“Sports do not build character. They reveal it.” – Heywood Broun
Throughout my interview with “The Road Warrior” Kieran Malone, of the Dinky Ninja Fight Team, one of Scottish combat sports most interesting characters, one question kept popping into my head – what does it take to live up to your potential in sport?
The early part of Kieran’s story is embodied with one word – talent.
As a child, like most of us I imagine, Kieran was a big fan of the WWF. A fan of the more technical workers, even as a youngster, Kieran laughs as he tell me that he “always wanted those Bret Hart Sunglasses”. However, Kieran’s love of pro wrestling led him down a sporting path that would define his youth. I had always known Kieran had a wrestling background, but had no idea on the details of how he got started in wrestling, a sport that is very small in Scotland. The story is quite something;
“Well pretty much there’s only like 4 places you can wrestle in the whole of Scotland and randomly Cumbernauld which is where I was from is one of them. I loved pro wrestling as a 5/6 year old kid so my parents took me to wrestling. I found it wasn’t WWF but I enjoyed it and stuck to it.”
After getting over the initial hurdle of realising he was going to be taught double legs and sprawls, as opposed to chokeslams and clotheslines, Kieran turned out to be a natural.
As well as being part of the Scottish Institute of Sport, Kieran was a member of the British and Scottish wrestling squads for pretty much his entire youth, representing those squads all around the world; winning British and Scottish titles through all age groups, and even going on to medal at some big international events during his wrestling career.
The success Kieran enjoyed in wrestling is indicative of hard work, discipline and, of course – talent.
So why leave wrestling, a sport he was enjoying great success in, to do MMA, something entirely new, where he’d go from being an expert to an almost complete beginner?
“Problem with wrestling was its such a small sport with a great deal of politics and I am not prepared to kiss anybody’s ass to get anywhere. I got to 17 and couldn’t handle the BS and small minded mentality in wrestling and I had been aware and interested in MMA since Ken Shamrock entered the WWF so I was always trying to watch MMA even when I was very young.”
I must admit to a feeling of slight jealousy of everything that Kieran’s pro wrestling fandom led him to – his start in wrestling and his discovery of, and eventual transition to, the sport of MMA. All I ever got out of wrestling was a collection of action figures and a detention for telling a classmate to “suck it”!
Disillusioned with the running of the sport of wrestling (never the sport itself however), Kieran knew the only place to do MMA in Glasgow was the Griphouse.
So as a 17 year old, he turned up at The Griphouse, one of the UK’s top MMA gyms, home to a number of Scotland’s very best MMA fighters. This is where it gets interesting
“I always remember the first night I showed up to the gym – there was a wrestling class going on and Paul McVeigh asked if I wanted to coach the class. I said yes and it all started from there”
Anyone reading this who has attended a martial arts class, will remember their first class. I will hazard a guess not one of them would have felt confident enough to actually TAKE the class on their first night.
“If you don’t have confidence, you’ll always find a way not to win.”– Carl Lewis
That self confidence is something you sense in Kieran as soon as you talk with him – it’s never arrogance or conceit, he just believes in himself and knows what he is capable of. When I ask how on earth he could have the confidence to coach the first Griphouse class I ever attended, he words it better than me;
“I’ve always been confident/a Wido so I just kind of took it in my stride and if there’s one thing I know is wrestling so it was easy for me to do.”
When Kieran started full MMA training, he immediately took to BJJ, picking it up fairly quickly – perhaps unsurprising given his considerable wrestling pedigree. Striking didn’t come as easily for Kieran, which he feels may have been due to a combination of him not putting the necessary time in and not being able to pinpoint the style of striking which best suited him at that time. He still wrestled 2-3 times a week – wrestling was still his passion and in order to coach the Griphouse classes, his own skills needed to be kept sharp and keep developing.
Now, to anyone who has ever trained or competed in MMA I ask; how would you have felt taking your first semi pro fight after just 4 weeks? Would you have been confident enough in yourself to do that? Would you have had the talent to win sed fight with an armbar in a minute?
I wouldn’t have anyway. Kieran did.
If winning isn’t everything, why do they keep score? – Vince Lombardi
Kieran’s semi pro career was as close to flawless as it gets. In 6 fights, he won them all.
“I pretty much didn’t lose a second of a round at semi pro”
Kieran tells a great story, something all too common in the world of amateur/semi pro MMA – a promoter tried to set him up.
“I did get set up with a Polish ringer down in Cumbria who was a wrestler. I think he got a shock when I chained a set of takedown defence against his shot. Don’t think they expected the skinny white kid to be able to wrestle like that”
The combination of 6 comfortable wins at semi pro, elite level wrestling and training at Scotland’s top MMA gym led to big hype
“There was a fair amount of hype and that’s where it started to go wrong.”
