Fill Me In - The Usman interview
Interview by the mighty SFUKED, 15 February 2001
Michael Johnson, Jon Thorpe, Julius Francis, Jess Liaduin, Kamal Lock & Usman
Last month I caught up with , Craig David look a like, and handy Thai boxer, Usman, at Peacock's gym. We had a chat over a sandwich following a training session attended by Kamal Lock, John Thorpe, Jess Liaduin, Michael and Usman's cousin Arsun.
SFUKED: Ok Usman, people have heard a lot of different things about what goes on at these sessions here at Peacocks so if you'd like to set the record straight, fill me in, as it were.
Usman: Basically what we do down at the Peacock's gym is a stand up fighting art, which I'd say is 90%, well maybe 80% Muay Thai with other ideas brought in from orthodox western boxing and er, other styles. I mean what we've got down here is a hybrid fighting art much in the tradition of what they do at the Voss gym or Chakirikai, that style of thing. Instead of doing an orthodox style of Muay Thai for example. It is a stand up fighting art and what we've brought into it means that it's very well suited for the stand up side of, say Vale Tudo as well as other competition arts.
Usman's artwork - the Peacock's Logo
SFUKED: Today I watched you all work out with thai pads, bags, sparring, that sort of thing...
Usman: The training.... If you watch the way the training's structured it's not structured in the same way as at other Muay Thai Clubs. The way it's done is we concentrate a lot on having very good handwork, just the boxing skills as well as everything else. I mean our clinch style, the kneeing clinch, isn't the same as an orthodox Muay thai clinch. It's an advanced clinch. From the three basic clinch movements we've got a whole system that comes out of it. There are three basic clinches that anyone who knows about thai boxing could tell you about but the fact is that we've built a whole system just around the clinch. There's a whole system based on kicking, distancing with the kicking, not fighting in a straight line like most Thai boxers do. The way we work is on a principle of moving around the ring so as not to get taken down. We take that into account because a lot of the fighters here are training for vale tudo purposes. So we try to cover that aspect in with the whole stand up game but that's on top of working to break into the stand up circuit, doing Muay Thai events, other MMA events such as, er, a K-1 style of fighting. We're basically trying to cover the whole forum of stand up fighting.
SFUKED: So, when you say "we"...Besides yourself who else trains here?
Usman: The people that train here are James Zikic, Kamal Lock, Michael Johnson, John Thorpe, Arsun Raja, Alex Reid, Paul Cahoon, when he's in town, Buster Reeves, when he's in town, we have a whole load of people floating in and out. Ricky, Ricky trains here. The thing is what we've got here isn't a club, isn't a formal club that we run. It's a training session that we run and the guys down here are actually like family, ya know? I'm not just saying that, we are actually like family. Everyone's bothered about what everyone else is doing and on toip of that it leads to harder training because you're bothered about what everyone's doing. We don't take short cuts when we're sparring, we will take the fight to the other person. We'll spar each other hard so you get used to the fact that when you gaet in there it's not nice, it's aggressive, it's a war. So we'll be down here and we'll have a controlled war so to speak, it won't be the nice sparring, the tip tap stuff that you see normally. It'll be good technical sparring but with an aggressive edge to it.
Kamal Lock & Jon Thorpe
SFUKED: So it's not really a class, not just anyone can turn up?
Usman: It's not a class at all because basically what happens down here, all the people that are here...I mean basically it started off as just me and James Zikic training here, exchanging ideas that James had brought over from the US on the stand up side of things with some ideas I'd had from my experience in Muay Thai. So basically over a few years we've mixed it all in. I mean me and Jamie were here for a month and then Kamal started coming along and then John started joining in. The thing is everyone's brought something to the table and this is how we first started off : John , jamie, me and Kamal. That's a tight unit there on its own. We started off just us guys training and it'd be like just the brothers coming here to train, ya know what I mean? after that I brought in a few lightweights to change the training a bit. We have faster training coz i brought in experienced lightweights, for example my cousin Arsun who's an experienced Thai boxer as well as Michael (Johnson). The thing is I brought these people in not just for training purposes but for the fact that these guys will fit in. The point is the whole club is harmonious.
The whole way it works is..ah forgot to mention Jessi (Jess Liaduin) as well, stick Jessi in the front part *laughs* Remember to put Jessi in. Anyway where was I? Yeah, I mean the training here is harmonious. I mean you come in here and no-one minds training hard, no-one minds for example being sworn at if they're doing something wrong. The point is everyone here is here to train and not to slack. The training session is by invitation only, you're not walking in and saying "Here's however much money, I want to train" because we're not interested in diluting the mix.
I believe that we've got THE best fighters here, I mean we've got Alex Reid from the eighties division, Michael Johnson from the seventies division. These guys are the top in their divisions and they will prove themselves to be the top in their divisions. We've got James Zikic, Kamal Lock and John Thorpe, I mean no more needs to be said. These guys are THE top, know what I'm saying? there are plenty of people who'll argue with that but let them get in there and prove it, know what I mean? The guys that come down here are THE top and that's what you get when you come in here, everyone adding their ideas in. The class genrally being headed up by myself. Myself, Kamal, Jamie, the original members but generally the whole emphasis is on stand up fighting and we drill through those techniques, know what I'm saying?
SFUKED: Alright, so you also have the official backing of Peacock's gym don't you?
Usman: Yeah, I'd like to that Martin Bowers for that, because er, the fact is the Peacock's name is written into British boxing history. The Peacock's Gym is probably the top boxing gym in this country. As in everyone in London knows....I grew up in East London hearing about Peacock's gym. The thing is we came in here and started off training as usual and decided we'd like to represent this gym on the stand up side of what we do, for example when we'll be entering Muay Thai tournaments. So we approached Martin and asked him if it would be possible to use the name and Martin said that he'd be effing honoured if we used the name and now we officially represent Peacock's Gym. Every guy that you see out there, that trains here, represents this as well as everything else they've done. For example we have guys here from London Shoot, like I myself am a London Shootfighter as well as Michael, Jamie, Kamal and John. And Jessi. Also we have guys from Fairholme: Alex Reid, Gaz Roriston, these guys come down. What we do here is represented wherever they fight as well as representing whatever else they do.
For example when I fight Vale Tudo I'll be representing London Shootfighters, when Michael fights vale tudo he'll be representing London Shootfighters. London Shootfighters is our base, just as Alex Reid is based with Fairholme. Our unity comes from what we do down here at Peacock's gym. We only invite guys down that we think can bring something to the mix and that we connect with on a friendship level. That's what makes the training here, that's what makes it good. That's why you'll see a superior form of stand up fighting coming out of Peacock's Gym.
I personally think we train harder, tougher and more vigorously than any other stand up club out there simply because of the connection that everyone's got. There's ego here. There's no " Oh you punched me, you knocked me down, now I'm going to destroy you.." It's more like if you knock me down I say "Good shot" or whatever and then make sure it doesn't happen again. If it does, then I have to sit down and analyse why it's happened again. You don't blame the other guy, you blame yourself and everyone will help you to find out what your weaknesses are and overcome them.
SFUKED: I noticed that when you were sparring you always made sure someone was on hand to watch and give feedback...
Usman: The way it works is that no-one is so good that they're going to do everything right all the time, no-one, I don't care if you're Ernesto Hoost. You'll never do everything perfect and you need someone to point out what you're doing wrong. Basically it's part of the family thing, you'll have a couple of guys in there same as in a fight and they say "Look, you're doing this wrong, you're doing that wrong" or "your hands are down".
One of the most basic things you have in stand up fighting is when everyone goes in their hands are up but by the end their hands are down. On top of that I'd say 90% of people out there don't even know how to work the guard. I'm not talking about the guard on the ground, I mean when you've got your hands up. There's a way of working that, the way of blocking shots, the way of blocking kicks...the way we do that is we emphasise defence as well as offence and we cover each aspect. No-one here is cheated of any technique. If one person's doing a technique in training then everybody's doing that technique, know what I mean?
Michael Johnson kicks Usman's pad
SFUKED: Is there anything else you wanted to add?
Michael Johnson : Usman's a real good instructor as well.
SFUKED: Usman's a real good instructor?
