Tom Breese’s original plan was to travel from his native Birmingham, England to Montreal, Quebec, where he’d spend a couple weeks test-driving the fit at Tristar Gym, the elite fight camp tucked away on Ferrier Street.
That was two years ago and he hasn’t really left since.
“Originally I came out for a few weeks to try Tristar for my own training, and the first week I was here, Georges St-Pierre was in camp for Nick Diaz,” the unbeaten UFC newcomer explains. “I got some sparring in with him and he wanted me to stay for the rest of his camp. From there, I’ve built a great relationship with everyone here and decided to make it my home.
“Back home, there weren’t really many sparring partners,” Breese, who owns a perfect 7-0 record with six submission finishes, continues. “Here, there are probably 10 UFC fighters in the gym – maybe more – and a lot of guys at 170, people coming in and out from all over the world. There is always the best sparring available.
“Another thing is that when I was back home, I used to do the separate arts – jiu-jitsu, boxing – and I still do that now, but there is a lot more MMA-based training and you’ve got (Tristar head coach) Firas (Zahabi) and Eric O’Keefe here and they’re great coaches. I realized that with the level of talent here, the coaching here and how fast I was improving, I knew I had to stay. You have your times when you miss home and whatnot, but I feel like Tristar is my home now.”
As romantic as the idea of moving to a beautiful city with a vibrant culture like Montreal to chase your dreams may sound to some, the last few years haven’t exactly been a fairy tale for the 23-year-old welterweight.
A knee injury has limited Breese to just a single fight since December 2012 – a third-round submission win last November on a Cage Warriors card headlined by fellow UFC newcomer Nicolas Dalby and another transatlantic new Tristar staple, Ireland’s Joseph Duffy – and his living situation since enlisting in Montreal full-time hasn’t exactly been five star.
“I live in the Tristar Dorms,” he laughs, referencing the multi-room facility located in a building adjacent to the gym that houses visiting fighters and is more college flophouse than luxury accommodations. “It’s not the best place to live, but it’s worth it if it’s going to make you a better fighter.”
And that is his plan – that, and to eventually move.
“I’ve been living in the dorms for a while, so once I get a few wins, I’ll be looking to get a place.”
He’ll get the opportunity to collect his first UFC victory this weekend, when Breese steps into the Octagon for the first time opposite veteran Luiz Dutra Jr. as part of the organization’s latest Fight Night event in Goiania, Brazil.
Ten years his senior and with twice as many professional fights under his belt, Breese knows that the Rio de Janeiro native is a tough out and step up in competition, but that’s what he signed up for, and the Birmingham native is confident in his preparations heading into his promotional debut in enemy territory.
“There’s a lot of guys that can mimic the style of Dutra,” Breese, who at solid six-foot-three is massive for the 170-pound weight class, offers. “The gym is full of talented fighters that have had a lot of fights in the UFC, so it’s good to spar those guys. They get me prepared for the fight.
“My opponent is very skilled – he’s going to be the toughest guy I’ve ever fought – but I believe in my skills and I’m ready for the toughest three fives of my life.
“I can see this fight going a few ways and I’m ready for whatever happens,” he adds. “I’ve visualized it happening a few times and every time my hand is raised, so that’s my prediction – my hand will be raised.”
If things do play out that way and Breese is able to maintain his unblemished record, don’t expect him to stump for a chance to fight close to home during his post-fight interview.
“I think the Scotland card will be a little close,” he says of the July 18 event scheduled for The SSE Hydro in Glasgow, the UFC’s next event in the United Kingdom. “By the time I fight, I think it will be seven weeks until (that event) and I haven’t had a break; I haven’t been home for about seven months now.
“I’d definitely like to be active, but I think it’s good to have two weeks off and do something different after a fight. I’d like to go to New York and train at the Renzo Gracie Academy, stuff like that. I think it’s good to get out of fight camp a little and improve.”
As for how he’ll react should he hear his name announced as the victor this weekend in Goiania?
“When I’m in the moment, I try to be cool; I try not to let anything get to me,” Breese offers. “Later that day or a few days after the fight I might pinch myself and that’s when I’ll let myself get more excited, but fight time, getting my hand raised, that’s business time.”
Heralded as one of the top prospects in the welterweight division and aligned with one of the best teams in the sport, Breese is eager to get his UFC career underway, starting with a win on Saturday night.
“It’s very nice to hear,” he says of the praise bestowed upon him by fans and media alike. “But for me, this is just the beginning. I’m young and I’ve still got years to go. I feel like I’ve got a big future ahead of me.”
And hopefully a nice little apartment too.