BEING an opponent of mixed martial arts fighter Jimi Manuwa to date appears to involve spending a lot of time lying on your back, counting the stars spinning before your eyes.
The Croydon wrecking ball, who trained at Keddle’s Gym in St Mary Cray and has his sights set on becoming the first Bristh holder of a UFC title, has won all 14 of his professional fights, with 13 knockouts and one submission.
His explosive striking has brought him a pop at the World number two ranked light heavyweight Alex Gustafsson in the main event of UFC Fight Night London at the O2 on March 8.
It is a hell of a fight in prospect, and one which the less experienced Manuwa is entering as the underdog.
After all, Gustafsson took current champ Jon Jones the full five rounds and, according to some, should have won what was popularly dubbed 2013’s Fight of the Year.
Speaking to Vibe, former Ingham High School pupil Manuwa said: “A lot of people are expecting me to lose the fight but I am using that as fuel to train harder and win the fight.
“I always expect to win all of my fights. I’m training really hard. I’m training harder than I have ever trained before.”
A knock-out specialist, Manuwa believes he can stop giant Swede.
He said: “I’m always looking to knock out all of my opponents. That’s my main thing – striking and power and stopping my opponent. I’ll be looking to use that against Alex.”
Despite looking to beat and, ideally, knock out his opponent, there is no animosity between the pair.
Manuwa said: “Before the fight (was announced) I used to talk to him a lot and wish him well in his fights but when the opportunity came for me to headline at the O2, it was something I couldn’t turn down.”
The 33-year-old’s training camp started in November and he said it will pick up in the middle of January.
He said: “I’ve been working on a lot of strength and conditioning and jiu jitsu.
“I usually do some sort of fitness stuff around midday – some strength and conditioning or sprints or some circuits or swimming. Then evening and night times I usually spar or do jiu jitsu or boxing.
“I have got the same sparring partners as usual. I might fly some people in from the States in February to help me out. I’ve been sparring with people like Dillian Whyte (an unbeaten boxer who has sparred with the likes of David Haye and Vitali Klitschko) and Andrew Tate, the world champion kickboxer.
“I have had loads of people come down from different gyms to help me out and it’s going great. I’m feeling good.”
As well as training, the destructive fighter eats carefully too with a diet of ‘all quinoa and healthy stuff, yoghurts, healthy greens, salads, healthy meats and protein and stuff like that.’
At 28, Manuwa was relatively late in turning to the sport.
Prior to turning pro he had various business in the motor industry, from car rentals to sales and valeting.
He’s lived all over Croydon – in Broad Green, Thornton Heath and West Croydon – and said although he got into his ‘fair share’ fights as a kid he was no little scrapper.
It was through being a fan of MMA and the UFC that he decided to take up the sport.
He said: “I was 28 and I wasn’t scared of anything.
“I went in, I didn’t care how I got there – I would do anything to train and be the best. I didn’t really care about little injuries because you get them in anything.
“MMA has changed my life. It’s given me a lot of focus and goals. I’m never bored – I’m always training and trying to get better.
He added: “I’ve had a fair bit of injury. My worst one was probably dislocating my shoulder in training. That put me out for about 13 or 14 months. I thought I wasn’t going to be able to fight, but then I got rehab and sorted it out.
“I’ve had a few injuries – a few ruptures and ligaments but nothing too, too serious.”
When he started out, Manuwa took himself to Keddle’s in St Mary Cray because of its great reputation in MMA circles.
He said: “It’s a striking gym, probably the best striking gym around.
“It was a great place to learn.”
For the winner on March 8, a showdown with champion Jones seems likely, but Manuwa is refusing to look beyond his next bout yet.
That said, he does have hopes for his career and legacy.
He said: “I want to be World Champion, the best in the World. I want to be remembered as unbeaten and a knock out specialist, and a great fighter and great role model.”
Jimi Manuwa fights Alex Gustafsson at UFC Fight Night London at the O2 on March 8. Tickets go on sale January 31 at ticketmaster.co.uk