Gloucester MMA fighter Che Mills ready for Nottingham UFC battle
A couple of years ago mixed martial artist Che Mills, aged 32 and from Gloucester, was barely known outside the hard core fans of mixed martial arts. Now, kids stop him in the local supermarket asking for autographs.
By his own admission, he’s no David Beckham but his next fight – in Nottingham on September 29th – will be watched by a global audience of millions on television and online, never mind the 10,000 or so fans who will buy tickets to see the fight live.
For the uninitiated, mixed martial arts is a form of combat sport which mixes punching, kicking and grappling techniques, all inside a caged ring. Fighters wear small fingerless gloves and fight over a maximum of five five-minute rounds.
The winner is decided by judge, by knockout, or by submission – essentially when his opponent inidicates he is under too much pain to continue.
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The most popular competition is UFC – the Ultimate Fighting Championship – the one in which Che Mills will face his American opponent Duane Ludwig later this month.
Che is a welterweight, in the middle of the weight range, standing at 6ft 1in and weighing 12 stones or so. Before starting his fighting career he worked as a labourer and a window cleaner, as well as playing part-time football.
He’s built like a brick outhouse and is clearly as hard as nails too but he’s surprisingly softly spoken, serious about his sport and humble about his growing success.
“I’d say that two years ago, apart from the hard core fans a lot of people didn’t have a clue. More recently I get people staring at me when I’m going shopping, people coming up to me wishing me luck in my next fight.
“It’s a nice feeling but it was weird at first because I’m just a normal average bloke and now kids are coming up to me and asking for my autograph.”
You don’t come across many mixed martial artists in life so it’s hard to make comparisons but if they’re all like Che then the stereotypical “cage fighter” is a misleading one.
He’s an athlete who happens to fight for a living – not, like some might imagine, a psychotic animal who lives to inflict pain and suffering on his opponents.
Che says: “It’s not actually because I want to hurt people – it’s just the challenge I guess. You’re out there on your own and it’s a great feeling.
“If I can win without throwing one punch then I’ll do that by all means. It’s not about the actual fighting. It’s like a chess game – can I outsmart this person? If it starts to get rough in there, am I fitter than he is? It’s all these things rolled into one really.”
And in the spirit of the age, just as the next generation of sporting role models have been set by Olympic glory, Che hopes to set an example to the children of this county.
“A lot of people still have the wrong idea about this sport, especially parents. They think that if they get their kids involved in cage fighting they are going to turn out as bullies. But I try and say that it’s completely the opposite really. You get rid of a lot of aggression; it teaches you discipline and self-control.
“I’ve seen it change so many people, wild kids who come in here and train and six months later they’re totally different.
“Martial arts can be really good for society.”
For now though, Che’s got other things on his mind. His partner Holly is expecting their first child in just over a month’s time and he’s got a fight to get ready for.
In typically understated fashion he said: “I’d say this is the biggest fight of my career so far but I look at every fight like that really.
“I guess there will be millions watching this fight. It’s on ESPN over here and on Fuel TV in America, plus you can watch it live on the website in other countries.
“But that doesn’t faze me to be honest. I don't really think about things like that.
“The main thing is my opponent. He’s a good striker with a good pedigree but I’ve been working endlessly since my last fight.
“I’m ready to fight tomorrow. I’ve still got a week and a half to go but that’s kind of bugging me that I have to wait so long because physically and mentally I’m ready to go.”