Most MMA fans didn’t know who Martyn Ford was when his statuesque 6-foot-8, over 300-pound frame first appeared in the KSW cage in London last month, but they knew he was in experienced hands with the Polish promotion.
KSW has been Europe’s equivalent to Pride over the last decade, poking at MMA’s undeniable fascination with oddity. The organization’s ability to pair competitive divisions with spectacles has become its calling card, and that was one of the main reasons Ford was happy to accept the offer that was presented to him.
“I’m not going into this imagining that I’ll be fighting for the championship belt. I’m not living in Fantasy Land,” Ford told MMA Fighting.
“I very much understand the format that KSW has and how they allow different celebrities to crossover to get into this industry. It was a no-brainer for me. I feel like I have a genuine opportunity to help push the sport forward even more. MMA has grown hugely over the last number of years, but I think I can bring a whole new demographic to the sport. I think I can encourage people to actually give it a go.”
With 1.5 million followers on Instagram, it’s clear why KSW saw an opportunity in Ford.
He may be an action movie star and celebrated fitness model, among many others things, but as “The Nightmare” revealed, he was striking fear into the hearts of opposing cricket teams long before he was doing the same to cinema audiences around the world.
“I start playing at age 12, I signed for Warwickshire and I played for them for six or seven years. I also attended the ECB, the English Cricket Board academy. I was told I would be a professional cricket player and that was my life set out for me,” explained Ford, who was also an avid discus, shot put and javelin competitor in his time.
“Obviously, I picked up an injury and went through a bad patch mentally. I was 19 years old, the injury was terrible and then I lost my granddad — it was a lot at a very young age. It was overwhelming, to be honest. I had a near breakdown at that time and I honestly feel like that has helped me develop a never say die attitude.”
Those around Ford probably would have laughed in his face had he laid out his plan to transition from cricket player to 300-pound fitness influencer. There was some criticism of KSW’s signing of him too, but nothing that he took to heart.
“I’m not really bothered with the 40-year-old guys who are online taking the piss. I’m more concerned about the young people,” he said.
“I want them to believe that they can do anything they put their minds to if they completely dedicate themselves to something. There aren’t a lot of people explaining to our younger generation that it’s going to take a lot of hard work, but if you put the work in you can change your life and be a success.”
After roles in international blockbusters like this year’s Final Score, you could safely presume that Ford’s transition to MMA isn’t motivated by money alone. Ford claims his message is more important than the financial incentive.
“I’m in a situation where I can take 12 to 18 months off to focus on something else. I don’t mean that in an egotistical way, I know I’m very fortunate to be in this situation. Over the last few years, I’ve been able to set myself up for a comfortable future. I’m not going into this for money, people don’t seem to get that. I guess the more time I put into trying to get my message across the more people might understand that,” he said.
“This is purely about passion. I’ve always wanted to be a sportsperson and my early cricket injury only intensified that. It’s like my first love that got away. I’ve always had that void in my life and this feels like another opportunity to fulfill it. This doesn’t usually happen for guys my age so I want to fully embrace it, enjoy it and give it 100 percent.”
While his introduction to the MMA world was somewhat polarizing, his debut has now become a source of global interest. Fans have whipped a fantasy bout between Ford and “The Iranian Hulk”, Sajad Gharibi, into a frenzy. Ford is still learning his new trade, but by all accounts, he seems to be enjoying himself training with similarly built goliaths.
“They’re big boys, man; they’re all 6’5” or 6’6”, 18 or 19 stone [252 to 266 pounds] and they’re all training five or six years. My coach is still being very nice to me. We’re not at full contact at all. We’re at the stage where we’re moving around and trying to figure things out. I’m very lucky to have such a good coach and training partners; they all know what I’m trying to do and where I’m trying to get to,” he said.
There is no date set in stone for Ford’s debut, but 2019 seems like a safe guess. As he did with his life after suffering an injury that brought an end to his cricket career, Ford is compelled to show the world that you can do anything once you put your mind to it.
“The important part of this, for me, is to show the journey. KSW is fantastic at taking different athletes from different sports and molding them into fighters. The average Joe is 35 years old, he hates his life, he hates getting up in the morning to go to his job and he hates the house he lives in. I’m trying to show that if that kind of person puts a plan together, sticks to it, stays committed and does his research—he can get out of the life that he’s in,” explained Ford.
“I know it sounds weird, but that’s what my vision and passion are for this project. I want to give that mid-life crisis person a bit of hope. If I can do this—the toughest sport in the world—from nowhere, then you can turn your life around.”