411 MMA Interviews: Curt Warburton
Posted by Alex Watt on 03.08.2013
Current BAMMA star and former UFC fighter Curt Warburton chats to 411 about his upcoming fight at BAMMA 12, where he challenges Steven Ray for the BAMMA Lonsdale British Lightweight Championship, as well as Rob Sinclair, his UFC tenure, how his UFC release affected him, his three fight series with Ross Pearson, plans for the future, and much more!
UK lightweight Curt Warburton (11-3) came to the attention of worldwide MMA fans when he competed for the UFC between 2010 and 2011, going a respectable 1-2 in the organisation. Since his surprising release from the UFC, "The War" has put together an impressive four fight win streak in promotions such as BAMMA and KSW. This Saturday, on March 9th, he challenges Steven Ray for the BAMMA Lonsdale British Lightweight Championship. 411's Alex Watt caught up with Warburton on February 26th to chat about his upcoming fight and much more.
You fight Steven Ray at BAMMA 12 on March 9th for the BAMMA Lonsdale British Lightweight Championship. Give me your thoughts on the opportunity to fight for the title and on your opponent Steven Ray.
I'm over the moon to be fighting for a title. Since coming out of the UFC, obviously I've fought in a couple of other different organisations. But this'll be my third fight for BAMMA so it's nice that they've given me the chance and the opportunity to hold one of the belts. Obviously, I was supposed to fight Rob Sinclair for the World title but when he got injured, I thought I would have to wait a few more months or maybe just have another fight until he was ready. So, I'm thankful that BAMMA has given me the opportunity to take this belt against Steve Ray. He's a tough opponent, he's a champion for a reason and I'm going to have to be on top of my game to take that belt away from him.
Did you watch Steven's title winning fight against Dale Hardiman? What did you make of his performance in that fight?
Aye, I was down there [in Birmingham at BAMMA 11] because a lad, someone I train with, he was fighting on the same night. But after his fight, we ended up missing [Ray vs. Hardiman]. But, I've watched it on Youtube quite a few times. He put in a solid performance; his wrestling looked quite good, he was solid. He didn't give much away to be honest. I think he got caught with a left hook which wobbled him a bit but, apart from that, I thought it was a solid performance.
Did you see any weaknesses in his game in that fight, or in any of his other fights, that you can exploit?
I don't know. Like I say, he's fought Dale but I don't really know how good Dale is. It's no good simply looking at someone and thinking, he's done "this" good or he's done "that" bad. If it was against someone… if he'd have fought someone who I'd fought and I knew about them and I knew how good they were or how strong they were, I could judge on that. But I don't know how good Dale is. So, I don't really know. There's a few pointers that I've picked up – both good and bad – but I'm not even going to go into the fight with a solid game-plan. I don't think you can really, when it's MMA. I'm just going to go in with an open mind - the fight starts standing - and just go from there.
Is that how you prefer to fight; to go in with an open mind?
Yeah, I just go in with an open mind. Since coming out of the UFC, that's all I've done. Obviously, when I was in the UFC, it was bit like, oh he does "this" so I've got to do "this" against him or I've got to do "that" and it was probably the wrong thing to do. So now, I just go in there and do what I do and I just expect them [my opponent] to worry about me. I just go in there and do what I do. If it's good enough, it's good. I just do what I've been doing in training. I'm an MMA fighter; I train in every department, so I shouldn't really be worrying whether he's going to take me down or if I can't take him down. It's MMA, I'm ready for anything.
How has your training camp for this fight been going?
Yeah it's been good, it's been really good. It's been quite a long one, I had to slow down a bit because I was training over Christmas to get ready for the Rob Sinclair fight. That was a fight that I really wanted, especially after there were some harsh words said; he'd been doing some daft interviews. So that was a fight I really wanted and I trained all the way throught Christmas, I dieted over Christmas, and a couple of weeks ago he pulled out. It was a bit of a downer, you know, a bit of an adrenaline dump. But I've had to switch on beacuse Stevie Ray is no pushover. Like I said, he's a champion for a reason and I just have to focus on him now. That was hard, because I had Rob in my head. It was an adrenaline dump but now I'm just one hundred percent focused on Steve Ray. Come March 9th, I'm ready.
