We asked Mr Harry Williams to share with us three ‘Where Are They Now?’ articles that stood out to him. Here’s his second pick…
There’s a little thing in MMA called a journeyman; those willing to jump in and take a dive on a show near you for a cheap payday. They’re a lingering negative surrounding the domestic scene in the UK and pop up on each show you attend.
In the days where UK MMA was still very much an off-the-radar sport, there were those who’d travel from the North West to South East on short notice to put on a show for the fans and have some stories during the adventure. Those who really loved fighting and not turtling up at the sixty-second mark.
Still spoken of with high regard today is Paul ‘Hands of Stone’ Jenkins (41-47-8-2), one of the fondest names in the old school memory.
“I’ve been training in martial arts since 1976,” Jenkins began. “I started out doing judo because the club was half a mile away from my dad’s pub, so he’d drop me off at practice and pick me up two hours later. It was in those days where you could still drink and drive to an extent, so he’d pick me up with a couple in him and that’s how it went on for years.
“From then onwards I did tae-kwon-do, karate, boxing, kickboxing and did well in all of them. I was medalled in nearly everything. Martial arts were a big part in my life growing up. I took a couple of years off from fifteen to nineteen when I realised what my you-know-what was for and went off to train that for a while!
“I enjoyed the judo for the most part. I didn’t have the build or the frame for it but I found the most fun in that aspect. Anyone can kick and punch but grappling is a fine art in itself.”
In old school fashion, like many, Paul paid the bills by working the nightshift. After trouble broke out one night, the scenes in front of Jenkins’ eyes were of that which would shape his future.
“I was running the nightclub doors back in 1999 and there was this altercation outside of the club across from us,” Paul explained. “My partner on the doors back then went across with me, he dragged a guy outside and slapped on a rear-naked choke. Within four or five seconds the guy was asleep. It amazed me. It was like some Paul McKenna magic.
“I’d been hitting people who got out of hand for years. Seeing a rear-naked choke as a second option to put people out cold was great as my hands were starting to hurt all the time. I found out where he learned it from and followed him to training. The gym didn’t even have a name at the time. It was just a bunch of people getting together. That’s what it was like back then.
“A friend of mine was down in a surf shop and got hold of the first UFC DVD. I loved it from the start. I thought it was a right corker so I thought it was only right to use those tapes to learn a thing or two for the doors.
“I started going to a club in Penarth called St. Paul’s Martial Arts Centre which not too far for me. It was managed by the local council. It was coached by a man called Mike Swambo who was an excellent instructor. He had a really good eye and was tactically superb but he turned out to be a bad liar and a thief.
“He told people he’d had over sixty fights in Thailand when he hadn’t ever had any. He ended up being kicked out in the end as he was charging people annual insurance and pocketing the money in doing so. It was a real shame as I think he was a very talented coach. Sam John took over in 2003 and we both ran it as a proper gym for four or five years until the council shut it down as it wasn’t getting the use it should have.
“After that is when we both opened our own gym; Dogs of War MMA. We become a lot more professional about it, structured class times and we were a lot more organised this time round.”
Paul began his career after two years of training, competing against Kevin O’Hagan (2-1) on a Combat Sports Open Trials’ second event, ran by Dale Adams. As is the C-class rulings in amateur MMA today, there were no headshots accompanied by limited time on the floor. In contrast of today’s sport, rules weren’t known in advance and were discussed on the day and agreed upon by each competitor.
“We fought on mats because there was no ring or cage for us back then,” Paul explained. “They were expensive things and no upstarting local promoter had the sort of money to buy one of those. Nowadays you’ve got the regulated amateur bouts with 8oz gloves and three three-minute rounds. Back when I started there was none of that.
“In a way, though it was a lot more friendly. The tournaments were a lot shorter and it was very community-based and similar to interclub matches. You had to pay to enter rather than being paid to compete.
“The fight with Kevin was a nice look into the sport to begin with but it wasn’t the real deal by any stretch of the imagination. Personally I’d prefer to jump straight into the deep end and try handling myself there.”
With a record consisting of ninety-eight listed bouts, why would one want to compete so often? With the small change they were being paid and the travelling costs, accompanied by possible brain damage from battles every weekend, it doesn’t look like a worthwhile vocation. Nothing seemed to add up and is certainly wasn’t recommendable.
“I don’t bruise easily so I rarely got injured or cut open,” explained the Welshman. “I’ve never had a hard job in my life as well. I’ve been running nightclub doors for twenty years. If I had to get up at the crack of dawn to carry loads of stuff for hours on end and then go to training afterwards I wouldn’t have been able to compete.
“Instead, I was able to pick my own hours and train around them, so it was never really an issue. Because of this I was able to have five fights in five weeks and I won them all. Winning and losing didn’t matter to me, though. Even when I had a good record I was a performance-based guy.
“Sometimes I’d have a cracking scrap, lose and still enjoy it or I’d win in two minutes and not be taken out of my comfort. It was always a personal journey to me. I was never after trophies, titles or money. It was just a giggle for me. I normally got paid the same whether I won or lost, so it didn’t matter to me.”
“I didn’t particularly worry about damage to my own health. Any damage I have picked up along the way has been, if at all, incremental. If I’m talking different than I used to, whether my joints aren’t working as well as they once were or if I had a bit of brain damage I haven’t noticed. If you ask my family and friends they’d probably say they’ve seen a change.
