The Matt Inman story
Mixed Martial Arts is a consistently evolving Rubik’s Cube, just when you think one problem is solved, an often much tougher equation arises. Beautiful chaos materialises when two combatants compete against one another in the steel octagon. Navigating around the cage against a foe just as skilled and determined as you can be like flying a plane into the eye of the storm.
Former MMA fighter and current Straight Blast Gym (SBG) Manchester Head Coach, Matt Inman is the embodiment of a pure martial artist. A lifetime of learning and development has seen the adopted Mancunian rise up the ranks of the world renowned SBG Gym, which has produced multiple UFC fighters and is home to the biggest star in combat sports, Conor McGregor. With over 50 locations around the world and in every continent, the method and training techniques Matt uses on his fighters have been tried and tested, it works.
“It’s an organisation (SBG) that has always been fortunate to be run by fairly exceptional people,” Matt tells me. “Matt Thornton (the President) who started the organisation was a good judge of the people he wanted on board and through that you’ve seen a snowball effect of phenomenal coaches and fighters, such as John Kavanagh in Ireland, the late Karl Tanswell in the UK, John Frankl in Asia and many more. I’ve been extremely lucky I stand on the shoulders of giants.”
Bruce Lee famously stated, “Take what’s useful, discard what’s useless and create what is specifically your own.” This mantra reverberates around the whole SBG universe. In a recent interview with Ariel Helwani UFC star Conor McGregor confirmed this when he described how he uses this principle in areas of his life.
“If you think about it and you don’t corrupt it, that’s the way of describing modern MMA,” Matt explains. “That’s what we do now, we use what is useful, we take whatever we need to take from boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and put it into a way that works in a fight.
Despite being eager to learn how to defend himself, Matt’s introduction into the world of combat sports, as a 17-year-old teenager in his birth city of Bradford, was fortuitous rather than planned.
“I liked the idea of combat sports and by chance I bumped into a guy who told me he had been attending kickboxing classes, so I jumped on board and attended it. It transpired there was an MMA class on the next night and I never looked back.”
After also trying his hand at Thai boxing, Matt moved to Newcastle where he was introduced to a man called Barry Norman who he credits with being his first and only Thai boxing coach. The seeds were planted, it was time to water the crop! The first test of his famous iron man’s mentality came in the unusual setting of Thailand, far removed from the streets of Britain. With only three Muay Thai fights under his belt, the SBG man was presented with a formidable opponent to compete against.
“At 18 years of age I went to a place called Ubon Ratchathan,” Matt recalls. “I trained at a place called Legacy which was run by a guy called Ole Laursen, who was fighting in the Super League at the time, he was a really cool guy and a quality fighter,
“At the place I was located there was few foreigners to fight at the time, there was none of this fighting local Thai fighters in a bar which I believe you can do now. So, I took on an opponent way beyond my experience. The kid I was fighting was a different kid to the person who was at the weigh in. I looked at him and he had ridiculous abs and tree trunk legs. He came out and started smashing me with leg kicks. I felt like I had been hit with a baseball bat, he stopped me in the third round. It was a complete mismatch; at that point I had only been training for a year I barely knew how to defend myself.”
Upon returning to the UK, Matt was on his travels yet again, this time settling in Manchester, where he was advised by one of his training partners to train with a coach who would go on to have a gigantic impact on his life.
“In Newcastle I was training with an MMA fighter called Peter Irvin who advised me to go check out an MMA Gym in Manchester, which was run by a coach who could take me to the level. That someone turned out to be Karl Tanswell, so my first day in Manchester I walked down the stairs into the basement (where SBG was situated) and the rest is history.”
With a world class coach behind him and going above and beyond the 10,000-hour rule, Inman was sculpted into a fearsome all-round fighter, dangerous in every facet of the sport. Tall, rangy, with world class striking and an evolving grappling game which saw him reach black belt status in Brazilian jiu – jitsu. The professional game had a problem on its hands.
Subsequently, a reign of terror was unleased on the local welterweight scene, with eight wins from his first 11 fights and seven of his victims failing to make it out the first round, Inman solidified his status as a hot prospect.
Even though MMA was still in its infancy, the sport was growing beyond recognition. The UFC became a major player which had a ripple effect around the world. People were interested in the sport, not just watching, but competing in it. However, a life competing in mixed martial artist can be a precarious choice of a profession. There is very little money to be earned, especially at the start.
“Life wasn’t easy,” Matt describes, “I was juggling various jobs all while cramming in as much training as possible. I was doorman, a cage fighting doorman (laughs) and I also was studying for a law degree. It was something to fall back on in case the fighting and coaching never took off. It was extremely hard making weight around that time, but that’s the sacrifice I made. I am a martial artist, there was nothing else I wanted to do.”
After an impressive start to life in the pro game, Matt’s career flatlined, wear and tear reared its ugly head as nerve damage in his lower back made it impossible for him to compete. While the average person washes down painkillers and struggles to do ordinary, mundane tasks, Inman did no such thing. Instead he courageously embarked on a career as a professional boxer under the guidance of the late legendary Oliver Harrison.
“I thought let’s give boxing a shot (laughs). It was the grappling that was really bothering it (my back) Some days I couldn’t get out of bed, but there’s degrees to everything. If I was upright it was manageable.”
A record of five fights with five losses doesn’t tell the whole story of the SBG man’s brief stint into the boxing game.