I'll ask you about Rob in a bit. First, I believe you've moved your training from the Wolfslair Academy. What's the story behind that?
To be fair, I haven't trained at the Wolfslair for about two years now. Or a year and a half, at least. Since coming out of the UFC, I haven't trained there. I just train back home in the North-East [of England] and I train a bit in Manchester at SBG. There's quite a few lads, who were at the Wolfslair, who are now at SBG. So I still keep in contact with them and then I train with my great team in the North-East. All the lads, we get together, all top pro-fighters from the North-East. We get together on mornings and nights, and we all train together. So, it's great. It's probably the best camp I've ever had. In fact, the last few camps have been great since coming out of the UFC. I feel I'm improving all the time, and I'm still learning, which is a good thing. I think Stevie Ray is – and I know anything can happen on the night – but I think Stevie Ray is fighting the best Curt Warburton to date.
You got this title shot – obviously it was supposed to be versus Rob Sinclair originally – but, nevertheless, you got the title shot off the back of your impressive win over Lee Wieczorek at BAMMA 10. How pleased were you with your performance in that fight? I thought your wrestling and jiu-jitsu was especially impressive that night.
Yeah, I felt good. I was talking him down and stuff, but he was quite strong. I know I maybe don't look the strongest but that's actually one of my strong points; my strength. I thought I showed that, and I was relaxed, I don't think I ever looked in danger. I just thought I went out there and did my job. I felt good. There were a couple of things I was not so pleased with; I maybe should have let go of the choke a minute earlier, I kept hold of it a bit too long but I was happy with the performance overall. I wanted to keep it on the feet a little bit more but I got sucked into the wrestling. But I thought I came out on top with it. I thought my control was good against someone who is supposed to be really strong. He's known to be really strong and I thought I dealt with that quite well.
Were you disappointed at all that your fight wasn't part of the televised main card for that fight, or do you tend not to worry about those things?
To be fair, I was told it was [going to be on the main card at 9pm] and I was still in my tracksuit at ten to eight. I'd watched a few fights and then someone said, "You're on in ten minutes!" I was like, "No, I've been told I'm going live at 9." I don't know what went on, I wasn't told anything about it. So I had ten minutes to get my tracksuit off, get my shorts on, get warmed up and go out there and fight. I don't know if Lee had the same short notice. I've never spoken about that [before], but I had ten minutes to get warmed up and get out there and fight.
Wow. Do you think that affected you? I mean, I thought you were really dominant and you looked fantastic in that fight, but that must have affected you in some way.
Yeah, like I said, I never got warmed up properly. I still had my tracksuit on and I was on my way out the door to watch a few fights, to be honest, because I thought I could chill out a bit. Then, obviously, I had ten minutes to warm up. I don't know, if it… I mean it sort of p***ed me off a bit. But I just focused and felt like this was here to test me. I just psyched myself up and told myself that this was a mental test; are you strong enough. I thought I'm not going to get down about it, it's just another obstacle and I've got to get over that obstacle. You're a fighter; deal with it. And I thought I came through quite good.
You're a very well rounded competitor and some would say that your striking, wrestling and jiu-jitsu is at a higher level than a lot of the competitors on the UK circuit. Do you credit that to the gym you train out of, your experience, your stint in the UFC, or a combination of all those things?
Yeah, just all of them really. I've got top training partners and you're only as good as the people you train with. I've got some great training partners and we're all in different weight categories. Everyone's at the top of their game and at the top of their divisions and in the rankings. I've got great coaches. Obviously, I've trained at a few different gyms and I trained for a couple of weeks out in San Diego, before the Lee [Wieczorek] fight. Just anything, you know, not being a diva and not being big headed. I'm still learning. You get some people who have been around and are like, "Oh I've been in the UFC" and they're not willing to listen to someone else's opinion on how to do stuff. I'm still willing to learn and, even the younger lads who have stuff to say, I'm learning stuff from them even. I'm just open minded about training and if I like what someone's doing then I'll ask about it. You know, not being a diva, type of thing. Not thinking that I know everything. I'm still learning. If I wasn't learning and if I wasn't willing to take criticisms off people then it's time to hang your gloves up. I'm still learning, every week I'm learning something new, and I like learning. If I keep on learning and I can stay in good health – luckily enough I'm injury free quite a lot of the time, I'm lucky that way – so as long as I keep on learning and I keep on putting in good performances, I'm happy.
