In a small room in the bowels of the SSE Arena, Jack O’Toole was able to pry Michael Venom Page away from his partner and friends, and guide him towards a round table with a plate full of empty dishes and crisp packets.
Page was in Belfast to attend Bellator 173 and promote his upcoming fight with Derek Anderson at Bellator 179 in May, and he kindly agreed to do a sit down interview with me at a table I probably wouldn’t even sit my own mother down at, but nevertheless, while a table with half-eaten chips and coffee stains wasn’t the ideal set-up for an interview, it would have to do, as quiet private spaces proved to be at an absolute premium at Bellator’s first ever trip to the Northern Irish capital.
So there I sat, in the confines of an empty meal room with one of the world’s best mixed martial artists and a notebook.
About an hour before we sat down, Page had completed a mixed zone interview with a gaggle of reporters who had asked him a range of MMA questions including ‘how he feels about Paul Daley? Why he felt he didn’t get the Daley fight? How he feels about his upcoming fight with Derek Anderson? And how he thinks former UFC contender Rory MacDonald will fare in his Bellator debut with Daley?’
You never want to flog a dead horse, so I had no intention of pressing Page about his immediate future in MMA or his thoughts on particular fighters, as I was far more interested in talking to him about Foxes, and in particular, the football club who go by the same moniker, and their recent decision to sack their embattled manager Claudio Ranieri.
Page is a big football fan, and a proud Manchester United supporter at that, but like many of us, he sympathised with Ranieri who was dismissed by Leicester City less than one year after guiding the Foxes to their first ever Premier League title win.
Ranieri’s sacking epitomised the fickle nature of professional sport, and just how quickly its tide can turn, and the concept is not entirely unfamiliar to Page who understands that in the public eye you’re only as good as your last performance.
“People are easy to distract, they’re attention span is not that great, so there always going to go off the last thing you’ve done,” Page told Pundit Arena.
“With my performance last time, people seem to forget that I’m going to be the most disappointed out of everybody.
“But for me, how I see it is a lot of people have very bad performances, but they usually lose on that day. I had a bad performance and won. I kept my undefeated record, it adds value for me regardless, and I keep moving forward.”
Page moves forward to fight Anderson in May, but he looks back on his last fight with Fernando Gonzalez in November as a fight he’d like to get back. The Londoner managed to grind out a hard-fought split-decision win, but it was an anomaly in Page’s career, a fight that never really went according to plan.
You see the majority of Page’s fights usually read like an action movie script; as the characters involved, or his opponents in this case, don’t necessarily always have to matter, or how long they appear on screen for, as long as there’s plenty of action and explosions in his fights, everyone leaves happy, except for Page, who is admittedly his own harshest critic.
“I’ve always been like that, I’ve always been a harsh critic on myself.
“Even at training I’d make a wrong decision during a spar and I’d really get on myself. I’d be like ‘what am I doing?’
“Then I’d work on correcting it, I’d address it, I’d drill it, but obviously you only get that one chance in the cage.
“In training I can put myself in that bad spot again and do it over, but that’s training, it’s weird because the stuff that you see in training, if that was being aired out you’d be like ‘this guy’s insane’, but I’m able to do it because I can be a bit more free.
“If I make a mistake, I can stand back up, I can reset myself, but it’s a different world [in the cage] man.”
Most MMA fans already think Page is insane, and not in a ‘is this guy mentally sound?’ type of insane, but rather in a ‘oh-my-god-did-you-just-see-that-shit’ jaw to the floor type of insanity.
And that’s not exaggerating for the sake of flattery for a guy I’ve just interviewed, Page has one of the scariest knockout reels in all of MMA, with his flying knee against Evangelista Santos last year arguably the knockout of the year.
But for Page he doesn’t look for knockouts, as he insists that they usually come to him, and instead of chasing for the finish, he looks for consistency and self-improvement, two attributes that he feels can often be forgotten about when your sporting profile begins to soar.
“Since that knockout last year in London it blew up ridiculously,” Page says of his rising star.
“But that’s what it’s about nowadays, those small little clips that you can just throw up online and get everyone talking and take you up to another level, but it’s almost the same as how I started.
“My first fight I did this crazy kick in a ridiculous way to finish an MMA fight, and most people thought it was fixed, that it was fake, and it just threw me into the public eye straight away. From my first fight I’ve been under stress non-stop.
“I remember people talking about me fighting Anderson Silva after my first fight, and you don’t get that anywhere else, one fight in MMA and everyone was like ‘you should fight Anderson Silva, you should fight GSP, you should fight… all these big names’ and I was like ‘I just learned how to do an armbar.’
