Testing the Waters – An MMA star looks towards to a fistic future

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By Andrew Wake

We’ve all heard the now long running argument about whether or not Mixed Martial Arts’ rise in popularity will bring about an end to boxing. It’s been going on for over two years now and quite frankly I’m bored of it and I’m sure it’s something that you knowledgeable Eastside readers will also have grown tired of. I don’t want to bore you further by talking too much about this “Fighting civil war” but I will try and put the argument straight by saying this: The two codes of fighting are completely different entities and can coexist in perfect harmony.

Thankfully the argument has died down in recent months but that hasn’t stopped several boxers (most notably pound for pound king Floyd Mayweather Jnr and IBF welterweight champion Kermit Cintron) claiming that they could quite easily follow Marcus Davis’ lead and ply their trade in the octagon.

Lee “Cyclone” Shone, a professional MMA star from northern England, under the guidance of former world cruiserweight champion Glenn McCrory, aims to buck the pugilism to mixed martial arts trend, get gloved up, and stick his toe into the often murky waters of boxing.

Shone, 32, from Newcastle Upon Tyne, got involved with combat sports when he was a child. Starting at the age of eight he began attending karate classes but after four years gave it up and began boxing. However, the noble art was not something he really took seriously at the time “I was just the kid at the back of class and didn’t really get anywhere with it,” he admits, “I was always very active as a kid just not when it came to sports.”

He spent the next few years doing everything a young man living in one of the UK’s most vibrant cities would, he went to parties and enjoyed himself. When he was 21 he was stabbed in a street fight. Although the experience was a frightening one for the young Geordie, it was an incident that would change his life forever. “From that point I started taking training seriously, just wanting to learn something that would help me if that situation happened again.

“I started doing aikido and in just a few months I was as good as the top students when it came to randori, which is like sparring.” He told me, “Initially I was more of a striker so I started looking for more techniques. I studied many disciplines including karate, judo, aikido, jui jitsu, muay thai and submission wresting as I wanted to be able to be a good fighter on the ground as well as on my feet.”

In 2000 he read a book entitled ‘Inside the Lion’s den” by UFC hall of famer Ken Shamrock. He leaned that Shamrock had a pro MMA team and read all about his world famously difficult team try out. Convinced he could make the grade, Shone sold enough of his possessions to buy an air ticket to America with hope of joining Shamrock’s legendary set up “I went to the states totally on my own, not knowing anyone there or where I was staying and with only £150 in my pocket. It was crazy!”

The tests were grullling but, after two hours of body tests and three back to back full contact fights, Lee was given the nod and became the first non-American to have ever passed.
On his return to the UK the plucky Geordie was inundated with promotional offers and made his professional MMA debut on the UC 2: World Warriors bill in Chippenham. “I fought Paul Sutherland, who was one of the UK’s top fighters and a multiple champion in vale tudo (no rules), kickboxing and MMA. I beat him by submission in the first round.” Further big fights were offered but disaster struck as he was forced to pull out of three title fights due to injury.

Nine months after the Sutherland contest Shone returned to action by squaring up to UK shootout champion John Waite. The fight started well as Shone looked for a knockout but half way through the opening frame things went horribly wrong. “I ‘body locked’ him and slammed him but as I did this he wrapped his arm around my neck and as when we landed I fractured my neck.” Despite the pain and severity of the injury Shone fought on and eventually ended up losing by decision.

Because of the neck problem and some other niggling injuries he’d picked up Lee was forced to take a few years out but did try to make a comeback in 2005 on a bill in America called Ring of Fire but bad luck struck again as this time he broke his hand and fractured his shin in training. “I was sure I was the unluckiest fighter around. I still flew out to America, though, and turned up at the fight but the doctor wouldn’t clear me as I had also herniated a disc in my back and couldn’t bend over properly.”

He was offered other fights in the states, including the chance to star in a reality TV show but the injuries coupled with the fact that he was having to fund his own travel expenses put an end to any plans “Having to pay my own airfare made it impossible to take these opportunities.” He said, “It was very tough on me because I had trained with some of the best fighters in the world and when you people like that tell you have the talent to go far, but you’re not able to do anything about that as you simply can’t afford to, it’s very frustrating.”

In March of last year he had an email conversation with former IBF cruiser champion and current Sky Sports boxing analyst Glenn McCrory. They discussed various things, especially a possible opportunity that Shone had lined up which could lead to him getting a fight in the UFC when it came to England. When Glenn queried who Shone’s trainers and managers were he was astonished by the answer “I replied myself which he was rather a big surprise to him.” said Shone, “Glenn offered to pay for my flight so I could go take a K-1 fight. I was gobsmacked. I hadn’t even met the man in person, but that first showed me the kind of man Glenn is. ”

In the end the K-1 fight never materialised so McCrory offered the hand of friendship further by asking Lee is he would like to train at his gym. “I went along not knowing what to expect. It was very exciting but I had that ‘New Guy Syndrome’ that you get when you go to a new gym.

“It was weird for me as I was coming from a martial arts background and I didn’t know if they would welcome me because I’d not been a boxer. I met everyone though and they all turned out to be really cool people.”

He trained with the well respected Cuban trainers that McCrory brought to his innovative boxing academy but admits that making the adjustment from MMA to boxing wasn’t easy to begin with. “In MMA you have to stand more square on to your opponent as you have to be able to block take downs and kicks, so when Alberto Gonzalez [one of the Cuban trainers] was trying to make me stand more side on, it felt strange and unnatural to me.”

After only a few sessions the adjustments were made and McCrory was impressed with what he saw. He asked Lee if he would consider taking up boxing properly instead of MMA. “I was struggling to get MMA fights and Glenn told me that boxing would be totally different. He said that he could get me fights all the time and that I would be looked after. It was an excellent opportunity for me and, being 31, I knew I didn’t have much time to waste.”

Lee is due to make his boxing debut on Glenn McCrory’s St Patrick’s dinner show on March 17th as an amateur but is looking to turn professional as soon as he can. He said, “Glenn wants me to have two or three amateur fights and then if things are ok, turn me pro.  I wanted to go pro straight away, but Glenn knows best so I will go along with what he thinks I should do.”

Expect to see Lee follow the blueprint set by another latecomer to the fistic arts, former kickboxing champion Matt Skelton, and climb the rankings in the paid ranks in double quick time.

Lee would like to thank his sponsors: Lonsdale [for providing him with new equipment that smells better than his old gear], Gumball 3000, Grainger Games, VAS, Car Cosmetics and CTS.

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