“I had no experience as an amateur boxer,” Matt reflects. “I was on the road fighting top prospects. I was always the away fighter, my first fight was against a bloke called Matty Clarkson, who was being touted as an up and coming prospect. I didn’t fight the way I should have fought in those fights, I just wanted to put the pressure on, land shots and get my opponents out of there. I’m pretty sure at the time I was offered a fight with Callum Smith in one of his first few fights. That just shows how tough it is on the road as professional boxer.
After his back healed up, Inman went back to his spiritual home of MMA with a determination to get into the UFC. In the years that followed and after inking a deal with respected promotional outfit Cage Warriors, the BJJ black belt would take on all comers in various parts of the world.
“I fought in Poland, Denmark and Chechnya, which was an experience,” he describes. “I was unaware of the troubles in the region (Chechnya) at the time. Ramzan Kadyrov is a big MMA fan and he watched all the fights on a throne with his security team surrounding him. There were snipers on the rooftops, it was a bit surreal. I got the win though, so I was happy with that.”
After accumulating 11 wins out of his next 16 fights, including a thrilling and bloody come from behind win against former UFC fighter Che Mils, the goal of the UFC looked like it would come to fruition for the British man, as an overdue Cage Warriors world title shot presented itself on the 18/02/2017. The explosive Karl “Psycho” Amoussou was the man Inman would have to conquer.
With both men feeling each other out in the opening stages of the first round, disaster struck for the SBG man as a left jab was immediately countered by a pinpoint right hand administered by the ‘Psycho’, which called a halt to proceedings.
“With that fight it was such a shame,” Inman reminisces. “It was the best prepared I had ever been for a fight; we did everything right. All through camp we had no injuries, it was just such a shame it ended the way it did, but that’s fighting man, that’s the hard truth of it, you get what you get and not always what you think you deserve.”
An ever constant in Matt’s career was the ability to overcome setbacks. Whenever a loss occurred, it was dealt with head on. No sulking, no excuses, it was straight back to the gym. It was no different this time around. An impressive victory over Brad Wheeler on Cage Warriors 84 put him back in the win column.
The six months that followed the Wheeler win would go on to change the course of the 33-year old’s life. Personal tragedy struck when his pregnant sister in law Michelle Inman and long-term coach Karl Tanswell tragically passed away. This was another, much tougher battle he would have to overcome.
“From my perspective it was a case of, I have to straighten up and be there for my family in a way that I’ve never been before. I’d never been touched by those things in a way so close to me. The real tragedy was for my brother James (Michelle’s husband) three years it will be since that event, he’s still dealing with the fallout from that. All things considered he’s doing well, he’s a tough kid, we are extremely proud of him
Karl Tanswell was the Godfather of British MMA. A man who Impacted the lives around him in an incredibly positive way, whether it be superstars of the UFC or the person off the street. His presence meant something. He was in your corner, not just in the octagon but in life too. He left a legacy which reached all four corners of the globe. Long after we are all dust in the ground, his vision and ideology will still be intact.
“Karl was more than my coach, he was a close friend, brother and father figure to me. He had so many good characteristics, he would always go way out of his way to help somebody.” Matt emphasizes.
“He would always be there for you. I think that’s why he took to coaching so well because deep down at the basis of coaching it’s helping people out. He fit so naturally into the role of a coach. I’ve never met anyone with the combination of ability to have you working as hard as you can, learning at the same time, whilst also having fun and laughing. It was just an incredible training environment that he created. I was very fortunate to have known him.”
The passing of Tanswell left a big void at SBG Manchester. True to form Matt dealt with the tragedy head on and hung up the gloves to take over the reins at gym. He has instilled just as much sacrifice and dedication into his coaching career as he did as a fighter, even though the lure of competing is never far from his mind.
“Every day I think about fighting,” he tells me. “But If I focus on myself fully all the guys suffer. To be honest I think I’m going to be a better coach than I ever was a fighter. It’s always on my mind my wife to be will vouch for this because it drives her mad. As soon as I get home, I’m writing notes, I’m reassessing what I’ve done, I’m watching fight footage and instructionals. I’m trying to gain as much knowledge as I can, it’s more than a full-time job. I’m constantly trying to refine my craft as much as possible.
“I love martial arts. The great thing about training fighters is it keeps you at the cutting edge of the sport. I know everything that I’m teaching is being pressure tested at the highest level. That has a trickledown effect down my gym. I’m not going to show my students something that wouldn’t work in a fight, because I’ve seen how it works at the highest level.”
The level of up and coming prospects at SBG Manchester is testament to Karl Tanswell and Matts’ coaching abilities. The gym features a frenzy of fighting calibre – Cage Warriors Bantamweight Champion Jack Cartright, UFC fighter Davy Grant, Bellator fighter Saul Rogers, Cage Warriors Martin Stapleton, up and coming female talent Levi Steedman and a host of others. The future of SBG Manchester looks exceptionally bright.
Your greatest judge and jury lie within the hollows of your mind. There are people you meet in life who leave you in awe with their ability to face life head on. Matt Inman is in this category. He has poured his heart and soul into combat sports, no matter what hurdle has presented itself.
For the full description of Matt Inman’s captivating story, download ‘INSIDE THE MIND OF A FIGHTER’ podcast, available on Apple podcast and Spotify.
Photo Credit: Dolly Crew | Cage Warriors
Freelance boxing/sports writer from Manchester, United Kingdom and creator of ‘INSIDE THE MIND OF A FIGHTER’ podcast, available on Apple podcast and Spotify.