Conor Mcgregor and Ronda Rousey may have been the only names on the lips of mixed martial art’s fans in 2015, but there will be only one they’ll be talking about in 2016: Michael ‘venom’ page.
Why? Because the 28-year-old Londoner has all the attributes to take MMA by the throat (maybe literally) and make it submit to his will. He can punch, kick, elbow, knee and wrestle – his perfect nine-and-zero record thus far proves so – with a style and swagger rare in a talent that’s not already fighting on the disciplines biggest stage.
Born in west London to Trinidadian parents in 1987, Page has been fighting all his life. He started martial arts aged three and was competing in kickboxing by five. Kickboxing it proved, was Page’s calling from a young age.
He would go on to become a world champion at amateur level, winning the 2007 W.A.K.O world championships in the 89kg semi-contact division, as well as winning a host of trophies and competitions across a range of weight categories.
However, with kickboxing lacking any commercial backing, Page made the decision to further his education in dishing out the hurt and switch to MMA. He joined the London Shootfighters in 2011 and has since taken the sport by storm.
What’s making Page such an attractive prospect to fight fans is not just the wins he’s notching up against well-matched opponents, but the way he’s winning. His languid, loose technique is as unconventional as it is lethal, and almost borders on nonchalant. This is no misplaced self-belief, however – it’s bamboozling, intoxicating and deadly, and has already drawn him comparisons to one of the sport’s greatest fighters, Anderson Silva.
By 2014, Page had signed with Bellator MMA promotions on the hunt for world titles. Five wins later, his title quest has begun in earnest and the 170lb welterweight division. He’s just completed the third of a five-fight deal and it’s possible a contract with the sport’s pinnacle, the UFC, could beckon.
Bestfit caught up with its new favourite fighter to find out what it takes to take transition from champion kickboxer to top mma fighter, why his style is winning him fans in America, and why outside the cage he’s actually a pretty normal bloke.
MM: Can you tell us where it all began and how you’ve made your transition into MMA?
I’ve been kickboxing for 23 years now and I won nearly everything there was to win. After such a long time, to be honest, I kind of got bored of it. You don’t get much exposure, advertising or promotion in the sport – in fact it’s next to nonexistent – so I made the switch. When bills and things start edcatching up with me, I realised I wanted to perform for a living and get paid for what I enjoy doing.
MM: You come from a large fighting family – how important have they been in your success?
They’ve played a massive, massive role. My dad [Curtis Page Sr.] was my kickboxing instructor and my mum was involved in martial arts, too. They’re both very approachable people, so any time I was stuck with anything I felt comfortable enough to go to them and get it sorted. I think they’re the most influential people on my career so far.
MM: And how about the surrounding community in west London?
The area I was raised in wasn’t the greatest of areas, but the attitude of the people around me towards sports like kickboxing or martial arts was a positive one. The guys I was hanging around with encouraged me to stay with it and away from the bad stuff a lot of kids get caught up in. That helped. They deemed it respectable enough to encourage me away from what they were doing.
MM: Has the transition from champion kickboxer to mixed martial artist been a tough one?
I thought it was going to be more difficult. We kind of elevate things in our head to be way more complex than it is, but when you do it, it’s not. I have my style to thank for that. The hands-down, freestyle kickboxing style is one you constantly have to adapt and you have to be very sharp both mentally and in terms of your reactions. It helped me adapt to Jujitsu, which I picked up very quickly, as I have with other styles.
MM: Is there any particular discipline you’ve struggled with the most or found difficult?
It’s been frustrating more than it has been difficult; it’s frustrating because you want to do more immediately. That’s one of the main reasons you probably don’t see top athlete’s transition into different sports because they don’t want to start from scratch.
That feeling of being a beginner when you’ve achieved so much can be really frustrating, but MMA is similar to kickboxing so I haven’t been through it too much. It just makes me eager to learn to not feel bad, and to train harder.
“the area I was raised in wasn’t the greatest of areas, but the attitude of the people around me towards sports like kickboxing or martial arts was a positive one.“
MM: What does a typical routine at Shootfighters consist of? Are you a close team?
It does vary all the time. We might start with a bit of shadow boxing into light grappling, then roll into wrestling – it just goes into one after the other. We will spend up to seven hours in the gym and we train whatever component needs training the most. We’re a great team in the gym and we all work for each other, especially if someone’s fighting soon. We’re all very tight-knit like that.
MM: All this fighting and training is pretty breathless – how do you chill out?
I love to dance! I love to do a bit of salsa. I’m pretty normal you know. I like going out with my friends, listening to music, going to the cinema – normal stuff. I love food, too. I’ll eat absolutely anything.
MM: What has joining big U.S. promotional banner Bellator MMA been like? Is the standard better over in the States?
It’s a massive step-up in standard of fighting. England is catching up though, and is ten times better than it used to be. There are some great shows on over here, but since transferring to the American scene you see how good MMA can be.
MM: If the UFC is the pinnacle of the sport, is it something you’re working towards?
The only time I’d look at the UFC is if it became an option. In the meantime I’m extremely focused and extremely happy at Bellator. I don’t look anywhere else. I’m getting a lot of recognition and support and I’m happy with how I’m building my name up over there
MM: Your style is particularly unique and looks absolutely effortless – have you made it up?
It is a legitimate style – I’m not making it up [laughs]! The acrobatic kicking and punching from freestyle kickboxing has inspired me, and with my previous experience it just feels normal. I’m aware what people say [about my style], but I’m not changing anything from what I’ve been doing for years. It’s just new to the MMA circuit I guess, and people will get used to it.
It’s all about your movement and judgement of distance. It’s weird actually, because all the things I do in training is done with my guard up, so when I train I’ve got that first line of defence, but the more I drill that my hands slowly start to relax and come down. You become very good at judging kicks and punches coming towards you.
“you become very good at judging kicks and punches coming towards you“
MM: Is it a little bit crazy to go into a fight with your hands down like that though?
Yeah, possibly [laughs]. People always ask me how I do it and I even get friends say, “Man, please, I get so worried when you fight with your hands down, please put them up!”
My opponent’s style really doesn’t matter to me. Just from working in the gym I’ll figure out their style and pick it apart. My style is dominant and I get to grips with my opponents pretty quick. It’s more to do with the person that their style – I train to fight the person, not the style. If I beat that person mentally then physically it will come.
MM: With your style comes a swagger – is it important to have that charisma in and out of the ring?
Yeah, totally. For me personally it’s more to do with what happens inside the ring. I’m not about trash-talking and all that; it’s just not me. Someone like Conor McGregor is amazing at it and he knows it. It definitely works for him, too, but for me it’s just not my style. My style speaks so loudly in the cage I hardly have to talk outside of it.
MM: Do you think your style annoys people?
Everyone has their own opinion and I sincerely think a lack of understanding causes frustration. People don’t understand it, find it disrespectful and so won’t like me. People who do get it are paying attention to what I’m doing and are fascinated by it.
MM: What’s your ambition within MMA then? Are you the new British face of the sport?
No, the ultimate goal for me is to become the face of world MMA. I’m not chasing titles, I’m chasing total dominance of the sport.
I don’t need to be an American or Brazilian to do that. I’ve just got to take my time and keep doing what I’m doing. There’s going to be no question about it.
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