“It’s not like I advise what I’ve done in the past, but then again I wouldn’t change the path I’ve taken.”
As often as Jenkins competed, good things were in his future. He was the holder of six UK titles; five of which he held simultaneously, including the Ultimate Combat and the Cage Warriors straps. The inability to turn down an exciting scrap led Jenkins to compete in thirteen different countries such as America, Germany, Spain and Italy.
With travelling regularly, opportunities presented themselves and Jenkins wasn’t about to turn anything down.
“Ukraine was a crazy place to fight,” divulged the ninety-eight fight veteran. “It was very hard there. They dragged in a small number of people for the undercard and then the main card was the Ukraine military versus the rest of the world.
“I remember a Japanese guy and an American above the other few that were there. Bar the Japanese guy who won fairly quickly, there was some very dubious judging. A few guys got absolutely hammered and still won somehow.
“It was in an odd venue and all – an aircraft hangar. It was four-thousand seater. There was a pile of mats in the middle of the hangar and a bunch of people sat around tables. It was very odd and very old fashioned. There was no ring girls; no lights. You’d be pulled out of your changing room to have a scrap in the middle of the hall.
“Nonetheless we were very well looked after. We were put up in a health farm for three days. If we had to leave the compound for food shopping or sightseeing we would have armed guards with us. It was a really strange time. It was like when Rocky Balboa goes running in the Russian mountains. Very odd place but glad I got experience.
“Another odd place I fought was in Slovenia when I fought Dennis Siver,” Jenkins continued. “I thought from the start that the promoter was a bit shady. It was very well ran, but also suspicious. I remember one night he came to our door at 11pm with prostitutes for us. I wouldn’t go near them. The day I’ve got to pay for it is the day I cut it off. The Brazilians on the other hand, they filled their boots with them. They were really dirty pigs that were fighting only two days later. I’ve seen some very really surreal stuff.
“I think the reason I was invited to shows like these examples is because I always put on a good show and I was very cheap. I travelled light; never brought a corner man, I just travelled by myself with my gloves and shorts.
“There’s no shortage of stories over here as well. I remember when I pulled a ring girl on Andy Jardine’s show. Best looking woman I’ve ever pulled. I took her back to the hotel and fell asleep on her!”
In 2009, Paul called it day as he was toppled by now 14th ranked Jack Marshman (15-5). It wasn’t an easy step to make, but after losing five in a row, Paul knew it was time to hang them up and so he did in quiet fashion, slowly but surely fading out of the inner circle.
“I was always winning one then losing one and repeat – I didn’t mind that,” confessed Jenkins. “It was a giggle for me, but losing five on the trot was inexcusable. I fought Marshman for £100 on a week’s notice because his opponent pulled out. I knew I was going to get a right hiding from him as I was nowhere near fight shape.
“After fighting in front of five thousand people in foreign countries and competing on television to fighting in council leisure centres to do the favours for a promoter for small change, it’s hard to get motivated for something like that. There was no big retirement speech or big announcement, I simply just stopped taking phone calls and disappeared for a while.
“I’ve still got one more in me, I reckon. I do fancy a comeback, especially now Cage Warriors are down in South Wales quite regularly. I do get a bit jealous looking at some guys these days. I didn’t start until I was twenty-nine and I’m forty-four now. I feel I missed out on the money by two or three years. It’s a bit of a shame for me but you can’t pick when you’re born.”
In present day, Paul finds himself hanging around the sport and keeping in the know. As he works a peculiar job to pay the bills, he continues to keep active around the Welsh ends.
“I work in an adult movie shop whilst coaching nowadays as I was back in the day,” he digressed. “I sold the original Dogs of War gym two years ago when Sam and I had a falling out. At one point there were two Dogs of War gyms running – mine was full-time, Sam’s was three days a week. We’re back friends and working together here and there. I’m taking classes at some gyms and doing private lessons as well as training myself.
“It’s also one of the reasons my record is so poor. When I should’ve been training I was trying to keep everybody. I’d be training myself, taking classes and teaching beginners. You can’t balance it all out and it’ll cost you dearly if you tried. If you’re not focusing on one specific role then you’re not going to do well.
“Come November or December we have a big project opening up in Cardiff which I hope draws some attention. It could become a really big thing for Wales, so we’re working very hard to make sure it’s a success.”
In review of his stint, Paul think if he’d have knuckled down more maturely, things could have been different for him. Jenkins gets that itch every now and then for one more as do all the fighters of past. It is a nurtured instinct from the youthful days, but one Paul continues to put thought into.
“I could’ve done better and I could’ve taken it more seriously,” asserted Paul. “If I’d have done that I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed it. It was always about giggles for me. As I said, I missed out on the money with age, but that doesn’t concern me. Nobody’s going to start chucking money at forty-year-olds. It’s a young man’s game.
“I’d like to think a review of my run doesn’t have to be done as I’m considering one more go at it. I need some time to get this project off the ground and go from there. I like to think my career is full of fun memories, troublesome times and cheeky mishaps. It’s been a ball.
“Am I too old? I could be faking it to myself – who knows? There’s only one way to find out and that’s the hard way.”
This article was originally posted on YourMMA and was accurate at the time of publishing.