Regarding that three fight stint in the UFC; obviously it didn't pan out as you'd hoped but what are you memories of your time there and what lessons did you take from that experience?
I've learned a lot. I think I'm a far better fighter now, than I was in the UFC. Maybe I went in there a little bit prematurely, I don't know. I was only 6-1 when I went in. And for the first fight against Spencer Fisher, I went two weeks in my training camp and popped a rib. So for the final five weeks all I could do was run. I was told, "This is your chance; if you pull out you might not get another chance." So I fought with a two week training camp, basically, and I just ran for five weeks to keep fit. And I think it showed in the fight. After the first fight I was blowing. In the second round, I couldn't feel my arms. I was just… I don't know how I got through it, to be honest. I was so exhausted. I was shaking in the shower afterwards. I don't know how, but I got through it.
The second fight in Australia; it was great to be out in Australia. I loved every minute of it. It was nice to see the world and if it wasn't for MMA, I would never have gone to Australia. So that was good, the travelling I did, I met some nice people. And obviously I won that fight in Australia.
Then I fought Joe Lauzon. At the time, I thought it was a good idea to fight him. Obviously, as a fighter I want to fight all the top lads. Maybe I should have been held back, I don't know. But I wanted to fight him and I got offered him, and there's no way that I'm going to turn a fighter down. I never have, I've never said, "I don't want to fight him." If I'm offered someone and it's good for me, then I'll fight him. At the time, I thought it was good for me. If I beat him, I'd maybe sign a new contract and it didn't go that way; I ended up getting beaten.
It's made me a stronger fighter. There's a lot of things I've learnt from it. I listen to my body now. Sometimes I was doing mad training sessions and training four or five times a day and I'd be exhausted, lying in bed the next day not wanting to train. Now I listen to my body and only do a couple of training sessions per day, three at the most. I have a hard one a day but the other two are technical. So I've learnt to listen to my body and do what I want to do. At the end of the day, there was only me who suffered by getting kicked out of the UFC. No-one was there for me after that. You know what I mean? They all seem to want to be there when you're there [at the top] but it's lonely when you're not. I was kicked straight out. So now I just do what I want to do. I fight who I want to fight. Obviously I listen to my coaches' input – I've got some good coaches now – but, like I said, at the end of the day, it's all on the fighter. If it goes tits up, it's all up to you. So, you've got to make the big decisions yourself.
Were you surprised to be cut from the UFC? Because…
[Interrupting] To be fair, I was. I actually dealt with some depression afterwards. It was just the fact that you've trained so hard to get there and it was just like, I was cut like that. It was through an email – "You're no longer part of us" – and that was it. It was strange. It's made me a better fighter for it. I wasn't coming off back-to-back defeats; I got beat by Joe Lauzon. He went on to have another four fights [going 2-2] without getting cut. It was a bit strange. Especially when there's fighters in the UFC who – in fact, there was one over the weekend, and I think he's been cut now, but he had three straight defeats in a row – and I fight someone like Joe Lauzon, get beat, and get cut. It's strange but, like I said, it's made me a better fighter. It's made me stronger.
You took the words right out of my mouth really; because the UFC have kept other fighters around who have lost far more fights. I thought it was very odd that they cut you after that loss to Joe Lauzon, of all people. But, is the hope that you'll rack up some more wins and get a call back at some point?
