Denis ‘The Menace’ Frimpong has undoubtedly been one of the biggest stars of the inaugural Oktagon Challenge series. Following two impressive victories, the Irishman will face George Staines in the final, which will take place at Oktagon 48, on November 4th. Jake Smith spoke with the 28-year-old to discuss his experience on the show.
The Challenge Series saw 8 contestants make up 2 teams, with 4 athletes representing Team England and 4 representing Team Ireland. Throughout the series, the mixed martial artists from both teams lived together, in Bratislava; which threw up some interesting experiences for the Manchester based Lightweight, he said:
“The vibe was good. It took us a couple days to warm to each other and we all got on obviously. I dunno what the English lads might say, but the dynamic and the guys they were made feel a lot more uncomfortable than we were.”
“It was a bit of a strange experience, sitting at the kitchen table or the dining room table, having your breakfast the morning of the fight especially, I’m going to be fighting you 3 hours, mate.”
“I’m sitting here across the table from you having breakfast and I mean, it was, it was a bit strange, but other than that, yeah, it was really good. I enjoyed it and I enjoyed myself.”
The two teams were coached by UK and Irish MMA royalty, with Brad Pickett and Paddy Holohan leading the charge for Team England and Team Ireland, respectively. For Frimpong, the opportunity to be coached by Holohan was an experience he will never forget. He said:
“It wasn’t just nice, it was surreal, honestly it was surreal. Like you say, he is a legend of Irish MMA and I remember when I first started doing martial arts and like 2016 would have been, or like 2015 and I was just doing jiu jitsu at the time, but I was still a fan of UFC and obviously Conor was on the way up at that time.”
“There was UFC Dublin at the arena and I remember watching him on UFC Dublin and he was a guy that I looked up to and I was like, ‘Wow, he’s at the top of the mountain. He’s there. He’s where I want to be one day.’ Just for him to be coaching me a few years later and like singing my praises and telling me how good I was and yeah, just passing his knowledge and wealth of experience onto me.”
Team England fell foul to many antics at the hands of the Irish quartet- usually orchestrated by ‘The Menace’, who certainly lived up to his nickname. He admitted that some pranks were even too much for broadcast!
“It’s hard to say which one was the best. It was probably either the toilet water or the water balloons when we ambushed them as they came home. With toilet water, it was just mad. He (Hascen Gelezi) didn’t know where the water was from until even the show came out and he was walking around with the toilet water all over and going off was quite warm.”
“There were a few that were a bit more sinister and a bit more like, not for Channel Four. Yeah, those are probably my favorite two.”
The aforementioned pranks and constant taunting became synonymous with Frimpong’s character throughout the series. The Irishman admits he understands his antics and constant verbal jousting means he has to constantly perform well and back it up in the cage but feels he thrives under the additional pressure.
“There’s a few quotes from Jake (McHugh) and George where they say stuff like, ‘He’s not very confident in himself.’ But what they don’t understand is that I have to be confident in myself to chase it, because if I talk sh*t and I got knocked out, it’s worse. It’s way more pressure!”
“It’s way more pressure on myself. But I know that I have the skill set to back it up. I know I have the work ethic. I know how hard I work in the gym. I know how hard I train and I know my level. So yeah, it is a bit of extra pressure and it can maybe even give me a bit extra when I’m in the fight, you know, because I know I have to back up that sh*t.”
“So if I do get hit with a good shot or I’m in a bad spot in a fight, the inner monologue is just going, ‘You can’t do all that sh*t and come here to lose, mate. You can’t lose in front of all these people!’ And I think that’s a big part of why I’ve never been finished in any of my fights.”
“I’ve got a few losses on my record, but they’ve always been close decisions. I’ve never been soundly beaten. It’s always been a case where the decisions were dodgy, decisions where say, I maybe should have got the nod and all of those losses have been wars, where we both had each other’s respect after the fight, as far as I’m concerned.”
“Like, if you don’t get finished or just absolutely destroyed, beat 10-8 at every round or even 10-9 every round by every judge. You haven’t really lost a fight. You’ve lost a match in an event. And I’ve never come out of a fight feeling like, Oh, I got battered in that fight.”
Frimpong will face Englishman George Staines at the AO Arena, Manchester, Denis’ home from home. The victor will claim a lucrative €25,000 multi-fight Oktagon contract. Frimpong is relishing the opportunity to land his first major MMA contract in front of many of his family and friends.
“Once again, it’s surreal. Reality is honestly stranger than fiction. It’s in Manchester, if you had asked me four years ago, ‘Where are you going to be?’ Manchester would have been the last place. And things just happen in life, you know, COVID happened, things happen.”
“Just loads of different scenarios in life that end up happening. And that led to me being in Manchester and then that led to being at Manchester Top team and then obviously led to me being here on this show and the final happening to be in Manchester. And obviously it’s my first big pro fight where I’m close enough to home that people can come watch.”
“From Dublin and from Ireland, it’s only a quick flight over and it’s a big arena show. I’m on the main card and it’s in my home away from home, as you say. So all the team, everyone, all the friends that I’ve made in Manchester are going to the show. I’m going to have a big crowd there. I’m going to be able to walk out with the tricolour representing my country and my gym.”
“As you say, (I’m) fighting for a big contract this early in my career. People don’t understand. I’ve only been an Amateur for the last three years. I made my amateur debut in 2021.”
“It’s just yeah, it’s honestly surreal. And a lot of people say, you know, my mouth got me to where I am now. Stop being a hater. Then maybe, maybe open your mouth and talk and sell yourself, you know what I mean? We’re salesmen. We’re selling a product. We are the product. And I honestly believe I could sell sand to a camel!”
Oktagon 48 will play host to the promotions 1st time on British shores, with a stacked card set for Manchester. Headlining the card will be Welshman Aaron Aby, as he takes on Elias Garcia for the Flyweight title and Oktagon Challenge coaches Akonne Wanliss and Shem Rock will both feature in exciting Featherweight bouts. Elsewhere on the card, reality star Jake Quickenden will face comedian Paul Smith in the ‘Stage To The Cage’ finale.
By Jake Smith.