The sport was a virtual non-entity in the early 2000's in the U.K. Without high school wrestling and little jiu-jitsu taught around England, the country didn't look like much of a candidate become a pipeline for MMA prospects. Then came Michael Bisping's 2006 appearance on Season 3 of "The Ultimate Fighter" followed by the UFC's return to the U.K. with live events and now you have a region that could have a British-born champ sometime in the near future. This weekend UFC 120 features Bisping in the main event and unbeaten 22-year-old John Hathaway on the televised portion of the card. Kurt Warburton is hoping he can be the next Brit who makes a big splash.
His story is a little different than Hathaway and Bisping. A former pipe-fitter, Warburton only picked up fighting five years ago. But he's a fast learner. Working out of the same gym as Bisping, The Wolfslair, Warburton comes highly recommended.
"The guy's got incredible standup, he's incredibly fit and ridiculously strong for a lightweight. He's almost damn near impossible to take down and then once you do he gets up almost immediately," Bisping told Neil Davidson of the Canadian Press.
The UFC must think highly of him as well or the promotion is trying to get Spencer Fisher (24-6) back on the winning track after two straight losses. That's right Fisher, with 13 UFC fights under his belt, draws Warburton on the card in London.
"At first I was a big shocked, because I didn't think I'd get the opportunity to fight someone with such a big name for my first fight," said Warburton. "There's ups and downs with that. The upside is if I do beat him, or when I do beat him, there's going to be a lot of talk about it. Obviously it's going to be hard. He's more experienced than me, he's had some great wars so hopefully I can put up a good fight and maybe get fight of the night (bonus) or something."
In his talks with the Canadian Press, Warburton spoke with humility. He opened up a little more with British-based Fighter's Only Magazine about what he thinks is a lack of respect on the part of Fisher.
"... but I think he is underestimating me and he is going to get a shock," said Warburton. ”He’s got a lot more experience but there’s a lot more pressure on him as well. I have seen in some interviews where he is saying I am slow and he is just going to finish me, and he is looking beyond me. So, let him think that. I am not just turning up for him to walk all over me. He’s not taking me seriously but I think after a few minutes in the ring with me, I think he start taking me serious."
Warburton's dedication to an MMA career is serious. With the help of three sponsors, he was able to quit his gig as a gas pipe-fitter. He lives at the Wolfslair from Mon-Thurs, 140 miles away from his hometown of Bishop Auckland, so he's clearly got his wife in his corner.