Friday, March 9, 2007

Brit Hopes to Test Self in the Ring

By Jim Page

Fighting on the UK MMA circuit since 2000, Cage Warriors featherweight champion Danny Batten is widely recognized as one of the top men in the division. Over his last six fights, Danny has made a real statement, going undefeated and finishing four of his opponents inside the distance.

After another heavy training session, Danny took a moment to talk about his career, his up-coming rematch with highly touted Shooto veteran Kyotaro Nakao, and the ambitious goals that keep him motivated. What's your background in martial arts?

Danny Batten: It all started back when I was 19 or 20. I started in Tae Kwon Do, did that for a good number of years, competed at a high level in it. Then I moved to Milton Keynes and I started training with Lee Hasdell, who at the time was quite a big name in mixed martial arts; he achieved a lot in Japan. He took me under his wing, taught me how to strike, more the full contact style — Thai boxing — and also taught me my first basis for my ground, in submission wrestling or Japanese Shooto style. I've now crossed over and perfect my ground skills really with Brazilian jiu-jitsu, as well as continuing my boxing and Thai boxing. There are a lot of good jiu-jitsu guys on your team.

Batten: People see us as just good ground fighters but we have some good strikers as well that we work with — but the level of ground fighters we've got … [Jose] "Ze" Marcello is a former world champion and another BJJ black belt I've been training with regularly; [Alexandre] "Xandinho" [Izidro] is currently Cage Warriors [lightweight] champion for the weight division above myself, for which I hold the title. So we have a good camp, but there are a lot of up-and-coming fighters as well that are ready to make an impact on the scene. What's your training schedule like?

Batten: When I fight, I train maximum five days a week. I'm not one of these guys that trains seven days a week. I have a couple of days off which I like to spend time with my family and recover — just get my mind off training all the time. So there are recovery days, but on the days I train, I train really, really hard. [My manager] Chris [Cleves] makes sure of that. He's always on my case. It involves a lot of running — cardio is something that gives me confidence in a fight so that's an aspect I work a lot on. A couple of times during the week I train twice a day, because I'm a postman I finish nice and early so I get training early morning, or mid-afternoon and then again in the evening. I train pretty much like a full-time athlete. I hear you've also started teaching.

Batten: Yeah I've just started teaching; I've always done privates here and there. A lot of people are more interested in fighting more than anything else. I've recently got a club that's started up. I do two nights a week at the moment; it's going to extend to three nights a week soon, I hope. It's all going good. Moving on to your fight career — it stretches all the way back to 2000. Is there anything that really sticks out in your mind from the early fights?

Batten: When I first started out, obviously, it was fairly new in England. The only real experience I had was what I'd seen on the UFC; that's pretty much the way it was for everyone when it was starting out in England. One of the fights that really sticks out when I look back is this fight I had with Neil McLeod — this guy was one of the top strikers in the weight bracket. I was just starting out really in my full contact training; it was one hell of an experience, taking a battering like I did, but I pulled through and that's when I discovered that I had some real fight spirit. I was getting really battered, but I managed to pull through and submit the guy. That was it, I was hooked and I wanted more. More recently, I saw your fight with Emmanuel Fernandez (Pictures). You seemed to work very well off your back in that fight.

Batten: Yeah it's funny, looking back to when I started out in 2000, the lightest weight division they had was 70kg, I was walking around at 64, as a consequence I was always giving away a lot of weight, so I was always put on my back. So I think from that that all my roots from the ground were my submissions from my back. I have also got a very, very good top game, but I never got to show it because when I get taken to my back, I've always finished the fight quite quickly. That's what I've become famous for, but I don't want to always be thought of as just a ground fighter. I never really try to take fights to the ground hence that's why I end up on my back. I like to consider myself a striker first. I don't think that people give me enough respect for that just yet, but I think that's going to come in time. In your fight against Tom Niinimaki, you did get to show your Thai boxing skills.

Batten: That's right, we knew this guy was good — he's a champion in his homeland in kickboxing. We'd seen some footage of him fighting and he was coming down a weight division as well. So we knew he was going to be big and strong and that striking was going to be his forte and we thought — to really throw him — I sat down with my manager, "This guy wants to stand up. I'm going to go in there and show people that I can strike." Like I say, I've got no fear to face the best there is out there in the striking format to show that I really am a different kind of fighter, not just a jiu-jitsu guy. So I stood with him for five five-minute rounds; the only time it went to the ground, I kicked him up, so I could get to my feet. So yeah, I basically just used my Thai boxing skills and worked his legs over a treat and come through for a decision win, so I was very happy. Your most recent fight against Nayeb Ezam in the UWC, how did that go for you?

