Alex Enlund’s return to MMA was one of the big selling points to ACB 70 in Sheffield last month.
On the night, the South Shields submission ace came up on the wrong side of a split decision to Kane Mousash after over a year on the sidelines due to the appearance of brain lesion in a pre-fight scan ahead of his UFC debut last year.
Despite his spirited performance in the back-and-forth lightweight bout, Enlund has decided to hang up the gloves.
Speaking exclusively to MMAFighting.com, Enlund highlighted that his defeat to Mousah was far from being the main reason behind his retirement. Yet, it was his reaction to the loss that has forced him to reevaluate his future.
“After the fight, I realized that I wasn’t as disappointed as I expected to be,” revealed Enlund. “The previous losses I had kind of broke my heart, I was emotionally distraught back then when I lost. I was too okay about the result of the fight, and this was in a fight that I thought I had won.
“I don’t think that’s a healthy attitude and it’s something that exaggerated a feeling I have inside of myself - I’m just not the same competitor that I used to be. What I have been through in the last year has changed me.”
Ahead of his bout with Mousah, the former Cage Warriors champion spent a year trying to discover if he was still able to compete in MMA.
Just a day before he was scheduled to leave the UK for his promotional debut at UFC Hamburg in 2016, Enlund was told he could not compete due to the discovery of what could have potentially been a brain tumor.
Giving time for the various scans to take place, it was later discovered that what had shown up on Enlund’s scan was incidental and would have no effect on his fighting career.
According to the 30 year old, he had already given up hope in terms of competing again while the medical processes played out. For that reason, his outlook on the sport has changed considerably.
“With everything that’s happened, it’s really made me look at what’s important in my life. When all of the medical stuff was going down it was easy for me to write off fighting during that time,” Enlund explained. I was meeting neurosurgeons and I always felt the same way. If I had to give up fighting, then that’s what I would do. I was more concerned about my health and being okay.”
“At one stage, I met a doctor who recommended I never compete in contact sports again. I was okay with that. Coming to terms with that probably changed me. It really made me look at what really matters and what’s important for me. For my whole career, I had been turning up to win. Against Kane, for the first time in my life, I was showing up just to be in a fight. There’s a huge difference between those two mindsets.”
He remembered being emotional stepping into the cage after over a year of uncertainty as to whether he would ever compete again.
“It was a very emotional experience for me,” Enlund said. “I can remember being in the cage at the start of the fight and thinking, ‘Sh*t, I never thought I’d do this again.’ That feeling of accomplishment I had was strange too. I really don’t think you should feel like you’ve achieved something before the actual competition.”
Understandably, Enlund also thought about the shots that he was taking during in the fight while he was still in the throws of the contest.
“It did cross my mind during the fight,” Enlund said. “I went down on my back after stumbling from one of his shots. I can remember lying on my back, looking up at Kane thinking, ‘Well, I can still take a shot!’
“In all seriousness, I was also thinking, ‘I shouldn’t be taking these. I’m not fighting smart here.’ I was trying reckless stuff that you’d never usually see me do. I was throwing spinning elbows and everything. It was like my fight IQ went out the window.”
As the head coach of SBG South Shields, Enlund couldn’t help but notice that the gym suffered while his six-week training camp was underway. Now shifting his focus to become a full-time coach, he wants to give his students his complete attention, as they look to try and replicate his feats on the European scene.
“I don’t feel the gym made any forward progress while I was preparing for the fight,” Enlund said. “I was coming back from Manchester in the evenings and just dumping my bags and getting stuck into training. It could have been a lot better during that time.
“For the six weeks of the camp, I felt I neglected some of my high-level athletes who have big fights coming up now, particularly Adam Proctor. Throughout my career, I never had a proper head coach who just took care of everything until I started working with Karl (Tanswell). Six months after I started working with Karl, I got signed to the UFC and then I was faced with the possibility of never fighting again.
“I never had someone to take care of me and give me that one-to-one that I needed. I have programs dedicated to the personal development of each of my high-level athletes and I just don’t think I was the best coach I could have been during those six weeks.
“I’m going to make it my business to be the best coach I can be from now on.”
Although MMA competition is off the menu for Enlund, he does think he could be lured into the world of grappling.
“It’s something I’m going to look at getting into. All the other times I’ve competed in BJJ it’s just been a quick match while I’m traveling for competition. I’d love to give my whole focus to preparing for a grappling match. I’d love to do some of the bigger competitions.”
As for never getting an opportunity to compete in the UFC despite signing a contract with the promotion, Enlund claims he has come to terms with missing out on the valued milestone.
“I’m at peace with it and the reason why is that the situation that stopped me from making my debut was completely beyond my control,” Enlund said. “I can’t be mad at anything that I don’t control or it will make me go crazy. I’d like to be mad at it, but I just can’t bring myself to be angry because I’d end up losing the plot.”
Considering what his legacy in the sport of MMA is, Enlund was quick to point out that he has still to write many more chapters in his storied career, but this time it will be his fighters’ achievements that are put to the forefront as he dedicates his full-time to coaching.
“I think I’ll be remembered for always putting it on the line and for showing a different style of jiu-jitsu for MMA. I never used to be athletic and I wasn’t a tough guy, despite this, I’ve been incredibly successful in MMA.
“I also want to be remembered for producing world-class athletes. The guys I’m working with now will be world champions, I promise you that.”