MiddleEasy decided it best to call up top Irish prospect; Sam Slater (2-1) to preview his upcoming fight against Akonne Wanliss (2-1) at Bellator Birmingham, check the results of our conversation below.
What got you interested in MMA?
It was having played the Xbox game back in 2009. So it was ten years ago when I was fifteen years old. Me and my brother were playing, we just played flat out all summer. When I realised that it was a real sport (initially I thought it was all choreographed) but when I realised it was real I was set on it from fifteen years old. See where I’m from in rural Ireland there’s nowhere to do it, no martial arts, boxing or anything like that . So when I was eighteen and moved to college, there was a gym nearby which was SBG. The rest is history.
When you got into training MMA, was anyone worried about it as MMA was at that time viewed negatively in Ireland?
Not at all, no-one was worried at the time. Everyone was very supportive and curious. My family were always very supportive, I played football at a certain level I suppose, my dad was a great football coach. So I was always training under him.
Is MMA your full-time career now?
I’d love to say it is. Thing is, literally just before you called, by boss called me to see if I could come into work. I’m labouring alongside this, but I’m still getting my two sessions in a day. I just finished at the Altitude chamber down here in Tallaght. They sponsor me, so I can get all my cardio work done in there. So I leave the chamber and text my boss about coming in, so today we’re ripping up floors and taking off skirting boards so we can put in a new laminate floor, but it is what it is and I know it’ll be worth it someday.
What’s it like training down at SBG with so many great fighters?
It’s great and very motivating. There’s always a focus on different fights in the moment but for me I’m finding it very motivating to be around Artem, he had that great win in Bareknuckle. I also think Brian Moore is very motivating to be around; the way he approaches training, you can see that he has a real formula to his training, he’s confident in the risks he takes and he doesn’t overdo it. Though that’s just to name a couple. Even if there’s healthy completion, I can see the guys that are on my level (I don’t want them to outdo me, though I want the best for them). I want the best for everyone but when I see all the guys on the mat, I understand that I need to put in the training otherwise they’re going to be taking me down, smashing me and landing on me.
Last fight at Bellator Dublin was a super fun, back and forth fight, did you enjoy putting on a spectacle like that for the home-crowd even though ultimately it didn’t go your way?
Yeah, you’re dead right about that, it was a super fun fight. It didn’t go my way even though there were only seven seconds left in the first round, but with a powerful striker like Chris Duncan he can make them count. To be honest I’ve fought guys who are considered ‘Power punchers’ and I’ve faced guys who’ve knocked a lot of people out before, so my chin’s been tested; but I’ve never been hit that hard before. From the first big punch he landed I was like ‘This is a bit different now’. Like you said it was back and forth, but I enjoyed being in there and moving around during the walkout and stuff, having close friends and family all there supporting me was really amazing too and it helped me get through the whole experience emotionally. I heal very quickly mentally; so to have everyone there helped me as I could see them in the audience (I sold them all tickets so I knew were they all were sitting) though I couldn’t see them cause it was dark in the audience, I knew where they were and could acknowledge them. They even gave me a big cheer which was incredible.
Next fight up at Bellator Birmingham, do you need to change much of the game-plan up after losing the last fight?
No, actually I haven’t changed much. In a way I’m just preparing for a different body type, the last guy was short and stocky, this guy is more long and rangy. Apart from that I’m not changing much up. People ask me about the last fight like ‘Oh, what would you improve?’ – the truth is that he was better than me and I got caught. It’s always the case of preparing and changing things that went wrong, I simply fought a guy that was better than me. I’m gonna keep making tweaks now and throughout my career but I’m just going to stay grinding. It’s not a case of making changes, it’s about continuing to work hard.
With you travelling over to Birmingham, will that effect your weight cut?
No not all, I’m travelling over on the Thursday. So it’s kind of good timing as I should be finishing my water and food. So I’d hate to be travelling when I’m water loading, which I’ve done a lot of times. So it’s nice on the Thursday, when I get there I might be having a small snack and finishing some water. I’m heading with two really close friends so it should be an amazing experience.
With Bellator having the European series in 2019 and having more opportunities available, what’s your MMA dream?
It’s a good question. I want to be a champion, but it’s more so that I want to be known as one of the best guys in the world. It’s inevitable, I know exactly what’s going to happen and it’s going to happen within the next ten years.