Over the past twenty-three years, mixed martial arts has seen its fair share of oddities and, for lack of a better word, different characters. Some of the personalities you’d come across seem like they’d be the last to ever partake in such a violent, physical spectacle of a sport. It’s observed some of the nicest guys with the most unexpected wild sides to them. Some of them who change once a contract is signed or the octagon door is shut.
For Costas Doru (5-0-1), this is a description he fits synonymously. In his own words, he was your ‘stereotypical, geeky student’ who loved indulging in books and the arts of English literature. Despite a small interest in fighting arts, Doru was the utter contrast to your stereotypical four-ounce glove-wearing combatant.
“I was just about the complete opposite of martial artist,” Costas admitted. “I did love watching boxing, though. I really wanted to box. However, my parents didn’t want me being punched in the face.
“Then my dad found these old VHS tapes of the first UFC events and started to persuade me to go down the path of judo as the grapplers were beating everybody. I remember watching, thinking there was no way a judoka was going to beat a kickboxer and then it just happened before my eyes. Then when I was ten-years-old, after seeing what went down, I thought maybe I should give judo a go.
“I didn’t dabble for too long,” Doru revealed. “I reached green belt level and packed it in. Judo’s a lot rougher than people think. The worst injury I had from there came after somebody threw me onto my shoulder. At that age it just didn’t capture me too much. I was a real dork back then.”
Oftentimes in life, things just fall into place and all of a sudden it’s like you never knew any different. Call it fate, destiny or just pure coincidence, but Doru actually stumbled across his first true training facility unintentionally when he was nineteen-years-old.
“I was walking to the bus stop to go to my friend’s house and I noticed there was a new gym opening up called KO Kickboxing,” the lightweight told. “It had Muay Thai, MMA and all that stuff on the sign.
“By that time I’d watched plenty of the UFC tapes after it came back from being a really underground competition. I’d recently watched Tito Ortiz versus Ken Shamrock and at this time I was also a fan of the WWE, so I was hyped up to hear Ken Shamrock was fighting again. It shocked me to see Tito smash him and I realised the game had changed.
“So as I walked past this gym I poked my head in and spoke to the coach. He told me to come down again when it’s all set and things went from there. It was purely by chance. When I headed back down for my first session I was super scared. I’m quite a nervous person anyway. If you look at a fighter before a fight, they look composed. They pull themselves together. I was always the complete opposite of that.
“The gym was on the third floor of the building and the more stairs you walked up the smell got funkier and the sound of pads being hit became louder. I was surprised how friendly it was really. I made a lot of good friends in there.
“I enjoyed the grappling classes every week but I was never great with Muay Thai and I could never kick to save my life. I must have the worst set of legs in MMA history or something. I knew I was never going to be a super Thai boxer but I wanted to learn it from a more defensive point of view.
“Funnily enough, I was working with Arnold Oborotov who is now a highly regarded kickboxer. He was around fifteen-years-old the time but he was still a huge kid. I remember walking in the gym to see him – a giant made out of Russian steel and thinking, ‘Fuck. This is what’s being bred down here. This is going to be rough!’”
Going to the KO Kickboxing had a lot to do with Costas’ confidence. In fact, the Southern man never any had intentions of fighting. It was something he never saw fitting to his characteristics, but as in many cases in this sport, the more time spent on the mats, the more often the idea of a fight entered his mind.
“I thought why not have a fight just to see how I get on,” explained Costas. “I started training harder and putting more effort in. I was a blank slate and very easy to teach. For example I knew what an armbar was, I just had no clue how to execute it. I spent a lot more time in the gym drilling and wanting this debut, so I put the work in to prove it.
“I had my first fight when I was twenty-years-old but it was really at semi-pro. I have to say the rush of victory is the greatest feeling of all. To go out and do something I thought I’d never ever do is an amazing memory. It was all very alien in comparison to my true personality.
“I remember being in the back before my fight where I met guys from an old gym called Wolfpack MMA. I spoke to Phil Faulkner who was regarded as a big prospect back then. He calmed me down and helped my mentality as I was extremely nervous. I was trying to emulate his nerves subconsciously but really struggled.
