The Machine’s Fired Up for Cage Rage 17
Ian "The Machine" Freeman
© Marc Wickert
Photos copyright Cage Rage
Born in Sunderland, England, October 11, 1966, Ian now resides in Stanley, County Durham. His background in the fighting arts came via the hard road: "I was a doorman. And working as a doorman, all I knew was how to throw left and right hands. I never knew any martial arts whatsoever.
"Then a guy came up to the pub; he was high on drugs, and obviously I wouldn’t let him into the bar. Consequently, he made a challenge for me. So we had a street fight outside – a one-to-one fight. And every time I’d hit him, he’d go down to the ground and get back up. I’d hit him again and he’d go back up as if I hadn’t even been hitting him. I thought ‘Jesus’ - he was so high on drugs.
"Anyway, the fight went for about 20 minutes or so, and I hit him that many times in the head, I honestly thought I was going to kill him. That’s how bad it was, but luckily for me, the last time I hit him he gave up. Don’t get me wrong: He was hitting me as well, because I was getting tired.
"I went back to the bar to clean myself up, and I said to one of my friends, ‘God, I thought I was going to have to kill the guy there. I was getting a bit frightened.’ And he said, ‘Oh, you should have broken his arm or choked him unconscious.’ And I said, ‘How do you break his arm or choke him unconscious?’ He said, ‘Oh, there’s a martial art called jiu jitsu. It shows you how to do arm locks, chokes, and stuff like that.’ The following week I went to this class in Sunderland to do jiu jitsu and ground work."
Ian was a quick learner, with techniques coming easily to him. He was soon testing himself against other clubs and entering competitions. "I didn’t like it at first, because when somebody was on top of me while I was lying on my back, it was all alien and I just wanted to get back on my feet. I felt claustrophobic. But then I got the hang of it and I was beating everyone in the class."
Ian then approached his sensei and asked if he could go to other clubs. His sensei knew of another club, and before long, Freeman was tapping out their blackbelts with arm bars and chokes. " I thought, ‘Wow, this is great. I want to compete. I want to compete. I want to see how far I can go.’ I had three ultimate fights on the one night and won all three, and won the British Amateur Championship. But because it was amateur, there were no head shots."
"You know what? I couldn’t believe how easy it was to win. Afterwards, people were going, ‘You did great. You did great.’ It was nothing spectacular. I felt comfortable doing it, and it came naturally. Then I thought - obviously this was without headshots, now, because I’m used to hitting people in the head with my doorman background - I may as well go professional. So my next fight was as a professional."
Ian, at UFC 38 you stopped Frank Mir’s unblemished record after going in as the underdog. You must have been happy with that.
"Oh, unbelievably so. I could honestly say, that night there would have been no man alive beat me. It’s a bit of a sad story: My father was in hospital dying of cancer. Running up to the weeks before, I wasn’t even going to fight, but my mother said, ‘Your dad would love you to win the fight – go on and do it. Come back and tell him you’ve won, you’ve beaten the golden boy.’
"So I went to London the week before, telling everybody they’re not to ring me no matter what the news is. I’ve just got to concentrate on the fight, beat him, and go and tell my dad. So I was just so psychologically switched on, no matter who you put against me in the cage that night, nobody would have beaten me. My sole goal was just to win and win quick. The result was I beat Frank Mir, dedicated the fight to my father, went backstage and rang my mother, and my mother told me my father died the day before. My mother said he would have had the best seat in the house. ‘You’ve done him proud.’
"Obviously, being a doorman, I know all the big, tough guys…’cause I was a bit of a celebrity in Sunderland, doing what I do…And the Sunderland radio station put a call out, saying, ‘Best wishes to Ian Freeman for his fight tomorrow. His father unfortunately died today, blah, blah, blah…’ All my family and friends knew about it, because it was Live on pay-per-view in England, Canada, Japan, America – all over the world.
"A friend of mine, he’s built like a brick shithouse, he said, ‘I knew about your father dying and you didn’t. And when you dedicated the fight to him, the tears just ran out of my face. Oh, my God.’ Naturally, that is a fight I’ll never forget."
You’ve played a huge part in helping to promote MMA in the UK. How is the sport growing there?
"It’s getting big. It’s not as big as I’d like it to be, but it’s getting there. I mean, with the help of Cage Rage, their promotions and their own Sky Sports; and Cage Warriors, their promotions on a wrestling channel called TWC on cable over here… Bravo are showing the UFC fights; so it is definitely getting bigger.
"I think ultimate fighting, or mixed martial arts as you call it, will be bigger than boxing will ever be. I mean, a lot of my friends are switching from boxing to MMA because they’re getting bored with two people coming out from ringside, throwing lefts and rights, and as soon as they get in a clinch, the referee comes and breaks it up. And then they start throwing punches again.
"Whereas in ultimate fighting it’s getting so exciting. There are punches, kicks, elbows, knees…As soon as they clinch they start to do throws and work up against the cage, then takedowns and grappling, elbows, knees, submissions. It’s non-stop for five-minute rounds. Ask my friends: They’re getting bored with the boxing – people leaning on each other’s shoulders to get a rest. It’s not as exciting as it used to be.
"But you’ve got centuries of boxing and fifteen years of ultimate fighting. I think as long as the big wigs in boxing are making their millions still, they will try to put a spanner in the works for ultimate fighting. And the likes of some promoters - they’re not promoting the sport. And any time it’s mentioned, they’re calling it barbaric."
Are you excited about fighting at Cage Rage 17, in the new Wembley Arena?
"I am, yes. I think it’s fantastic. I believe it’s a seven-thousand-seater."
Why are you coming out of retirement?
