If there’s one art our shores are renowned for, it’s boxing. The English have always been known for premier boxing talent. Whether it be boxing itself or brawling, it’s something us Brits are synonymous with.
Having said that, a reoccurring theme for many folk is that their first fights tend to happen away from the ring and in the arena of public gatherings. For Chris Rice (19-8), the case is certainly that of the latter.
“I didn’t start doing martial arts until very late on,” Chris began. “It was around the time I started working the doors when I was twenty-two. I needed to be able to handle myself in that job. Most of my ‘training’ was done in pub brawls, so I looked to do a little bit of training for protection for the doors.
“I started doing Muay Thai alongside straight-up boxing, in which I had some unlicensed fights in both. These were my first tastes of competition in martial arts. As I’m quite impatient, it wasn’t far into training that these fights occurred as I wanted to scrap straight away.”
Whilst working on the doors and training in Muay Thai, Chris was training alongside fellow UK MMA veteran Ross Mason, learning the basic fundamentals of jiu jitsu. Not knowing much, Chris decided to throw himself further into it, beginning to look at the possibility of competing down the road. However, his idea came to fruition much earlier than you’d think.
“One day, Ross and I had a little roll,” Rice entailed. “Obviously, I had no idea what I was doing. He got me in a few armbars and chokes and I thought to myself, ‘I need to know this stuff.’
“I threw myself straight into MMA and within two months of training with Ross and going to jiu jitsu, I had my fight first against Dennis Kelly on Grapple & Strike 7 in which I won via TKO. I knocked him down and he didn’t get back up again.
“Going into it, I think it was the same as any other fight I’ve had. You question yourself whether or not you’ve got the skills to do it as well as wondering what the hell you’re doing this for. On the other hand, you get the excitement, the adrenaline. Sometimes you just can’t beat that feeling and when your hand is raised, you feel on top of the world. Winning spurs you on to go again.
“I had a lot of people in Redditch come to support me and I became addicted to that feeling. I enjoyed it much more when I had people behind me.”
Having taken part in numerous Thai boxing bouts, experience was on the side of Rice. With that experience came confidence and as Chris began to bring home the victories, his next match-up versus Ian Jones (8-11) on Cage Warriors 8 ‘Brutal Force’ would have a much different outcome, losing to Jones in 1:49 of the first round by way of rear-naked choke. For Chris, this was an eye opener.
“I was a bit disappointed in myself really,” Rice confessed. “I should’ve been more prepared for it. As a result I knuckled down more in terms of grappling to do my best to ensure it never happens again. I’d always been a striker. I’d always rely on that to do the job and as I’d won a couple of fights in a row leading into the loss, I felt pretty confident my hands were doing the job for me.
“Funnily enough, during the fight when Ian was trying to sink in the rear-naked choke, I actually tried to bite his arm with my gumshield in. He was trying to tell the referee I was biting with a piece of bloody rubber in my mouth, but he got the tap eventually. Ian and I always have a good joke about it every time we run into each other.”
At one point in the fight he threw a hook that caught me on the side of the nose and it actually snapped the bridge of my nose. My nose was underneath my eye on the other side of my face
Throughout each competitor’s career, out of all the bouts, there’s always that one fight that stands out from the rest. On the record of Rice, his comes in the form of Ireland’s Emmet McNally (6-3) on Anger Management 2 – a contest that can only be defined as an utter slugfest.
“I remember it vividly,” Chris beamed. “Even so, years later people have come up to me asking if that was me that fought Emmet because it was so memorable.
“We both knocked each other down and I remember feeling so tired that my brain was telling me to give up, but I dug really deep and told myself I need to put a bit more effort in to get this win. Literally, as I thought that, I threw a punch that knocked him out. It was like it happened by magic. I don’t even remember throwing it. I just remember seeing him on the floor, his leg twitching and him being out cold.
