The Manchester MMA Scene - Part I

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve conducted interviews with the head coaches from a few Manchester based MMA clubs gyms and academies. They have been very generous with their time and the interviews were quite an interesting read, I’m sure you will agree. What I have done now is mixed these interviews around so rather than a full interview with one MMA coach, followed by the next and so on I will post the questions and then give you each coach’s own perspective, pinning the different answers against each other. I hope you like that format better. Here is part I of the interviews.

The coaches featured in this interview are Mr Gavin Boardman - Manchester Predators MMA, Mr Matt Thorpe - 12Gauge MMA and of course our own Mr Martyn Cahill - The Labs - Fighting Fit.

Hi guys, please introduce yourselves to the readers and give us an overview of your Martial Arts / Coaching Background

Gavin Boardman (GB):

I am a full time MMA Coach, and Head Coach of Predators Gym in Manchester. I have been coaching full time since about 2002 I think, working at Defence Unlimited, which then became SBG. I started Predators in 2007, where we have been relatively successful in a short period, with several titles and 3 pro fighters ranked consistently in the British top 10.
I initially started training traditional martial arts, like many people, when I was a child. I jumped between different systems for years until starting to train more seriously in 1996, when I was training JKD under Steve Powell and then Karl Tanswell. My training became more geared towards MMA in 1998. Most of my coaching history is based around practical experience, and I have been lucky enough to train with some great coaches. I have always approached what I coach as a sport as opposed to a "Martial Art", and I have done a great deal of research into the coaching methods of many sports. I no longer have any of my grading certificates or anything useless like that.

Matt Thorpe (MT):

I am Matt "12 Gauge" Thorpe and have been involved with the UK MMA scene for the last 11 years. I have fought as a Pro MMA fighter for around 8-9 years and have recently retired from active competition to concentrate on my club and coaching.

My martial arts journey started like most other peoples, when I was around 8 years old, I attended the local Tae-Kwon-Doe club, I trained there for around 2 years until I got bored. Around the age of 13 I started training in Kickboxing, again this only lasted around 2 years. I got bored of the instructor never really attending the class like a lot of TMAs (Trad. Martial Arts) it seemed like he was out just to make money. At the age of 18 I met my future wife who was training at a local Karate club, and she kept nagging at me to come down and train. I finally gave in went down and discovered the instructor there had seen the first couple of UFCs and had started experimenting with grappling and the idea of MMA. I trained with the club for 2 years until it closed down, I then decided to experiment and train at a few different clubs including freestyle Olympic wrestling, BJJ, Thai boxing, amateur boxing and a couple of different MMA clubs. I finally settled at Team Colosseum for my MMA training as there ideas and training concepts were what I was after. The coaches where forward thinking and knew how to develop a fighter as they were one of the original UK MMA gyms and had guys fight all over the UK and the world, which was a big deal back then!

When joining the Colosseum the coach at the time Danny Wallace had a philosophy that in order to advance as a fighter being able to coach and teach a technique was a massive part of the learning process. So from day one at the club it was encouraged for all the students to come in with new ideas, teach and coach them so that we could develop as a club and individuals. This is something I too believe in and I encourage my students to bring ideas to the table and be able to coach and teach techniques so that they understand what is important and makes the technique or idea work!

Over the years I have been part of the coaching staff at Team Colosseum and have worked with the pro and amateur fighters helping with what ever they need. I was also one of the founding members of the Northern Cartel along with Dave and Ian Butlin, Aaron Chatfield and Mark Spencer. We all worked together, exchanging ideas, techniques and coaching each other for our pro fights.

More recently I have taken my Personal Training diploma in order to advance my knowledge and to implement some of the ideas on how to coach across to my MMA club.

Martyn Cahill (top right hand corner) and the Lab Rats at Take-Down
Martyn Cahill (MC):

My first experience in martial arts was within the Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu system. It consists of nine separate martial arts traditions and includes striking, grappling and weapons training. I am currently a first Dan in this system.

Around 2003 I watched UFC1 on DVD, Royce inspired me to begin training in BJJ. I began training at the Straight Blast Gym in Manchester. Over time I expanded my training to include wrestling and eventually MMA. In 2007 I began to coach some beginners classes and eventually became a certified coach within the SBG organisation. I now run my own classes at The Labs – Fighting Fit in Manchester.

What's your take on MMA?


MMA to me is the most complete combat sport. I am interested in all combat sports (actually I am interested in most sports!), but the limiting rules in other combat sports make them less interesting overall. I am not saying I like to see fewer rules; I want to see rules set up to make a more fluid, skilful sport. MMA has the closest set of rules to make this the case, rewarding a wide skill set and allowing success through a variety of approaches.


I enjoy certain aspects of MMA very much. I admit that I prefer a technical fight over a brawl any day. I have a bias toward Jiu Jitsu, it's the art that I love most. To me a submission is beautiful.

Cage vs Ring? Gi training or No-gi training?


It has to be cage every time. The number of restarts in a ring fight makes it impractical, and ruins the fluidity of a fight. Obviously, we do a lot of training working against the cage fence, which has become an important part of the sport. As soon as this is gone, the sport has lost some of its appeal for me.

I believe both gi and no-gi training is important. For people fighting MMA, I would recommend a slight bias towards no-gi training, but not to neglect the gi. No-gi has more of a focus on speed and scrambling, which are both important, and obviously the gripping options are different. People generally say training with the gi makes you more technical, but no-gi is technical too, but in a different way. I think that the main benefit of gi training is that it forces you to defend attacks at an earlier stage, as there is less chance of slipping or powering out a bit later. Also, it makes positioning more precise, the subtleties of which I didn't realise fully until I trained with Steve Campbell - Manchester's best BJJ coach!


Cage all the way helps to keep the fluidity of a fight. The ring employs the use of the ref too much and really isn’t as safe as a cage!

The Gi v no-gi is an interesting question. I have spent most my training life doing No-gi but have recently decided to don the Gi for the first time. I have heard all the arguments for and against and to be honest during my MMA fight career I choose to never train in the Gi. I have had students ask me this question and I will always advise them to try both and make up there own mind as it needs to be right for them!

I always chose not to wear the Gi due to my feeling that concentrating on No-gi was far more important for MMA than Gi training. You have a limited amount of training time a week and a lot of different aspects and styles need to be covered, Gi work wasn't as applicable so I chose not to do it.


I am a big fan of the cage; it's safer for the fighters than a ring and can also be used as a tool by the fighters.

My opinion is that Gi training makes you a better grappler, just look at Roger Gracie and Marcello Garcia. They are perhaps two of the most successful competitors ever; both train in a Gi on a regular basis. However, when it comes to preparation for a MMA match the Gi must be put away for the duration of the training camp. This allows the fighter to adjust his grips etc.

------------------------END OF PART I----------------------

I hope you enjoyed part one. In part two, the Manchester based MMA coaches give us their take on fighter attributes and the component parts of the sport of MMA.

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