Tom Breese came away with a win when he took to the Octagon for the first time in his homeland at UFC London in February. Yet, the English fans didn’t quite get the resounding first round knockout they had been expecting from the 24-year-old.
The buzz around the British capital was palpable during fight week. Breese and legendary Brit Michael Bisping were the talk of the town. Having put away Luiz Dutra and Cathal Pendred in the first round of his first two UFC bouts, a similar finality was expected from Breese on Feb. 27.
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Knowing that the fans were anticipating an emphatic victory from a man they believe will go on to claim UFC gold, Breese admitted the expectation played on his conscience when he took on Keita Nakamura.
“It was definitely on my mind, and really, I shouldn’t be thinking about any of that stuff,” revealed the unbeaten Brit, “but, it was a great experience and I learned a lot of lessons from it.
“I think I was looking for the perfect shot too much rather than going out there and just letting my hands go or just letting things happen. When I fought Pendred in Dublin I was expecting a tough fight, but in the end, I went out and just made things happen.”
The pressure of giving the crowd what it wanted may have been too great.
“I wanted that perfect one punch knockout in London, something spectacular, but it just didn’t happen for me,” Breese conceded. “Nakamura had a great record going into the fight. I think he really proved himself as a world-class fighter that night, but maybe I could have done things differently.
“He came in there with a great game plan. He would time me coming in and then he would get that body lock straight away. Honestly, it was the strongest body lock I’ve ever felt in my life. His judo was phenomenal.”
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Something that has become commonplace for fighters, even in victory in Breese’s case, is the hordes of online critics that try to gift fighters with their analysis after a performance. According to the rangy welterweight, they were out in force after his victory.
“There were a lot of trolls and a lot of haters,” Breese said of the aftermath of the Nakamura bout. “There was a good mix to be fair. There were people that were really impressed with the way I handled the fight and some of the skills I showed during the 15 minutes. And of course, there were the people who just want to write you off. Those are the people that don’t understand the game.”
Breese believes the experience he gained in London was priceless, but with Sean Strickland in his sights for their meeting at UFC 199, he is very aware that the American prospect will put forward a completely different challenge in what he called “a battle of two prospects”.
“I feel like we’re very different fighters, but I feel we’re similar in that we both have very good records and he’s another top prospect,” he said. “I see it like a battle of two prospects. I’m looking forward to the challenge he brings to the table and I think it will be another step-up in my career.”
While Breese admits that Strickland is well rounded, he believes he will be better in all areas when they finally meet in California on June 4.
“When I look at Strickland the first thing I notice about him is that sharp jab,” he explained. “He’s got a really good jab and he’s a very well-rounded fighter on top of that. He can land decent punches on the ground, he’s got good takedowns and he’s got good jiu-jitsu. He’s one of those guys that requires me to be switched on in every department.
As Breese knows all too well, pre-fight expectations don’t always pan out.
“You always go in there with an idea of how you’re going to do and how your opponent is going to fight, but you can never just rely on one game plan,” he said. I just want to go out there and react to every situation that takes place. I’ve got to fight to my strengths.
“Honestly, I feel like I’m better than my opponent in every single area. That’s not to say that he isn’t a good fighter. He is, but I feel like I’m a lot more dangerous.”
Peter Carroll is a longtime MMA journalist who writes for the Irish Mirror, FIGHTLAND and SevereMMA.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PetesyCarroll