Chris Fields eyes Japan dream as Bellator 173 "legacy fight" nears

Irish MMA fighter chats to Peter Carroll

Chris Fields, MMA

Chris Fields in training

Chris Fields may be approaching the biggest fight of his life against former Bellator light-heavyweight champion Liam McGeary in Belfast on February 24th, but you wouldn’t notice it from his demeanour as he prepares for another day of sparring at his SBG Swords gym.

Fields was among the group of SBG trailblazers that seemed to be destined for the UFC during their assault on the Cage Warriors ranks. Even when Fields won a world title with the promotion at middleweight, he never took the time to smell the roses due to his overwhelming desire to climb to the UFC ranks.

“I had tunnel vision for the UFC at the time,” he says. “The attitude back then was if you didn’t make it to the UFC, you basically didn’t make it in the fight game.

“Now the shows are getting much bigger outside of the UFC. There are big fights outside of the UFC too.

“I don’t know, maybe I was trying to look the part with that UFC talk back then. You know, saying you're going to be in the UFC seemed pretty cool to me back in the day.

“There was a good bit of momentum behind not only me but the whole team. When people are talking about you, you have to shoulder all the pressure on your own because this isn’t a team sport. That’s just the fight game.

“You have to be ready for that kind of attention too, and to be honest, I don’t think I was back then.”

UFC flyweight and Irish fan favourite Neil Seery has often spoken about how it would be impossible for him to provide for his family without a full-time job on top of his UFC career.

Fields chased down a UFC contract by competing in TUF, but he never got to sign on the dotted line after his exit in the elimination rounds to Matt Van Buren. His marriage, honeymoon and the birth of his son all came within close proximity to various fight obligations he had at the time.

Without the demands of the UFC, Fields was able to open SBG Swords along with celebrated Irish jiu-jitsu proponent Tom King. According to the Bellator light heavyweight, the fact that he no longer depends on his fight purses for an income has made preparing for fights a lot less strenuous.

“I don’t make a living off fighting anymore so that kind of eases the tension. It’s been a lot nicer getting ready for fights without worrying about money. A lot of people don’t realize that half of your money is dependent on you winning the fight.

“I’ve been very lucky that my wife, Laura, has been so understanding over the years. Maybe in the past, the UFC was the goal because you wanted to make the money to support a family and give them everything they wanted.

“I had a few setbacks—some because of injury and some because of bad performances—and when that happened I knew I couldn’t rely on fighting to be my livelihood.

“I can remember heading off for a training camp in Mexico to help Cathal [Pendred]. Laura was at home and heavily pregnant at the time. I actually fought two days after she had the baby.

“Now, everything is so much easier. My life isn’t riding on every fight. And people say ‘oh he’s taking his foot off the gas’, when they hear that you’re not feeling the same pressure. I actually think it’s very freeing.

“I feel better now than I ever have. I’d say I train more now than I used to. I don’t have the emotional strains that I used to have that sapped a lot of my energy.”

The former Cage Warriors champion has been very unfortunate over the last year when it comes to opponents. His first BAMMA championship date with Paul Craig was postponed due to the new safety requirements but in place in Ireland following the death of Joao Carvalho.

When he was booked to meet Craig again, the Scot was injured. Eventually, Craig was whipped up by UFC and Fields was pencilled in to meet Andy Clamp for the vacant strap in Dublin. However, at the eleventh hour, Clamp was pulled from the bout by Safe MMA Ireland, who were not able to clear the Englishman to compete at the 3 Arena event.

Fields watched on as fans left the venue as world-renowned competitor Muhammad ‘King Mo’ Lawal took on Satoshi Ishii in the main event. Having had his bout with Clamp removed from the BAMMA card that coincided with the Bellator event, the Dubliner felt implored to tell his future employers that he was the man to keep the attention of the Irish masses the next time the promotion touched down on the Emerald Isle.

“It’s crazy to think people left the 3 Arena while ‘King Mo’ was fighting. I’ve trained with the guy and I’ve watched him for years between Strikeforce, Bellator and the fights that he took over in Japan.

“I guess it worked out well for me because Bellator saw the need to put an Irishman in the main event this time, but I was genuinely disappointed to see all the people leave while that fight was taking place. Honestly, I thought Bellator might not come back here again because of that reaction.

“So, in my wisdom, I marched backstage after the show. I found the Bellator people and I told them that I was going to headline their next show in Ireland.

“I should probably mention that I had a few drinks on me at the time and I was probably talking s***e, but it worked out well in the end!” he laughs.

“I can guarantee that the arena will still be packed at the end of the night when we take to the cage. Even if I take myself out of the equation, as an MMA fan, I know I’d be sticking around to watch McGeary fight in Ireland.”

Ahead of the 3 Arena card in December, Fields talked about how he was unwilling to tie himself down to one promotion. The SBG man has dreamed about competing in Japan his whole life and he believes his three-fight deal with Bellator could lead to opportunities further down the line with Japanese promotion Rizin, which made the deal more appetizing for him.

“It’s so funny because I did previously say that I wasn’t going to tie myself down to a promotion, so I guess I’ve got some egg on my face over that one. I’ve made a whole career out of contradicting the things I say, so why stop now?

“One of the big things that interested me was their links with Rizin. It’s always been a dream of mine to go and fight in Japan and I’m definitely going to speak to some people about that further down the line.

“I had a big talk with my business partner, Tom King, who I run the gym with, and my life long advice-giver Laura, and we all decided it was the best thing to do.”

English jiu-jitsu champion James Webb has been frequenting Fields’ premises in the lead up to his upcoming professional MMA debut. After the pair had finished their sparring, Fields explained that making connections with one of the biggest promotions in the world would good for his coaching career too, with fighters like Webb potentially looking to break into the bigger shows in the future.

“As a coach too, it’s good to make these connections with different promotions. You saw James training with me today. He’s only set to have his first pro fight, but if things go well for him I have a good connection at BAMMA. If he does well with BAMMA I now have a connection with Bellator that he could use. I kind of think of everything now with both my coach’s hat and my fighter’s hat on.”

Despite his enthusiasm for coaching, McGeary is all that’s on Fields’ mind at the moment. After having a whole year to prepare to fight, he feels now is the time to make arguably his biggest mark on the sport.

“I’ve told you for nearly ten years that I’m going to retire when I’m 35. I’m 33 now and I’m coming out of five fight camps on the bounce. If I’m not ready for a legacy fight now, I never will be.

“I feel like everything is right. I feel like my training is good. I feel like I’m at my physical peak in terms of fitness and technique.

“There are a lot of differences you can find in a matchup. I think when you’re fighting a guy nobody has heard of, you’re fighting for the fans.

“This Liam McGeary fight is for me. I want to fight the best guys in the world, and he is certainly one of them. Anyone can go in and beat a bum and have people who have no idea about the sport slap you on the back and tell you how great you are.

“To fight someone of McGeary’s stature and leave with my hand raised would be a massive deal for me.”

@PetesyCarroll