We asked Mr Harry Williams to share with us three ‘Where Are They Now?’ articles that stood out to him. Here’s his final selection. The first of the new series launches tomorrow…
It seems such a long time ago since martial arts practitioners like Jean Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal stood tall, albeit even if it was only in the movies. In those days, as hitting as it is, there was no such thing as MMA. With certain loosely termed ‘arts,’ people were being suckered in by ineffective styles. Names of styles created and some names edited to draw more students with money.
If you speak to many MMA competitors today, they’ll tell you they started doing a specific martial art under the mindset that it was something else. With block breaking and hours of shadow sparring, it came apparent to some that things weren’t all they thought. With Alex Owen (23-1), the case is much the same.
“I came across the sport as a mistake,” Alex told. “I’ve always been into martial arts. I loved the movies and I was always fighting and messing around with friends when I was younger. I started doing karate as I was duped with the advertisement that said it was kickboxing. It was the only thing we had in our area at the time so I stuck with that for a while.
“It was limited as there weren’t many tournaments around and I was only in it for competition. I was very competitive throughout my school life; playing for multiple teams. I was the county champion in many different sports.
“Competition is something I was obsessed with. I discovered this when I guy scored a point against me in a bout and hook-kicked me after the bell. It made me want to rip his face off because it was out of order.”
It all started for Alex around the time Trevor McDonald hosted a programme which focused on the barbaric features of the UFC. Word of mouth was key, as one of Owen’s friends told him about it. On a prayer, Alex visited the local video shop and found the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s second event, and that’s the moment Royce Gracie struck awe in Alex.
“Like everybody else, I wanted to become a Gracie Jiu Jitsu fighter,” Alex began. “After that I progressed onto wanting to find a jiu jitsu gym – unfortunately all we had was the traditional jiu jitsu as BJJ hadn’t caught on over here. I began watching Gracie tapes and learning the moves by doing them to my mates in my dad’s garage and in the common room in school.
“I entered the Combat Sports Amateur Championships in Bath. The lowest category 70kg to 75kg and I weighed 65kg. I was only eighteen at the time and I lost in the final to Paul Jenkins.
“I met Oliver Ellis at a muay thai seminar and he was instrumental to my change,” informed the featherweight. “After the seminar, he asked me if I fancied a roll with him. Me being the cocky youngster in my gi, I thought I’d beat him. In short, he destroyed me. His first comment to me afterwards was that if I want to be any good at MMA, I have to lose the gi.
“Initially that upset me as I was obsessed with jiu jitsu. Thinking on it, he gave me his number and I gave it two days of thought. I knew then that if I wanted to get anywhere I would have to train with the best and Oliver was the best I’d come across.”
And so Alex began training six days a week, four hours a day – not in a gym, but in the confines of his father’s garage on borrowed mats. Throughout the majority of his competitive time in MMA, the twenty-four fight veteran never made a permanent move, staying grounded to his beginnings.
“I did that from the start to the very end,” Alex explained. “Even when I fought Brad Pickett I was still training in the garage. It was simple and it worked. It was just myself and Oliver training in the garage with people coming in and out to help prepare me for fights. I’d go to different places around the country for jiu jitsu but I primarily based in my garage.
“I’d never say I was naturally talented. I never fought as a kid in school. I went to a private school initially before going public. It was in a secluded area, low crime rates, very posh. At the time I’d never been through any adversity. I think the reason I did so well at MMA is because I came at it with a different point of view.
“I never came in looking at it like it was a fight. I looked at it as the purest form of competition and I always trained to do what I aimed to do in the cage as quick as possible. My attitude was very different in that way.
“Simply put, I was successful in MMA because I was obsessed with training and obsessed with being the best. I don’t think I was naturally aggressive or anything like that, but I was cocky as a young lad and knew I was going to win every time I took part in something. I didn’t consider myself as much a fighter as I did an athlete.”
Alex made his debut one week after meeting Oliver, against Darryl Jackson at Ultimate Combat 2 in Bath. Competing in his gi, Alex used solely what he’d learned when training with Ian Rossiter, amongst other moves he’d studied on video tapes.
“Prior to the debut I had done at least two years of loosely-termed amateur fighting as well as any grappling tournaments we could find. My career was a natural progression from grappling to MMA with no head shots, then to semi-pro with no head shots on the floor onwards to full-on pro.”
At the time of Alex’s departure, he was one of the highly touted Brits to go on to big things in the sport. After his first professional loss to Emmanuel Fernandez (9-4), Alex’s competitive career came to a halt. Some speculated it was the loss that knocked him down, others were left very curious. Ultimately, his role as a police officer took charge.
