UFC veterans like Paul Kelly and Kevin Randleman might be years and weight classes apart, but they do have something in common: a misspent youth of getting into fights n the street.

In this extract from hard-hitting MMA journal Cage Talk, Fighters Only staff writer Jim Page speaks with several mixed martial artists that have had as many fights out of the cage as they have had in it…

Don’t fuck with Kevin Randleman

Although his wrestling pedigree makes every attempt to hide a penchant for street fights, Kevin ‘The Monster’ Randleman has no problem with violent extra-circular activities, ‘I’m a man that fights’, he said bluntly, ‘I don’t have a problem fighting you in the street.’

Standing only 5’10”, he finds that there is no shortage of people wanting to step up and test the accomplished MMA veteran and, as a result, trips to clubs and bars are routinely festooned with drunken challenges from fearless inbreeds. ‘If someone sees it’s Kevin Randleman… [they think] “I’ll fuck him up!”

‘“No you won’t motherfucker!”’ Randleman shouted, as a heartfelt pre-emptive response, ‘Swear to God, if you ever think that shit, you should smack yourself because – don’t fuck with me! You could be 300lbs and I swear to God, 300lbs is going to make you so slow I’m going to knock you out on your feet. Nobody’s that fast – if you’re a 300lb man, don’t step to me because I’ve got power in my hands and when I hit you in the face, you’re going to fall down.

“There’s no gloves on these hands!’ he roared enthusiastically. ‘That’s how I learnt to fight. I’ve got all these scars as war wounds, not from sitting in the kitchen with my mum, baking fucking cookies!’

‘There’s a world full of assholes’ he explained, ‘people have problems within themselves. Like I said, I’m only 5’10” and I’ve had so many surgeries over the last few years, I’m smaller. I usually walk around at 230 pounds – guys tend not to fuck with that guy, they are like, “Oh shit, that guy’s a fucking gorilla!”

“But now that I look more normal, there are always people out there that want to make a name for themselves. There are no rules in a street fight and I swear to God, you are not going to make a name on me in the street. You’re not going to make a name on me in these fucking MMA fights no more either.’

The reformed character: Paul Kelly

British UFC veteran, Paul Kelly is another successful MMA fighter whose no-nonsense attitude to competition was developed through years of fighting in the streets. ‘When I was young I went to a few different schools, where I am in Liverpool, everyone’s pretty much in the same boat. Kids are little bastards, aren’t they? – and I think that’s what got me into it, everyone going out all the time, fighting and getting in trouble. Fighting in MMA has pretty much got me on the straight and narrow, you know.’

As an energetic youth with a healthy disregard for authority, life for Kelly involved countless brawls – and frequent scrapes with the law. ‘I’ve been arrested for a few different things… kidnapping and affray, dangerous driving and pretty much everything, you know?’ Paul said candidly, quickly throwing his girlfriend into a panic as she listened in on the interview. ‘It’s OK, he’s writing a book… it’s all in the past anyway’ he consoled her.

Since making a significant impact in the world of professional MMA, Kelly has noticed a significant difference to his life as he left behind his chaotic youthful existence – in fact, his success in the fight game has quite possibly kept him out of an early grave.

‘I’ve grown up a lot, I was always getting in trouble, different firms of lads having fights or trouble, going down that road, but no-one fights anymore so it’s no good on the streets. Where I live, you get shot in the head!’ he laughed in astonishment, ‘No-one will come and have a fight anyway, if you know what I mean.’

The rewards of fighting at the top level of MMA are not limited to signing lucrative multi-fight contracts; for Kelly, making his parents proud of him seems to have had a far more profound affect on his sense of inner worth. ‘My mum’s made up about my fighting because it keeps me off the streets, keeps me out of trouble, do you know what I mean? The police were forever raiding the house. My brother’s always been in the same boat as me, now he’s started fighting, she’s just happy and proud.

‘Me and our Gary,’ he continued with a serious tone, ‘we’ve never given our Mum and Dad anything to be proud of, ever. Five times I got expelled; I was always getting arrested and the police raiding the house at all hours of the morning. So we’ve never given them nothing to be proud of – and now, I walked in the other day and my Dad was just sitting there on his own watching my fights on the telly. I just want to give him something to be proud of now and it gives me a bit of a feel-good factor as well.’

Shotgun blasts: lightweight contender Jason Young

Jason ‘Shotgun’ Young faced equally challenging times during his troubled childhood as he grew up in a London care-home. ‘My Dad’s got Parkinson’s disease and my Mum’s been schizophrenic since, I can’t even remember when… from when I was born, probably. She’s been in and out of hospital a few times, in the institute and things like that. I didn’t really see too much of it, because I was too young, but my sister saw a lot of it, you know. She’ll be on medication for the rest of her life and stuff like that.’

Talking through the tough times he faced as a youngster was visibly cathartic for Jason; he spoke from the depths of his heart as he continued.

‘My Dad don’t live with me, broken home, never lived with my Mum and Dad. Up to the age of 7, I was brought up in a child’s home where this lady looked after me. No-one was my family, but there were seven other kids there, who I still see to this day. The people who looked after me have died now and, you know, coming from stuff like that, not having a proper happy home.’

‘When you’re seeing all of this, you just use it as a fuel, that’s what I use as a fuel to make me fight. I ain’t had a lot of street fights,’ he cleared up quickly, ‘I’ve had a few and every fight I shit myself… I get shit scared, in the street, in the cage. It is pretty scary to fight. Once you get into the swing of things you forget about everything around you, everyone. It’s just you and him; when I’m in that cage, I don’t see anyone else, I don’t hear anyone else.’

Casting off pre-fight nerves is one of the sternest tests a professional fighter will ever face; this is where Jason’s psychological preparations come to the fore. ‘I just try to think of stuff that I’ve been through. My adrenaline is pumping and I’m thinking about stuff and it usually takes my mind off the fear of fighting, it gives me more of a fuel to fight. It’s hard to explain unless you actually fight. It’s a mad feeling; I get shivers running down my spine as I’m walking down. It’s mad, when you watch the DVD you wouldn’t see any of that go on, but when you’re watching it, it’s allgoing on, it’s all going on inside.’

However, that is not to say that Young acts like a pent up ball of aggression at every stage of his preparation. ‘Throughout the day, I can go to the rules talk, I could have the boy standing in front of me, I don’t feel phased or anything, but at the point when [the runner] goes “Right, you’ve got 15 minutes” and I start hitting the pads, warming up and getting ready and the point when I do start to get nervous is you’re actually walking out. That’s when everything starts kicking in. Before then, I usually run down to my sister and have a chat with her for a couple of minutes. Then I just go back up and I’m ready.’

Young confessed that he feels out of place on the odd occasion when he takes a day away from training, [“Fuck! What shall I do? What shall I do?”].The Londoner usually ends up going for a run, or undertaking some energetic activity. One aspect of his pugilistic mindset, however, that he holds back exclusively for the gym and the cage is aggression. ‘It’s only in the gym you know, I don’t like to fight outside at all. If anything, all my friends, when they are drunk and that, they are the trouble-starters. I’m the one in the middle saying “Look, I don’t want to fight. Look, we don’t want to fight.”

‘We always end up in scraps though,’ he admitted, ‘and your friends always rely on you to be the one to do the fighting. I’ve seen fights and heard my friends going, “Come on, get him Jason, get him” and all of a sudden I’m in a fight with another boy outside of nightclubs. It is a bit of a nightmare. I have had little scraps, but haven’t had a fight for nearly a year.’

In the cage, there’s only you and him. I think to myself, “I’ve taken beatings from like 15 people; I’ve been put in hospital and stuff like that. What’s this one boy gonna do? The most he can do is knock me out. That’s the most he can do.” I’ve never been knocked out in my life and I’ve took a few punches as well’ the hardened Londoner concluded.

The Warrior Lifestyle of Mark ‘The Beast’ Epstein 

Mark Epstein is no stranger to violence and is happy to admit that his fighting spirit was originally honed through pitch battles with a variety of opponents in the street. ‘I’ve been hit a few times with a few baseball bats, had a few truncheons over my head as well’ he added with a sly laugh, ‘There’s quite a few fights so… I mean I’ve had pub fights, club fights, street fights, you know.’

