Fight Night: Through the Eyes of the Challenger

On February 27, 2015, Liam McGeary fought Emanuel Newton for the Bellator MMA Light Heavyweight title. The Players’ Tribune asked both fighters to document their thoughts in the hours leading up to and immediately after the conclusion of the fight.

Before the Fight

I’m what some might call a late bloomer.

Up until a few years ago, the only place you’d probably see me fighting was outside of a pub.

When I was back home in England, I used to work on a building site and very much embraced the pub life. I was a weekend millionaire — paid on a Friday and come Monday I was poor again.

In terms of fighting, what I lacked in formal training I made up for in enthusiasm. I love to f—ing fight. It’s not that I’m malicious. Honestly, I don’t know what it is that makes me want to fight. But that urge has always been there. During that phase of my life I would regularly pick fights with five or six guys at a time and usually emerge with just a few bruises and maybe the occasional footprint on the back of my head.

But the bigger thing I took away from it was that I was able to hold my own against all of those people and never felt any fear. When you get accustomed to those odds, standing across from one guy in a ring doesn’t sound so daunting.

My friend would show me all these MMA videos to plant the seed that if I was going to do all this fighting, I should start getting paid for it. That’s what prompted me to move to New Jersey and start training to become an actual fighter.

When I first started as an amateur, I was still just a street fighter. My first ever fight, I got in the ring trying to brawl and immediately got caught in a guillotine submission. I didn’t know what the f— a guillotine was but I got caught in it. So I turned to my then-coach and said, “What just happened?” And that’s when it really dawned on me that I knew how to fight but I needed to learn how to fight. There’s more to it than punching someone in the face and getting punched back.

When I left home, I didn’t know where my career was going. I wasn’t sure if I’d have a couple of fights and then come home or not. Now I sit here undefeated as a professional and ready for my shot at the Bellator Light Heavyweight title.

The reason I’ve made it this far is because I don’t do things the easy way.

Six days a week, I take a variety of trains and buses from the Bronx in order to get to Hoboken for training. Then I’m in the gym from 8 a.m. until at least 4 p.m., at which time I make my way to another class. I train for fighting like it’s a full-time job because it is.

I could just move to Brooklyn or Hoboken and shorten my commute. I could hit the gym for four hours and then call it a day. But that’s not how I got to this point. I like to create a struggle. My girlfriend’s always saying “Why do you make things hard for yourself?” If I didn’t make things hard for myself, I’d start taking things for granted. And if I started taking things for granted, I wouldn’t win. You only appreciate the things you struggle in order to earn.

This is why I work my ass off at the gym, this is why I take a long commute to get where I need to go. I didn’t make it to this point because things were easy.

And so far the hard work is paying off.

Here’s a rundown of some of the professional fights I’ve had. One lasted 22 seconds. He shot in for a takedown, and I flipped him over. He stood up, threw a jab and I hit him with a hook and he’s done.

Another guy, Egidijus Valavicius, he hit me in the face which let me know “Alright, this is a fight.” So I went at him and busted his nose with my knees until they called it.

Then there was Kelly Anundson, he wanted to lay on me for four and a half minutes – that’s what his plan was. He hit me in the face with his elbows and I just patiently waited for my opening. And then when I saw my chance, I submitted him.

There’s no one way that I win fights. But I win them.

My style is mostly jiu-jitsu based but I’ve also been working really hard with my striking coach. I love the flow of jiu-jitsu. The way it rolls and the moves it allows you to execute.

But also, I just really like knocking people out. I crave that feeling when I hit somebody in the face and their entire body goes soft and crumbles. It gives me satisfaction knowing that the training I put into the fight all came together like I planned.

If a fighter ever tells you he doesn’t like knocking people out, he’s definitely lying.

My opponent Emanuel Newton is a grinder. Every time he’s fought, I’ve been on the same card. I’ve been waiting for this fight.

He’s been known to fight five rounds and pull something out of a hat. His biggest weapon is probably his ability to take full advantage of people who underestimate him. It’s easy to watch him fight and think, This guy is beatable. There’s no one part of his fighting style that stands out apart from his spinning back fist. Sure, he’s extremely tough and durable but most of the guys who have fought him recently have appeared overconfident.

I’m going into this fight with the full knowledge that this guy can beat me. I’ve trained for this fight like it’s one that I could lose. But I’m not scared of getting hit, and I’m not scared of losing. That’s what makes me a truly dangerous fighter.

Because he’s gone the distance many times and all of my Bellator fights have ended in the first round, I’ve gotten the same generic questions regarding if I’ll struggle in later rounds.

I don’t just go to the gym and train for one-round fights. That doesn’t seem like a great idea. But at the same time, the results I’ve gotten so far are a reflection of the work I put in before the fight. These things last as long as they need to. Besides, what you have to remember is the other guy has to do five rounds with me as well. And I can’t imagine getting punched in the face by me for five rounds is that f—ing fun.

But this sport is ultimately about making money. I get paid the same for a 22-second fight as I do a 25-minute fight — what sounds better to you?

The Fight

After the Fight


Now that was a fight.

Emanuel Newton is one tough bastard. It’s not difficult to see why this guy was a champion. I knew this was a fight when I landed a couple of tough jabs on him and he kept advancing. There’s no questioning he’s a tough guy, but I proved that I’m pretty tough too.

I managed to go five rounds without him surprising me, which is no small feat. People have made the mistake of chasing after Emanuel during fights. I found success because I didn’t let myself rush. There were a couple of times when I was going to go forward and I saw him preparing to perform a spinning back fist, so I retreated. I even tried a spinning back fist of my own for the fun of it.

I hit Emanuel with just about everything I had and never stopped. I actually set a record for number of submission attempts during a Bellator fight, but this guy is like a rubber band. At one point I bent his arm right to his ass and he still wouldn’t submit.

I wasn’t nervous before the fight and I wasn’t nervous during it. I had fun in there. You train so hard just for this stage in front of all these people, so why not enjoy yourself? Honestly, I’m just happy I can do this without getting arrested.

This isn’t the end of a journey, it’s just the start. Whether I’m fighting Tito Ortiz next or get another go with Emanuel, I’m already excited to get back in the ring. Now the real work begins.

Some might call me a late bloomer, but now they can call me something else: Champ.

Click here to read Emanuel Newton’s perspective on the fight.