OMMAC 15: Exclusive interview with Tony Moran
A former professional boxer who once challenged for the British and Commonwealth cruiserweight titles before hanging up the boxing gloves and reinventing himself as a mixed martial artist, Tony Moran will be looking to capitalise on his superior striking skills when he steps into the cage at OMMAC 15 in Liverpool this weekend and challenges current OMMAC light-heavyweight champion Linton Vassell for the promotion’s light-heavyweight gold.
For Moran, who trains out of Sapphire MMA in Liverpool, and whom is often recruited as a sparring Partner for former UFC light-heavyweight champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, this will be his third MMA fight in only 4 months, and his fourteenth bout in just over 4 years. This is quite some feat when you consider that at 39 years of age, Moran is a dedicated family man with three children and a full-time Homeless Support worker by profession.
OMMAC are widely regarded as one of the UK’s fastest growing promotions – this will be your 7th fight with the promotion, and you also featured on their very first event back in 2009 – what are your overall impressions of OMMAC as an organisation?
I know the promoter Chris Zorba very well, I used to be a professional boxer and I’ve boxed at the venue a number of times. So I’ve known Chris for a number of years. My philosophy is that without the promoters we have no stepping stones with regards to our future.
Chris is trying to put on a great show, with limited resources, compared to the USA shows. He gets a lot of let downs, but I’ve got a lot of respect for Chris. I see how hard he works as a promoter. I really value what he’s providing in terms of allowing fighters to progress.
The fighters that he’s had on that show that have progressed to the UFC; Paul Sass, Terry Etim and Paul Kelly – they’re all Liverpool lads. They’ve all done well through Chris and that should be respected for what it is, and give him the credit that he deserves. He always puts on great shows by putting decent matches on. He doesn’t try to give people easy fights, irrespective of whether he knows you or not. He’s a fair minded man and looks after the fans as well as the fighters.
It’s a great show to be a part of, and the venue is only a mile away from where I used to live as a boy. I used to pass it every day on my way to school. I could see the Olympia from my classroom at school when I was a boy. It’s the little things like that – I was born in a hospital that used to be across the road. There’s a lot of personal feeling there. It’s part of my history.
Your opponent, Linton Vassell is ranked as the No. 1 UK light heavyweight who’s not currently signed to the UFC – by beating Vassell, you not only become the new OMMAC light-heavyweight champion, but you would have just taken out the No. 1 guy in your division – do you use this as extra motivation, or are you able to just push those facts to one side and just concentrate at the task in front of you?
It is a motivation within itself, I suppose. Probably due to my age and experience, it takes a lot for me to get motivated nowadays. I’ve fought for World titles in boxing. I’ve fought for British & Commonwealth titles, so I understand what it’s like to fight at a higher level. And I believe that I deserve to fight at that level as well. It’s a level that I’m comfortable with. I sort of need these fights in order to get the best out of myself. As with any sport, you sometimes play to the level of your opposition.
I’m hoping, and I believe, that I will fight to the level of Linton’s. I’ve got a lot of respect for Linton as a fighter, but he’s got strengths and weaknesses, and so have I. My strengths will far outweigh some of his and vice-versa. Although he’s a great wrestler, and the percentages if you take our strengths I suppose, are in his favour, and they always are in terms of wrestling and striking I’d say. I’m working hard on my wrestling game and I’ve got to try and to nullify and negate what I believe will be his wrestling attacks. I’d be very surprised if he wanted to stand with me, but I can’t rule that out obviously. And he can’t rule out the fact that I may try and wrestle with him. You’ve got to be realistic, he’s a wrestler and I’m a striker.
Physically, Linton Vassell is of a very similar build to your last opponent Max Nunes, he has the height, a similar reach and those long limbs, and he will most likely be looking to take this fight to the ground too – do you feel that the Nunes fight can be used as a kind of dress rehearsal for your fight with Vassell?
I’ve not thought of it that way, but I suppose on reflection you can see it that way. I wasn’t supposed to be fighting Max Nunes, I was scheduled to face Kevin Thompson, but I will be switched on and focussed for this fight. Max Nunes is a very skilled fighter, and I’ve told him that to his face. It is what it is, but I know personally, I just didn’t turn up that night to give him the test he deserved.
