UTC's Tom Breese will be fighting alongside training partner Leon Edwards this weekend at UFC Fight Night 107 in London. MMA Junkie spoke with Tom Breese about his upcoming bout against Oluwale Bamgbose and how he feels after moving back home to Birmingham and joining UTC.
It’s been said that a happy fighter is a dangerous fighter. If indeed that is the case, then English UFC middleweight Tom Breese should be approached with extreme caution.
It is oddly ironic that a martial artist could conceivably be better equipped to inflict bodily harm on an opponent, having come upon contentment outside of the cage. For Breese (10-1 MMA, 3-1 UFC), who faces Oluwale Bamgbose (6-2 MMA, 1-2 UFC) on the UFC Fight Pass-streamed preliminary card of UFC Fight Night 107 (entire card streams on the UFC’s digital network) at The O2 in London on Saturday, attaining his current state of bliss required him to make some life-altering decisions.
The Birmingham native returned to his hometown this past August after spending the previous two years living in Montreal, where he trained at Tristar Gym. Breese had worked at the famed gym sporadically since 2012, and he was one of then-welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre’s primary sparring partners for his successful title defense against Nick Diaz at UFC 158 the following year.
After relocating to Montreal on a full-time basis in September 2014, Breese, among countless other fighters from around the globe, lived at the gym’s dorms for a considerable time. It proved a closeted, spartan existence that left little room for anything else but honing his skill set. Even after purchasing his own apartment, the 25-year-old remained unsettled, and the reason was quite simple: It was time to return to familiar surroundings.
“I was always thinking about coming home,” Breese told MMAjunkie. “Nearly every day, me and (UFC lightweight) Joseph Duffy, who is a great friend, would walk to the gym, and he’d say how much he liked Montreal. But I always just missed home. I was always making plans about what I’d do when I got home and after the last fight. I just thought life is too short to be wanting to do this or that, so I just did it.”
Breese’s most recent appearance in the octagon was also a pivotal moment in his fledgling career. At UFC 199, he suffered his first loss at the hands of Sean Strickland by way of split decision. In what was a taut, tentative three rounds, neither fighter was ever in serious danger, but Breese said Strickland’s experience proved decisive. Furthermore, Breese realized that the tactical instruction he had been given to undo Strickland was not reflective of how he viewed himself as a fighter. Already considering his future in Canada, this too compelled him to rethink things.
“I never felt like there was a plan, but there is, to an extent, a style that (Tristar head coach Firas Zahabi) would favor,” he said. “It’s like in any fight; if you go in there with a different style, you probably would have got a better outcome. I felt like if I had done more boxing than kickboxing, I would have done a lot better. After that fight I really learned that I’ve got to enjoy the style that I fight. I didn’t really enjoy the way I fought that fight.
“When I looked back, I felt that I don’t want to be the type of fighter that’s going to kick and move back. I want to take it to them more, rather than sitting back, throwing kicks and measuring the distance. The Strickland fight might not have been my best performance, but it was my most mature. I took more shots in that fight than I ever had, and when I did get hit, I reacted better than in previous fights. You can take as many shots as you like in the gym, but until it happens in a fight, you don’t really believe it.”
The defeat came in June, and by August, he was back living in the English midlands. Naturally, it was all easier said than done, and was not ideal for a man who rarely ventures beyond the confines of a gym. However, when the dust settled, the benefits of making the move quickly became apparent, though leaving behind the many friends he had made was far from easy.
“My girlfriend, now wife, had to come over here and see if she liked it, and then there was a bit of a visa issue, but once we got that sorted, we got married,” he said. “I had to stay at my mum’s house for a good while, while I was looking at places. It was a very expensive move; I had to buy a new car and get a lot of things sorted. But I still wanted to develop my skills, and that’s why I was competing in jiu-jitsu nearly three times a month.
“When I was in Montreal, everything was around MMA, even money. So if I had a loss and didn’t get my win (bonus), then I’ve got no other income. But at home, I’ve got other income from coaching and seminars, so it takes a lot of pressure off. The only thing I miss is the people, because I have a lot of friends over there. I miss Eric O’Keefe, who was not only a great coach, but like a father to me over there.”
Incredibly, considering it was smack in the middle of a fight camp, Breese got married only two weeks ago. And now that he is again in close proximity to his extended family and more familiar surroundings, he’s found the balance that was missing in Montreal.
“Even being able to take a drive to my grandparents’ place to switch off a little bit, I missed stuff like that,” he said. “Or looking around the place where I grew up, it brings back a lot of memories, and I enjoy that. Montreal is a very nice place, and the people are pleasant, but there’s no place like home. I’m just a home bird.
“I enjoy my life so much more now. MMA has always been the centre of my life, and it still is. But I do a lot more coaching now, and I’m just a lot happier. I also feel so much more proud to be fighting out of my home city.”
By his own admission, Breese is a fighter who favors autonomy during preparation, and at the UTC gym in Birmingham, he’s found a place where his potential can be fully realized. He has always gravitated toward jiu-jitsu and boxing, and said that the two disciplines will inform his output like never before.
“To be honest, I’m much happier where I am now,” he said. “No disrespect to any coaches, but I’m the type of fighter who likes to be in control of my own training. I find it more fun, and I’m just more comfortable doing it that way.
“Every fighter’s personality affects their fighting style. For me, a very important thing is to able to look back on my fights and enjoy the way I fought. Whereas if someone is try to get you to fight in a style that they like but you don’t, it might be effective, but it just takes the fun out of it. So if you’re not enjoying it, you’re not going to have the passion to progress.”
In the spirit of new beginnings, Breese also decided it was time to leave the welterweight division, and this weekend he fights at middleweight for the first time.
At 6-3, his frame had matured greatly since turning professional as a teenager, and the task of cutting almost 40 pounds became increasingly taxing, both physically and psychologically. There was one particular incident early in his UFC career that made Breese recognize that the situation was untenable.
Although, for anyone who saw his brutal first-round TKO of Cathal Pendred at UFC Fight Night 76 in Dublin, Breese did not give the impression of someone severely depleted.
“The fight with Pendred was the toughest cut of my life, and I came so close to not making it,” he said. “I remember we were waiting to go out on the scales, and Pendred was standing behind me. And I was struggling to stay on my feet, but the only reason I stayed upright was because I didn’t want to show him any weakness. It just wasn’t healthy, and mentally, it was very draining.”
Interestingly for Breese, the middleweight division is now ruled by his compatriot Michael Bisping, who is set to face his former teammate St-Pierre. He admitted to having heard rumblings of the matchup on the mats at Tristar, but like so many others, is a little unsure about what exactly is at stake.
“There was a bit of talk about it in the gym just before I left, so I wasn’t too surprised,” he said. “It’s an interesting fight because everyone knows they’re probably not the two best middleweights in the world, even though it’s for the title. I do think GSP will probably win that.”