“I had my hood up, wanting to shut the world out. I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking. One of Phil’s coaches asked me what the gameplan was. I told him I was going to come out, fake a shot, then throw a punch and take my opponent down. I was going to knee him in the body as the rules banned headshots on the ground and when he put his arms down to block the knee I was going to transition to a north-south choke and, literally, that’s exactly how the fight played out. I thought to myself ‘I’ve just used up every ounce of luck I had in one fight’. It never worked again after that.
“My second amateur fight was against Nathan Beer, again at semi-pro and was a two-round fight,” Doru informed. “For both of those rounds he absolutely battered me. I’ve got a scar across my eyebrow from where he caught me with a punch and slipped right through, cutting me open badly with an elbow. He closed my eye completely and cracked my jaw. It was the most savage beating I ever took.
“I had a short-lived attempt at a comeback in the second round where I picked him up and managed to pull off a really cool-looking slam. He shut my game down completely. He stopped all my takedowns and battered me on the feet. I managed to see it through to points nonetheless.
“That fight was a massive learning curve for me. Even though I managed to get a slam on him, he was that strong I couldn’t do a thing to him. I was trying my hardest to hit him and it was doing nothing to him. Then at the end of the first round I stepped in with a jab and countered me perfectly. I remember thinking about if I was hurt or not but as it was the first time and only time I’d been dropped I didn’t know what to think. That’s what started all the grit.
“I went back to the corner right after and I remember the referee asking if I want to come out for the second and I can recall the split second thought in my mind of really not wanting to. I’m glad I never rolled over and quit. I don’t think I’d have been able to look at myself straight afterwards if I had quit. Unless he drilled me into the mat and put me out cold I wasn’t going to stop. People say they’d never quit but until you’re in that position you’re never going to know how you’d react.
“I remember being backstage afterwards just crying. I was so distraught and there was blood everywhere. What was awkward was that I had to go to my grandparents’ wedding anniversary the very next day. They quickly realised I was competing when I turned up with one eye completely shut and my jaw seemingly hanging off my face, despite my efforts to cover them with a cap and sunglasses. I tried telling them I got tagged a couple of times in training but they weren’t having it.”
BAMMA 6 at Wembley Arena proved to be the hardest bout of Doru’s career, technically, as he squared off versus Jeremy Petley, going all three rounds in the process. The fight ended as a majority draw. Doru feels both men’s approaches cancelled out one another to the point where it was an extreme game of chess. Since then he’s watched it hundreds of times and still sways in his own judgement.
“I’d have had no arguments if it went either way. A draw was a fair decision. It was a game of inches. We were well matched in everything and shut each other down to the point where we both couldn’t do much. I knew it was going to be that kind of fight.
“What I learned from that fight was all about fitness. I mean I trained super hard for that fight but there’s being in shape and then there’s being in shape like Jeremy Petley. He just doesn’t stop. I went back to my corner after the first round and I’ll admit I was slightly tired. I looked over and Petley was bouncing around on his tip-toes looking as light as anything.
“It was a really close fight and the fact that we’re both not exactly knockout punchers meant we both had some very clean trades. I’ll definitely give him that third round.
“Although Petley was my hardest fight, my toughest came against Kevin Donnelly,” Doru unravelled. “I won in the second round but I’ve never felt as bad after winning a fight as we pushed each other so far. My coach told me I’d have to be in really good shape as he’d been in tip-top condition as Kevin was in the Marines. So like an idiot, I tried to rush him, control the pace and tire him out. I mean, it somewhat worked, but I wore myself out in the process.
“Kevin gave me the hardest punch I’ve ever taken in a fight and he gave it me flat from his back. I dived into his guard to try and hit him but he just punched upwards and actually concussed me. That victory meant more than any.”
The bout versus Jeremy Petley in 2011 turned out to be Doru’s final professional bout as his career came to an emotional, abrupt stop. As much as battle inside the cage tests each competitor’s mental strength, life outside of MMA stepped it up a notch. Everything was turned upside and in quick succession, Costas found himself in a dark place.
