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James Haskell: I’ll put as a lot into MMA as I did rugby, says former England star

After the nervous laughter settled down, James Haskell realised the proposition to signal him up as an expert blended martial arts fighter was a severe one.

Haskell solely referred to as time on his 17-year skilled rugby union profession in Could however has dived straight again into elite sport after agreeing a cope with MMA promotion Bellator.

The 34-year-old has 77 England caps below his belt however admits when the time involves step into the cage subsequent yr – with a date for his debut nonetheless to be determined – he will likely be scared.

“Mike Tyson stated it: Everybody has obtained a plan till you get hit within the face. However for me it’s a check, it’s a journey,” stated Haskell.

“I’m not messing round with this. There was overwhelming help however some folks assume it’s a bit like a scene out of Rocky III.

“I’m dedicating my life to this. I wish to be certain that I’m in the very best form and no matter occurs on the finish of it I’m going to place as a lot dedication into this as I did into rugby.

“I’m lethal severe about it. I don’t need it to be the case the place I get into the cage and I appear to be I’ve by no means taken a punch earlier than, it seems to be like I’m simply right here for enjoyable. I’m not about that.”

‘My spouse checked out me like I used to be mad’

Haskell just isn’t new to MMA. The ex-Wasps and Northampton Saints flanker first began working with London-based MMA gymnasium Shootfighters a decade in the past to enhance areas of his sport equivalent to tackling and has beforehand labored as a tv pundit on exhibits.

However the coaching has intensified over the previous month since he obtained a name from Bellator to say they wished to signal him as a heavyweight fighter.

“I believed perhaps they had been going to supply me some extra work, then they dropped the bombshell they wished me to battle,” defined Haskell.

“As soon as I had stopped nervously laughing it piqued my curiosity. I went again to my spouse, Chloe, however she didn’t discover it as humorous. She checked out me like I used to be mad.

“The very first thing I did was decide up the telephone to the blokes at Shootfighters and ask: ‘What do you consider me taking this on?’. They unanimously got here again and gave me their help.”

Gyms, DJing and being backed by Richard and Judy

Haskell says he loved a while off – with holidays and DJing among the many many issues to maintain him busy – however missed the self-discipline and dedication {of professional} sport. Now MMA is his full-time job.

“My coaching and conditioning is tough and intense, however it’s intelligent,” he added. “They dictate every little thing. I simply are available and go ‘sure, coach. No, coach’ and I strive to not cry.

“After I left rugby and acquired my first industrial gymnasium membership it was a shock to the system. I went in there and noticed folks coaching and thought ‘I’ve obtained to get out of right here and get in a correct gymnasium’.”

Haskell admits the coaches at Shootfighters have “already began flogging me” however stresses he gained’t be doing “spinning again kicks or axe kicks if I can’t do it”.

“There’s a whole lot of arduous work to be performed and a whole lot of hours to be put in, however I’m enthusiastic about it,” added Haskell, who expects to make his debut in opposition to a fighter of comparable expertise.

His resolution to return out of retirement was greeted with help from his household and pals, in addition to his in-laws – TV presenters Richard and Judy.

“I don’t assume my mum totally understands what I’ve agreed to do. Which is sort of factor,” Haskell advised BBC Sport.

“My dad loves something like this. Chloe is unbelievably supportive and her of us have been extremely supportive. Richard is nice – we’ll see if we will get him alongside to a battle.”

‘That is no PR stunt’

However the former rugby star is eager to distance himself from the concept this can be a PR stunt or merely a short crossover into fight sports activities as has been seen earlier than, equivalent to cricketer Freddie Flintoff’s temporary foray into boxing.

“Individuals preserve making comparisons to me and Freddie. He was one in every of my sporting heroes once I was rising up and had an incredible profession,” stated Haskell.

“I feel to do that sport it’s a must to quit your life and be fairly devoted. Lots of people after they put together for these fights it’s like they’ve by no means been punched earlier than.

“By the point I get in that cage, if I’m nonetheless alive to inform the story, I’ll have had a lot of fights and will likely be effectively ready.”