British middleweight fighter Luke ‘Bigslow’ Barnatt may have one of the most unusual nicknames in the mixed martial arts community, but don’t let his comical moniker fool you. Barnatt is a physically intimidating warrior, standing at 6’6”, and has an impressive 4-0 record that he has amassed in under a year.
Fighters Only spoke exclusively with Luke at Tsunami Gym in the south of England where he is helping his friend and teammate Tommy Maguire prepare for his upcoming bout against Mark Glover at BAMMA 10 on September 15th.
FO: How would you describe the experience training at Tsunami?
“I think Tsunami is one of the closest teams. We’re quite small; I think there’s only about five or six [pro fighters] that make up Tsunami Gym. We’re quite a formidable gym now when it comes to the semi-pro guys, but when it comes to the pros there’s only about five or six of us that train together.
“The facility itself doesn’t make the gym; it’s the people involved and we’re all really close. Me, Tommy and John Maguire, we all live at the gym Monday to Friday so [the training is] quite intense. We’re always here and we’re very focused on what we do.
2With Tommy [Maguire] coming up to BAMMA we’re focused on Tommy’s fight and getting it done. It’s intense, that’s how I’d describe training here because it’s full-on all the time. From the moment you wake up until the moment you go to sleep you’re in the gym, so it’s hard work.”
FO: You have a very unusual nickname. Where did ‘Bigslow’ come from?
“It came about when I first started MMA, about three or four years ago. When I first started training at Tsunami Gym Jack Mason brought me up and I was a bit scared of training almost; the intimidating feeling when you first come into the gym and there’s these scary guys trying to beat you up. That’s the feeling you have in your head when it’s not really like that at all.
“When I turned up I was a bit shy and quiet. The Maguire’s are quite vocal. We like to insult each other quite a lot but I didn’t know that at the time. My first session with them they were saying to Jack, ‘How could you bring this guy up here?’ Just insulting me and I didn’t know what to say so I was just like, ‘Eerrr,’ and scared.
“They said, ‘Oh look, this guy, he’s big and he’s pretty slow as well,’ and it just turned into the Bigslow. They thought there was something mentally wrong with me. There isn’t but my nickname is basically one big insult.
“They called me the Bigslow for the last four years in the gym and one day they decided to get me announced as it. I just got told, ‘You are being called the Bigslow and that is it. There’s no argument.’ I didn’t want to be known as the Bigslow because it doesn’t exactly sound very intimidating but I’ve learned to love it.
“I actually do enjoy being a bit different and not having an intimidating nickname or something like that. I’m quite happy being the Bigslow, I think it describes my character pretty well.”
FO: Now that Tom Watson has signed with the UFC, the BAMMA middleweight championship is vacant. Do you consider yourself among the top contenders to become the next champion?
“In my mind I’m definitely in the running for that. I looked up to Tom Watson a lot and I’ve trained with him quite a few times. He’s a great guy. On the UK scene he was the best domestic middleweight by far, and I think, now he’s left, I’ve become the best domestic middleweight.
“Obviously I need to prove that and I’m only 4-0. There’s definitely people who are perceived as above me in the rankings but it’s just about being given the opportunity to fight these guys and prove yourself so that you’re worthy of these sort of titles.
“I feel like I could step in there on September 15th and fight for Tom Watson’s title against any middleweight in the country and I’d win, so I feel like I’m in the runnings. I’m not sure that BAMMA do. I think BAMMA need me to fight a few more times on the show and build a bit more of a fan base on their promotion.
“My goal is definitely to be the World BAMMA Champion that Tom Watson was at middleweight and I’ve actually got an opponent in mind that I’d like to fight to prove [myself] and that’s a guy called Matt Nilsson. He’s a Swedish fighter and I think he’s ranked third or fourth in Europe, and that’s the sort of level that I’m aiming to compete at; not just the best in the UK but the best in Europe.
“It’s not that I’ve got anything against Matt Nilsson, I just saw him fighting in the UK and he’s not signed to a bigger promotion. He’d be a fantastic fight for anyone in the middleweight division on BAMMA and I think, if they could make that happen, it’d be good for the sport.
“That’s what BAMMA can showcase. It’s not just an English show, it’s a European show, and to prove that you’re worthy of that sort of title I think you have to beat someone of that calibre. There’s definitely a few guys in the UK who might deserve a shot in front of me but I’m chasing that and hopefully I’ll beat them to it.”
FO: If it was up to you, would you rather contend for the BAMMA championship under a tournament format or would you prefer a single number-one contender fight?
“I think tournaments are fantastic for the viewers if the ever work. Cage Warriors tried to do this recently and it’s been horrendous. Chris Fields is now in the final, even though he’s lost, due to injury. I don’t think it’s a fair way of determining [the best fighter].
“I prefer the number-one contender spot and working you’re way up the rankings. I think that is the best way to do it. Obviously it takes a bit longer, especially for me. I think I’m [ranked] twenty-second or twenty-third in the country.
“I’d have to win another few fights before I got ranked enough to fight, so a tournament would suit my fight career but, from my personal opinion, I don’t believe in tournaments in MMA.
“The old school style, where you used to fight three times in one night, maybe that might work because these days, with injuries, it’s hard to say, ‘I’m going to fight three fights, it’s going to end in a title shot and it’s going to happen over the next six months,’ or whatever.
“Cage Warriors have got their final coming up. It’s Chris Fields against Pavel Kusch and I don’t believe it’s really been a fair representation of the people that are involved in the competition. But, you know, it’s an option.”
FO: What do you think BAMMA’s new deal with Channel 5 will do for mixed martial arts in the UK?
“BAMMA’s always been fantastic and every time it’s aired in the UK it’s done well because the show is put together so brilliantly and the people that fight on BAMMA are real fighters; they put on a good show. [As for] Channel 5 itself, I think it’s fantastic because everyone can access It’s going to make a big impact.
“The one problem BAMMA has had, which hopefully now has been solved and will make it the strongest promotion going, is consistency, especially not being able to be consistently live on TV. There’s only been two shows a year or so which, although they’re arena shows and they’re fantastic, as a fighter it can be frustrating.
“If they can link with Channel 5 and can allow it to build as a promotion and they can have one [event] every two months or at least four times a year it’s going to be fantastic for UK MMA. They’ll emerge as the next big thing, although they’re already known as that, but I think there’ll be a big strong belief in BAMMA because there’s a bit of worry, if you’re a fighter, if you’re ever going to fight on there or if [the event is] ever going to happen.
“With Channel 5 behind them I think they’ll nail it and it’ll really help people get into MMA who’ve never seen it before or never hear of it. BAMMA are great with their media, great with advertising their events and pushing fighters forward, and getting them into mainstream media as well.
“I think BAMMA will be tenfold stronger if they can keep it with Channel 5 and they can sign the contract for some regular shows. It can only be good for English MMA.”