Love him or hate him Leeroy Barnes just doesn’t care. All he cares about right now is Saturday 3rd May in which we will see him entering the Cage Warriors cage for the forth time. It is perhaps his most important fight in his career as he looks to rebound from three back to back losses and also perhaps his toughest challenge. In front of him stands former UFC fighter Ché Mills who like Leeroy is desperate for a win on Saturday. I managed to catch up with Barnes the week before the fight to chat about his relationship with BAMMA, Matt Ewin, his mental state ahead of the fight, nearly hanging up the gloves at Christmas and lots more;
TQ – You are set to take on Ché Mills at Cage Warriors 68 in at the Echo Arena in Liverpool next Saturday night. What is the plan for the next week and what does fight week look like for you?
LB – Well my training eases down now but I will be training until Thursday. I will have my last sparring session on Monday then its all about speed and agility. I will have a roll on Wednesday and then Thursday will be three five minute shadow boxing rounds with sprawls etc. I stay busy throughout the week and obviously have the weight cut aswell.
TQ – So what do you weigh at the moment a week out from the fight?
LB – At the moment I am pretty light at 91kgs. I feel really good and this camp I have eaten really well. Usually in camps I have a blow out and have a cheat meal but for this camp I have not done that. I have kept to a very clean diet eating more natural foods/fruits and have kept quite a lot of muscle mass. I have had a lot more notice for this fight, I got the call about 10 weeks ago and I always knew I would be fighting on this card so I have had time to prepare.
TQ – You took your last three fights within the space of 6 months. With the benefit of hindsight do you regret that decision?
LB – I was certainly fooling myself after the Paraisy fight. I just wasnt enjoying MMA. I was only in there for the money and thought that as I had worked so hard at the start of the year and the end of the year before that I just needed to get back in there and pick up a win.
I really, really thought that I had won that Paraisy fight. After the fight though I just felt that I needed to redeem myself and get the win but my head just wasnt in it. And that cost me. Mentally I was fucked and it had a massive impact on my social and family life. I got very depressed and it got to the stage at Christmas when I was going to give it all in and look for a full time job.
TQ – You talked about not being there mentally after the loss to Paraisy. What have you done for this fight to get back into the right mental frame of mind?
LB – Well I spent some time with a sports coach and more importantly I have admitted to myself where I was going wrong and admitted there was a problem. I have now been able to sort all of the issues out and I am in a very good place right now. I fell out of love with the sport of MMA and if anyone wanted to talk to me about it I done what I could to change the conversation. Like I say I seriously considered hanging up the gloves. But now I’m mentally in the right place and going back to basics for this fight.
TQ – Your opponent Ché has had a bumpy ride since being cut from the UFC, starting with a loss to former Cage Warriors champion Cathal Pendred. Do you feel that given where you are now mentally that you will have an advantage over Ché ahead of this fight?
LB – I dunno man Ché is Ché. I have seen him fight a lot and I have to respect where he has been and what he has done. But I am not thinking about anything else other than me. Im totally focused on Saturday night and that’s that. I do think though that Ché is looking past me and has shown some disrespect towards me. Im prepared to die in there next Saturday night and I dont think he is ready for that.
TQ – So you touched on falling out of love with MMA. What has been the main driving force behind you re-ignighting the spark?
LB – Well like I said I was very depressed and down at Christmas and thought about getting a full time job. But in the back of my mind I really didn’t want to do that. This is what makes me happy. This is me. I saw some guys doing really well, guys like Neil Seerey getting his big shot and that definitely helped. I am talented and I know that I’m talented. My problems and issues have always been mental but by me admitting to that I have now been able to focus and I am very happy right now.
TQ – Now of all the fighters I have spoken to who have fought for Cage Warriors I have never heard a bad word said about them. What has your experience been like fighting for the promotion?
LB – I mean BAMMA was very good to me and looked after me but they was quite disorganised and that is where I have seen the real difference. Cage Warriors is like a machine, everything runs on point. It is immense. You arrive at the hotel and there is someone to meet you there with a full itinery. We get expenses for food, transport to and from the weigh ins and everything just runs smoothly. I have fought on smaller shows where you have to do a lot of running around and chasing but these guys have got it nailed down to a tee. If I ever need anything I can always get hold of Ian Dean/Paul Dollery without an issue and they are very professional and always able to help.
TQ – And as a fighter that must take away a whole load of stress, especially during your weight cutting period?
LB – Yeah it just removes all the stress and hassle of having to sort these things out for yourselves and obviously the more shows these guys do the more practice they get so its always improving.
TQ – And given that Cage Warriors are putting on shows across the globe, is this something which interests you and would you like to fight abroad?
