“I just cant wait to f****** hit someone.”
Lewis Long hunches over the counter at the reception of his gym and pours us both a coffee. He’s been keeping himself busy on the mats all day, but the last three months have clearly worn down his patience. His dog gets it in the neck on a couple of occasions for interrupting our hour-long chat, but he still just about musters up the effort needed to make everyone that walks through the door feel welcome.
It’s a common dynamic for a new parent. The sleepless nights alone are enough to spark a slightly cranky streak. Then again, most new fathers aren’t earning their crust by fighting in a cage for a living.
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One might think that having a child might have calmed him down a little. But, if anything, the arrival of his three-month-old son has, by his own admission, brought out something of a nasty streak in him.
“I used to just train and fight because I enjoyed it,” he says. “My life was built around that. Now, I’ve sort of taken it for granted with a baby, family business, a team of fighters. As I said, I can’t wait to f****** hit someone. I’ve always been a sporting man, a competitive man. But now I actually do want to cause someone harm.
“I think it’s quite a scary thought. the fact I’ve only done it for a laugh, but now I actually want to do it. I don’t know how that’s going to read in an article!”
On Friday night, Long will be in Paris, flying the flag for Wales at Bellator 280. Bellator is arguably second only to UFC in the world of MMA, and has already attracted a number of well-known names, including Swansea-based fighter and former training partner Brett Johns. You can read our interview with him here.
Lewis is something of a trailblazer, and became Bellator’s first Welsh fighter when he put pen to paper on a deal back in 2018. Boasting a professional record of 19 wins and six defeats, he now has Frenchman Thibaut Garcia in his crosshairs, and it’s safe to say he’s feeling pretty confident.
“What am I expecting? Oh… Nothing. Just that he’s going to die, really. I’m not too worried about him.
“He’s got his fortes, but let’s face it, he’s not going to want to be on the mat with me. You fight me, you’ve got to prep yourself for me. He’s got to work and think about what he’s going to do, whereas I’ve got to stick to my way of fighting.
“He’s a Parisian guy, so I’m hoping he brings a big crowd because I quite enjoy the booing. I enjoy being the bad guy and theatrics of it all. But his A game is not going to beat my A game.
“F*** him. The reality is I don’t have too much respect for him.”
In isolation, such soundbites probably make it pretty easy for onlookers to make their mind up on what makes the 33-year-old tick. But Lewis is by no means the sort of mindless thug central to the many stereotypes that are so often conjured up when thinking of this sport.
Indeed, when he’s not relishing in the prospect of knocking someone out, Lewis can often be found on the yoga mat, although admittedly he insists it’s to make him a more flexible and agile fighter, rather than some sort of bid for inner spiritual peace. Even so, the serenity of a yoga session is arguably a million miles away from the tumbles of fight night. As are the lecture halls of the University of South Wales, which is just a short drive up the road from his MAT Academy gym on the Treforest Industrial estate.
Okay, so his chosen subject was forensics, which more often than not examines the science of violence, but the point probably still stands. “I was really interested in how chemicals can interact and become something else,” he explains. “I just thought it was cool finding out how wherever you go, you leave a trace. Not that I wanted to be a murderer or a serial killer or anything, although I think everyone’s got a deep fascination with serial killers.
“I find it fascinating how they used to go through people’s fingerprints. How did anyone catch anyone back then? It’s quite interesting to me.”
Despite his 5ft 10 frame, which is noticeably smaller than many of his counterparts, he often leaves far more than a simple fingerprint on his opponents come fight night, although his size means at times he has to be a little more imaginative. Submissions, particularly the rear naked choke hold, have become something of a speciality.
“I’m all about the dangerous cuddles,” he smiles. “I’m built like a little fridge. A little square thing. So striking is a little bit harder for me. I’ve got to break down distance. I’m the one that’s got to get that range. I’ve got to be a little bit more clever, which I tend not to be. Ego gets the better of me and I’m just like ‘f****** come on!’ so it’s just been about me learning to be patient, picking my shots, and I just seem to demolish people on the floor.
“Again, I’ve worked on that. Nothing happens by chance. Nothing’s luck in this game, it’s all by design. But all roads seem to lead to the back. I think it’s ten rear naked choke wins. There’s nobody in my division in Bellator doing that. I don’t think there’s many others in the world getting that many submissions.”
The results are devastating. His last two fights against Gianni Melillo and Michael Dubois were both won within the first round. The latter arrived after just 41 seconds.
Lewis fully admits he’s never been one to shy away from a scrap, having learned to stand his ground at a young age, going from school to school in and around the Pontypridd area fighting off anyone that dared to have a pop.
“I got kicked out of school for drugs when I was in year seven,” he remembers. “I was fighting all the time because the older kids would try to take my weed off me!
“I was a tearaway, but I was never a bad kid. I wasn’t ever doing anything like bullying or anything like that. I was always the one standing up for people. But that also got me into trouble.
“So I was changing schools quite a lot and that gave me a bit of a reputation then for fighting. You go to another school and everyone there is trying to fight you!
“I got a bit of a row for all that from my parents. But all’s good now.”
Lewis puts a lot of his misdemeanours down to the rambunctiousness of youth, but it’s difficult not to get the distinct impression that he got a bit of a kick out of it at the time. When he took up judo, it perhaps provided him with the perfect opportunity to channel his nervous energy into something more positive, although it’s probably fair to say he initially took some convincing.
“I think I was about 10. My mate was outside the gym saying ‘come on let’s go in’, and I was just sitting in the back of the car crying. It’s the same with kids now, some of them need coaxing onto the mat.