“At one point in the fight he threw a hook that caught me on the side of the nose and it actually snapped the bridge of my nose. My nose was underneath my eye on the other side of my face. On the other side of my face was a massive cut that would not stop bleeding.
“When we went back into the changing rooms, the doctor had to put it back into place which was a very memorable moment as he was chasing me around the changing room because I wouldn’t let him touch it.
“That’s the sort of thing that sticks in my mind: not to give up even when you think you’re finished. The minute I believed in myself again, he was out cold.”
As Chris reminisces on his memorable moments, his journey to Japan comes to mind before any other, despite the bittersweet outcome. Following his Cage Rage 26 victory over Edgeson Lua, Chris had won three fights on the bounce, leading to the opportunity to fight Sanae Kikuta on a Sengoku show in the infamous Saitama Super Arena.
However, the young man that Chris was happened to be quite the party lover as he quickly found himself out of shape. Even though he wasn’t in fight condition, a trip to Japan under these circumstances was one the Redditch middleweight could not let slip his grasp.
“Every fighter wants to say they’ve fought in Japan,” divulged Chris. “I’m so glad I took the opportunity, but at the time I was a bit of a party animal. After I’d won on Cage Rage 26, I partied all week and didn’t train as I wasn’t expecting any fight news so soon.
“Out of the blue, Charlie from Trojan rang me and asked me if I’d fight in Japan. I hadn’t trained, I’d been drinking heavily and also had a holiday booked at the time. However, the money was pretty good an after giving it some thought, I realised I should take this opportunity. I lost that fight, but looking back, the opportunity was amazing. If I’d have turned it down, who knows if it would’ve come up again.
“When I was called upon to fight, none of the runners spoke English. As they were walking me out, they took me under the stage and I was wondering where the hell they were taking me. I crouched down and saw a hole in the middle of the stage and thought it was weird.
“They hadn’t briefed me on any of this, so I had no idea what I was doing. They told me to stand on this platform and then I realised they were going to shoot me up onto the stage. They shot me up in front of thousands of people with fireworks and smoke everywhere.
“I also went against what my coaches had told me,” Rice revealed. “In Japan, they see things slightly different. For instance, when James Thompson was fighting over there, he was basically running at people and the Japanese love the warrior spirit. The people running the show told me to come out running at him, putting all my cards on the table.
“I was going to do it, but when the bell rang, for some reason I chose not to. I should’ve tried steaming into him, but he managed to take me down and eventually armbarred me. It was a great experience, but the timing was all wrong for me. Any other time, I’d have been on top of my game.”
The blood was just pissing out of my nose, going down the back of my throat and I just couldn’t stop it
December 16, 2011 was a fateful night for the former. Competing in UCC’s ‘X-Fighter’ tournament at the Manchester Velodrome, unbeknownst to everybody including himself, this would turn out to be Chris’ last night competing in MMA.
Heading into the tournament against some of Manchester’s up-and-coming MMA talent, Chris was already a seasoned veteran with over twenty fights to his name. The format of the tournament meant your opponent’s name would be revealed at the weigh-ins, giving Rice and other competition very little time to develop a plan of action.
In the first round of the tournament, the 185-pounder was drawn to fight then-Wolfslair’s Alex Minogue (8-6).
“I think Alex was the favourite over me at the time in a few people’s minds and, in all honesty, that was quite an easy fight. I kept moving backwards as I knew he wanted to try and take me down, but whenever he came in I just kept jabbing him in the face and it won me the fight.
“Every time he came in to get me I just circled outward. It was only two rounds with a third available had it been a draw, but towards the end of the fight he caught me on the side of my nose and I heard it click. The blood was just pissing out of my nose, going down the back of my throat and I just couldn’t stop it.”
After controlling Minogue for two rounds to earn a majority decision victory, Rice advanced to the semi-final where he met ‘The Lions’ Paw’ Andrew De-Vent (15-10) in a very crimson mass of a fight. Having both earned a round each, a third and final round was needed – a round in which De-Vent earned the nod of the judges. As aforementioned, this would be Chris’ last MMA bout.
