Stephen Martin (5-3) discovered Japanese Ju Jitsu when he was 3 years old and he’s been hooked on martial arts ever since. He spent years working his way up to 3rd Dan, then at age 15 he started training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, partly due to his dad’s interest in how BJJ had a stronger focus on ground work. Martin was rewarded for 9 years of dedication to BJJ with a black belt from Braulio Estima. He says that all he knows is martial arts, it is what he loves.
Despite only being 25, Martin has been very impressive in the BJJ tournaments that he has competed in. He says 2012 was his best year as a martial artist due to winning gold at the Europeans, going to the Pan Ams and winning silver, and winning bronze at the Worlds. He was also ranked number 1 in the brown belt lightweight category, and described it as “a pretty good year”.
He spends most of his time at Martin’s Martial Arts Academy. Whilst he is focused on developing his own skillset, the passion for teaching and helping others learn is also important to him. Despite being in camp for this fight, he has spent a lot of time teaching his students and helping them. The only other sport that Martin has an interest in is pool, due to the tactical aspect of the game.
Though he has a Ju Jitu and Jiu Jitsu background, Martin sees his future in MMA, and says he was drawn to the sport after watching UFC stars Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture. He also mentions Anderson Silva as someone he enjoys watching, and respects GSP’s approach to MMA and martial arts.
22 years after getting involved in martial arts, Martin is ready for the most important fight of his career so far. This weekend he faces off against Steve Aimable at BCMMA 14 for the BCMMA Featherweight Title. Martin is aiming to impress in 2016 and is dedicating himself to improving as a MMA fighter, with the long-term goal being to get into the UFC and become a star.
The BJJ black belt trains out of Martins MMA Academy in Derby, under the tutelage of his father, Patrick Martin.
“My dad is a very important person to me” the 25-year-old says. “He plays a role in all aspects of my life. I’ve been training under him for over 20 years, and have learnt, and will continue to learn, many things from him. It can be difficult at times because we have a fighter-coach relationship as well as a father-son one, but we make it work and have a great relationship, even if he has given me a kick up the backside in the past for not working hard enough!”
Steven Aimable (8-2) is the BCMMA Featherweight Champion and the hype around him has been growing with every victory. Aimable trains out of BKK Fighters in Colchester, one of his coaches being Jack Mason, who is also the co-promoter and matchmaker at BCMMA. Long regarded as one of UK MMA’s most professional and diligent players, Martin believes that there is no conflict of interests there, as Mason does his best to put together even, well-matched fights for everybody on the card.
“I know Jack Mason is a professional and this won’t be a problem at all. Obviously Jack will be cheering on Steve in the fight, which is understandable, but apart from that I think he will stay neutral.
Aimable defeated Rhys Parker at BCMMA9 to win the title and has since defended the belt successfully 3 times. Despite it being Martin’s first title fight, he is treating it like any other fight and believes he is the fighter who will leave Colchester Charter Hall with the belt.
“I’m very excited about my first title fight. I’m looking forward to taking that belt off Steve Aimable. BCMMA are getting bigger and bigger, so being their champion would be a great honour. There has been talk about this title fight for months, it was finally confirmed just before Christmas. Even though it’s a title fight, I’m treating it just like my previous fights. I’ve trained hard and I’m ready to go.
“I think Aimable is a very tough fighter. He has defended his belt numerous times and shown he is a good champion. I don’t think he has fought anyone of my caliber and I’m looking to show my skills on Saturday night.”
BCMMA 14 takes place in Colchester, just a few miles away from the BKK Fighters gym. Martin is aware that he will be entering a venue where his opponent’s support will heavily outweigh his travelling support. He insists that the crowd supporting the local fighter won’t have an impact on him.
“I have over 60 people coming down from the Midlands. The support I get is amazing. It’s not a 2 minute drive down to Colchester from Derby and some people will be staying over as well. I really appreciate it. Thanks to each and every person for the continued support.”
