Gary "Smiler" Turner headlines Cage Rage 23 this weekend against former British boxing heavyweight champion Julius Francis -- who in 1999 was Mike Tyson's first opponent in the UK. Turner, a former K-1 kickboxer, appears to have successfully made the leap towards becoming a MMA competitor this year, scoring TKO wins over Tank Abbott and Edson Draggo.
Turner spoke with MMAFighting.com about his fight on Saturday, the Pro Elite purchase of Cage Rage and why sometimes getting a Sony PSP is better than receiving a title belt.
MMAFighting.com: How has training been going for this fight?
Gary Turner: Training has been going very well! My coaches and I have managed to periodise training correctly, bringing me to maximum ability before this fight. I've never been fitter, stronger, better conditioned, nor technically better. We work on my mind too and my mental conditioning has never been better either. Not bad considering I've just turned 37!
MMAFighting.com: You and Francis are both accomplished strikers. How do you feel you match up with him striking-wise in a mixed martial arts bout?
Turner: Julius is a very experienced boxer, but also has a taekwondo background during his teenage years and progressed at kickboxing enough to pick up a European Title, and I've heard through the grape vine that his kicking is very developed. He has a good Thai boxing coach, so I can see him bringing a complete standup game. But I would also question whether he has been training as specifically as he should for striking in MMA, as there are many more techniques you can do with the little gloves on for example than wearing boxing gloves. I think my standup game and ground striking will be too much for him though, however saying that, one little boo-boo on my side and with his power and experience it could get very messy very quickly!
MMAFighting.com: How fluent do you think Francis will be on the ground?
Turner: It takes a long time to get the ground game developed for MMA, instincts take time to learn, together with how to adapt the techniques in training to actual combat situations. Julius is a clever fella, has some very good coaches, and if I were they I would have been working on getting Julius to be a "spoiler" on the ground, learning how to tie an opponent up so submission threats are minimized. I don't see him as being a submission threat to me on the ground, but I do expect him to be really troublesome for me down there, spoiling and stopping my submission attacks by being defensive. Saturday will tell though!
MMAFighting.com: Although he has an impressive resume, Francis has lost his last 14 boxing bouts. Do you think Francis can overcome his boxing decline to make a better adjustment in mixed martial arts?
Turner: The fight game is actually very friendly, and Julius and I have spent time over coffee and soft drinks at recent press events, chatting with our teams there as well, he is a real nice guy. His intelligence comes across, and it is with this that his MMA opportunities lie, combined with his kicking background before boxing. He is now full of enthusiasm for MMA, whereas I think his interest in boxing dropped off as he slipped off the radar. You know that as soon as you find something you enjoy you train harder, clever, more determined. The old Julius is back I think, and although I hope to take him to school during our fight, he will take any lacking in his skills that I expose, improve on them, and be twice the fighter for his next match. Besides, with his punching power combined with little gloves?
MMAFighting.com: Last week Pro Elite officially announced the purchase of Cage Rage? Have you noticed any differences?
Turner: Working closely with Dave O Donnell and Andy Geer on my last two fights and in the run up to this one, I think they do incredible work and the Cage Rage shows are near to as good as they can be with the resources that they have had. Each show they put on is near capacity live audience combined with live stream on the internet and Sky Sports 3. And all this on an incredibly low budget, particularly in comparison with the UFC who have relied on Ã‚Â£millions in advertising alone to bring the people in. Now Gary Shaw is on board, I see the television and internet coverage soaring, his advertising team on board, the increased funds in support, and I think all fighters in the UK now have a fair chance of becoming real "stars." In one swift move Dave and Andy may have secured the future for many people, my career included.
On a further note, I've seen the work that Dave does in particular in respect to the fighters on his shows. I've found him to be very fair, and has done his best to look after the fighters in all respects, including finding replacements for last minute drop outs, working hard to ensure that a replacement is as much a direct match as possible. Dave and Andy see the fighter's loyalty and safety as their priority in moving the brand forward, and hearing Gary Shaw talk he is on the same wavelength. The future suddenly looks even brighter.
MMAFighting.com: How close do you consider yourself to Cage Rage title contention?
Turner: Title? What's a title? I've won 13 World Titles in my long career so far already, one more is kinda lost amongst them. I'm more interested in fighting opponents who will provide me with a challenge rather than titles.
For example my last fight was against Edson Draggo, someone who has been hailed as the best up and coming fighter from Brazil. He stopped the current UK Champion in about 5 seconds flat. Yet in return, I stopped Draggo and proved too much for him.
So titles don't come in to it. As a further example, when I beat Azem Maksutaj for the WPKC World Thai Boxing Title I was more interested in getting my free PSP than the title belt. I don't want to be remembered for fancy titles, belts and trophies, they just collect dust in boxes in my loft. I'd rather be remembered for trying to be the best I can be, fighting the best opponents put in front of me.
MMAFighting.com: You've had two big wins for Cage Rage this year, and you're headlining Cage Rage again on Saturday. How does it feel to be an up and coming MMA star at 37?
Turner: To be honest, no different when I was hailed as an up and coming MMA star at 21 after winning five fights to win the Golden Dragon Cup in Italy in 1991, and no different to my win and draw on the Lee Hasdell shows of the late 90's. My career started competitively in the 70's, internationally since 1984, so I've kinda been there, bought the hat and t-shirt. I've fought in something like 26 countries and my biggest live audience was around 18,000 people. It's another day at the office! I don't worry about how bright my "star" is shining, I just concentrate on getting the job done, and hopefully as a result everything else will just fall into place.
Hopefully, fingers crossed, Saturday 22nd at Wembley will be the next step on that journey of being the best I can be!