“If you look at pictures from that night I’m just covered in blood,” Chris stated. “Andrew fought very well and I’m not taking anything away from him, but I just could not breathe. I was almost spewing up there was that much blood going own my throat. In fact I was actually sick after the fight.
“It was a very bloody fight, but not a lot happened. I took him down a couple of times and lay on him because I felt so fucked. I think he won the fight on his work rate alone. Even on his back he was so active. I’m glad to see Andy doing well for himself these days, though. He’s come a long, long way from our fight.
The UCC X-Fighter tournament wasn’t meant to be Rice’s last night active in MMA, but as is the case with many an athlete, life has its way of directing you down different roads. Life changed Chris’ circumstances and before he knew it, awhile had past since the last time he had competed. Time was limited and windows were closing, but Chris continued to roll with the punches.
“I wasn’t able to do it for a while and then realised I was coming to an age where I didn’t have much time left to compete at my best,” Rice entailed. “If I started now, I’d have aspirations to do certain things in the sport, but that wasn’t me at the time. I didn’t look at it as a career. I enjoyed fighting, training and competing.
“I got to the point where I’d fought quite a few good names and had nothing left to prove to myself. I knew I was either going to keep fighting people for the sake of it or try to push on to the next level, but when you lose the hunger for it you know it’s time to hang them up. I kept training here and there and had an unlicensed boxing match about a year later.
“Admittedly, it was a bit easier, but I had been doing some sparring with some promising amateurs and I think it gave me some inspiration to have a little scrap again.”
Today, Chris continues to live in Redditch, West Midlands where he fulfils one of his earliest passions in repairing and racing motorcycles for a living. As one door closes in the life of a fighter, another door opens with a unique opportunity for Chris – something he didn’t think would ever capture his interest as keenly as it has.
“Outside of motorcycles, I’ve started doing a bit of acting lately,” Rice revealed. “It’s something completely different for me and something I’ve only just started to take an interest in. Back in my school days I’d refuse to take part in drama classes because I was so shy.
“However a friend of mine who is a film maker persuaded me to give it a go and I just loved it from the start. I don’t know what I used to be so bothered about. It’s great fun being on set in a great atmosphere and doing all sorts of crazy stuff.
“One of his Sci-Fi films that I have a small part in will be coming out on Amazon and Netflix soon, which is pretty cool. I’m not the playing the stereotypical toughman that you see ex-fighters portray, but I do have a little bar fight scene in the film where I swing a punch and end up getting leathered. I think my friend’s career as an actor/director is about to take off, so I’d be more than happy to be part of future films. You never know where it might take you – I could be the next Jason Statham!”
Looking back on his time competing in combat sports, hindsight is golden. Despite that, the path Chris’ gritty road took is not one he’s looking to adjust. In a different time and a much rawer era, the Trojan representative’s accomplishments and adventures are difficult to rival.
“When I think about at this peculiar hobby of mine I have some great memories,” Chris reminisced. “I’m really glad I got involved. If I had my time again, I would take it seriously and take the necessary sacrifices to see how far I could go. The time has passed for that, though. I’m forty this year.
“On the flip side, you never rule it out. I would love to get in there and do it all again, but then it dawns on me what I’d need to do in order to hang with the talent who are at it today and I think ‘Oh, fuck that,’ but my time was fun.
“The training was hard and I do miss part of the graft of going over to Gracie Barra and learning loads. I definitely don’t miss feeling like I’ve been hit by a bloody train all the time. What I miss most, above all, is the fights themselves. It’s a ritual to train, not to go out, have the fight, get a good result under your belt and have some fun afterwards. I do miss the build up and the big high you get off it, but I’m mostly proud and glad that I was a part of the early days of UK MMA.”