At the last Matrix Fight Night edition, Indian MMA fighter Sanjeet Budhwar scored a decision win over Serbia’s Dorde Stojanovic. Immediately after his victory, he was called out by English fighter Richard Mearns on social media. The fans and fellow fighters also expressed their eagerness in seeing this fight next. The MMA India Show had the opportunity to chat with Richard Mearns to talk about his career in Martial Arts, his journey through South East Asia, and a potential fight against Sanjeet Budhwar at Matrix Fight Night.
Exclusive interview with Richard Mearns
1) Tell us about your journey in MMA? How did you get started?
“I started training in Martial Arts when I was 8 years old. I turned 30 the other week, so it’s been 22 years of training in Martial Arts. When I was a child I used to love Martial Arts movies, I used to love Jackie Chan. I just generally think, I always feel inspired by fighters and warriors. I think a lot of young people kind of learn ethics through film and television a little bit.”
“I was lucky I was looked towards the hero in the movie and I guess the hero in the movie usually kicks a**e. When I was young my brother wanted to start Taekwondo, we’re twins you see. So we started training in Taekwondo and I did that for 10 years. I trained with the National team, I did a trial for the Olympic team, at the Rio Olympics. So I went as far as I could in Taekwondo but to the end of it I knew the system was floored.”
“When I went to college, I had a friend in college whose uncle was a Muay Thai instructor. We used to have jokes all the time, ‘who kick whose a**e, blah blah blah. I used to see Muay Thai, he loved my Taekwondo. He invited me to his uncle’s class and I picked up the skills really quickly. So, within a year, I was competing and I would fight literally every 2 months in the ring. When I started training for Muay Thai, actually fighting in the ring, I fell in love slowly with combat sports.”
“I loved how it made me feel. I guess a little part of me liked being the center of attention when I was fighting. But most importantly, when I was fighting, I really felt like I was putting my best self forward. Everything that took me to step into the ring. I felt like that who I really was, I truly am. It’s literally ever since the first fight that changed my life. So, it’s interesting, I thought would keep doing kickboxing and Muay Thai, and at this point, I was a fan of MMA.”
“I used to watch BFC. I used to think it’s brutal and love the ground and pound, the follow-up strikes to make knockdown. I wasn’t 100% sure if it was for me, but I love Muay Thai. The interesting thing is that when me and my brother were training for about 3 years at our separate academies, I was just fighting for the love of my, like enjoyed doing it. But the kickboxing circuit is different from MMA circuit. I realized it wasn’t going anywhere, I was just fighting, I wasn’t getting any money and I wasn’t on any ranking either.”
“I just kept fighting and realized you know, after many tough fights, I thought around that I got my health at so much risk. I was not doing it for material game, I was doing it because I loved it. I had to have the conversation with myself as ‘where is this going?’ And I could see a better platform in Mixed Martial Arts. I could see there is more of a direct career path. So I started training with my brother, we’ve been doing MMA for 3 years now. My younger brother, the twin will be kicking my a**e in the gym but I learned very quickly.”
“So if you have a brother, you’re fighting at home from a young age, always wrestling, so I learnt the grappling very quickly, I was a natural. I felt gifted towards grappling art than I was in the striking arts. So, yeah, that’s the story of how I found myself in the world of fighting and it has taken me all the way to South Asia now.”
2) How did you set up your base here in South East Asia/India/Nepal?
“I met the owner AKA in Goa in Thailand back in 2015. I did three months training and that’s how we got first introduced. Then I see him opening up the academy, looking for a coach. So, I’d been coaching in the UK for a couple of years and I thought I wanted to take it. I really enjoyed coaching. I love coaching because I feel like I’m serviced to people. I think I’m doing the best I possibly be doing with my life.
