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Rugby star James Haskell has ‘a large amount of fear’ ahead of Bellator debut

England v Ireland - NatWest Six Nations Photo by David Rogers - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Imagesges

Decorated English rugby star James Haskell is not certain when he will make his MMA debut under the Bellator banner, but he admits that he is feeling “a large amount of fear” ahead of his first competitive foray into the sport.

At Wednesday’s London press conference dedicated to his official unveiling, Haskell explained how his transition from rugby to MMA came about. When Head of Bellator Europe Dave Green reached out to Haskell, he assumed it would be for presenting work, but was shocked when he learned that the promotion were gauging his interest in competing in the sport.

“Once I stopped nervously laughing, it peaked my interest a bit,” Haskell told the gathered media.

“I have a real interest, a real passion, for this. I went back to my wife, she didn’t find it as funny, obviously she looked at me like I was kind of mad. The first thing I did was pick up the phone to London Shootfighters—I’ve known them since I’m 21—and I said to them, ‘I’ve trained down there, you know I love this sport. What do you think of me giving it a go?’ They unanimously came back and gave their support. I asked them would they train me, because for me that was really important factor…I talked to my friends and I talked to my family and there was overwhelming support for doing it.”

The candid crossover athlete admitted that there is a strong element of fear looming ahead of his MMA bow.

“I’ve gone out of one sport that has been very attritional and very tough, going into something that’s unknown. Personally, there is a large amount of fear involved. Anyone who says they aren’t scared of this kind of thing is either lying or coming up with pre-tense. For me, I want to test myself. I was always going to do the training; I was always going to do the jiu-jitsu, the boxing and the wrestling. A lot of the times over the years I’ve worked with [London Shootfighters] a lot on my wrestling to help with my tackling and takedowns—single leg, double leg—and I’ve really enjoyed it,” he explained.

“MMA is completely different because you’ve got to do all of these disciplines while someone is trying to elbow, knee and punch you in the face. For me, it’s a test; it’s a journey. I’ve missed the structure and discipline, I now know where I’ve got to be. I’ve gone back to having a real professional dedication.”

Haskell revealed his intention to not look like a beginner when he first takes to the Bellator cage.

“I don’t want this to be a case where you get into the cage and it looks like I’ve never taken a punch before or it looks like I’m just here for fun, because I’m not about that,” he said.

Haskell understands that there will be some criticism in terms of his crossover to MMA and highlighted that he is fully aware that he will not be competing against top-ranked heavyweights.

“I think there’s a few people who don’t know how the fight game works,” Haskell said. “They keep thinking I’m going to be put in with [Ryan] Bader for my first fight, or Cheick Kongo, and absolutely get filled in…they don’t really understand how it works. Most people are excited and hopefully they’ll support me and if they don’t, Bellator’s got a great fan base and so many people have reached out already and have been super supportive.”

The former England international also stated that his coaches will decide when he is ready to compete for the first time.

“Other people outside my pay grade will make those decisions. All I know is I’ve transitioned from one sport to another. I’ve just started on this journey, everything takes time, practice makes perfect and I’m committing as much time as a I can to get it right and others will decide [when I’m ready to fight].”

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