Tom Breese is a rising force in MMA, a talented and undefeated fighter from Birmingham, England who competes in the welterweight division of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Breese regularly trains in Montreal at both the Grant Brothers Boxing gym and the famous TriStar Gym and now faces a huge test on the big UFC card going down at the O2 Arena in London, England. Chris Connor, host of the Last Call radio show, recently caught up to Tom ahead of what has to be the biggest challenge of his career to date.
CHRIS CONNOR: Tom, the O2 is a place where every major British boxer has fought, plus you’re on the same card with Anderson Silva and Michael Bisping. Has it hit you yet, have you let yourself get geeked-out about being on this card and in this arena?
TOM BREESE: It’s good for me to get recognition but I have a cool head and I don’t let these things faze me. I just focus on the fight ahead and I’ll reflect on it later.
So you mean you have not had one moment where you got freaked out when thinking about fighting on this huge card?
Definitely, but I think about things like that after the match is done. Right now, I have to stay focused. I have a job to do and a fight to win.
Break down your opponent Keita Nakamura. What does he bring to the table and what is different about him compared to your previous opponents?
He has a lot of experience and is a very skilled grappler, very dangerous with his chokes and submission game. He made it to the second round of the ADCC Tournament twice, so I know I have a big test ahead of me.
How do you prepare for an opponent who has more experience than you and will try to catch you in traps or scrambles?
It’s just about training hard and letting my training do the work. I am very calm and I have shown that I have more experience than my record indicates. I’m very confident I will win. I am more well-rounded than Nakamura, a lot younger, and my boxing is much sharper. I see myself getting a stoppage and then moving on to better things.
I’m guessing you’ve had more people hit you up for tickets and freebies. Is this a distraction?
I have definitely had more messages and wishes than in my previous fights, but I feel prepared as I’m away from home and don’t have to have these distractions in my life during my training.
In your last fight you went into Dublin and knocked out Irishman Cathal Pendred in front of a sold-out arena of his fans. What was it like to knock him out and quiet the crowd?
I did the same in my UFC debut when I fought in Brazil and knocked my opponent out in the first round. I think I have shown I can fight in anyone’s hometown and come out with the win. It doesn’t matter as long as you train hard.
But did this fight mean more because of the Ireland vs England rivalry and the trash talk leading up to the fight?
Yeah, it was sweet as Pendred was talking a lot of trash before the fight and I was keeping quiet. Plus you add in the crowd and Conor McGregor riling everyone up and hyping up the fight. It was real nice to get the win there.
How much does this help with your mental strength in that you have back-to-back wins over fighters in their own backyards?
It definitely helps. With every match, my confidence is growing, especially knocking guys out in the first round even when I am fighting in their own back yard.
How did the nickname “The Octopus” come about and who gave it to you?
I don’t really use the name much but before my fight in Brazil, Denny Kang liked the way I was moving and he said I moved like an octopus and it kinda stuck.
How do you build your brand and try to build your name in the UFC going forward so you can make more money?
To be honest I don’t think about it much. I am not in this for the fame. Money does not motivate me. For me, it’s about fighting and winning.
What got you into MMA in the first place and made you love this sport so much?
Since I was a kid I was always scrapping and obsessed with some sort of fighting. I liked boxing but it was limited as it involved using only my hands. When I first fought in MMA, it was the ultimate form of fighting and I loved it.
How did you survive in the regional scene and pay the bills as money there is very tight?
I used to work at a bar on the weekends to pay for my training and my rent. I made enough money to get by, which is why money never motivated me. MMA is my passion and I never did MMA for the money because there was none. I went into the sport at the age of 16 and never looked back.
In your last fight you won a POTN performance bonus; what did you do with the money?
First thing I did I went to the World Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competition. Then I went to New York City for training. I recently moved to Tri Star in Montreal and I have noticed my game get much better.
What makes Firas Zirabi such a great coach? What is it about him that has helped you and other fighters become even better working under him?
Firas is always improving himself and he is always improving his own knowledge of MMA. He is the first person into the gym and the last one to leave. He is a role model and someone you want to copy and learn from him. My relationship with Firas is a coach and teacher, but he has also helped me in other ways. Eric O’Keefe has helped me too and he is more like a father to me. Both he and Firas have enabled me to grow, in and out of the cage.
What was it like the first time you went to TriStar Gym and were sparring with the likes of Rory MacDonald and Georges St-Pierre?
The first time I came to TriStar I was sparring with GSP and I was definitely geeked-out, but now it’s just another day at the office. You want to spar with the best guys.
If you beat Nakamura, you can look forward to fighting welterweights with strong wrestling games, guys like Johnny Hendricks, Tyrone Woodley, Neil Magny, Kelvin Gastleum and Robbier Lawler. How much time are you spending working on your wrestling?
I work on my grappling game every day with Firas and my wrestling coach. I am always working and trying to make myself become the best fighter I can be. I believe I am the best and most well-rounded fighter that England has ever had.
Once again it’s UFC Fight Night 84, Silva vs Bisping, at the 02 Arena with Tom Breese taking on Keita Nakamura. Don’t miss it! — Chris Connor