“Fighting’s cool, fighting is exciting. But, if you don’t give back, you know what I mean. Coaching is all about giving back everything I’ve learned I can use to help other people. So, when I saw, it was actually lockdown back hime in the UK, I though to myself, I’ve nothing to lose. I enquired and sent across things they need to see who I am and I was in Goa, teaching. My start got pushed back a few times due to the Indian lockdown. There was cyclone, lots of things happening. I arrived in September.” Richard Mearns said.
4) Thoughts on Indian fighters? Quality of MMA in India and if Indian fighters can compete at world level?
“It’s not the same as in UK. In the UK there’s more people training, more saturated the sport is, the talent pool. So there’s a larger talent pool. You know, if I go to any city there’ll be numerous black belts, Jiu Jitsu and mostly challenging roles everywhere I’ll go. I travel in UK and you can see towards, London, Liverpool, the cities are more concentrated and that’s were the better training is. When you move towards the more sparsely populated areas, sometimes training is not as good. In UK it’s fiercely competitive and of course one of the leading promotions, UK brand that attracts the top talent.”
“It’s incredibly popular. When I first started it wasn’t what it’s today. I seemed to be seeing a similar thing happening in South Asia now. For example, when my coach was training he would go a couple of hours just to go find blue belt to train with. Now, we got multiple black belts in the gym. I guess the South Asian region is kind of where UK was maybe 20 years ago. In honesty, I believe that it started, you’re gonna see a explosion in the development of the sport. I’ve been watching the Indian fighters and the fights are really good. What comes first is the warrior spirit.
“Then it is the matter of coaching, getting the facilities. So there’s enough people that wants to be trained, there’s enough who are highly dedicated. My students relocated their lives just to pursue the sport and that’s some serious dedication to move away from your family. To take a leap of faith like that is what you need. You need committed people, good work ethic, the warrior spirit and. I think no matter what the potential of MMA is literally the same wherever you go. It’s in the human nature, all that boils down to facilities and the coaching. There’s less coaching available in India. I think a lot of people are traveling to Thailand, outsourcing coaching and come back to teach. There’s gonna be steady progress soon as you see more and more success as I know there are few coaches now.” Richard Mearns said.
5) A potential Fight against Sanjeet Budhwar at Matrix Fight Night 10?
“You know, the call out is based on respect on your opponents. For example if it wasn’t for our opponents, we wouldn’t train so hard. If it wasn’t for our opponents, I wouldn’t have to summon my best self to step into the cage, you know what I mean. Strong opponent forces me to be my strongest self. I was watching him and I was gonna fight on the first Goa Beach Fight card but it was two month I had to train the whole team for fight night. For me to fight on the same night as all my students will be irresponsible of me.
“So I had to put all my focus on my students. His name first appeared to me on Goa beach fight and that’s when I first recognized the man and he wanted to fight me. Back then was not a good time. I was getting adjusted to a new lifestyle, the foods which is big part in a life of a professional athlete. That’s when I first noticed him and he’s a very dangerous fighter because he’s very strong. He’s got lots of power in his hands. So I wanted a fight and this was a part of my move.”
“My last fight was on August 2020 in the middle of the lockdown in the UK and I haven’t been able to sort of getting a fight since. 2021, that fell through as I coped with COVID and the COVID era changed the sport as the fighter getting caught for the time because they are getting sick. My brother was contracted to cage wars. The pandemic changed the sport and my brother was trying the cagge wars. I think he deserves to be champion more than I did. My brother going to UK to become be world champion, so I decided to look elsewhere.”
“I found myself in Goa and I saw Sanjeet fight on the last card. I thought if people wanna see me fight, they need to see me fight someone that is good, needs to be credible, needs to be entertaining. I believe he’s ranked number 3 in South Asia, so that makes him in the Top 10, so I feel like that’s a strong fight. I think me and Sanjeet both are very strong athletes. I think the fight will be wild. That’s a fight to make. I really love what MFN are doing and I think they are doing for MMA in India. I want to help this sport grow in this region. That’s why I came to Goa. I came to help it grow. I would love to fight on MFN. I put the fight out there. There’s plenty of people want to see the fight.” Richard Mearns concluded.