From MMA Ultd Magazine:
January 8, 2010
Oli Thompson talks to MMA Unltd as he prepares for the ZT Fight Night Tournament featuring the UK’s top heavyweights.
Having amassed a 3-0 professional record during his first full year of MMA training, heavyweight prospect Oli Thompson is preparing for the fight of his life in January when he competes alongside seven of the UK’s biggest names in the inaugural ZT Fight Night Tournament.
A relative late-comer to the sport, Thompson only began training MMA after an illustrious career in Strongman competition was cut short by injury.
Having won Britain’s Strongest Man in 2006 – finishing eighth in World’s Strongest Man the same year – he tore his bicep clean off the bone whilst attempting a 400kg deadlift.
The injury kept him out of action for the better part of a year, and when he eventually returned to competition in 2008, a recurrence of the tear forced him to re-evaluate his ambitions in the sport:
“I realised I was never going win World’s Strongest Man with this arm. I could still compete with the big guys, but I was never going to win it, and my competitiveness is at a level where I always want to win.”
Around this time, his best friend Tolley Plested – a BJJ brown belt under Ze Marcelo – began encouraging him to attend his grappling classes in Eastbourne. Already a big fan of the UFC, Thompson accepted the offer and began training at the Brazilian Top Team affiliated school.
A gifted, versatile athlete in his youth, who played rugby at county level prior to being a Strongman, his thoughts swiftly turned to the possibility of competing in MMA.
“I always thought MMA was exciting, and everything I felt I could do was involved in it so I made a conscious decision with my family and friends to pursue it. I figured I’m 28 years old and it’s now or never, and I wanted to push on and show the world what I can do.”
He immediately set about re-structuring his training to make the transition from Strongman to professional MMA fighter, spending time at BST MMA in Northampton and BTT in Slough before eventually settling at ZT Fight Skool in Hove.
“Everyone’s been really helpful to me here at ZT, and they believe in me, which is the most important thing. If I have a positive attitude around me, I can do the rest.”
He currently trains twice a day, usually before or after work which he hopes to phase out once fighting “becomes more lucrative.” Morning sessions typically consist of 45 minutes of weight training and a 2 mile run on the treadmill, whilst he spends one night a week focusing on conditioning with fitness coach Christian Vila. This includes circuits and kettlebell training, which he believes has made “a massive difference” to his cardio. He also spends two nights a week working on BJJ and another two focusing on stand-up. Friday night is spent working on his wrestling at the ZT site in Tilgate, whilst on Saturdays he spars and does extra conditioning work with the rest of the ZT Fight Team in Hove.
The results have been dramatic. Already possessing an iron will -“you can’t buy mental toughness, you either have it or you don’t”- hardened by years of Strongman training, he now has a rounded skill set and the correct physical tools required to compete as an MMA fighter. An important part of the transition involved re-sculpting his considerable physique:
“I’ve changed a lot since Strongman. I’m down from 22 and a half stone to 19 and I’m leaner. I cut down on unnecessary muscle because carrying it on your frame tires you out. I’m built as a fighter now.”
Even without the extra weight, he believes his natural strength and explosiveness will be major assets in the cage, giving him a clear advantage over many of his opponents:
“I can’t lift the same weights I used to, but I can probably lift any of these guys in the heavyweight tournament. I’m still going to be the strongest guy there, and that’s all you need to know.”
Whilst he is understandably proud of his Strongman background, he believes it is an often misunderstood discipline whose participants do not always get the credit they deserve:
“There are some really good athletes in Strongman, it’s not like bodybuilding. People see us as bodybuilding lumps who look massive and throw stupid things about. I want to represent Strongman, and show that we can adapt to different sports.”
At the same time he is keen to be judged on his merits as a fighter, and not treated as a novelty act due to his prior accomplishments:
“I’m not trying to use my name to get somewhere. I feel like my grappling and wrestling is what’s going to get me to the top. I don’t want to be Britain’s Strongest Man who is fighting, I want to be Oli Thompson, professional fighter who happened to be Britain’s Strongest Man at one point.”
Returning victorious from the heavyweight tournament would go a long way towards achieving this, and would provide the platform from which to launch his career on a national, and possibly international stage. But to do so he will need to win three fights in one night, against a list of possible opponents comprising a who’s who of the UK division: M1 Challenge Team member Rob Broughton, Pride veteran James Thompson, Former Cage Rage champion Tengiz Tedoradze, UFC veteran and former Cage Rage champion Neil Grove, UK MMA titleholder Martin Thompson, CFC champion Karlos Vermola and UFC veteran Neil Wain.
But despite being the least experienced fighter in the tournament, Thompson is hungry for the challenge and eager to shock the fans, who are “in for a surprise if they don’t know what I can do.”
Looking further ahead, there has already been considerable internet speculation surrounding a high-profile fight between Thompson and former five-time World’s Strongest Man, Mariusz Pudzianowski, who was victorious in his recent MMA debut at KSW 12 in Poland.
Whilst he understands the bout’s promotional and financial appeal, Thompson is far more interested in working alongside his long-time friend and former Strongman rival than fighting him:
“I’ve been thinking about inviting Mariusz over to do some training in the New Year. It’d be interesting to see him work with some top coaches. I’ll be speaking to him and his manager about it, so it’s in the pipeline.
“At the end of the day where Mariusz goes the money goes so I’ll never say never, but he’s a friend of mine and I want us both to do well.”
Whether or not that fight ever happens, 2010 is set to be a big year for Thompson, and with a lot of hard work and a strong team behind him there’s every chance he could replicate his success as a Strongman and emerge as one of the breakout stars of UK MMA.
The ZT Fight Night Tournament will take place at the HMV Forum in London on January 30th.
Some pictures of Oli’s training courtesy of Shireen Z Rusbridge.