“Basically, I had joined the police at the time and they were ignorant as to what MMA was,” Alex divulged. “They didn’t know about MMA and only saw the generic ‘barbaric’ claims of it. It was all at bay whilst I was fighting on local shows on the smaller regions.
“As soon as I was on Cage Rage and being paid good money, being put on Sky Sports and in the newspapers, someone decided to inform the Internal Affairs.
“As it is, if you earn any money on top of your police wage it’s classed as a business interest. They decided to look into it and they didn’t like it. It was clear they didn’t have a clue what they were talking about even though I had produced numerous documents proving it was safer than boxing and that it was the fastest growing sport out there.
“In the end, their exact words were that I was the only one in the room who knew what they were talking about. The decision was made that I couldn’t fight anymore. If I did fight again, it would be going against direct orders which meant I’d lose my job.
“At the time I had a young child and family with a mortgage so fighting wasn’t a viable option to fall back on,” retorted Alex. “I believe the action they made wasn’t fair and now they’ve back-tracked on it. I am now allowed to fight again but under the condition that I couldn’t fight in a cage because it looked bad.
“In a nutshell, I didn’t retire – they stopped me doing what I’d done for so many years and in doing so, the decision ruined my life. I was headed for the big time and I can guarantee I’d have been in the UFC. With the way I train, my work ethic, my obsession with training and my need to be the greatest I guarantee I’d have been up there kicking everybody’s asses.
“I had to attend counselling sessions because I just couldn’t let MMA go. Any fighter that’s fought in front of a decent crowd and had his hand raised will tell you it’s the best feeling ever. I’ve won triathlons in the past and the feeling isn’t quite the same.
“Still to this day I’ve never found something that’s given me that high.”
There’s no question that MMA used to be a very different place with unique values – some still around, some not. Some that tend to pop up in comparing and contrasting with the old school members is the pay and level of commitment. On this, ‘The Boy’ asserted.
“Back then, the main difference was that everybody was serious. In those days you did MMA because you wanted to compete. You didn’t do it to look tough; to get girls – you did it because you wanted to fight. It was a close-knit community back then. We weren’t the hardest people around but we had the right mentality.
“There was none of this diva stuff of ‘I’m not fighting him because he’s had more fights than me’ bullshit. It was hardcore. In the Cage Rage rules you could soccer kick somebody in the head. You could stomp on them.
“The reason I say it like this is because I’ve promoted shows and a lot of fighters need to man up. If you’re in it for the money you’re in the wrong sport. When I fought Brad in Wembley I was paid £500 and that was my twenty-third fight. I was fine with that. I’m in MMA to win.
“Unfortunately it’s gone the other way and everyone thinks they can make a quick buck. I don’t like it.”
As it stands Alex is set to quit the force to go into work with his father. Amongst other things, he feels it will allow him much more time to focus on MMA. It’s clear through the aforementioned counselling that MMA truly is for Alex and surprisingly enough, it has sparked a campaign for a comeback.
“I’m currently about to leave Somerset Police,” he said. “I’m looking to move on as I’ll be moving into a totally different job role with my father in helping him run his business.
“He invented the machine that automatically draws hospital curtains. I’ve helped out a bit already and I’m able to use my brain in a different way. I’ll have a lot more time on my hands. I’ve still got my team that keep me busy each week. A lot of time goes into that, too.
“I want to come back because I think that the top game has got a whole lot better. The people at the top of the food chain now are much better than those years back. I think there’s too much politics in it now and with that the standard of MMA has gone down the toilet in the UK, apart from the top level guys and the top level clubs. I want to get back in there and see if my theory is correct. You never know, I may get my head kicked in.
“Next year I’m going to get back on it. I have had some bad injuries; one that included a slipped disc which was pressing on my spine. One doctor told me I must stop doing everything to do with hard hits as it would sever my spine. Fortunately that was disproved. I’m fully recovered now and I’m ready to push it to that next level.
“Now I’ve got that time to compete again I can feel my obsessive nature coming back. Team Savage has some top striking and grapplers now, so I’ll be really pushing every element of myself. I’ll be going to train with the old school guys like Pickett and Leigh Remedios.
“When I start fighting again you’ll see me very regularly. I’m only thirty-two now so I’m in my prime years to get back doing it. I’ll be in there constantly. I don’t want massive breaks between fights.
“My return will go either one or two ways: it’ll go the way I think it will with people getting mashed up, or I’ll get shown up. I’m siding with my way and all will see that there’s no school like old school.”
This article was originally posted on YourMMA and was accurate at the time of publishing.