LB – They wanted me to fight in Chechnya but I lost my passport and there was no way of getting a replacement in the time I had. But yeah I would love to fight abroad. To be fair I just love to fight and will fight anywhere.
TQ – Having fought for BAMMA on a number of occasions you seem to have fallen out with them. Can you give us a bit of detail around that and what your relationship is like with BAMMA now?
LB – It wasnt really a fall out as such. I mean I’m still on good terms with Jude Samuels (BAMMA match maker) but I don’t have any relationship with any of the others. For me Jude is BAMMA and if he left then it would be over for them.
TQ – Can you tell us just how hard is it for a professional fighter on the UKMMA scene to get by without any additional income? How heavily are you having to rely on sponsors just to pay for the basics like gym fees/travel etc?
LB – To be honest I have never really found it to be a problem until the last two fights. I have been lucky enough to be fighting on the bigger shows and from that you get good sponsors. But as a living it is tough and I earn enough to train without having to get a job. Following my last two fights I did lose a couple of sponsors and more importantly a cash sponsor which has hurt going into this camp. I think I took it for granted and it is hard if you havent got sponsors.
Cash sponsors are very hard to come by and for this camp I have turned down a lot out of non cash sponsors out of principle. Lots of people want you to wear their kit and give you t-shirts etc for training but I’ve got hundreds of t-shirts at home. I don’t want anymore plus I’d rather not wear one as I’ve got a pretty good body right now.
I’m not looking for kit as I have kit so it is hard to find cash sponsors get behind you. Although both BAMMA and Cage Warriors are on the TV and we all know how expensive TV adverts are so for these companies it is a cheap way to get exposed on TV. I am very humbled with all the sponsors I have and am very lucky to be in the position I am in. At the end of last year I was treating this like a job but I am very happy now and grateful to get the chance to fight for a living. I don’t want to stop. I have a few years left in me. But it is do or die for me now.
TQ – How much do the fighter rankings play on your mind?
LB – Not massively but it just gives you an idea of where you are in other peoples eyes instead of personally. It is a good tool for sponsorship and promoting yourself. Also a good tool for title shots etc.
TQ – The fight next Saturday goes down in Liverpool which is pretty much your second home. How excited are you to be fighting in Liverpool and will fighting there help you mentally?
LB – It certainly makes me more comfortable. I used to live there so I am very comfortable with the surroundings, area and I know where I am. I will go down there on Friday morning as I’m not far from there. It means I get to start the weight cut at home on Thursday and sleep in my own bed Thursday night. It helps to put me in a good place.
TQ – And you have been training at Rough House with Jimmy Wallhead. Does it help having training partners on the same card as you?
LB – Yeah well Saturday night there will be me, Jimmy, Matt Hallam and Andre Winner all fighting (Leeroy, Jimmy & Matt fighting on Cage Warriors 68) so its great to all be training together. It also helps you to know just how good you are doing in your camp. For example its all good training with someone who is really good at Jiu Jitsu but if they are not training for a fight and you are and you smash them at training then mentally you will think that you are actually better than you are. Whereas if that same person was rolling with you and also in training camp then the results probably wouldn’t be the same. So with us all fighting and peaking at the same time it helps to tell what we are doing good.
TQ – Now Jimmy, sorry I mean Leeroy it must be pretty easy for your fans/family/girlfriend to get down to the show. How much does it mean to you to have that support with you.
LB – Don’t call me Jimmy. He is a ginger fucker haha.
To be honest I always manage to get fans along to my fights wherver they are. But yeah its great having all the support down with me and I get to spend the weekend with the girlfriend as during the week I only get to see her for one day on my day off. She lives the other side of the country to me so it will be nice having her down supporting me.
TQ – Now finally I can’t get through this interview without mentioning Matt Ewin. I notice that again tonight he has been on your case on Twitter. Whats the story between you guys?
LB – He is just an idiot man. He has sent me direct messages threatening my family. Just a fucking idiot.
After he sent those I contacted Cage Warriors and told them that I don’t want him at the weigh ins. There is a real chance that if he is I will slap him. I am all for a bit of banter and shit before a fight but threatening my family is just wrong. What makes me laugh is that I never had anything but respect for him before and after our fight and then all of a sudden he pops up a few weeks after the Mills fight was announced and starts making up lies and talking shit.
TQ – Going back to your mental state, this must be really testing it having him standing over the other side of the cage to you next Saturday?
LB – It makes no difference to me, I’m cool, positive, ready to fight and life is good. But I am pissed off for this fight. I definitely think that I am being overlooked. Mills is overlooking me and disrespecting me. He is not giving me the credit i deserve. Saturday night he will realise pretty soon he should of put more focus on me.
Be sure to follow Leeroy on twitter @LeeroyBarnes