“After the Petley fight I wanted to take some time to get better and improve everywhere as I knew I would be fighting guys like Jeremy who’d be very highly skilled opponents,” Doru began. “Then as I was beginning to do that, everything went wrong.
“In a real short space of time, my granddad passed away, my best friend who I’d known since I was four-years-old committed suicide and then my main training partner died in a car crash. Those tragedies completely broke me. They were such rough days. My best friend’s suicide put me into a shell for so long and was such a hard time.
“I tried training a little bit and went to train with guys under Jude Samuel like Ash Grimshaw and Mike Johnson. Just their presence helped pick me up a little bit. One of my regrets was not telling them that it helped me and I eventually dropped off of the planet.
“My best friend would always be at my fights and he had the loudest voice in the world,” divulged the grappler. “Even in Wembley I’d hear him shouting to me and the thought of fighting and not hearing that noise was something I never felt ready to deal with. I took time out which led to even more time out and I eventually just lost the desire to fight competitively.
“I believe injuries did play an influential part in retirement, too. No fighter ever fights completely fit. Everybody has a niggling injury. It’s the nature of the sport, but for me, somebody who never had knockouts to his name, I’ve broken my hand, broke my nose, fractured my jaw, busted my ankle and fractured ribs.
“The body will always give up – it just hits a point where it can’t take any more punishment. Just before the big losses in my life, I literally woke up, tried to stand on my leg and my knee blew out completely. It wasn’t the deciding factor, but it played a part.”
Today, Costas has since fought his way back into the light and now finds himself living up north, working the office shifts. He’s also back training regularly and has once again found passion for the arts, but doesn’t believe the flame for competition is reignited. But he’s okay with that, as he now finds new determination in raising money in honour of his best friend.
“I’m living the dream in an office these days, working in car insurance on the nine-to-five.” Costas detailed. “The job is a means to pursue my passion. It’s funding me going to dorky things like Comic-Con or just for training. At least they’ve got a punchbag and a makeshift gym downstairs.
“I’ve also moved up north with my missus and starting anew, I suppose. Also just after I moved up here, Jay Furness reached out to me to see whereabouts I was up north and invited me to train at AVT, which was very good of him. I didn’t really know him at that point and he didn’t owe me anything.
“I don’t want to rule anything out as anything could happen, but right now I don’t have that desire to compete. I love training at AVT. I’m enjoying it because I’m doing it just for me with no strings attached. This game is not something you can half-arse.
“I’m also doing a lot of charity events to raise awareness for an organisation called CALM. We’ve cycled from John o’ Groats to Land’s End lately. We’re trying to keep my best friend’s spirit alive and have raised over £60,000 so far.”
Costas may have only had six professional fights, but he’s had a storied career and has built remarkable tales throughout. Looking back on his time, he reviewed,
“It’s been a journey that’s consisted of me proving to myself that I could do these outlandish things. I was never the confident guy in or outside of the sport. My career, for what it is, I would say that it’s been an exercise in self-belief and self-discovery. Getting on shows like BAMMA back in the day, going undefeated professionally and have it open doors for me, it means the world.
“One of the main aspirations for me was fulfilled after my fight at Wembley. I went out afterwards to get a Lucozade and there was this little kid there with his dad. The kid said, ‘You just fought on the show, didn’t you?’ and asked to take his picture with me and that got me really choked up. It meant the world to me. Belts and championships, they mean a lot but they’re a piece of furniture. For that kid to want his photo with me, that meant everything.
“People ask the cliché question of how you want to be remembered, but the fact that the fight world would even remember me is enough solace to me. It’s the nature of the fight game. People retire and they get forgotten. We fade into the shadows as the next guys come along. Unless you achieve truly ground-breaking stuff, that’s the only way you’ll be remembered forever. Me being me, I’d be happy if just one person remembered me. That was my goal.”
Costas has raised money for CALM – check them out here: