British light-heavyweight contender Jimi Manuwa is seemingly just one more win away from a shot at the UFC 205-pound title. This Saturday (July 29) he fights fellow contender Volkan Oezdemir, before Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones contest UFC gold in the UFC 214 main event, and knows an impressive performance will deliver him the very thing he craves – a shot at the Cormier vs. Jones winner.
Manuwa, 17-2, is buoyed by back-to-back knockouts of Ovince Saint Preux and Corey Anderson and, since hooking up with Alexander Gustafsson and the Allstars gym in Sweden, has never looked better. He goes into this weekend’s fight with Oezdemir full of confidence and has sights set on yet another spectacular KO victory.
Q: How did you end up at Allstars with Alexander Gustafsson?
Jimi Manuwa: We both went to Alliance gym in San Diego in 2011 before I fought for the UFC and I think I missed him by a week. I texted him and said we should definitely train (together) one day.
We stayed in contact and then he was fighting in London in 2013 against (Antônio Rogério) Nogueira. I got a call from my manager saying Nogueira had pulled out with injury and there’s a slot in the main event against Alex Gustafsson. He said it was a big opportunity, he’d just come off a fight against Jon Jones, it was in my hometown and it was the main event. I’d had two or three fights in the UFC, he was the number one contender and I was top 15.
I had a little think about it. I was actually on my way to a nightclub, so I pulled over and spoke to my manager on the phone and said, “F**k it, I’ll do it.” The fight was made. I texted Alex and said, “We’re going to fight, let’s get this out of the way and then we’ll train after.” We did the fight, my first loss, but I learned a lot from that fight about levels of training. Immediately after the fight, about two months after the fight, I accepted a fight with Shogun (Rua) in Brazil so I went to Allstars to do a training camp for that.
Q: Was there any awkwardness?
JM: No, the team out there was so welcoming. The whole team and the coaches were so welcoming. I felt at home straight away. The first day, everyone welcomed me to the house. Everyone was so cool and they still are. I’m like one of the family out there.
Q: What differences did you notice?
JM: Structure and the level of sparring partners. Everyone is good. The coaches are all there to fine-tune your training. I had coaches here (in London), but I was doing my own schedule. I’d do boxing one day or some strength and conditioning. I had no one telling me. Out there you know what you’re doing for the week, for the month or even the whole camp.
Alex is my main sparring partner and I’m his main sparring partner as well. He’s such a great guy. I can’t say any better things about him. He has taught me a lot. I believe he’s the best in the world. He’s so talented. He’s a beast and we have proper wars. He’s good everywhere and I learn so much from him. I think it was the best move of my career going over there. It’s brought my game up, levels. I get a lot of confidence knowing I spar with the best in the world. No one can touch me now.
Q: How hard does sparring get?
JM: Our whole gym kind of stops and watches when we spar, but we’re professionals so we don’t hurt each other. We can spar for the whole camp and no one will get injured. No one who’ll get rocked. We know exactly what we’re doing. But if we make a mistake, we get punished. So we don’t make that mistake again. It’s all about getting to the fight and getting each other to the fight.
Q: How is being in Stockholm compared to being in London?
JM: I love it. The only thing I miss is my family – my dog, my missus and my kids. When I’m there, it’s just pure focus. I go out there and focus on training. There’s no taking phone calls and going to meetings – distractions. I just wake up, go to training, eat, sleep, wake up and go training – twice a day. That’s it. I get my massages, strength and conditioning, everything. It’s perfect. Everything is done at the gym. Andreas Michael sets our whole schedule and it’s great.
Q: Is the approach to strength and conditioning quite scientific?
JM: It’s not. It’s just pure hard work. Strictly hard work. It’s structured and tailored to how you’re feeling as well. It’s not like a bloody boot camp. We’re professional athletes. If you’re tired, you take a day off, half a day off or you skip that session. It’s just pure hard work.
Q: Do you you do cardio in the snow?
JM: Not in the snow, no (laughs). But we run in the summer. Road runs. It’s a great place.
Q: Is there a lot of down time?
JM: Before there was. I’d have a month off doing nothing and would go out partying. But now I’ve become a lot hungrier. After the Ovince Saint Preux fight I was back in the gym on the Monday because I wasn’t injured and I wanted to get straight back into a fight. I wanted a quick turnaround but it didn’t happen. (Glover) Teixeira bottled out, (Ryan) Bader didn’t want it and neither did Shogun (Rua). We had problems getting another opponent.
That’s the only reason I fought in March in London. The last camp was a bit grueling because I hadn’t had any time off from October to March. I promised myself I’d take some time off after London, but it’s been hard. I had a week and a half off and was scratching the walls. I need to train and stay sharp.
*** This Q&A first appeared in the July issue of Fighters Only magazine ***