Martin is fighting in the main event of a card that features 2 UFC veterans, John Maguire and Luke Barnatt, and he recognises how their presence on the card could help him. Barnatt is a popular figure in MMA and will attract attention to the show. The duo represent Tsunami Gym, who have a very close relationship with the BKK Fighters team, and their supporters will most likely be favouring the local fighter.
“It is great having 2 former UFC guys on the card,” Martin said, “Barnatt and Maguire are very experienced fighters, and I’m interested to see how they get on. Also now the show is being streamed live, I think this is going to be a great boost for BCMMA.”
Martin has fought for a number of different promotions around the country, but he has spent the last year with BCMMA. It was Ian Dean, the Cage Warriors matchmaker, who helped get Martin a slot on a BCMMA card, and he is grateful for the help and advice he received. He made his BCMMA debut as a fighter with a 3-3 record; successive losses against Andre Winner and Paddy Pimblett had stalled his progress. His time with BCMMA has helped him find his feet again, with victories over Robin Gidlov and Corrin Eaton. The East Midlander speaks very highly of the Colchester-based promotion.
“This is my third fight on BCMMA, it is a really good show, really well organised, they do a great job looking after fighters. I like how they plan the year out and have a vision for the future. Jack Mason and Chris Cook do a great job running the promotion. Just look at how they’ve grown over the last year, they will be one of the biggest shows in the UK if they carry on growing like this.”
He earned a shot at the BCMMA Featherweight Title with a victory over Corrin Eaton at BCMMA12. Both fighters knew that the winner was very likely to get a shot at the title, which added extra motivation for Martin.
“The Corrin Eaton fight went exactly as I expected, I knew he would have an in-and-out approach. However, he did catch me with a couple of shots in the beginning, but once I found my rhythm and composure I took it where I wanted it. I should have submitted it in the first round, I finished the round on his back, I would have finished him if I had 30 seconds more. I took him down in the next round and managed to finish with the arm triangle.
“I was very happy to get that win over Eaton, the atmosphere for that fight was crazy and I knew it would lead to the title shot.”
It has been over 5 years since Martin made his MMA debut and yet he only has 8 fights to his name, although there is an amateur fight that is not recorded, he realises that he can no longer split his time between BJJ and MMA.
“I definitely should have more fights on my record considering it has been 5 years, “ Martin told YourMMA. “But I spent a lot of time splitting between MMA and BJJ, trying to juggle both. However, you can only give 100% to one at a time. I am now 100% focused on MMA and I want to be fighting in the UFC.”
Although his background is in BJJ, he spends a lot of time working on trying to become a better all-around fighter, though he does admit that his wrestling is an area that he wants to work on. Martin has fought at lightweight and welterweight in the past, but is now settling down at featherweight and wants to establish himself at 145lbs.
His 5 victories have all been finishes, and all came through a submission, but he isn’t worried about being called a one-dimensional fighter either. He believes a knockout is coming, and his performances have suggested that he certainly has that in his locker, but he won’t shy away from using his bread and butter if he sees the opportunity to end the fight. Martin’s focus when looking back at his fights is seeing that he performed to the best of his ability.
“The most important thing to me is the performance. Obviously the wins are important but it does come down to the performance. If I go in there and do what I’ve trained to do I’m happy, win or lose. I will always look to finish my fights; I don’t like leaving it to the judges because I have lost a couple of fights in the past by decision when I thought I did enough to win.”
It is understandable why some would look at a fighter with a 5-3 record and wonder if he is a legitimate prospect, but Martin’s ability can’t be judged just on his record. When there are fighters around the world who pad their records with wins over cans, Martin decided to test himself against fighters who had growing reputations or had a lot of experience. The 3 losses came to very respectable opponents.
His first loss at BAMMA 13 was to Tim Wilde, a very bright prospect in UKMMA. The second was to Andre Winner, one of the most experienced fighters in UKMMA , at AON6. That was Martin’s second fight of the night, having earlier defeated Louis Champion in the first stage of the lightweight tournament. A fighter with 4 fights to his name losing a decision to a former UFC fighter with over 20 fights to his name is nothing to be ashamed of. Andre Winner ended up winning the tournament with a decision victory over Artem Lobov in the final.