Michael Johnson : lol, yeah.
Usman: I mean the thing is, I know we're doing this for a submission fighting forum but when you see the guys down here and when you see the Peacock's gym name, you're going to see us going into whole different styles of fighting. For example, Me, Alex Reid, Suleiman Raja, Arsun Raja, Michael hopefully as well and James and all that, we're looking not just to invade what's going on in the vale tudo circuit but go out there and rape the Thai Boxing circuit...
SFUKED: Lol, er interesting turn of phrase there...
Usman: And any other circuit that seems a challenge to us. From here.... you're going to see a lot of different people coming here to go into a lot of different sports. For example you've got guys here who are vale tudo fighters that are to practice stand up for their vale tudo and at the same time you've got guys that are really thai boxers that are here to practice stand up for Muay Thai. This is not a muay thai club or a boxing club it's a stand up fighting club which incorporates boxing, muay thai and er,........................and other forms of..........er, other fighting styles....
SFUKED: and Michael Johnson : L our AO
Usman: LOL. You can edit that bit, know what I mean? *Fighting to be heard over raucous laughter* Also I've got to add: The ideas that I brought in here, we formulate, I mean I've got to say thanks to a couple of guys that actually trained me...
SFUKED: Yeah, I mean I was going to ask you where you got your thai boxing knowledge from.
Usman: I've been thai boxing now for about eight years. Before that I did karate for years before that but that doesn't count because I don't use any of the karate knowledge but the fact is I've benn doing muay thai for eight years. That hasn't just been, like, classes. I'm talking about eight years where with each instructor, Master Sken, Phil Norman, he's quite well known..
SFUKED: Phil Norman the JKD guy?
Usman: Phil Norman the JKD guy. I mean me and Phil norman spent a year and a half doing privates every week, so thanks to phil for what he gave me there. Also I trained doing privates as well as classes with Jimmy Mills for five years and my cousin Nafil Apned (sp?) is a very, very, experienced thai boxer who beats the crap out of me when I spar him. I can't even get near him. My other coach, I mean these are my current coaches, Nafil Apdned and former Commonwealth middle-weight boxing champion Sam Solomon who's also been three time world thai - kickboxing champion. These guys are, when I say completely different level, I literally emphasise completely different level, to anyone on the British circuit, anyone out there. I mean Sam Solomaon is on the next level, know what i mean? He doesn't just teach me how to kick and punch, he teaches me about body mechanics, how to use my footwork, everything's there.
Another thing is, the guys that we're training with, you take a mentality away from them. For example, take my brother James Zikic. That guy has helped me out so much on the fact of toughness, know what i mean? There's a certain mentality that James and Kamal and all those guys have taught me that wasn't there before. A sort of toughness and a never give up attitude. That's the thing that most people don't know about James Zikic, this guy is, you know what I mean? He isn't just physically there, he's mentally there as well, as well as Kamal, as well as John, as well as Michael and every other fighter that's here, coz we takeaway what the other guys bring in.
That's another thing Sam and Nafil help me with as well, a positive mental attitude and dealing with the aggressivenes other the other guy not just withering down into instinct like other fighters do. other fighters just wither down into instinct, their hands drop, they start punching wildly. What we're doing here is saying "Look, the guy's going to be throwing punches at you, he's looking to knock you out, to stop your brain for that second and drop you to the floor". That's what he's looking to do. He might shake your hand at the beginning of the fight but he's looking to take you out during it. This is something that people don't seem to understand.
What we teach here is: Fine, be nice, be technical but once you've touchd gloves you're taking the man down and that's it, know what I mean? That comes from technique as well as a positive mental attitude.
SFUKED: You mentioned earlier that Alex Reid had a message for SFUK........
Usman: Oh yeah. Alex couldn't make it down today because he trained himself silly, lol, with my brother this morning , know what I mean? My brother also runs another wing of what we do back in Farborough way. Yeah, my brother Suleiman Raja, he also teaches Muay Thai himself and he comesdown here sometimes as well. What Alex wanted to put across is that during his last few fights, his opponents were reasonable quality. Well I say reasonable, Alex's words were good quality. Alex wanted to put across that he hasn't really been challenged that much in any of his fights so far. I mean he's not been pushed at any level. The fact that everyone here, (to Michael J) Michael you can vouch for this...
