When Matt Inman first experienced combat sports up close, his most extensive training by that point was his past playing rugby.
After all, he had been in classes at his gym for just about three weeks when he accepted his first Thai boxing match nearly a decade ago. He didn’t produce a debut that inspired a lot of confidence.
“I got chased around for about a minute, took a hard knee, got the wind knocked out of me and lost the fight,” Inman told MMAjunkie. “It was a week before my 18th birthday, and I basically had no training. It wasn’t pretty.
“It wasn’t the brightest start.”
Inman built fighting into his main career, and as he realizes more that an end will eventually be coming, he’s perhaps more inspired than ever. Heading into a Saturday matchup with 8-1 Gregor Weibel at Cage Warriors 64 in London (the event streams in North America on MMAjunkie), Inman has won three straight fights to boost his record to 12-5.
That recent winning comes at a time when the 27-year-old Manchester resident has come to grips with the fact that his fighting career can’t last forever. So he has taken steps to prepare for life outside of fighting, especially studying and working toward his law degree when he’s not training.
Don’t take that to mean Inman is less motivated. Quite the opposite. He’s among the group of fighters who don’t view their careers as endless as some younger fighters might. That means he’s working harder to take advantage of the years he has remaining in the sport to make his mark, including moving much closer to a title shot with a good performance on Saturday.
Understanding that he’s working to set up his life after he leaves his MMA career, Inman is also as loose as ever.
“It really feels different,” he said. “Now there are other things going on in my life. That doesn’t mean I’m not working hard – I am – but I feel like I’m enjoying it more now because there’s more to life than fighting.”
Inman grew up in the northern U.K. in between the cities of Leeds and Bradford. His father fitted windows for a living (he himself would do similar work later) while his mother worked as a nurse.
His first main experiences in contact and struggle came in rugby leagues, which he started when he was about 11 years old. For the next few years, he continued learning about the dedication it takes to participate in that kind of training and competition.
“It’s a mental toughness you get from going out in January when it’s minus-5 with shorts and a T-shirt on to go train,” he said. “Then you have 200-pound guys pushing and smashing into you with no padding. That’s the hardness of it.”
Inman stayed with rugby until he was about 16 while he rotated through other interests. He didn’t find something that he wanted to stick with for a significant period of time.
Once he finished high school, Inman worked a series of jobs, including one at a shoe store, stocking shelves at a pharmacy, and then in a window factory. They prepared him to head to higher education, which would coincide with his finding a new interest that would turn into a career.
Inman had taken his earliest Thai boxing classes when he was about 14 years old. That helped him find comfort when he started returning to similar classes as he left home and went to university.
He started first in kickboxing classes, and he then moved back into Thai boxing. There wasn’t nearly as much access to MMA training at the time, and he had just three serious weeks of training before he took his first fight, which ended quickly with a loss.
So when he left home, he dedicated himself more to training. After another six months, he tried fighting again, and that’s when he started winning.
“I only did a handful of amateur MMA fights,” he said. “I was doing more Thai boxing, about 15 or 16 of those. There wasn’t a lot of money in it at that time, but I enjoyed it.”
After finishing his communications degree, Inman made another move, this time with a girlfriend to Manchester (where he continues to live). He made his professional debut in October 2008, winning his first four fights.
In his seventh fight, he faced a then-undefeated fighter, Jamie Rogers. It was one of his first experiences in taking punishment at the beginning of a fight but battling through it. His second-round win helped him gain attention.
That fight was fresh in his mind this past August when he battled Bagautdin Sharaputdinov in Chechnya at Cage Warriors 58. It was another fight he had to battle through, and it turned into another second-round win, his third straight.
That fight and the current stretch has built his confidence as he had broadened out his life to include classes toward becoming a lawyer and plans for life after fighting. But, he also knows he has plenty left, which is keeping his focus on the current goal: winning his fourth straight.
“He has all eight wins by submission, so that makes it an interesting fight,” he said. “I’m really focused on really performing well.”
Back in October, Lee Morrison told us his story about going from small-town kid to small-college wrestler to world-traveling MMA fighter. After winning his M-1 debut this past October to run his record to 13-3 (with an eight-fight winning streak), Morrison is set to face Marat Gavurov for the M-1 featherweight title on April 4.
In November, Charles Rosa talked with us about his foundation in hockey as a prelude to MMA and also his tough decision to leave a full-time chef position (for which he had studied in college) to get more serious about his MMA career. The decision paid off, as he improved to 7-0 last weekend by beating Keith Richardson at Fight Lab 35.
Award-winning newspaper reporter Kyle Nagel pens “Fight Path” each week. The column focuses on the circumstances that led fighters to a profession in MMA. Know a fighter with an interesting story? Email us at news [at] mmajunkie.com.
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