James Haskell has insisted his dalliance with professional MMA fighting isn’t a publicity stunt.
The former England and Lions back row retired from rugby at the end of the last season, but it hasn’t taken the 34-year-old long to re-emerge as a very different kind of sportsman as he has announced a deal that will see him make his cage fighting debut under the Bellator banner.
“I’m not messing around with this,” he insisted at his media conference unveiling this week. “With a lot of people it has been overwhelmingly support, but some think it is a bit like that scene in Rocky III where he is wearing golden gloves in training and it’s all showbiz and he gets absolutely filled in by Clubber Lang.
“That is not what I’m about. I’m dedicating my life to this. I want to make sure I’m in the best possible shape whatever happens at the end if it. I’m going to put as much dedication into this as I did to rugby.
“I’m deadly serious about it… I don’t want this to be the case where I get into the cage and it looks like I have never taken a punch before and it looks like I’m just here for fun. I’m not about that.”
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Beneath Haskell’s chutzpah, however, is an element of genuine fear that it might all go horribly wrong. “I have gone out of one sport that has been very attritional, very tough, and I’m going into something that is very unknown.
“Personally, there is a large element of fear involved. Anyone who says they are not scared of this sort of thing is either lying or coming out with pretence. For me I want to test myself.
“Mike Tyson said it, everyone has got a plan until you get hit in the face. For me it is a test, it’s a journey. I have missed the strictness and discipline (of being a professional sportsman). I now know where I have to be and I’m going back to having a really professional dedication.”
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