"I had a year off. Just before I retired, I was getting very tired, and I was training too hard. I went to see the doctors and the diagnosis was chronic fatigue. I was overdoing it – training too hard. In a short space of time, I had too many fights at world-class level, and I burnt my body out. Basically, I wasn’t giving myself enough time to repair and recover. I’d have a fight, take a week off, and then go back to the gym to get ready for another fight.
"Even if I didn’t have a fight in focus, I’d be training as if I did have a fight because you never know when you’re going to get a phone call. I mean, I’ve had a call from UFC saying would I fight in two weeks, so I’ve always kept myself in good shape. But unfortunately that worked out bad for me because I ended up with chronic fatigue syndrome.
"After that, I had a little rest, picked myself up a little bit, and then I decided to start fighting again. But every time I got ready for a fight, I got injured. My body still hadn’t recovered fully. So that was it; I retired unconditionally – no more. I didn’t go in a gym for about 11 months: didn’t do any grappling or anything. I just concentrated on riding my horses.
"Anyway, I started to feel a little bit better. I was all recovered and fine, and a couple of my friends wanted me to go back to the gym and train them for their fights. When I started training with them, the buzz started coming back again. I felt really excited, so I contacted Cage Rage and said, ‘Look, if you have any good, top guys…Actually, it was Fedor Emelianenko from PRIDE. He came over to Cage Rage as a guest, and I work for Cage Rage as a presenter for TV.
"So I contacted Cage Rage and I said, ‘Look, if by any chance Fedor decides to fight on Cage Rage, will you give me first chance to fight? David O’Donnell rang me up and he said, ‘Ian, Fedor is not going to fight in Cage Rage because he’s contracted to PRIDE, but are you serious?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m really serious. I feel as though I’ve got another fight left in me.’ Then he rang me up a week later and said, ‘How would you like to fight Melvin Manhoef?’ So I agreed."
Last time you came back, you collected the Cage Rage heavyweight belt from Ryan Robinson. Why are you fighting in the light heavyweight division this time?
"I’ve wanted to be light heavyweight since halfway through my career, but because I’ve done so well in the heavyweight I thought, why cut weight? I never cut weight before. I could go to McDonald’s the day before the fight and it doesn’t matter, because I’ve always been heavyweight. But I’ve always been one of the lightest heavyweights in the world. I’ve only fought at 220 lbs. I fought Frank Mir at 219 pounds, and the rest of them are like 250 plus, so I’ve always been the lightest.
"But for this fight (Cage Rage 17), because I had a year off, they offered me the fight at 96 kilos, which is like an in-between weight – there’s no such weight division. It was only going to be a superbout. I said that that was good because I’m normally around 100 kilos, and 96 is in between that and 93 kilos, which is the official weight of the light heavyweight.
"So Melvin and I signed a contract together at 96, and about a week later I got a phone call saying Melvin doesn’t want to fight at 96 now: It’s got to be at 93. So I said, ‘If it’s at 93, it’s no longer a superbout – it’s for his world title.’ They phoned me back and said, ‘Yes, you’ve got it.’ So fingers crossed, I’ll be bringing the belt home."
What will Melvin’s strengths be?
"Definitely his stand-up striking. His striking is unbelievable. His record, I think, is twelve wins and only two losses. And out of those twelve wins, I think he’s got seven knockouts. He’s fast and powerful."
Do you expect to retain a lot of your heavyweight power?
"That’s a hard question, because I’ve never been down to 205lbs before. I don’t think I’ll lose a great deal of power, because I’m only losing 15lbs in weight, and I wasn’t the slimmest of guys. I think I can lose a bit of fat around my stomach and my big, fat arse. So I don’t think that’s going to create too much power loss."
What weight would you be now?
"Now, I’m down to 96 already. I’ve only got three more kilos to lose. I think I can cut that weight before the fight and put a little bit back on."
And you still feel powerful?
"You wanna know the truth? I feel like a million dollars. This is the best I’ve felt – the best I’ve felt in a long time."
What would you see as being your strengths against Melvin?
"Well, I think he’ll expect me to take him to the ground, because as you know, fighting the likes of Frank Mir, Carlos Barreto - the world-champion ground-fighters, I’ve beaten them all on the ground, so my ground game is quite good. If I were to go for a submission against a submission guy, I’d get submitted. But what I love about submission guys is they’re not prepared to take my big shots on the ground. You know, people have been hit on the floor, but they’ve never been hit on the floor until I hit them. I’ve been known to have heavy hands, and that’s one strength that he’s not going to be able to handle.
"And to be honest, his stand-up game is really good, but guys who have beaten him, I’ve actually beaten them standing up. When I fought Bob Shriver, I was beating him standing up until I got a cut and the fight got stopped. I checked out Melvin’s record and he got beaten by Bob Schrijber, standing up. His style might work well against my style. I think if you try to box him instead of brawl him, you’re going to get beaten because he’s got big swinging punches. But I’ve never been a boxer, I’ve always been a brawler, so he might be getting a surprise on his feet as well."
Ian, is there anything you’d like to add to this article?
"Well I’ve just got a little thank you: I’m training with the guys at Rough House Gym in Nottingham. I’ve never trained with them before, and they’ve definitely put their hearts on their sleeves, preparing me for this fight. So a little ‘thank you’ to them. I’ve got another four weeks with them, and I think they deserve the recognition for bringing an old UFC fighter back into the top league again.
"I’ve been training five weeks for this fight, and I’ve got another four weeks out. The first two weeks were hell – getting back into it after a year. I was doing three-minute rounds and catching my breath. Now I’m doing thirty, thirty-five minutes and feeling great."
For more on Cage Rage 17: www.cagerage.tv.