In 2016, Tom Breese was the talk of UFC London.
Michael Bisping and Anderson Silva had main event privileges at The 02, but everyone had their eye on the unbeaten, rangy welterweight from Birmingham who had a stern challenge on his hands in Japanese veteran, Keita Nakamura.
On the night, Breese passed the test of experience, but he tasted his first defeat four months later when he came up short against Sean Strickland after a competitive three rounds.
The next move for Breese was middleweight, but on the day of his debut in the weight class, he was forced out of his bout with Oluwale Bamgbose.
A year on the sidelines with an ACL injury followed and free of his ties to Tristar, an opportunity presented itself with local grappling assembly, Team Renegade.
“The founder of Team Renegade, my jiu-jitsu coach, Chiu Kwong, wanted me to go into partnership with him,” Breese told MMA Fighting.
“I took him up on his offer, I started doing more classes and it slowly turned into an MMA gym, as well as a BJJ academy. Now, we’ve got a really big pro stable. We got a lot of guys coming from UTC when it closed down and now we have people coming from all over the country — it couldn’t be going any better, to be honest.”
“The gym’s got a great atmosphere and I got some great time in training with Gunni. My wrestling coach actually teaches there too, so it made a lot of sense. As soon as I got announced for this Liverpool card I went straight over to get a week of training in, just to get a different feel for things. I think training with world-class guys like Gunni will always improve you as a fighter,” he said.
“It gives me a lot of ideas for things with Renegade too. I love the way they teach grappling for MMA over there. They have a lot of great positional drills that I brought back home to the gym.”
The UK fanbase will likely get behind him again with a convincing win at the Echo Arena, but the self-promotion side of the fight game has never appealed to the Englishman.
“I’m the kind of guy that likes to keep himself to himself. I don’t really like being in the spotlight. I’m an MMA purist, I just love the game and want to compete. It’s about the technical side of the game for me; it’s not about being famous or anything like that. It doesn’t appeal to me; I like to keep my head down. Nowadays, it’s a part of the game. Some people love it. Honestly, I feel like some people are just in MMA to live that Instagram kind of lifestyle, but I just like to fight.”
Having been the most talked about prospect on the UK scene two years ago, the Team Renegade fighter knows what to expect if he gets heralded with the same status again. And if it happens, he believes he’ll be able to deal with the limelight a lot better than he did the first time around.
“It was a good feeling being that top prospect coming out of the country. I have a good feeling that the next time I start to get talked about like that, I’ll be a lot better prepared,” said Breese.
“As I’ve got older I’ve got a lot more humble. Maybe last time, with all these people talking about me, I might have got a bit ahead of myself. But I’m in a better place now and I feel like I’m fighting for the right reasons. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens in Liverpool.”