other gyms, but I don't feel the need to move; not right now. There's just no point in going all the way to [somewhere like] London. If I was going to move I would just go to the States.
Is moving to the States something you've seriously considered?
Yeah I've thought about it, but it's got to be for all the right reasons, not just for the sake of going out there. It's a massive decision and it's got to be right for me.
I was in Birmingham for BAMMA 14 and you were very good against Matt Howard, earning a decision win. Matt's a striker and you had a clear game plan to neutralise his stand-up. When you watched the fight back, how did you assess your performance?
Yes but I was a little bit disappointed that I didn't get the finish. Fair play to Matt, his ground game was a lot better than I expected. I didn't necessarily go into the fight with a game plan, but straight away I realised he hit hard. Like I said, I don't go into a fight with a game plan, but, I knew early I could win the fight using my grappling skills. In hindsight I should've caught him in the first-round, but he was a really tough opponent and he fought really well. I'm glad it was a tough fight because I learned an awful lot and I feel like I've improved an awful lot because of it.
Do you ever study opponents or just concentrate on yourself?
I've hardly watched my last two opponents. Before I fought Matt I probably watched about a minute [of him fighting]. At this level people change so fast and I also feel I've changed a lot since my last fight. People who watched my fight(s) against Scott [Askham], or Matt [Howard] will see I'm a completely different fighter. That's MMA as a whole, and even the top level guys are constantly changing things, learning new techniques. That's the beauty of it so I just concentrate on myself.
Andy De-Vent (BAMMA 15 opponent) isn't too dissimilar to Matt Howard in the fact he's a known striker. However, he's also got more of a recognized ground game and is very experienced. Do you see this fight playing out the same way as your last?
I expect to win the fight. I know he's pretty good in most areas but I know I'm that bit better. He's been around a while and is very experienced which goes a long way. I expect a tough fight but I fully expect to come out on top. I won't be making the same mistakes I did in the last fight. If I mount him, I won't give up mount so easily and I intend to finish the fight from there.
Being patient and establishing position rather than go straight for the finish?
Yeah exactly, it was only my third fight on BAMMA and it's such a big occasion that the nerves kick in and you do get over excited. Even though he's got the [fight] experience, I've fought for BAMMA three times and I know what it's like in that sort of environment. It's a big change and completely different to fighting on a local show.
With a win in this fight and the British title in the bank, I think it would set you up nicely for a rematch with Scott Askham for the BAMMA World Championship. Does that appeal to you?
It does, and Scott is a really great fighter. To be honest though, I think he's probably one fight away from the UFC. I would like a rematch with him which obviously would be a really tough fight. If I win the belt I'd like to defend it too. Jack Marshman defended it and I'd like to defend it three or four times and leave my legacy on the belt.
On Saturday you're going to be fighting at a London 2012 Olympic venue (Copper Box Arena). You must be really looking forward to that?
I honestly can't wait. If you'd have said to me before I took the fight with Scott [Askham] that this time next year, you'll be fighting in an Olympic venue and for the British title, I'd have laughed in your face. I wouldn't have believed you and it just goes to show how great BAMMA are. For me they are the best show (promoters) in the country.
Where do you see yourself three-years from now?
It's got to be the UFC. No one gets involved in Mixed Martial Arts and solely wants to fight on any other show except the UFC. If I keep on winning, keep training hard and keep improving, that's a realistic goal for me because the UFC are really targeting Europe. As long as I get to showcase my skills on a show like BAMMA, with all the exposure I get, it's really great.
Good luck with everything and thanks for speaking to MMATorch. Is there anyone you'd like to thank?
Firstly I'd like to thank BAMMA for giving me this opportunity. I want to thank Danny Mcmillian, Royce Gracie and everyone else at the academy. My sponsors have been absolutely fantastic like Discount MMA, British Fighter and Jeff from JY Nutrition. I'd also like to thank my girlfriend Nese who has really been there for me; she's the backbone of the operation. Finally to Adam Domyslawski who's my conditioning coach and one of the very best in the business, because what he's done for me, has been nothing short of tremendous.
Follow Harry on Twitter @harrymadmac, and follow me @MMATorchDan
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