One of the top prospects in Irish MMA right now Will Fleury spoke to us here at Pundit Arena and gave some insight into the harsh realities that come with trying to make a career out of martial arts.
Professional records in combat sports serve as a simple and effective way of charting one’s progress in their fighting career. You take someone who stands at 10-0, for example, and you can deduce that he/she has been plying their trade with some pretty consistent success for at least a few years. With a record of 24-17, on the other hand, it’s pretty safe to assume someone has fallen into something of a ‘journeyman’ role along their way.
Assumptions like these are made because a fighter’s record may as well be tattooed across their forehead. It’s the first thing you’re presented with and 95% of the time, it can give a decent indication of their level of pedigree.
A quick dive into Will Fleury’s history, however, will tell you that he resides comfortably within that remaining 5%.
At 4-0, you’d be forgiven for assuming a lack of professional experience but in the two-and-a-half years or so since he made his switch to the pro-ranks, he has been left at the altar on seven different occasions due to opponent pullouts.
Experience inside the cage is certainly paramount but in a recent interview he gave exclusively to us here at Pundit Arena MMA, Fleury explained exactly why his record doesn’t even come close to reflecting his time spent on the professional circuit.
“I’ve gone out into the world and proved that I’m legit as f**k. I can get this done. I am that guy. I’ve fought in Jordan and South Africa. I have that mindset and that mentality where I can just do this.
“I feel like I could easily be 10-0 or 12-0. You can let stuff like that disempower you in a way and there are days when I go out there and have a conversation with John [Kavanagh] and he’ll say, ‘look, you’re 3-0 or 4-0, the UFC aren’t really going to be looking at you.’
“You just think, if that f***ing asshole had’ve shown up three or four times in the last year or so.
“But at the same time, I’m still here. You adapt, you overcome. I’ll come out on top eventually.”
Every weekend in the Premier League, we see injuries that can sometimes be devastating for a single player’s aspirations – whatever they may be, but regardless of one man’s struggle, the team carries on. The fans turn up to their home-stadium and whether one player is injured or five, the show will go ahead.
When you get into mixed martial arts with the intention of making a living, dealing with the unexpected is very different. Sure, everyone has to deal with some late changes here and there, but for Fleury, it just seemed to be a running trend he could never quite shake over the course of his career to date.
“I don’t know if you saw what happened to my teammate Ben, he’s just had a guy pull out on him for Cage Legacy at the weekend. The guy just didn’t get on the flight, took an easier fight back in Portugal. It’s frustrating that there’s no punishment for that guy.
“Every time I’ve had a guy pull out on me, I’ve never been paid a penny. Athletic commissions need to sanction lads who haven’t turned up to fights. If you can prove an injury, fair enough and obviously if you get a call 3-4 weeks out you just get someone else.
“For Cage Legacy, it was Rolando Dominique and then they replaced him with Chris Meaney and then Chris Meaney pulled out the day of [the fight]. I was on weight the day of the fight. You’ve done the worst part of it, you’ve been dieting for weeks.”
His last outing – which took place in Jordan in the organisation Brave – was the first in Will’s pro-career that he was unable to record a finish in, but alas, even with that win, the truth of his situation does not seem to be lost on him. Fighting relative unknowns in the furthest reaches of the planet may earn you valuable experience and with it, another notch on your belt, but realistically, it won’t move you any closer to your ultimate goals.
“Ah look, you need to make a career out of it, that’s the thing. I fought this guy Tarek. You go out and you beat a guy like that and it doesn’t change your life. Whereas a UFC fight, or a fight in a bigger promotion, getting into the mainstream consciousness, that’s something you can build a career off of.
“Skillwise, I feel like I’m at the point where I could build a career out of martial arts, but you see guys who are 12-0. It’s a funny sport. You can be 12-0 and you could have fought nobody.
“I was frustrated directly after because I really did expect to finish him. I’d watched some of his fights before. I was just surprised at how durable he was. I think I could’ve been a bit more accurate. You have to give them the opportunity to be tough and I gave him the opportunity to be tough.
“But still, fair play to him. He stuck in there and dealt with me for 15 minutes and very few people have been able to do that.”
If the reports are to be believed, the UFC could well find themselves in Dublin, Ireland before May is out and while nothing has been confirmed yet, history will tell you that events in the Irish capital have a habit of turning into something very special.
The now-legendary UFC Dublin back in 2013 that featured a clean sweep for the Irish talent proved to be a major milestone for the sport’s growth in the country. With Conor McGregor’s headlining victory over Diego Brandao at the forefront, an entire generation of Irish up-and-comers witnessed the homegrown talent come out on top in each and every one of their tests. Even those who had no connections to the country claimed that it was among the most remarkable spectacles in the sport’s history, a testament to the intensity and the passion of the fans in the 3Arena that night.
The UFC usually make a few local signings to bolster the ranks of their regional cards but despite being amongst the most talented prospects in the country right now, Will seemed reluctant to say that he would be approached.
“No [I’ve heard] nothing really. But I feel like I’ve done enough to prove that I’m a pretty special fighter already. I think it’s pretty unquestionable that I’m the best middleweight in Ireland right now. If I get the right opportunities I believe I will be considered the best middleweight in Europe a year from now. I’m healthy and ready to go.
“I’m 28-years-old now and I feel like within the next two years I need those fights cause I want to get this ball rolling.
“I’ve heard Brave are coming to Dublin and I’m guaranteed a title-shot. Technically I’m contracted to them but if the UFC come looking I’ve been told it’s no problem, but it’s hard to say.
“I just had a conversation with John about this yesterday and he told me that the chances are very slim and that you’re better off following a different option. They’ve signed far, far less experienced and less legitimate guys.
“I’d love to fight a guy like Sam Alvey or someone like that. But you look at who they have signed when they’ve gone to other regional shows and these guys are dogshit. So I wouldn’t mind facing someone who is already an established brand.
“Just give me that opportunity and I’ll smash it.”
The consistent disappointment endured by Fleury would certainly have been enough to derail his drive to compete to some extent but in speaking to him, it became clear not only that his desire to fight hadn’t waned, but also that he had been forced to learn some valuable lessons about both the game and life itself.
“A legitimate platform is what I need, I’ve developed this skillset, I’ve developed this mentality. I can go out and showcase this to the world. I can be that product. I am that f***ing product.
“I feel like I’m a promoter’s dream.
“If I were to get disheartened, it would have happened by now. That road could be a lot longer than you think. People can’t ignore me forever cause I think there’s a great story behind this all. I think if that media train gets onto me it could be huge.
“I’m ready, I’ve got the skillset. I’m not somebody who is going to be daunted by all of this.”
He’s had more pro-pull outs than pro-fights at this stage but even now, with a record that doesn’t come close to doing his actual experience justice, the character he has built over the course of the last few years will no doubt serve him when his opportunity does eventually arrive.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena