For the 13th time the UFC will be returning to the UK with some of Britain’s top MMA practitioners set for battle inside the octagon at the Wembley Arena in London on February 16.
One of Britain’s most fearsome strikers appears on the main card of the bill as Gloucester welterweight Che Mills takes on Matthew Riddle, who appeared on The Ultimate Fighter back in 2008.
Mills, who has a record of 15 wins (eight knockouts, four submissions) and five defeats, first fought professional back in 2003 and, as he reveals, a career in MMA was not exactly the norm back then.
The 30-year-old told IBTimes: “I remember way back when I first started and everyone used to look at you like you were crazy. ‘You do that stuff? You’re mad!’ Or they looked at it like it was really barbaric. But now it’s grown so popular that you get respect from all walks of life.
“People recognise me now just from fighting in the UFC whereas before it was pretty much just family, friends and hardcore fans that recognised me for what I actually did. But now normal people, young kids, even some older ladies come up to me [and say] ‘well done! I’ve seen your fight on TV’ and so forth. It’s like a completely different life to be honest.”
When Mills, who is 2-1 in the UFC, was last in action in September, he picked up a victory against Duane Ludwig, who tore a knee ligament and was unable to continue.
However, prior to that fight , Mills was completely overwhelmed by the wrestling nous of top contender Rory MacDonald, who stopped him in the second round in April.
This defeat, as Mills explains, forced him to go back to the drawing board and spend more hours working on his wrestling, especially as his next opponent Riddle is a former collegiate wrestler.
“For that fight it was no secret that [wrestling] was obviously a weakness. But I’m the type of guy; I’m not going to water it down. I take full responsibility that I wasn’t ready in that department,” said Mills.
“The only thing I could do is go back home and start working on it. And that’s pretty much what I did, probably three times as much.
“America have obviously got a lot of depth when it comes to wrestling. Most of the guys have all wrestled since they were really young. But we have got a few good wrestlers over here. It’s not as much over here but there is talent if you look in the right places.”
In many sports, playing at home gives you a distinct advantage, be it the partisan support or familiar surroundings, and Mills will undoubtedly be cheered on vociferously by passionate UK supporters.
Nevertheless, Mills said that come fight night, none of the extra noise from fans will make any difference.
He continued: “When you’re actually in there, no I don’t think it [the home advantage] matters to be honest. But the whole build up; you’re there a few days before so you’re always getting fans coming up to you. Especially when it’s in your own country. They’re always wishing you well.
“So it makes a little bit of difference in that sense. It builds your confidence and it stops you getting so nervous and just little things like that in the build up to the fight.”
A respectful Mills preferred not to entertain the idea of talking about defeating Riddle but did declare that fight fans will be in for treat come February 16.
“I’m not going to go in there and say ‘I’m going to this, that and the other’. I’m training really hard so all I can say is just expect a really good fight. No matter where the fight is, whether stood up of on the ground, I always at least try to entertain.
“That’s one of my main things; to keep fights exciting whether I win or lose. So be ready for an entertaining fight.”
*The UFC will be returning to London on 16th February at Wembley Arena. Tickets are available from Ticketmaster.co.uk or UFC.com