It's strange; people say, "Oh do you want to get back there? Surely you must be getting a call up soon, you're on a four fight win streak. You've gone to Poland and fought a top lad and now you're on a four fight win streak." I'm not even thinking about that. It's like, I've gone past thinking about that. Why dwell on it? That was in the past. All I'm bothered about is to keep on winning. It doesn't matter which organisation it's in, if I can win and do well then that's all I'm bothered about. It's everyone's dream to be in the UFC but I had a pretty bad… I mean, it was a good time, I got to see the world. I didn't earn a lot of money off it. I earned money but I never got to see much of it and I ended up going through some depression after it. I split up with my girlfriend for a bit. Just because I was so devastated and gutted about it. It basically did my head in. But I'm out of that now. After about five or six months, I got a fight and had that about seven or eight months after coming out of the UFC. I got back to winning ways, got rid of the depression, and I got back with my girlfriend. And I just went from there and got stronger and stronger. I'm in a good place, at the minute.
So you're in a happier place now?
Yeah I'm in a much happier place. I'm just enjoying my training and not having people telling me what to do and what I don't need to do. I'm back home with my family and friends, and enjoying training. Not one day goes past where I think, "Oh, I can't be arsed to go, I can't handle training today, I'm aching." I wake up every morning and I can't wait to go to training and learn the new stuff. It's worked out. It's made me realise what I want, you know? It's made me realise that this is what I want to do. And I don't think I'll let myself get in that situation again where I've got people telling me what I have to do or saying, "You need to do this" or "You need to do that." It's me doing it and I know what I want. I know what I want to do now and I know how I'm going to do it.
So to backtrack; how did you get interested in MMA and start training in the sport?
I've always liked football, and I'd always played football, all my life. I'd always played football as a kid; at the time I was playing in the Northern League. And one of the lads, one of my friends who I worked with, he was into MMA and he'd been going on about it all year, you know; "Come on, come to training." And I was like, "Nah". Anyway, he kept on pestering me and pestering me so eventually, in pre-season, I said I'd go just to keep fit. I think he just wanted me to go up there to show me how good he was [laughs]. The first session I went up and I was chucking him about all over and I was like, "Hey, I like this".
And that was it. A year later, I binned football and I was just training [in MMA] all the time. I had my first fight after about five months – my first pro-fight that is – after about three months of training. And I just never looked back. I had a few semi-pro fights and then turned pro, pretty early in my career. I went on a bit of a win streak - had about four or five wins or something – and then I ended up getting armbarred [in my next fight] and I didn't know how to get out of it. So then I started training on the ground and doing Jiu-Jitsu and a bit of wrestling. So even at 4-0 as a pro, I'd never done any Jiu-Jitsu. It was a basic armbar defence, and I didn't know it. I tried to stand up and pull out of it, but the armbar just got tighter. So after that, I had a year out to learn the Jiu-Jitsu, and then I got back to winning ways.
You've touched on your semi-pro career there; some readers may not be aware but you've had three fight series with current UFC lightweight standout Ross Pearson between 2006 and 2007. Two at the semi-professional level and then a pro fight which you won. How did that trilogy help to shape you as a competitor?
I don't know. It was just… It was on Total Combat, a local show, a North-East show. Obviously he was from Sunderland and I was from the Bishop Aukland area, in County Durham. He used to have… like, every time I fought in Total Combat, I would sell around 200 tickets and vice versa. So when we'd come to clash, half of the arena was cheering for Ross and half was for me. Like I've said, after the fight we'd get on and we still do get on. I was over in San Diego training, at the Alliance, before the Lee [Wieczorek] fight and Ross sorted all that for me. So we still do get on but obviously it's the kind of sport where we still ended up fighting two more times after that [first fight]. There was no bad blood. It was good. Obviously, he's over in the UFC and getting really big now. He's done well for himself. Yeah, they were good times. We were both just starting really and it's good to see him now doing really well.
Also, in 2009 you were scheduled to fight Che Mills in the British Fighting Championship. However, when that promotion folded, the fight was scrapped. With Che's release from the UFC, do you see the potential for that fight maybe coming to fruition in BAMMA if he's willing to drop to 155lbs, or maybe at a catchweight?