“But as soon as they’re on it they love it. It’s that physicality. I was never the best at judo, but I really enjoyed the competition. I enjoyed going to gradings, s****** your pants. Fighting and being physical. That competition has driven me through everything.
“With everything that was going on at school, judo helped me sort of survive in that sort of environment,” he continues.
“It’s a case where if you’re not training, what else are you going to do? You’re going to be out doing God knows what. So I liked to train every night. Kept me out of trouble. After a certain age obviously. I got that s*** out of my system early and I’ve been a dedicated martial artist ever since. I like the odd pint, but then I’m a Welshman!”
Lewis has given everything he has to this sport. Indeed, it was his success on the mat that caused him to drop out of university before he could graduate. But interestingly, the circumstances that saw him take up MMA could almost be described as coincidental.
“There was a ring announcer called Ricky Wright. He was a fan of MMA and I went to a boxing gym in Pontyclun when I was around 18 or 19. He was there training. I went there for Thai boxing and did that for a couple of weeks and he told me that some of the others training there were doing MMA.
“A month later I had a fight. I had a phone call asking if I was up for it, and I was like ‘f*** it go on then’.
“My first fight was against a guy called Neil Shorter. So it was Long v Shorter. I won that first or second round, but Long v Shorter as the first fight, you can’t make that s*** up.”
Having been thrown into the deep end, Lewis admits that to this day he’s not really all that familiar with many of his fellow competitors.
“I don’t really know who a lot of MMA people are,” he admits “I haven’t really watched a lot of it. I obviously know some of the bigger names, but I don’t really notice people. I try to crack on with what I’ve got to do.”
That said, there are occasionally some famous names that have cropped up.
“I met Putin once! We didn’t have a chat or anything. It was a quick ‘you alright, mate’.
“It was fighting out in Sochi. It sounds like a f****** dream or something, but it was Fedor Emelianenko, Putin, and Jean Claude van Damme, and we were all just standing there looking scared.
“It’s so far out that you almost can’t believe it, but apparently they’re all mates.
“I didn’t even recognise van Damme, mainly because I didn’t expect to f****** see him there, if I’m honest!
“It was really strange. I don’t want to say too much about it because Putin might be over here now.
“Best not slag him off too much, I guess.”
In terms of what was happening on the mat, Lewis freely admits that after such a whirlwind introduction to the sport, he was sort of making it up as he went along.
“I think everyone was in MMA at that time,” he adds. “There was almost a sort of wild west with promotions and gyms. Now you have respected coaches like myself, Richard Shore and a few others around Wales. We all have good conversations about what’s going on.
“Back then social media wasn’t such a big thing. You couldn’t do as much research on your opponent as you would now. It was a little bit wild.
“In terms of my own career, I had to put all my disciplines together and find my own way through.
“I used to travel to Swansea once a week every Sunday. I’d be working all night on the doors in Bridgend, have an hour or two of sleep, and travel to Swansea to train.
“I also had three professional fights before I learned what a single leg takedown was, which is taught at a very basic level in every gym now. It’s funny, because you go onto the mat now and they’d think you were lying. I try to explain to them how lucky they are to be in an environment where we’ve basically done the hard work for them in finding coaches that know what they’re doing.
“The reason why I’ve had my own gym for 10 years is that I used to travel around looking for training or sparring. I’d go somewhere and they wouldn’t turn up or whatever. So once I found someone I trusted and believed to be of good quality, I’d bring them in as a coach.
“That’s how my gym has grown.”
The previous lack of opportunities to develop his skills has almost given Lewis a sense of responsibility to help nurture the MMA talents of the future. His MAT Academy offers the sort of specialised training he, and indeed many other fighters of his generation, never had access to, and in Wales there’s no shortage of takers.
“We’ve got a couple of fighters now who are about 18, and I sort of feel like a mentor to them. You almost feel like a bit of a councillor when you’re training people. I just want them to be able to talk to me about what’s going on their life.
“It’s nice to give back to the boys. It helps me sleep at night. Well, I don’t sleep at night because I’ve got a baby!”
Fatherhood has unsurprisingly been something of a game-changer for Lewis, perhaps giving him some perspective on what’s really important.
“Being a father has kind of streamlined things. I have to do certain things now. There’s no ambiguity about it. It’s taken away all the waffle. That’s what matters.
“It can be hard sometimes being away from the family. But it’s work. That’s how you’ve got to look at it. It’s about paying the bills. I’ll be kicking someone’s head in in the process.”
No one can doubt his love of competition, and the fierce determination that comes with it. But interestingly, Lewis doesn’t have the same lust for belts as many of his colleagues. Indeed, I get the feeling that the private satisfaction of winning, with a little bit of globe-trotting along the way, is probably enough to keep the fire burning – a fire he hopes can light a torch to pass on to the next generation.
“People ask me if I want a belt, and the answer is always no. I don’t care about belts. I don’t care about trinkets. Whenever I won a medal I used to cut the lanyards off and chuck the medals in the bucket.
“But I always want to challenge myself against the best. And if he’s the best then the rest will follow. I’ve wanted to be number one. But I’m not bothered by a belt. I’ve wanted to fight better and better opposition. I’ve not really been interested in fighting people from the British scene. I want to travel and fight around the world.
“As far as career goals go, it’s about staying active, staying healthy, travelling and trying to compete.
“I’ve competed in every style I’ve trained, in all the individual disciplines. I’m a martial artist. I know these days mixed martial arts is its own thing, because you have guys like myself teaching it.
“It’s an art, it’s a way of life, kicking the f*** out of people.”