James Haskell speaks for the first time as a Bellator MMA fighter

Last week, mixed martial arts promotion Bellator MMA announced that former international rugby star James Haskell had signed for the promotion.

After a stellar 17-year professional rugby career Haskell will trade scrum caps for MMA gloves, with the 34-year-old set to make his professional MMA debut in the first half of 2020. Haskell will compete in Bellator’s heavyweight division, which features the likes of current champion Ryan Bader, challenger Cheik Kongo and MMA veterans Josh Barnett and Fedor Emelianenko.

Haskell spoke to the media for the first time yesterday afternoon alongside Head of Bellator Europe, David Green, at Viacom International Media Networks offices. Here are some of the key quotes from his first press conference:

Quotes from James Haskell:

James Haskell Bellator MMA

“When you [David Green, Head of Bellator Europe] came and talked to me about it I thought you were going to offer me some more work but then you dropped the bombshell that you wanted me to fight.

“Once I had stopped nervously laughing it piqued my interest. I had a real interest and a real passion for MMA. The first thing I did was pick up the phone to London Shootfighters. I’ve known them since I was 21. They gave me their support and I asked them whether they would train me. They’re one of the toughest, one of the hardest, one of the most successful MMA gyms in the UK and I knew I would be in good hands.” – On how the opportunity to become an MMA fighter came about and his initial response to being asked.

“I’m dedicating my life to this. I want to ensure I’m in the best possible shape. Whatever happens at the end of it, I’m going to put as much dedication into this as I did to rugby” – on his commitment to becoming an elite MMA athlete.

“Everything I do is controlled by them (London Shootfighters). A large portion of my time is spent doing stand-up, wrestling and dealing with groundwork. I’m there a minimum of three times a week for two hours at a time. I do a lot of one-on-one training and I join a lot of classes. At the moment, I’m back to school and every day is a school day. They are just teaching me. Rest assured that my conditioning and my training is hard and intense but also clever.” – On his current training regime

“There’s a lot of things that rugby can derive from MMA in terms of body control and take downs. It’s very similar to working the tackle area.” – On the crossover between rugby and MMA.

There will be people who criticise me. 99% of support has been overwhelming but there are a few people who don’t understand how the fight game works. They keep thinking I’m going to be put in against [Ryan] Bader in my first fight. Bellator has an incredible fan base and so many people have reached out already and been super supportive so I’m looking forward to it.” – On fan support since signing for Bellator.

“I’ve got a nice little kimura and a nice little guillotine but it’s early days so let’s not get carried away.” – On his best submission move.

“If you notice in that clip, which nobody did, my unbelievable takedown straight into side control. What I didn’t do was punch him because that would have got me a red card.” – On his takedown of Joe Marler which resulted in a yellow card during a rugby match in 2017.

“He said he bought tickets, what he meant was he messaged me saying can I have tickets for your first fight, and I said of course.” – On England Rugby Head Coach Eddie Jones’ comments that he wants tickets to his first fight.

Quotes from David Green, Head of Bellator Europe:

James Haskell MMA

“There’s a reason why we signed James. Obviously, we’re really pleased with the reaction. It was fantastic last week. We love the sport but it’s about bringing new fans to the sport, [for them] to see it and get hooked into it. That’s why I was very interested in signing James.” – On why Bellator signed James Haskell.

“He will be fighting someone of similar experience to him. The obvious location is in the UK and we are hoping for the first half of next year. We will see how we get on with the training and we’ll make an nnouncement soon.” – On the opponent, location and date of James’ first fight.

Photo credit – Bellator MMA/Lee Hamilton-Cooper

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