Essentially now I need to focus on the job in hand and the job in hand is Linton. I know Linton is a skilled operator too, so the focus had got to be on his whole skill set, not just if I can hit him I can put him to sleep. I thought that about Max, so I was kind of arrogant in my approach if I’m honest with you. I probably thought that I was going to break him up with powerful shots, but I was very wrong about that, so you live and learn. I’m just going to go in there and give it my all.
After your fight with Max Nunes you released an article online titled – REFLECTION AFTER A LOSS – A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE – which detailed the thoughts and emotions that you endured after the bout – can you tell us a little bit about the psychological preparation you’ve been working on since that article was published and how you feel it has helped?
I just imagined that I was going to turn up like I did for the Ben Smith fight, but it was the total opposite end of the spectrum. The only thing I can come to the conclusion of is I had a healthy fear of Ben Smith. The way he looked, the fights I’d seen of his and my interpretation of him – it was a natural fight or flight type of thing. With Max, even though I knew he was a skilled fighter, I just couldn’t switch myself on in a way that was getting my adrenaline flowing.
One week I was on form and the next week I wasn’t. I back tracked through my career and thought about the times I performed on a great level against, your Ben Smith type of fighters, your knockout merchants in boxing. People who could cause you pain and could knock you out, which is what no fighter wants to suffer, I suppose. There was that element to it, and I realised it was a false thing. I was projecting my performances outside of my control and getting myself in this state of, like, fear, I suppose. To go in and face this man that I thought was going to hurt me, and I wouldn’t allow that, and then I get in the zone.
I’ve read up about focussing and how, in other sports, athletes use their mind to focus. And it’s elite athletes that are the most consistent. It’s as simple as that. And I believe, as a fighter, I’ve got many elite elements within my fighting ability. So when I’m switched on and the skills are all working in unison, I can look like an elite fighter. But I’m not doing it consistently enough to be considered up there with the best of them. And if I don’t do that, I never will be. So I need to learn a way to focus my mind on the job at hand and not respective of my opponent and what he may or may not do to me.
I know this weekend I’m going to get in there and give it my all, but I want to enjoy it. I have to enjoy what I do, I put that much time and effort into it, that why would I do it if it made me so miserable and pissed off all the time.
You’re a dedicated family man with three children, you work long hours in your day job as a Homeless support worker, and you also find the time to train and prepare for professional fights – how do you manage to juggle such a busy lifestyle, and are you ever conscious that you neglect one aspect over the other?
Somehow I manage it. I train religiously whether I’m fighting or not, because I enjoy training anyway, and I always have done since I was a kid. So that’s a massive contribution I think. I only ever do 4 week camps, but because I’m always 50% of my fitness levels anyway, I can push it for 2 weeks, and I mean push it hard. So I get 2 weeks out, and I’m ready to go full-pelt in a fight. Then again, I’ve done 3 fight camps back-to-back. Essentially I’ve been in camp since the beginning of June. But that’s not pushing it 100% everyday – I know that pushing it hard for 2 or 3 weeks is sufficient for me, and the rest of the time I’m just ticking over quite nicely. So that’s how I cope with everything.
I’ve got a good missus that helps me out a lot, and I’m not having her putting up with an 8 week training camp. But on the flip side, that’s all I do is train and work and kids, I’m not out partying with the boys. I see the boys in the gym, so I haven’t really got a social life as such. And the other element of it is, I’ve got very good time management skill, I suppose. I’ve learnt that over time, you wouldn’t believe how I used to suffer as a professional boxer. So it’s that experience of being a boxer and being older and being more mature makes you more balanced about things. Mentally I deal with it better. Time management skills have become better. I’m just squeezing it in as and when I can.
You recently visited Charlie Bronson in prison – can you explain how this opportunity came about and what your overall impressions were of Charlie?
The opportunity came about because I know one of Charlie’s friends, he’s an avid boxing fan – and I was included in a boxing autobiography “The Mersey Fighters 2”. This guy named John Griffiths came to the book launch – later on we became friends on Facebook and then one day he messaged me and said that he’d been to visit Charlie Bronson and my name had come up in conversation, because of one of the fights I had been in, which turned into a bit of war. Charlie passed on his regards and said that he respects guys that fight with heart, and he asked for a few of my press cuttings and copy of the book. And that was it, we started corresponding after that, and then he invited me to go and visit him – which I accepted because I had learnt a lot about the man.
