It’s easy to understand why The Fighter, a new MMA reality show in the same mould as the UFC’s famed The Ultimate Fighter(TUF) series and run by South African promotion EFC, might appeal to Tipperary middleweight prospect Will Fleury.
As Pundit Arena has documented previously, the SBG Ireland fighter’s professional progress has been seriously hampered by a scarcely fathomable run of bad luck. On multiple occasions since he decided to make the jump to the paid ranks in 2015 – following a 7-0 run as an amateur – Fleury has seen fights fall agonizingly apart at the last minute. A full-time mixed martial artist for over two years now, he has fought just twice – submitting Dublin veteran John Redmond back in April of 2016 and drilling Kyle McClurkin for a first round stoppage in February of this year.
Having endured such frustration, uncertainty, and through lengthy periods of inactivity, Fleury was excited by the prospect of competing in numerous fights over a short period, even if, like TUF bouts, they don’t count toward his official pro record. Thus, he chose to accept the offer of a place on The Fighter, the winner of which will be awarded a contract and an EFC middleweight title shot, instead of an offer to compete for the Bahrain-based Brave CF promotion.
“The one thing that really pushed me toward this is that nobody can pull out of it,” the oft-bitten Fleury told PA days before he flew to Johannesburg to film the show. “If they do, I just go to the next round. That’s huge. No matter what happens, I am going to get to fight. Something is going to happen in South Africa. Nobody can fuck me out of this. If I show up and make weight, everything happens.”
“It’s also an opportunity to go out and perform on their national broadcaster,” added the 28-year-old. “They have a good viewing audience on that and they have a good platform from that.
“If you go out and win this show and you win the belt, you have a big audience in South Africa and have some bit of power at least. There is nothing happening here at the moment. KSW are coming – they might offer you a fight, they might not. I had that Brave offer but that would be a fight now and then another in like 6 or 8 months. This is the potential for something with a little structure, something with a bigger audience behind it.
“I’m just glad I will finally get the opportunity, because even with Brave there would be uncertainty. What if that lad pulled out? I’d be back on the scrap heap again waiting for another six months and nobody gives a fuck in the meantime.”
The ten-strong cast of The Fighter has a real international flavour. Fleury will be joined by unbeaten competitors from England, Gambia, Australia, Germany, Brazil, Algeria, the U.S, and a pair of South Africans. Other than a few clips that he has seen on YouTube, however, Fleury knows little of the men that will surround him in Joburg or their styles and there will be scant time to study them or prepare specific game-plans due to the hectic nature of the competition.
But Will is undaunted by the situation.
While his current coach John Kavanagh is fond of the phrase, “Update the software without damaging the hardware”, and encourages his students to embrace that forward-thinking philosophy in the gym, Fleury is a well-travelled fighter who has encountered some very different training philosophies, more ruthless environments and scary situations elsewhere. This experience, he feels, will benefit him in a particularly cut-throat competition where the ability to quickly assess an unfamiliar opponent and make adaptions in the heat of battle will undoubtedly prove important.
“I’ve experienced it loads of times before,” said Fleury. “You show up at a gym and there is a sparring partner that you’ve never met before and all of a sudden this guy turns out to be legit and you’re in a full-on scrap with some guy whose style you’ve never seen before.
“I’ve gone into situations where there is no referee, where there is no nothing and it’s a lot more nerve-wracking than this. You know that they’re out to get you and it’s almost a little bit of a setup. You get brought in and they are trying their best to hammer the fuck out of you. Where as these guy’s [on the show] are in the exact same position as I am. I’m not going to be fighting some killer who has been waiting for a guy like me to show up for the last week and is going to be coming in fresh after I’ve already beaten the crap out of another guy.”
“This is nothing new. I’ve been in this situation but it’s just never been broadcast. Now I’m delighted to get the opportunity to get it out there and show what I can do in those situations. This is what I’ve been training for years to do. I’m just fucking pumped to go out there and get to show it.
“I like the fact that I don’t get to prepare and they don’t get to prepare for me. Just go in and smash.”
Fleury’s experience in impromptu gym wars isn’t the only major advantage he feels he possesses going into filming for The Fighter. A one-time sparring partner to unorthodox Bellator concussion-dispenser Michael ‘Venom’ Page, Fleury has developed an unusual striking style all of his own – one that he believes is unlike anything that his unsuspecting foes on the reality show will have dealt with before.
“Unpredictability is one of the best things you can have in your locker,” said Fleury. “If they know what you are going to do, it doesn’t matter how well you do it, they are going to be able to prevent it. It’s the punches you don’t see. It’s the punches that nobody expects. It doesn’t have to be the most powerful, it just has to be the right weight and catch something when it’s loose. If you catch a jaw when it’s loose, the guy is unconscious.”
“Unpredictability is huge and I do feel like I have a massive advantage in that way.”
Filming has already begun for The Fighter, which will run for ten weeks on South African television starting next month. The finalists will then meet on December 16th to determine the winner and the man who will get his name on the contract for a title fight.
At present, the EFC middleweight champion is once-beaten South African Dricus Du Plessis(11-1). In fact, the man known as ‘Stillknocks’ is a two-weight EFC champ, as he also holds the promotion’s welterweight strap. His most recent win came last month when he submitted then reigning BAMMA middleweight champion Yannick Bahati inside a round.
“Du Plessis is a big name over there hoping to get signed by the UFC. The guy can fight,” Fleury said of his potential future foe. “It would be a nice promotional platform to go and beat the shit out of a guy who is a hero down there,” he added in typically blunt Will ‘Fuckin’ Fleury fashion.
Asked if he feels that he matches up well with Du Plessis, Fleury noted, “There is weakness in every style.”
“Doesn’t matter what you do. That’s why it’s exciting. No matter what style you are playing, there is an antidote to what you’re doing. But no matter what style he’s playing you have the opportunity to fuck him up too.”
Before he can even think about how he might handle the dangerous Du Plessis, however, Fleury has to navigate his way through an uncharted reality TV jungle populated by a bunch of hungry middleweights, all of whom are as unfamiliar with defeat as he.
There are no apparent nerves on Fleury’s part though, just an obvious confidence that he is ideally suited for the task at hand.
“Just go in fight – I was born ready for that,” said Fleury. “It feels easy nearly. It feels like this is a weight off. I just feel like as long as we get down there and we get fighting, it can’t but go well for me. The effort has been put in – I am primed to smash. Let’s get it on.”