Batten: That went pretty much to plan, other than I didn't plan to get taken down so quickly. I was thinking he might want to stand and strike a little bit because he had this guy called Cheick Kongo in his corner, who's a good striker. So I thought he might want to test his striking skills, but he took a couple of leg kicks and took the fight to the floor pretty quick, which is not a big problem for me. I like to stay very active off my back and it didn't take too long before I nailed him. It was an expected win — so it went to plan. What can I say? Next, on the Angrrr Management show in Kidderminster (March 17) you've got a rematch with Kyotaro Nakao.

Batten: Yeah, he's a guy from Shooto, Japan. Not one of the most experienced fighters out there, but after fighting him, I know how good he is. He can strike well; he can wrestle well; he's also very good at avoiding submissions on the ground. He went to the distance with me. I'm really looking forward to the rematch. I feel I can finish him this time and I like to think that I'm going to prove that when I fight him in a couple of weeks time. Has everything been alright with the preparations for that?

Batten: Yeah, the preparations have been good. Similar to how the preparations before, only with more of a strategy in mind — which everyone's going to find out, when I fight (laughs). A lot of people on the scene seem to be a bit disappointed that a fight between you and Leigh Remedios never materialized. Is that something you've ever been interested in?

Batten: Yeah. Me and Leigh, we've spoken about fighting one another and people have also been talking about us fighting each other going back to when I first started. He had been around a little bit before I started out and he was pretty much top dog. Then I started coming up the ranks and everyone started pestering him to fight me.

At the time, he had just broken into the international scene, so it was not something that he was interested in taking — that was until he told me there were a couple of people that he wanted me to beat that he knew were good and then he would take the fight. John Kavanagh was the main person he wanted me to beat, and [he] didn't believe that I could beat. I fought John Kavanagh and beat him — albeit he's a ground specialist himself and then I issued a challenge over the mic at that show, which he declined, unfortunately.

Since then, there's been talk of us fighting, but unfortunately, now he's retired. I was kind of disappointed that that fight never happened, more from a fan's perspective. Me and Leigh spoke about it and felt we could get a good price for fighting and no one was prepared to pay the price that we were putting up, so it never happened. That's unfortunate.

Batten: It is unfortunate that we don't get paid enough to do this and we knew we'd have to train really hard to beat one another and we want paying for that training and they are not willing to do it yet, which is a shame because the fans are missing out. You mention the money in the sport — and it is increasing with the UFC exploding and the UK scene getting much bigger. What are your ambitions in the sport?

Batten: Right. I have fulfilled some of my ambitions, but they haven't lead to where I want them to lead. Let me give you an example of that: I've had some good experience fighting out in Japan back in my early days. Since then, I've beaten the top scalps in Europe on the ground and standing. So I've proved myself in every field at the highest level.

I then got my opportunity to fight Damacio Page out in Las Vegas. Now he's one of the up-and-coming fighters — again — from a higher weight division, coming down in weight to fight me. I took him out in 37 seconds. For me, that really should have opened up more than it did open up. Basically, I want the opportunity to fight the best in the world, no longer the best in Europe; I've done my proving ground. I want to take on the best and not only do I want to take them on, I want to make a big impact and beat these guys. But I ain't getting these opportunities and I think that's because they're scared.

So, any of the top guys out there, who are in the Top 10 — I think I'm one of them now — let's get it on. Let's fight and let's earn ourselves some money, because that's what it's all about, that's what we're in there for. Are there any names in there that you'd particularly like to fight?

Batten: If you're talking about American fighters, the one that excites me out there is Jeff Curran. I saw him fight on the same show that I fought at out in Japan. I was very impressed with him. I just think that that would be a very exciting fight — as well as thinking that he's one of the best that America has to offer. With regards to Japan, there are so many good featherweight fighters out there. Any of the top name guys I would love to take on. I just want to get these opportunities; I want to fight either top Americans or top Japanese guys because I feel I have done all I can with regard to the British and European circuits.

One of the things that I have done is that I've always fought the best guys who are around, whether it be in the country or in Europe. I'm not afraid to take on the big guys, so let's fight. I don't get what the problem is, so let's get over this hurdle, get me out there and let me prove that I'm the best.

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