"I feed off the crowd, whether they’re booing me or cheering me, and I’m sure by the end of the fight I will have gained a few more fans and have a new Swedish following." - Scott Askham
Michael Bisping started the flood in 2007, and then the proverbial waters receded. Soon, a British MMA contingent led by “The Count,” Dan Hardy, Ross Pearson, and several others eventually dwindled down to a select few who remained on the UFC roster, with those few largely taking their camps from the UK to the United States.
Middleweight Scott Askham wouldn’t mind helping lead the next generation of fighters from England through the UFC, and on Saturday, he begins that task when he makes his Octagon debut in Stockholm against hometown favorite Magnus Cedenblad. It’s a moment the 26-year-old Doncaster product has been waiting for, at least since he scored his 12th win without a loss on June 7 against Max Nunes.
“I knew if I put on a good display against Nunes I would be expecting a call,” he said. “And obviously I dominated him over three rounds and got the call.”
Knowing that a win in a non-UFC show could be the ticket to the UFC has to place enormous pressure on any fighter’s shoulders, but Askham was cool under fire, content with the idea that if he performed up to his level, he would win. He did, now he’ll take that philosophy into the Octagon.
“There’s no pressure on me to perform, but wins are important to get me to where I am,” he said. “I got to the UFC now and wins are even more important now to carry on winning and move myself up that roster. So we’re going in there on October 4th to make a statement.”
A win over Cedenblad would be a nice way to introduce himself, as the Swede has won nine of his last ten, and two in a row in the UFC by submission. Askham is ready for whatever his foe shows up with tomorrow night though.
“I’m very confident going into the fight that I can outstrike him,” he said. “I can beat him in most areas, if not all areas, and I’m looking to make a statement. I want to put it on him and get that bonus.”
Even while being the bad guy in Stockholm?
“I’m expecting to be booed, but I’ll take it in stride,” Askham said. “I feed off the crowd, whether they’re booing me or cheering me, and I’m sure by the end of the fight I will have gained a few more fans and have a new Swedish following.”
Askham’s quiet confidence comes not just from his success thus far and the training he gets at the Ludus Magnus Training Centre, but from the man leading the way in his camp – former UFC heavyweight Neil Wain. Wain was part of that wave of UK fighters hitting the UFC after Bisping’s arrival, and for a brief moment in his lone Octagon bout against Shane Carwin in 2008, it looked like he would stop the unbeaten rising star. Wain would end up getting stopped himself, but in that bout and the lead-up to it, he took away some valuable lessons that he has been able to give to his fighter.
“He (Wain) sat me down and gave me plenty of tips on how to control things and how to prepare for everything,” Askham said. “And obviously the best way to prepare for that is through your training. If you’re confident in your fitness and your health, then you’re confident that you can perform. There’s no way you can prepare for the Octagon jitters other than being ready. It’s obviously going to be an experience, it’s going to be the biggest audience I fought in front of and I’m looking forward to it, I can’t wait.”
If he performs up to expectations, he could join TUF 17 alum Luke Barnatt as a lead representative for the new breed of British UFC fighters. Askham believes there is still work to be done on the domestic scene, but he’s hopeful that one day soon, England will be a destination for his fellow fighters and not just a starting point.
“We’re still growing and MMA is on the rise,” he said. “It’s a sport that’s only been running for just over 20 years and it needs time to build and more legitimate academies to be opened for fighters to grow, and then hopefully we don’t have to travel as far to get the training we need.”