The third loss on his record arrived at CWFC 73, Martin’s Cage Warriors debut and also his featherweight debut, against Paddy Pimblett. The fight ended due to a cut at the end of the first round, a fight that Martin believes he was winning.
“I think people could look at my record and think it isn’t great, but I’ve fought some of the best guys in the UK. And I’ve had close fights with them. I’ve learnt from every loss, and if I was to fight them again I would win.”
Despite the Pimblett fight being the loss that he wants to avenge the most, Martin insists that he won’t actively push for the fight. He will take the fights that are presented to him. A fight against Pimblett on a future Cage Warriors card would be intriguing for UK MMA fans, two prospects who previously met in a fight with an unsatisfactory ending. We’re also unlikely to hear trash talk or a display of “disrespect” from the man who has grown up around martial arts.
“I’m not interested in calling people out; I’ll fight whoever is put in front of me. I would be happy to take that fight if it gets matched up in the future, I would be more than happy to take it.”
“I’d say I’m the type of fighter that prefers to let his performances in the cage do the talking. I like to show proper respect to my opponents, something I’ve always done through my career in martial arts.”
The BJJ black belt is hoping this is his most active year, with his goal being 4 fights in 2016, he fought 3 times in 2013 and 2014 but only twice in 2015. He sees his long-term future in the UFC, but knows that he still has a lot to accomplish on the domestic scene.
“After I win the belt on Saturday I’ll sit down with my dad and talk about my future, and also speak to Jack Mason about his thoughts. I’ll have a look at what happens with Cage Warriors. I appreciate what BCMMA has done for me, if Jack would want me to fight again I would be happy with that. I’m flexible, I will take time to figure out what is the next step and what is best for my career.”
Derby MMA is a small team based at Martins Martial Academy, Martin is the most experienced member of the MMA team, that does create some issues for a fighter who is still developing. The gym’s primary focus has been Japanese Ju Jitsu and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which means that the standard of MMA isn’t at the same level yet, but Martin wants to play a part in developing the sport in Derby.
Looking at his plans for the long term, a reasonable question that could be asked is what is Martin’s ceiling and can it be achieved by staying with his current team. We have seen fighters remain loyal to their local team, fighters moving to North America permanently, and there are a number of fighters who now split their time between their “home-gym” and at a camp across the Atlantic, one example being Arnold Allen, the UFC fighter who is currently at Tri-Star in Canada, but will still train at BKK Fighters.
“I’m always going to be dedicated to Derby MMA and Martins Martial Arts Academy, I started my martial arts career there and will finish there. “
“Whatever I need we go out and get it. You can always bring in good sparring partners to your team. The coaches I currently work with and my sparring partners have been great and so important to my development. There hasn’t been a fighter from Derby that has really made a name for himself on the scene, I want to put Derby onto the map and grow the scene in the city.”
“I do have links to Kings MMA in California and I have trained out there before and plan to go out again. However, when I’ve trained there it’s to help aid my training at Derby MMA. “
Martin heads into the event in a confident mood and ended the interview talking about those who have been helping and supporting him during his career and this fight.
“I’d like to thank my dad for always preparing me for my fights. Tony Myers who has done loads of work with me on my stand up and the mental approach to fighting. My brother Liam, who has also played a big part in helping me prepare for this fight. I couldn’t do this without my girlfriend, Christine, she always supports me and help me so much with my diet and also keeping me sane during fight camp. I’d like to thank my sponsors for their support, Pit Stop Tyres in Burton-on-Trent & Optimum health in Ashbourne . And I would like to thank everyone who is travelling down to support. We’ll be celebrating afterwards with a beer.“
YourMMA.co.uk also spoke to Jack Mason, the BCMMA co-promoter and matchmaker, about his thoughts on Stephen Martin, why he made this fight, the conflict of interest as promoter and coach, and where he sees the winner of this title fight going next.