I find him an interesting man and I believe he’s paid his dues. I find him interesting also, and it’s hard to link the two, but a fighting man also has a lot of internal resources – when you get into the trenches, a fighter needs to dig deep – I’ve fought for nearly a whole MMA fight, with 3 broken ribs. I can take punishment, and I pride myself on having a steely determination to see things through to the end – which on reflection is the kind of character that he is, because of what he’s endured in a totally different way. I’m not saying it should be commended what he’s done, but on a level of strength of mind and mettle, he’s got it, and I respect that in him. It’s probably something that very few people could withstand, the type of torment that he’s endured, and to still be strong minded and have that charismatic spirit. 99% of people would be broken by that experience. I know his own choices and decisions have brought it upon himself, but you won’t hear him complain, he’s a man of stern stuff.
There’s a lot of debate these days as to which is the better sport: Boxing or Mixed Martial Arts – having competed professionally in both disciplines, do you feel that both sports can continue to run parallel to each other, or do you think boxing is what some people refer to as “a dying breed” these days?
I was at the David Price fight and it was a great atmosphere and very well supported, so I didn’t get any inkling, especially in Liverpool anyway, that it’s a dying sport. If the UFC came to town, I’m sure that would be a sell out as well. I don’t think boxing at all is finished, and I don’t think that MMA is going to wipe it off the face of the earth. There’s always going to be lads that want to box, but whether it slowly has an impact, I’m not sure, because there seems to be a dwindling number of people going to amateur boxing clubs. Young lads are very influenced by peer groups, so if I was a young lad now growing up at 13 or 14 and I got into martial arts, the likelihood is that I would go to an MMA club. The only difference is Amateur boxing clubs are generally free – so if you’re an inner-city kid, and you’re parents haven’t got much money and you want to learn a combat sport MMA is going to cost a lot of money to do
MMA is a more rounded game. You’re going to become a more rounded fighter by learning MMA – like Kabon now, it’s geared up for everything, it’s all under one roof. Imagine the youth of today who are starting purely in MMA, because it used to be dissected in different elements, but now MMA has become a sport in its own right. So as it goes, boxing is going to struggle to keep up, because of the things that are on offer in MMA. And it’s not because one sport is better than the other, there’s just so much to MMA that if you don’t want to be a full on out-and-out striker, you don’t have to be. You can just learn elements of it. It’s not everyone’s cup-of-tea to be punched in the face.
I believe that any boxer who is on a good level is tough enough, if they wanted to, to go into MMA. And this is my philosophy on it having done them both; I believe that any boxer who’s on a good level and has had a number of fights and has proved their toughness as a boxer, could, if they would leave their pride outside the door, go to an MMA club and spend 3 years learning the ground element to then become a proficient MMA fighter – and they would have the toughness to do that I think. I’ve tried to get a few boxers into MMA and they’re not having it, and I’m talking good boxers here. I think it’s because they know they’re going to have to start at the beginning. Like I did when I went to the Wolfslair – I had to walk in there knowing that I was going to be getting choked out like a chicken, and that became plainly evident and clear to me. But how else are you going to learn, you can’t learn by not being a beginner. I was a total beginner in the ground game. I’d never done it in my life, and it didn’t matter how good my striking was, I was a beginner. And that’s what it’ll be like for any other boxer – so I think it’s a pride thing. However, I don’t believe that everyone that has done grappling could be a boxer. Some people just don’t want to get hit. It’s safer grappling, if that makes sense. It’s tough, it’s hard, and I’m not disputing that it’s not a man’s sport, because it is. There’s one element that cannot be disguised, and that’s that some people do not like getting hit.
How would you like to be remembered as a fighter?
I don’t want to be remembered for the fights where I went in flat, because it doesn’t just bother me as a fighter, but as a man also – especially with the time and the effort that you put in. I just want to be remembered as a fella that gave it my all no matter what, win or lose. And now, I’d like to be remembered for someone, who given my age, turned it round later and got a grip of myself and performances. I want to be that consistent performer over my next few fights. I still think I’ve got a couple of years left in me, 2 or 3 years, maybe longer, who knows? As long as my body and my spirit keep up with each other, I’ll be carrying on.
I’m not a fraud either, I’ve never been to the point where I’ve been dominated in any fight throughout my life. I can’t even say I’ve been dominated as a grappler in a fight, been tapped, but I’ve never been controlled and smashed to bits by anyone. I’ve never yielded to any man in a sense of just giving up. With my shield, or on it, is my philosophy as a fighter.
And also you can follow Tony on Twitter @toweringtony
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