“My coach said to me after that fight that a lot of people think you’re at ‘this level’, and that you’ve got to work hard now to get to a level where everyone thinks you are, and that’s all I’ve been trying to do ever since.”
Page has been working with the team at London Shootfighters over the last five years to develop his skills as a mixed martial artist after a decorated career as a kickboxer prior to his transition to MMA in 2012.
Dissatisfied with the lack of exposure, as well as all the politics involved in competing among various kickboxing associations, Page turned to MMA to pursue a professional career in the sport, but also knew that he would need a lot of help when it came to the jiu-jitsu, grappling and wrestling elements of mixed martial arts.
While Page has always been a decorated striker, it took him a while to grasp the nuances of grappling and wrestling.
However, much like UFC superstar Conor McGregor, Page employs the use of visualisation to help him learn and succeed, whether that’s submitting his jiu-jitsu coach Luiz Tosta, or picturing the Cyborg knockout in front of thousands of people at the O2 Arena.
“I’ve got a lot to learn, I’m a student through and through,” adds Page.
“I remember in the first year I said to my jiu-jitsu coach I’m going to submit you one day and he started laughing.
“I made a bet with one of the guys saying ‘I guarantee you I’m going to submit him one day.’
“I said it was going to be soon, and one day I caught him in a toe-hold and he couldn’t believe it. It was a beautiful transition, I caught him in a toe-hold, and I could feel he didn’t want to tap.
“I got to that point where I knew something was going to snap here – and he couldn’t believe that I got it – but I’m that type of person. He still smashes me, don’t get me wrong, but I’m that kind of person where I need to push and go against whoever is going to make me better.
“They say with a lot of these successful people, and you hear it all the time at motivational talks, you have to visualise something first to be able to start working towards it.
“People say it to themselves, they write it on walls, there’s so many different methods you can use to pursue the same goal but for me I’m a very visual person.
“I literally saw the London knockout before it happened, that’s why I had everything prepared, we were talking about it so much I was like ‘yes, this is going to happen.’
“Coming close to the fight I’d be even zoning out of conversations just thinking about it.”
Thoughts quickly turned into a reality and that reality exploded all over the internet as videos of Page sliding a Poké Ball across the cage towards a downed Santos went viral.
The post-fight celebration of ‘catching a Cyborg’ was formed on the back of the Pokémon Go craze that had swept the world last year and turned Page into an internet sensation, however, just as his penchant for spectacular knockouts has followed him his entire career, so too has his desire to entertain.
Even in Page’s first fight against Ben Dishman at UCMMA 26, he’s always fulfilled the role of the entertainer. With Dishman reeling against the side of the cage following a ridiculous tornado kick from Page, the victorious MVP stood dead still and stared into the crowd before the referee had even called an end to the fight.
Six months later when he plastered Jefferson George to the canvas with a devastating two-punch combination, Page proceeded to slowly make his way towards the side of the cage before descending onto all fours before scowling at the cameras.
Some may perceive it as arrogance and disrespect, but to Page it’s just a desire to entertain, a trait that has followed him from dance room halls as a school kid all the way to the O2 as a professional fighter.
“I don’t like doing things the conventional way,” he adds.
“I’m a sportsman true and true. Ever since I was young I’ve always played football, or skiing, or I did breakdancing for a bit, I’d always do something to make me stand out.
“When I was in football I’d always try and pull someone one way, before going back the other way, and then twist them up again, I did that little bit more until someone would go ‘oh my god I can’t believe he did that today.’
“It was something that you’d always remember in a 90-minute game, you’re still going to remember one thing that I did, or one goal that I scored or something about the way that I scored it.
“I’ve always tried to be creatively different. I’m naturally a bit of a showman. I remember being at my first school disco and you know the way no one really wants to be on the dance floor?
“All the guys are chatting about all the girls on one side, and all the girls are chatting about all the guys on the other side, and no one wants to do anything in the middle, the whole time I was just there in the middle of the dance floor just dancing.
“Everyone was like ‘what is wrong with this guy?’ But it never bothered me. I don’t mind being on show. I’ve always been that sort of creative and I like that feeling, so I’m always trying to create that again.”
Page is still dancing in the middle of the room with guys and girls watching on from either side, except now he dances with opponents instead of himself.
The cage is now his dance floor, but like many of his classmates from when he was a kid, we’re all watching on puzzled by the perfectionist entertainer, perplexed by the man known as MVP.
Jack O’Toole, Pundit Arena