Michael J: ............
Usman: Vouch for it.....
Michael J: LOL yeah I vouch for it, I vouch for it.
Usman: Michael can vouch for it, anyone can vouch for it; Alex Reid is probably, no not probably, is the best under 90 fighter *whispers* is James under 90?
SFUKED : Yeah, Jamie's under 90.
Usman: Under 85?
SFUKED: : That is a division, yeah
Usman: (to the sound of background laughter) Alex Reid, for his weight, he's the best fighter out there. There's no-one out there that testing him around his weight. The only challenges out there that are left for him are people like Mark Weir. In fact he looks forward to fighting Mark Weir, d'ya know what I mean?
SFUKED: So his message is he wants Mark Weir?
Usman: There's no such thing as "he wants Mark Weir", he wants challenges. What you've seen is Alex Reid go at it and destroy every opponent that he's been out there with. He's literally annhilated them, knocked them out, know what I mean? Every fight he's had recently, he's dominated. Well, except against Lee Murray but anyone can vouch for that being a tough fight. Lee Murray..he gets my full respect, know what I mean? He's one tough mother.
SFUKED: I think Lee pretty much gets everyone's respect, especially if he's around..
Usman: LOL, Nah, nah Lee Murray's one of the shining stars out there. The fact is that, other than Lee Murray, everyone else hasn't even come close. Lee Murray's heavier than Alex, no-one at his weight has tested Alex Reid. What Alex wants is the challenge of fighting someone like Mark Weir. The top guy against the top guy, know what I mean?
SFUKED: I think everyone would like to see that fight come off.
Usman: I think that is something everyone would like to see. Basically nowadays, the circuit's so small and you're getting fights but not the fights that you necessarily want to see. I mean Andy Jardine does put together exciting shows butt here are still fights out there that people want to see but that aren't happening. I mean, James Zikic and Lee Hasdell, (this was recorded before the fight was called off) there's no-one who isn't excited about that fight.
SFUKED: It's like a dream come true for the fans
Usman: It is a dream come true for us fans. We were getting ready for Jeremy Horn and I mean everyone out there, you know I've read the forum, and everyone's like "Oh no, Jeremy Horn. He's done this, he's done that, I don't think James Zikic is ready" but who's actually tested James Zikic in this country? How can you say that James Zikic isn't ready when every guy he's ben out there against he's completely and utterly anhilated, ya know what mean? There's no-one.....name me one person that's tested Jamie
SFUKED: Off the top of my head?
Usman: I mean anyone that's tested Jamie, except for way back, I mean the James Zikic of today.
SFUKED: : Well, no-one I've seen him fight. Not in vale tudo.
Usman: Exactly. No -one's touched him. The great thing about England is, who was it? I think it was Naseem Hamed who said "The thing about the British is they love losers, like Frank Bruno." lol, I mean Frank Bruno, complete respect to the guy but what I mean is they hate the winners, Chris Eubank, Naseem Hamed. Chris Eubank nver got the respect, Naseem Hamed's not getting the respect now is he? This is what I'm saying, James Zikic is in that same frame. He's at the top of his game and people are there to say "Oh yeah, he's good" but there not there to put their faith in him. The fact is we were training for Jeremy Horn, that it's changed to Lee Hasdell doesn't mean anything. Same game, same result, know what I mean? Same thing for Nate Schroeder, same thing for anyone else who's stepping in there against any of these guys. I actually DO feel sorry for them (laughter drowns him out) I'm not even just saying that because this is my crew but I actually feel sorry for anyone who's silly enough to step in with one of these guys.
SFUKED: Before I run out of tape, is there anything you want to add, FINALLY ;+) , before we switch it off?
Usman: Thanks a lot to you guys at SFUK
SFUKED: No problem
Usman: Hope to see you again. I'd like to put in thanks to the Bowers brothers for supporting us and for definitely bringing the firm together. They'll know what I'm on about.
SFUKED: Ok, well we'll leave it there. Thanks a lot for talking to us Usman.
Usman: It's been a pleasure.
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