SHORTLY after 11am on a Saturday morning, a stone’s throw from Blackpool’s heartbeat lies the McGuire brothers' new facility, MMA Cork.
Home to professional mixed martial artist, John Mitchell.
As Mitchell concludes a jiu-jitsu lesson with his students while awaiting sparring-partners from outside the county, I take a look at some of his accolades in the gym. A decorated amateur, John has attained multiple world-titles across three weight divisions.
Now competing as a pro (1-0), he assures me that little has changed in his preparations: “even when we were fighting for amateur belts we were working like we were fighting in Cage Warriors."
Although mixed martial artists have been branded as the countercultural edge of sporting professionals: brash, egotistical and dangerous, John exudes humility. Welcoming his unfamiliar sparring-partners with respect before getting down to business.
While sparring is underway, coach Aaron McGuire watches the action closely from cage-side. McGuire, an active professional also, conducts the session with a zen-like presence. MMA Cork’s coach maintains a sharp focus ensuring care at all times for the athletes: “Mr. Miyagi!” John jokes.
April 18th 2020, Birmingham Arena, Mitchell is set to make his sophomore professional appearance under the Cage Warriors promotion. Previous champions of the promotion include UFC royalty, such as London’s Michael Bisping and Dublin’s Conor McGregor.
John is set to take on legendary striker, Nathan Epps, who boasts an experienced record of 62 professional bouts, spanning across Muay Thai, K1 and Boxing. Epps has competed in America, Canada, Australia and China. He currently trains and coaches out of his hometown Birmingham.
After well-fought rounds of sparring, John and I sat down to discuss his upcoming challenge.
“For Nathan, there is a clear way, his striking versus my grappling. I’m going to take him down and finish him on he ground,” John exclaimed.
No stranger to striking and staying on the feet, John adds jokingly: “I’m a bit of a Thai-boxer myself”.
Although John is aware of the step-up in competition his opponent presents, he appears confident and excited about their upcoming bout, adding: “we are ready, I am ready”.
Roughly six-weeks out from Cage Warrior’s Birmingham date, posters have arrived and promotion on social media has begun to hype the upcoming event.
John’s profession, similar to pro-boxing is an entertainment industry. Social media is a great platform to promote fights. It is the chief platform for many fighters and promoters today, not to mention it is where most combat sports fans receive their regular digest
However, when asked about the subject, John alluded to the fact that social media should be taken lightly.
“Instagram stops as soon as you walk in that cage,” John explained, “no amount of likes are going to stop you from getting punched in the face. Sure, you look at some fighters on social media and it looks great, but trust me it is a tough and consistent hard work."
Mitchell represents a new era of professional Irish mixed martial artists. As a teenager, John trained as part of the Irish Rowing team. His performance coach at the time told him: “you cannot concentrate on your sport alone, you need to apply yourself to your education also”.
In October 2019, one month before making his professional debut, Mitchell graduated with a BSc in Commerce from University College Cork. He is currently completing an MSc in Sports Management at University College Dublin. When out of town, John gains invaluable experience from his striking coach, Dublin Combat Academy’s, Craig Coakley.
It is quite clear John possesses the attributes and attitude necessary to compete as a professional athlete at the highest level, but also, the credentials and mindset to succeed in whatever he chooses.
“MMA isn’t forever, it is for now. I can’t fight until I am 40.”.
While balancing his pro-fighting career and education, John gives me an insight to his daily routine: “There are 12 hours in a day, I spend four hours thinking about MMA, four hours training MMA, and I have another four hours to be busy."
As the afternoon unfolds, my time with John grows short. He prepares a coffee before stretching for his third and final training session. Before departing I had time to ask John what we should expect from him in the future.
“Since the day I walked in here (MMA Cork) and met Aaron, the plan has been to go to the UFC."
An ambitious statement for some, but for Mitchell, it seems only a matter of time.
"Sure, it sounded unrealistic when I was training for my first fight, or when I fought for my first amateur title, or even when I was preparing for my pro debut back in November."
John was victorious in all of the above, putting on a career-best in his pro debut, dispatching of his opponent in a clinical performance to an adoring home crowd in Neptune Stadium. John told me it wasn’t until after the fight that he truly felt the gravity of debuting as a professional in Cork.
For John; the future is not only about him, but his team.
“I want to be the first Corkonian in the UFC, and if not me, somebody else in this gym. If anybody is going to do it, it’s going to be us.”
I for one, believe him.