At the age of 17, Epstein had an unforgettable experience which led him headlong into a hard and unsustainable lifestyle. ‘I had an argument with someone over a girl, we had an arranged fight and I went to the fight with a few friends, but the guy came with a few friends and there was a couple of baseball bats. I didn’t really want to fight because I’d been hit with a baseball bat before, but we had the fight and I beat the fella!’

It was not to end there, however, as a friend of his opponent stepped up to take brutal revenge on the South Londoner. ‘He tried to hit me over the legs with the baseball bat and then he hit me over the head, knocked me out, most probably done some damage, but that was already done a long time ago’, he said, roaring with laughter. ‘The guy who I was fighting come running over to kick me while I was down but I jumped up, I weren’t out that long, but after that fight I decided, “No, I never want to be the victim again.”’

I was half-expecting to hear that Mark learned a valuable lesson and left his street-fighting days behind him; I was in for a shock. ‘It changed me, I was a little more pro active – I mean, not so much with weapons, but if I had to use a weapon, I would. Being hit with a few kind of made me… more naughty, I suppose. I wouldn’t worry so much about hurting people seeing as I’d already been hurt, so I thought I’d do it first.’

‘I was about 17 when that one happened, but I’d been done previously before that, I had a fight, same thing, fucking… girl. It always seems to be females – or turf wars. I had a lot of female shit when I was young, fighting over girls and stuff. My childhood, from young, it was like, foster parents, homes, boarding schools, borstal, prison… I been through whole the mill, met some very colourful characters.’

Asked how he made the transition from street brawler to mixed martial artist, Epstein clearly feels a debt of gratitude to now exiled fellow fighter, Lee Murray, who steered him in the right direction.

‘One of my friends, a similar kind of guy, Lee Murray, he started fighting before me. We was watching UFC and stuff together, but I went to prison for a while and while I was away he got into mixed martial arts. I went to see him at a few shows and stuff, I just wanted to get involved. I mean, I’d been doing it for years for free, so I thought I’d maybe earn a little bit of money out of it. Focus… channel my aggressive nature, I suppose, or… tendencies.’

A lot of fighters declare that when they first stepped onto the mats, they knew they had found their calling in life and set about dedicating themselves to the sport. For Epstein, however, the memories of his first trip to the London Shootfighters gym are very different. ‘I remember the first time I went, the training, it killed me.

“I mean, I’d most probably been out of jail six months, a year and then I went training. All that time, I’d been going to the gym, but I hadn’t really been doing too much cardio-vascular and I’d been abusing everything from McDonalds to drugs, to alcohol… I had been abusing all that before I went to jail and just a little bit after I come home, so the training was really hard. But I knew I had to give up a lot of vices, that’s what I did for a couple of years, I gave up.’

Epstein explained that this new interest in MMA had a significant effect on his determination to stay away from the drugs and other distractions. ‘I wanted to do it properly, I was pretty serious about the it, so yeah, it was a struggle, but I knew it was something that I had to do, you know, if I wanted to give myself a decent chance. In competition you need to be in good physical fitness, so I needed some time to sort that out.

‘MMA changed my life at the end of the day. Even though people look at it negatively, “Oh, it’s just meatheads beating the shit out of each other”, it has been very positive for me. I’d love to be able to give something back to the youth because what do they do? They are just roaming the streets with their hoods on, stabbing the shit out of each other, shivving each other, I was deep in that shit years ago, but MMA changed my life, I’m sure it could do it for other people.

‘It’s a positive thing, man, positive’, the Beast said in conclusion. ‘Even though we are dealing with issues in the cage, trying to kick the shit and beat the shit out of our opponents, but we just want to win; people have to take punishment to win, it’s as simple as that. At least if you lose you can train up and come back in a year or two. If you want to compete, nothing beats it, nothing beats it – nothing comes close to competing like that. It’s all-in, it’s real, that’s why I love it. It’s the realest sport in the world. It definitely had a huge affect on me, a positive influence on my life – when my career is finished, I want to get into training people and make a difference.’

Jim is the author of ‘Cage Talk’, a no-holds barred look at the real world of mixed martial arts fighting. Featuring interviews with some of the biggest names in the world’s most exciting sport, Cage Talk is out now in all good book shops.