Jack Mason on Stephen Martin:
“Stephen looks great in all areas to be honest, he seems to have great boxing, good wrestling and obviously is a high level in BJJ being a blackbelt and having won the Europeans before. Stephen has no obvious weaknesses in his game and has been in there with some very high level guys at a very early stage in his career, so already has experience fighting at the top level.”
“Both Eaton and Gidlov (his previous opponents) are quality opposition and Martin showed a really good stand up game and grinding pressure with his wrestling and top game. Once Martin gets on top his pressure and BJJ are a problem for most and he was able to wear both Eaton and Gidlov down with the constant pressure, pass the guard, link his arms and force the tap from a side choke in both fights. Martin has really impressed on BCMMA and is making a name for himself as one of the best Featherweights in the UK and in these fights staked his claim as the clear number one contender for the BCMMA 145lbs belt.”
“I’ve been asked Martin’s record a lot over the past year, Martin has only fought the best guys out there and you have to give him respect for that. He is very good. Was it a smart career move to fight those types of guys at that stage of his career? Probably not, but I’ve made similar bad choices in my career and he definitely didn’t show himself up in those fights, he proved to everyone he can hang in there with some of the best Lightweights in the UK. Now that Martin is at Featherweight I expect him to go on a tear and make it to the big shows sooner or later.”
Jack Mason on why he made this fight:
“Steve Aimable has been an amazing Champion for BCMMA, always putting on exciting fights against very tough competition, he’s gone from strength to strength over the last 18 months and looks better every time he fights.”
“Stephen Martin has impressed the fans and UKMMA community massively on BCMMA having beaten the likes of Robin Gidlov and Corrin Eaton on the show in impressive fashion and has truly earned his place as number 1 contender.”
“This match was literally a no brainer and we at BCMMA are privileged to be able to put such an amazing fight on between two of the UK’s best Featherweight prospects.”
“I really can’t call how the fight plays out, the two are both so evenly matched and some of the best Featherweights in the UK right now. Aimable has big power, explosive wrestling and a very high work rate, Martin has power too, good boxing and a great top pressure game. It really comes down to who can implement their game plan on the night, it could finish on the feet, on the ground but my money is on this going to decision in a very exciting but close fight.”
Jack Mason on the conflict of interest as the promoter/matchmaker and BKK Fighters coach:
“Being the promoter gives me the ability to make sure that the BKK Fighters guys get fair fights on a regular basis and will not get stitched up but that’s as far as it goes. None of the fighters at BKK want to fight cans, we are lucky that all the guys that step through the door want to compete and test themselves in their careers against quality opposition which is a pleasure. We employ completely independent judges and referees on the show and will never give a bias to the guys at BKK, if we did this it would be our downfall at BCMMA so we make sure that no one can ever accuse us of that.”
“From a BCMMA perspective the fight between Aimable and Martin was a no brainer. Aimable is a brilliant and exciting champion, Martin is the obvious number one contender and the fight had to be made. Both guys were begging me for this fight as were the fans and media alike so we had to do it.”
“From a BKK Fighters perspective and as a coach I don’t want my guys taking silly fights and being outmatched but I do want them to test themselves against the best out there as long as it’s a fair fight. It’s no good fighting over matched opposition if you want to get to the top level as you will get found out somewhere along the way. This is a great fight for Aimable to prove where he is at and he was begging me for this fight so I’m excited for it as a coach and as a promoter.”
Jack Mason on where the winner goes next:
“Whoever wins in this fight will be getting a lot of respect across the UKMMA scene and if the champ choses to stay with BCMMA then we will keep looking for the best opponents we can to progress their careers and help make them the stars they will surely be in the future.”
“I think Martin is a huge prospect and is only going to get better. I think both Martin and Aimable will be looked at by all the big shows this year and no doubt that Cage Warriors and the UFC are in their future. BCMMA is about building guys careers and making them into stars for the future to go on to bigger and better things. That and putting on exciting fights for the fans is the sole purpose of why we started BCMMA.”
BCMMA will be streamed live & free on www.mmatv.co.uk , the stream starts at 6pm, the main card kicks off at 9pm.