Yeah, if he dropped to lightweight, I can't see why not. I'm not going to duck anyone. I'm there to fight the best, you know. Like I said, I'm not one who's going to pad my record. I'll fight anyone. Even in the UFC, I never turned anyone down or said, "I don't want to fight them." I've never pulled out of a fight. If they offer me a fight and it makes sense – obviously I'm not going to fight someone who's ranked at, like, No. 50 because I've got everything to lose. Like I said, when the Rob Sinclair fight fell through I told BAMMA that I want to fight a UFC veteran; someone with just as much to lose as me. I want to fight the better lads. I could have chosen to fight someone a bit further down the rankings, but I didn't. I wanted someone good and they offered me the title fight. I don't know if they didn't want to bring over a UFC veteran, or what, but they offered me Steven Ray. If he didn't have the title, would I have taken the fight? I don't know. It's risky. I don't mind. I'd rather fight someone above me, [in a fight] that I've got a lot more to gain from. But, like I said, Steven has got the title and, I keep on saying, he's the champion for a reason. He's got the title and it's something for me to… I've got something to get out of it, in the fight. So…
I know you won't be looking too far ahead of this fight with Steven but do you have one eye on a potential future showdown with BAMMA Lightweight Champion Rob Sinclair? Perhaps, if you defeat Steven Ray, then BAMMA will look to set up a champion vs. champion bout?
Yeah, that would be good. But, obviously, before that happens, I need to be a champion. So, I'm not really looking too much into it yet. Obviously, sometimes you get lost in thinking about it and, yeah, it would be good for BAMMA. It'd be a good build up, it'd be a great main event, and it'd be good to build on two champions coming together. But, I'm not the champion, Steven Ray is. So there's no point even thinking about that yet, because Steven is a really good, young fighter – a hungry fighter - who wants to keep the title. He hasn't had it long. He wants to keep that as long as possible. He's not just going to turn over and give me it.
So, to close, what are your targets for the future? Have you any plans to compete abroad in 2013 or you concentrated solely on the domestic UK scene for the time being?
Well, I signed a two-fight deal with KSW a few months ago. Obviously, I can still fight anywhere else, I just can't fight [for any other company] in Poland. It'd be nice, because I've fought there [once already], it'd be nice to get a title shot. There's talk of it. I don't know if it'll come off, but there's talk of me getting a title shot in KSW. So that'd be nice, to get a title shot for another great show. When I was over there, it's run really well, they're in big arenas and everything is done so good. The crowd, they filled the stadiums. I don't know if you know much about the KSW in Poland, but it's absolutely huge. They're even on mainstream TV. After the weigh-ins, I was out at a restaurant getting some food and people were recognising me from the weigh-ins. And because I fought a top Polish lad in the UFC [Maciej Jewtuszko], I was pretty well known over there to start with. So it'd be nice to go back over to Poland sometime in the year and it'd be nice to get that title shot, so I can get another title to my name.
But, like I said, it's one step at a time. First it's Stevie Ray and then whatever comes after that… It could be a good year; if I think about it, I could have three titles in a year. Or, I could have none. You know, it's as simple as that. They say the first one is the hardest so on March 9th, I'll hopefully get the first and then I can just continue collecting them.
So look towards fighting in Poland in the summer, perhaps?
Yeah, and then maybe Rob [Sinclair] after that. I don't know, because then it's like, how long is Rob going to be out [injured]? The Stevie Ray fight is the most important; it's the next one. It's the one I've trained for, so let's just get that one out of the way and then I can sit down and go from there. Between winning and losing, it's two different… If I lose, where do I go? And if I win, what do I do? I'll think about it at that point. I'll just wait and see.
Are there any sponsors or people you'd like to thank?
I'd just like to thank Toxic Fightwear, CMW Utilities and Spray Clad UK. They're my main sponsors. And, obviously, I should have other sponsors by the time of the fight. I'm hoping to get some nice sponsors to go on the banner for the fight, but I can't name them yet. But those are the three main ones.
Thanks a lot for the time Curt and good luck with the fight.
BAMMA 12 will feature on Channel 5 and 5* in the UK, and will be televised on AXS-TV in the US, The Fight Network in Canada, Red Media in Russia, TV Esporte Interativo in Brazil and Setanta in Africa.