Michael Venom Page is backing James Haskell to prove himself as a real fighter after Bellator announced they had signed the former rugby star.
Haskell is due to make his MMA debut next year after hanging up his boots in May. Fight fans have already written the 34-year-old’s adventure into MMA off as a publicity stunt, but MVP has been training with the 6ft 3in Haskell for years.
Haskell maintained a keen interest in jiu-jitsu and wrestling throughout his rugby career and MVP’s London Shootfighters has been his preferred gym of choice for years.
‘I’ve known James Haskell for years. When he had his break between rugby seasons he’d come down and train with us,’ MVP told www8.sale-north-face.org.
‘He was always a person who was curious about MMA, he used to joke about becoming a fighter. But, I think in his heart, he always wanted to try it at least once.’
Haskell will not be the first MMA star to transition from rugby, with the likes of Bellator’s Mike Shipman and retired UFC star John Hathaway also starting off on a rugby field.
But the former England international is wary of being branded a laughing stock, saying: ‘If I look like Freddie Flintoff when he got in the ring I’ll be f****** embarrassed.’
Sports stars and even reality stars crossing over into MMA is an increasing trend. Bellator have signed Geordie Shore star Aaron Chalmers and WWE’s Jack Swagger in recent years hoping to exploit their already huge fan base.
But, Page thinks Haskell’s rugby career will benefit him in the cage and dismissed the idea his new gym team-mate could make a fool of himself.
‘Being a fighter, I think, is a mindset,’ MVP explained. ‘Fighters usually come from a specific background and I’ve always thought a good fighter gets his mindset from a mixture of his culture and his upbringing.
‘If you’ve been raised in a tough place, you’re able to switch that aggression on in that cage. If you’re not used to that, it can be hard to teach that.
‘James will have to deal with that. You have to learn draw from somewhere else.’
‘James is used to putting his body through hell. He’s been at an elite level of a very tough sport, so I do think he has the fighter mentality when it comes to the gym.
‘It’s whether he can carry that into the cage and keep his composure. He should be used to the pressure of fight night, but he won’t know until he’s there, standing in the cage.’
While many fight fans will be expecting a harsh reality check for Haskell, MVP is backing his fellow Englishman to tune out his doubters.
‘He’s very clued up as a person,’ he said. ‘He understands he’s trying it out and he’s not trying to be fancy. He’s hoping for the transformation, but he’s not taking himself too seriously.
‘He’s just got to ignore all the pressure and tune out the negativity and get on with it.’