Kieran’s professional debut was initially supposed to be against Graham Armstrong, however there was a pull out in a 4 man tournament on the show Kieran was fighting on. With an ever present competitive spirit, and confidence in himself, Kieran put himself forward to compete in the 4 man, with 3 opponents vastly more experienced than him. He even had to convince his coaches to let him do it – not many fighters actively pushing their coaches to let them take a much harder challenge!
Kieran lost his professional debut to David Galbraith – an opponent where there is no love lost, a loss he would greatly love to avenge and the rematch is one he has actively campaigned for.
“In the 2 round tournament format I whooped him and should have got the decision. He is what I call a nonsense character. What a joke him applying for TUF and getting people to pay for it. He doesn’t want the fight as he knows what will happen. Dana will be getting a restraining order on the Scottish psycho with shit hair and his gladiator mask.
“Talent without discipline is like an octopus on roller skates. Theres plenty of movement, but you never know if its going to be forward, backwards, or sideways” – H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
Indeed, Kieran’s professional career did not start well at all. After his first 10 fights, he was sporting a record of 3-7.
This has never made sense to me. With his wrestling background, his evident talent and the team behind him, how could someone who had looked like he did at semi pro encounter such problems at the professional level. There had to be more to it.
“From just before my first professional fight until the last year lets just say I enjoyed living the good life too much. Not even drinking during camps; I was always good during the camps – it was the out of camp stuff which left me climbing a mountain to get back to where I needed to be. Don’t get me wrong I always trained pretty much every day but could have trained smarter and better but I was young naive and liked to party a bit. I do have a tendency to go a bit mental. Because I had been pretty much so intensely focused on competition when I got a bit of freedom I went crazy with it which affected me in fights especially in cutting weight like an idiot.
You can’t have a chaotic lifestyle and function at your best and there was lots of chaos going in”
I had to ask Kieran if during this bad spell, he ever considered giving up. It’s the sort of question that normal people like me tend to ask lifelong competitive athletes when things go wrong, and Kieran’s response was no surprise, a mark of his character.
I’m not a quitter and never have been. I always knew I had it in me. Talent has never been an issue. I knew if that it all came together I could give anyone a hard time”
“You’re never a loser until you quit trying.”
I was also fascinated into what his team at the Griphouse made of this start – they knew better than anyone what he was capable of. How did they respond to the early run of bad results?
“They were very supportive and had every right not to be. I was a dick at certain points but I was young and learning. James Doolan has been a major influence in helping me recently and I owe a lot to him but people like Paul McVeigh and Joanne Calderwood were also brilliant in helping me.”
That sort of support and attitude in the gym from his team mates is likely one of the main factors the Griphouse have achieved everything they have in MMA. No more I can add.
“Football is football and talent is talent. But the mindset of your team makes all the difference” – Robert Griffin III
To skip ahead in the story somewhat, Kieran turned it around.
The real story is just how he managed to do this.
The old cliché goes that behind every great man there is a great woman. The thing with cliché’s? They’re usually true.
“If I hadn’t met my current girlfriend maybe I wouldn’t have turned it round like I have now. I don’t think I’d be dead or anything but maybe in a gutter somewhere”
As an interesting aside, Vari herself has recently overcome some serious adversity and returned to enjoy some success of her own on the BJJ scene – submitting both of her opponents in under a minute at the recent Scottish BJJ open to pick up a gold medal. Her determination to defeat the obstacles put infront of her has clearly served as a real inspiration to Kieran;
“She’s a hard worker and came back from serious injuries already and it’s been amazing to see her drive coming back from a seriously broken hand and torn ACL”
Having a good corner in the cage is important. Having the right people behind you in real life, even more so.
Kieran met his girlfriend Vari at just the right time. Just after meeting her, Kieran decided to take a break from competing in MMA – he could tell he wasn’t living up to his potential, and needed to figure out why.
“Ability was never the issue. If I was in the same place I am now I don’t think I would have lost any of those fights. I just needed a break to find myself. I know that sounds corny but it’s true and it was definitely a great decision.”
Kieran started working with a mental coach – Dave Mullins. Kieran is happy with the results
“I am just so relaxed when I’m fighting now which helps massively I just feel so chilled in there”
Kieran started working with Chris Clarke at the Fight Agency, who manages him now and Kieran gives huge credit to Clarke for helping him build some momentum.
As well as adding these two pieces to his puzzle, Kieran of course was, and is, still working with the best MMA coaches in Scotland.
You will remember that in Kieran’s early MMA career, he never felt quite comfortable with striking. He hadn’t found his style yet. This also changed during the break, under the expert tutelage of James Doolan;
“I really started to hone a style which suited my southpaw style. Lots of work with James and studying lots of southpaws helped me improve at a rapid rate where I would confidently say I am not afraid to strike with anybody now”
His training is now split half and half between Higher Level MMA and The Griphouse, working primarily with James Doolan on Striking and Garry Christie on BJJ – Kieran describes those two as “geniuses” and credits them for his continual development and also his career turnaround.
“Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success. They quit on the one yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game, one foot from a winning touchdown.” -Ross Perot
Kieran didn’t give up and the results are clear. Starting with a 1st round TKO win over David Stone, Kieran has mounted quite a turnaround since returning from his extended MMA hiatus. He was won 4 of his last 5 fights, with the one defeat coming in a fight he was utterly dominating until being caught with an upkick – that happens.
The most memorable fight during this streak was his fight with the Scottish Hit Squad’s Chris Bungard. No fight in recent memory has engaged and interested Scottish MMA fans like that one did. Both guys spoke a lot of trash, and it was Kieran who backed up his words, and went onto win a comfortable decision.
“Bungard was undefeated with a lot of hype and I made him look like an amateur proving records don’t mean shit”
The trash talk preceding the fight was straight out of pro wrestling and credit to both Kieran and Bungard for actually promoting a fight and drumming up a bit of interest – the FFC show that hosted the fight was a complete sell out. Kieran’s knowledge of Pro Wrestling clearly helps him understand fight promotion, an area that most Scottish fighters have no idea on;
“I think my knowledge of wresting helps but I’m also a wind up merchant. People don’t realise it’s not just a fight its entertainment. If people aren’t interested they won’t care and to keep people engaged you need to put work into the promotion but it has to be genuine. Anything I do or say is always the truth. Even to build up a fight I don’t say it if I don’t believe it as people don’t buy rehearsed bullshit”
Kieran revelled in going to Bungard’s backyard and getting the victory against someone who had vowed to “retire” him and had even claimed Kieran was “not on his level”
“I loved the whole build up to that fight. I thrive on confrontation like that. I knew from the outset I was leagues ahead of him and he could not beat me. Even when he was doing interviews you could tell he didn’t believe what he was saying. He can say what he want but his body language betrayed him. I could see in his eyes on fight night he believed he couldn’t win. I loved the atmosphere on the night I was lapping all the jeers I was getting and it made me even more and confident cause I knew I was going to shut them up”
Kieran is aware that there will be plenty more like Bungard – plenty of upcoming pros will look at his record on paper and see him as a “name” that they can beat. Kieran’s message for them is pretty emphatic
“If you take me lightly I will fuck you up”
So what does the future hold for The Road Warrior – so called for being so active taking fights all over the country.
What of his wrestling career? Kieran took a shot at qualifying for the 2014 Commonwealth games Wrestling Team but got injured at the wrong time – he feels he should have been given another chance, but used that as motivation, and considers it a driving force behind everything he is achieving these days. He says he will never be “done” with wrestling – his first passion. Indeed, he won a tournament at 86kg a few months ago very comfortably, and considering he fights MMA at 70kg, he’s obviously not lost a step on the wrestling mats. Kieran is also working on some big things to grow the sport which has given him so much
“I am doing work developing a wrestling program for North Glasgow Regeneration where we are getting free coaching to kids in the area to give them an outlet and also grow the sport. As I said earlier I am working on some huge stuff at the moment which could change the sport in Scotland for the better”
MMA wise, Kieran plans to stay as busy as ever, riding the wave of his recent momentum, fighting Ash Griffiths on April 4th. Whilst his record doesn’t worry him, he is acutely aware he needs to improve it to get where he wants to get
“What has happened has happened and has helped me get to the way I am today and helps me keep working to where I want to be. I’m being so active because I’m fresh, my skills are where they need to be and for me to get the big fights I eventually want I need to glossen up my record.”
Kieran mapped out his future plans in the way that only he can;
“I’m still only 23 so I think people forget that I have plenty of time. After I dust Ash Griffiths in 2 weeks in which I expect to finish him in a round I want fights that interest me. I would love to fight that clown Galbraith but I hear behind the scenes he want anyone else apart from me. I would also like to fight Wes Murch or Paul Reed as there has been a bit of beef over the years. After 2/3 more fights I want some of the best in the UK I believe in my skills more than ever I would love to get in there and mix it with guys like Martin Stapleton, Colin fletcher and Andre winner etc. Don’t be surprised if I get to the big show I actually draw on a bit of inspiration from Neil Seery in this.”
Kieran is also busy off of the mats and outside of the cage. He runs his own Personal Training and Nutrition consultancy business and is very passionate to help people improve their knowledge on health and wellbeing. He is also doing work for Champions in Schools where he is an ambassador and talks to the kids about goal setting, nutrition, work ethic and also teaches them wrestling. This really inspires him as he feels he is making an impact and letting these kids know they can go and achieve what they want if they prepare correctly.
It became clear to me over the course of the interview, some of the ingredients you need to achieve your potential; confidence, dedication, discipline, talent and a great team behind you. Kieran always had most of what he needed, but now he has the discipline, I look forward to seeing him achieve his true potential.
“In closing I’d just like to say I know I’ve been absolute shite and performed bollocks on some fights in the past but it’s different times and to all you haters hating on the hater you can keep hating but I’m a different fighter and know where I’m going.” – Kieran Malone
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