With the world in lockdown and sport brought to a halt, it was MMA that kept everything ticking over.
In March, both the UFC and Cage Warriors held events behind closed doors as the world was locked down due to the Covid-19 global pandemic, leading the way in what would now become the new normal.
At that Cage Warriors event in London, Nathan ‘Mr Bag and Tag’ Jones fought David Bear in a Welterweight bout and was pipped via judges decision. To Jones the event happening behind closed doors isn’t ideal, but he believes it’s the right way to go in the current climate.
Speaking exclusively to Tap Ins & Tap Outs, Jones said:
“My last fight was on CW113 and it was a closed event. It was on 20th March, just 2 days later – UK went into lockdown. Closed events, although not ideal is the way to mitigate risk. In this current climate, it is the only way that the sport can continue with live events.“
Jones is an MMA veteran, boasting a professional record of 13-10 with fights under the Bellator and Cage Warriors banner among others. When asked whether he’d take a UFC fight behind closed doors, his answer was emphatic.
“Er, Yes! To get that call is every aspiring fighter’s dream!“
Aged 33 now, Jones is in the prime of his career but unlike others, he started training relatively late in life.
“It all started in 2010 at age 23, what got me into martial arts was, I was at a low point in my life, so in an attempt to find happiness I was living my life by the ‘YES MAN’ philosophy.
“I had a friend that went for a free trial at the gym, so I said I’d tag along. I enjoyed the session except being covered in other people’s sweat – but I kept an open mind. When asked if I wanted to join I said yes, when asked if I wanted to compete I said yes, when asked if I wanted to fight… I said when?!
“I used martial arts to harness my energy and focus. From being bullied at school and attacked on the street – I promised that i would not be a victim again for anybody. I became quicker, stronger and have overcome many obstacles, the main one of overcoming fear by stepping into the cage!“
After two years of training and two amateur fights, ‘Mr Bag and Tag’ made the decision to turn professional and turn a hobby into a career. His turning point was simple – he was already living a professional’s lifestyle but wasn’t being paid for it.
“For me, it got to a stage where I was putting all my time into training, I was improving and fighting better guys and on bigger stages. So turning professional was the next logical step. Although, I turned professional after 2 years of training – which is relatively quick, especially for the pedigree of today’s amateur circuit, I made the decision quite easily.
“Firstly – my coaches and teammates believed in me. Secondly I was 25 – prime age! I wanted to make the most of my opportunity of competing whilst I could, so I thought f*** it. My rational was that I was training and doing well with the pros in the gym, and as a non professional I was doing the same amount of training, facing the same amount of risk and sustaining the same amount of injuries… so why not get paid for it? I have not looked back since.“
In his first professional fight, Jones fought a fighter with a legendary name. The aptly named Mohammed Ali took on a debuting Jones under the Ultimate Challenge MMA banner, defeating Jones via submission in the second round. His first professional loss didn’t affect him too much though and he went on to win his next four fights in a row.
“I coped very well, obviously I was upset. But it was my first one so it could only get better. Win or lose, life goes on. One of coaches, Ash Grimshaw messaged me the day after, ‘Chin up bro, a lot of fighters lost their first pro fight and went on to be amazing’. That gave me some reassurance and I knew I just had to harness that energy of disappointment to ensure that I won the next one, and the next one.
“My mindset changed. I started to think of the fight as ‘my’ fight and not ‘a’ fight. Basically making it all about me. I improved my preparation. I joined Titan Fighter and upped my training and sparring. I set myself goals of where I wanted to be and I guess, I just made it happen!“
Throughout his career ‘Mr Bag and Tag’ has made a name for himself with his submissions, securing 10 of his 13 wins via tap-out. Six of those ten submissions have been rear-naked chokes but Jones says that’s just coincidence and not something he plans for.
“No, it tends to just happen to be honest. It is a move with a very high success rate and has a high ratio of positional safety and dominance. I love jiu jitsu, so if I see the neck – its tap-out or blackout.“
The world has obviously seen the growth of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement over the last month or so, with plenty of high profile sportsmen and women also showing their feelings on the matter. The Premier League in England put the phrase on the back of every player’s shirts for the first weekend back, replacing player names while other athletes such as LeBron James have been vocal on social media about the issues. UFC President Dana White recently said that he wouldn’t dare stop anyone from voicing their beliefs for the movement either, something Jones says is shared across the wider MMA community.
“Yes, we are standing together, as we all believe in the movement and what is stands for. Recent events have brought the systemic racial issues to the fore which otherwise were not known or addressed by the wider community. The movement is picking up momentum and we are seeing positive change. I hope it continues.“
With UFC 251 around the corner and the UFC Welterweight title on the line in that event, Jones is as excited as the rest of us and is keeping a special eye on the fight since it’s in his weight division.
“That is a great fight. I honestly cant call it, I have changed my mind several times, but that is the great thing about the fight game. Anything can happen. I am going to chill on my sofa with a beer and just enjoy the fight, and the rest of the cards on Fight Island.“
As for himself, Jones is waiting for this to all be over before he gets himself back into a scrap, but he’s looking forward to when it eventually happens.
“Everyone is itching for the pandemic to be over so business can resume. And as soon as it does expect to see me out competing. I am unsure where, but whether it is the mat, the ring, or the cage… I will be ready to put it on the line.“
Nathan ‘Bag and Tag’ Jones is an MMA fighter for Cage Warriors.
He wishes to put on record his thanks to his team Elevate Martial Arts, Titan Fighter, Elite MMA Agency, Barefoot Movement, Rolls and Rehab, King Kickboxing, Truth Naturals and Scramble.