With wrestling champion and MMA fighter, Ali Arish, due to face Chris ‘Thommo’ Thompson at the first ever Tanko Submission Championships on Sunday, May 14th at the Victoria Warehouse in Manchester, MMA Uncaged thought this would be a good time to speak to Arish about his career as a fighter. Fellow Mancunian, Fiaz Rafiq, met up with him recently for the following interview…
I first met Ali Arish many years ago when he was wrestling at the Y Club in Manchester. He was a phenomenal wrestler – tough, hard as a brick and a beast in training. At the time he hadn’t made a transition into MMA, a sport which would eventually be embraced by a mainstream audience and media.
After much encouragement from others, he moved into MMA and prevailed. He has fought more than 25 times and clinched the Cage Contender title along the way. I recently caught up with Ali to talk about his career in an exclusive interview for MMA Uncaged.
Fiaz Rafiq: Ali, can you tell me how you made a transition into MMA? You were primarily a wrestler…
Ali Arish: To be honest with you, when I was doing wrestling, everybody encouraged me to get into MMA, but I said ‘no’. I was so scared of getting punched in the face, I wouldn’t like that. Later, I started training once a week with Danny Ramp in MMA, but I focused only on grappling. And after only two months of training, I said to them get me a fight. I fought and did very well. I think my first opponent was Neil Huntley. He had 9 wins and 7 losses I think. I wasn’t a good striker when I started. I won the fight via a decision. It was a good fight. He had a good background and was a good striker. I took him down and ground and pound .
Q: After that initial experience, how did your training progress in MMA?
Ali Arish: When I started with Danny Ramp training once a week, I thought I need to put more pressure on myself and work on my boxing and my kicking in addition to my wrestling for MMA because wrestling for pure wrestling is different. When I was wrestling I was a good wrestler, but when I started wrestling for MMA I forgot my pure wrestling. I used to go down low level and every time my partner choked me. I thought, “Oh, my God, this is different, wrestling takedowns for MMA.” I started working with Danny twice a week including BJJ training. I would do a takedown and ground and pound. One thing that I did wrong was I started competing in MMA too early. I had only trained for two months and got my first fight. Then three months later I had my second fight and four months after my third fight. I couldn’t really punch or kick and, in my head, I used wrestling really. I had a plastering business, so I gave that up because of MMA. I thought I need to train every day now if I’m going to fight in MMA. I got to a stage when I had 17 wins and 2 loses, but my 19th fight nobody gave me fights, which slowed me down. When you’re competing you can’t compete once a year, you need fight to every three or four months.
Q: How did you get involved with Gavin Boardman and his gym Predators MMA?
Ali Arish: I didn’t know Gavin before but later knew that Karl Tanswell and loads of good fighters trained with him including Gavin. Then Rob Sinclair, Gavin, Karl, they all had their own gyms. He (Gavin) was a very good fighter who had trained with Karl. About 8 months ago I moved from the Y Club to train with Gavin. I’d like to thank the Y Club for helping me all that time. Since I left there and joined Gavin, my BJJ has gone from zero to 50 percent. It was a good move to change to Gavin and I appreciate and all guys who train at Predators. Tony, Gary, Sam, everybody, they have helped me a lot. And also Omar, my sponsor. I recommend Gavin’s gym for anybody who wants to improve his BJJ, even stand up. And it’s not just holding and punching pads, it is technique. Gavin is a guy you can learn from. He’s got so much passion, in my time with him I have honestly learned a lot. I’m so glad I train with this guy. And my BJJ has come from him. I’m not saying I’m perfect, but I learned a lot. Maybe if I had trained with him in the beginning it would have been nice.
Q: A bit like Khabib in the UFC…they’ve not been giving him that title shot.
Ali Arish: Yes, Khabib.
Q: You competed in BAMMA, a big British MMA organisation. Now you had thousands of people watching whereas, in wrestling, it was a different environment in terms of the audience numbers?
Ali Arish: To be honest with you, even when I’m fighting in big shows I don’t let stress get to me. Even in front of the big crowd. One thing I would like to say is I had a couple of losses, but I lost to the judges, I didn’t lose to the fighter. The fighter never really beat me… One of my opponents, I won all the rounds, I believe, except the last round. I was ill… I’m not disrespecting the fighter, but the judges’ decisions weren’t really right. I was ready for a rematch with the fighter, but he didn’t want a rematch with me. He was a good fighter. When I spoke to Cage Warriors’ to Ian Dean and others, all said was I really won that fight, but my opponent was a favourite at BAMMA. But that’s all done with now. Couple of my fights were like that… I lost to two or three people. I’m not saying I’m the best in the world. I like fighting with good fighters, and for fair money, not shit money. You want to fight for x amount of money, and the deal offered is shit when I’ve had 25 fights. I never complain about my opponent, but give me good money!
Q: You won the Cage Warriors belt?
Ali Arish: I won the Cage Warriors belt.
Q: UFC. Would you have liked to have made that transition?
Alish Arish: Everybody who fights in MMA say to me that they’d love to fight in the UFC.
Q: It’s a similar scenario like in the movie industry, Hollywood…
Ali Arish: Same as movies, yes. Ultimately, actors like to go to Hollywood and become better actors. The UFC is the same. You have world champion wrestling, Olympic champions, UFC is the best promotion in the world everybody wants to get into. I’d love to have fought in the UFC. The problem is I started fighting in MMA too late. If I was 21, 22, even 30, then one of my wish would be to go into UFC. Win or lose, tomorrow if anyone asks, “Have you fought in the UFC?” I can say, “Yes.”
Q: You made a transition into MMA with a core wrestling background, do you feel wrestlers can now make money and carve out a lucrative career in the new sport of MMA. Wrestlers and Judo fighters win Gold medals in Olympics, but are not catapulted to fame and fortune like the Boxers. But now there is an avenue they can pursue in the form of MMA?
Ali Arish: People love to watch blood. If the federations of Wrestling and Judo put more money into it, prize money, the fighters would try to fight for that money everyone and everyone would like to watch. Good money is not 5 or £6000, but £50,000, £70,000 and £100, 000. Then the fighters can aim for that. Look at the people coming into MMA, they’re not just from wrestling, but other arts. They’re not necessarily world champions. I was never. I was a good wrestler. Anybody who is a normal guy can make it, too. Nobody likes to get punched in the face and it’s a hard sport. Before, a Thai boxer was a Thai boxer, a Boxer was a Boxer, a Wrestler was a Wrestler. But now, all young kids are coming into the sport and they’re mixing these together from the start. And I promise you that in the next ten years or so MMA will be even bigger…
Tanko Submission Championships (TSC)
The submission only format will encompass the increasingly popular Eddie Bravo Invitational (EBI) rules, with the overtime ‘shootout’ to pick a winner should the 10 minute round pass without a submission.
The focus is on bringing in high-level competitors in stylistically exciting matchups. Combined with a ruleset aimed at encouraging athletes to hunt for the finish, the event promises to please both the uninitiated and experts of the sport.
“Participation is at an all-time high, and the committed, skillful grapplers deserve their chance to compete on a stage that befits their dedication, and fans should get value for money and excitement when they tune in,
“Tanko hope to aid in this growing scene, bringing the professionalism and flair to proceedings they are now known for.” Comments Carl Prince, Matchmaker for Tanko
On top of this, a LIVE TV deal with Fight Life TV – available to millions of homes via Sky 468, Freeview 91 and Free Sat 250 will propel the names of the athletes to the world.