UK Middleweight Leeroy Barnes (15-15) is set to make his return to the big stage on September 10th when he fights Sweden’s Victor Cheng (10-2) on the main card of Cage Warriors 78 at the Echo Arena in Liverpool.
For Barnes the return to Cage Warriors brings him full circle and gives him a golden shot at redemption, following a 0-5 skid in the promotion between 2013-2014. And he is definitely very appreciative of the support the promotion have entrusted him with;
“I have always had a good relationship with Cage Warriors and have been in contact with them throughout. They needed a last minute opponent for Modestas Bukauskas for #CWFC77 in London and I said yeah, but he declined that fight.”
“Then I got a phone call out of the blue to fight in Liverpool on September 10th and I said yes definitely 100% straight away. I didn’t even care about the money.”
But after getting the date in place both Barnes and Cage Warriors had quite a task ahead of them, finding an opponent. As Leeroy recalls there was a big list of guys but when push come to shove nobody would sign on the dotted line.
“We went through about three weeks before we got an opponent. They (Cage Warriors) said I could have anyone I wanted. So I jokingly said Jack Marshman (I knew they wouldn’t agree) but they said no because he has already got someone lined up. I wanted to fight the highest ranked guys, someone in the top ten from the UK as I wanted to make a statement and show everyone I am here.”
“So I looked through the rankings and at number two just behind Bisping was Luke Barnatt. So I said give me him, he is number two. They said he wouldn’t take it due to money etc but they approached his team and they were going back and forth for a few weeks. In the end all I know is there is a few reasons it didn’t happen but one of them was that he said he didn’t have enough time to prepare for the fight and that was about five to six weeks out. We are professionals, I could fight in two days if I had to. I even offered him my purse if he beat me but it didn’t happen.”
“Then they offered me a couple of other UK guys that were ranked but they also said they didn’t have enough time to prepare. Then they offered me a lower level guy (Dez Parker) to fight on the undercard but I want everyone to see me in a good fight not against some guy I would blow past in one round. Cage Warriors then went to the European scene and we got offered Faycal Hucin. It was all agreed and then two days later he had a family emergency and had to go to Morocco so he pulled out which is fair enough.”
Step forward Sweden’s Victor Cheng an opponent whom Cage Warriors were able to nail down to face Leeroy. Cheng comes into this bout with a 2-1 Cage Warriors record and a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt to his name. Something which Leeroy is respectful of but not in the slightest worried about.
“I thought Hucin would have been a more exciting fight but Cheng is good and will test me where I want to be tested. I have got to give him the respect he deserves as a black belt but I won’t have a problem with his level of grappling.”
“He doesn’t have any power to threaten me, my hands are quicker than his. My hands go quicker than a smack heads giro. As soon as I start landing he will start shooting. This fight will end up mostly on the feet.”
This bout not only sees Leeroy step up in the level of opponent he is facing for the first time since his last Cage Warriors stint, but also sees him back fighting on the “big show” in front of a global audience on UFC Fight Pass. Whilst he will willingly admit that pressure definitely played a part in his demise a few years back, its something which is he relishing in ahead of Cage Warriors 78.
“I did enjoy fighting on the smaller shows as there was a lot less pressure and at the time I needed that taken off me, I wasn’t ready for the pressure. Going to shows and being the big name fills you with confidence. Everyone is nice and wants to talk to you which helps builds your self esteem up again.”
“The fights were not difficult, but you still get nerves and adrenaline and in this sport you can’t overlook anybody. It was nice to be there but I don’t want to be fighting in front of one hundred to two hundred people. I used them as glorified harder sparring sessions.”
“I want the pressure, I want to feel the pressure now. I am ready for it. I used to worry, whereas now I know I am going to do what I can do.”
Barnes has had a rocky road in his MMA career to date and now truly believes he is at a point of turning things round and giving 110% to reach his goals. From visualisation of fights to making a daily dairy of achievements things are slowly turning round for the better for the man from Blackpool. And with a dominant performance over Victor Cheng on 10th September he truly believes he will be in the driving seat for a shot at an old foe in Jack Marshman.
“Two years ago my life was a mess, everything was fucked. My girlfriend asked me what I was going to do? I had to either sack off this MMA thing and get a real job or dedicate myself to MMA. I knew I would never be happy doing anything else. This is what I think about every single day.”
“My long term goal is to win a major Title with either BAMMA or Cage Warriors and my short term goals are day to day things that will lead up to that.”
“Every time I visualise this fight all I see is me winning. When I come through Cheng I have the right to ask for Marshman. Nobody in the top ten would fight me. I had to go and find a former Title challenger to beat to be on the main card.”
“I think Cheng has underestimated me, he accepted the fight within half an hour. He probably just looked at my record and said yeah thats an easy fight. He has been out for eighteen months, I’ve been training full time. He is in for a rude awakening.”
Leeroy would like to thank his sponsors “club uber in poulton, tp digital marketing, brain and brawn fitness in leeds, beyond genetics fitness apparel, tens fitness apparel, the meat man & boss training and nutrition.”