Two years ago, Regis Sugden (4-1) tore ligaments in his right ankle, sidelining him for the better part of 12 months.
It came at a horrible time for the Newark-on-Trent fighter, who had started to build serious momentum prior to this. He was just three fights into his professional MMA career — after making the switch from professional K-1, where he’d fought 136 times at pro and amateur level — but he’d impressed enough to receive a shot at the BAMMA Lonsdale Championship.
Sugden lost, but was applauded for stepping up to fight Alan Philpott, who had 17-fights more on his record. Not too long after this breakthrough fight, he suffered his injury.
With surgery and recovery time, “The First” spent a year away from competition. He endeavoured to return last May, when he fought Arturo Chavez. He won the fight, but it proved to be a step too soon, reinjuring himself in the process.
You see, up until his injury, he had grown accustomed to fighting competitively every few months. Overkill? Maybe. But growing up in a home with a world champion kickboxer-father, that was normality.
Regis Sugden wants to prove a point in ACB
He returns to action on May 19 to fight Stephen Martin at the Motorpoint Arena, Nottingham, just a stone’s throw away from his hometown of Newark.
In his own words, he’s now ‘100 percent’ recovered. He has even moved up to lightweight after previously being homed at 135lbs. Essentially, the timeout for Sugden has allowed him to make adjustments which should propel him to the upper echelons of UKMMA.
“It’s weird because after the first break when I initially had the long break, my head was all over the place,” Sugden told DreySports when discussing the tumultuous events leading to ACB 87. “But this time I was just thinking about the feeling that I got the last time I stepped in and fought because it’s the only time in my life I’ve ever had to have any time out.
“I’ve literally been fighting once every couple of months from such a young age, even when I was fighting pro K-1 I was fighting once every other month. But yes, you definitely cherish it a lot more knowing this time you’re coming back, and it’s the real deal, it’s ACB, Nottingham Arena. It’s all you can ask for really.”
It wasn’t always supposed to be against Martin, though. Originally, Sugden was booked to fight Azi Thomas, until revelations of an anti-doping rule violation forced ACB to remove him from the card.
Weighing-in on his change of opponent, Sugden branded Thomas a time waster.
He said: “I just think to myself, if you can’t do it right, don’t do it. We all get in the gym early in the morning and train, two or three times everyday and if you really can’t be bothered, then don’t be bothered. It’s a waste of my time, it’s a waste of ACB’s time and a waste of his time be all and end all because he knew all full and well when he accepted the fight what was going to happen. I would get zero satisfaction out of it when you just know in yourself that one you’ve cheated, two that’s the reason why you’ve won and if you haven’t won, you’re bloody useless aren’t you.”
Regis Sugden: Now it’s just treating every fight like it’s your last ever fight
Sugden’s time out, however, had a profound effect on the youngster, with the premature end of his career lingering like a leech in the back of his mind.
That fear was not strictly a bad thing though, as Sugden explained.
“I’m treating every fight now like my last ever fight. I think having an injury does that to you because you don’t actually know when you’re going to get injured again. I never appreciated injuries and people sitting out. I’ve had little tears in my ligaments and little bruises on my bones but nothing ever like I had and I think now it’s kind of getting to the point where you start thinking to yourself, this is actually what I want to do, this is important and for me, Stephen Martin is a stepping stone to where I want to get to and I need to prove that by beating him in fashion why I deserve to be on ACB.
“You never know what’s going to happen, I’ve come back 110% fit and everything is perfect, I’m doing everything I was able to do before and at a very high level and intense pressure. Before it was about winning, progression, getting to the top but now it’s just treating every fight like it’s your last ever fight. That’s the last ever time you’re going to do it.”
Signing a one-fight deal with ACB, Regis Sugden fielded other offers but admits to only having eyes for the Russian-based promotion, who initially approached him after he beat Arturo Chavez last year.
One year later, both ACB and Regis get their wish, partnering up for ACB 87. It isn’t just a homecoming on a big European stage, though, there’s added stakes with Stephen Martin representing Nottingham’s rival city, Derby.
Martin may have a losing record — 6-4 to be specific — but Sugden is wary of taking him too lightly, especially considering the calibre of opponent he has fought in 10 fights, including Tim Wilde, Andre Winner and Paddy Pimblett.
“The thing is you have to sort of accept where you’ve been and what you’ve got,” he said. “He hasn’t been as active as me, but he’s been in there with some top names, and all those top names have beat him, so If I don’t beat him, I don’t deserve to be where I’m at. If I knock him out in the first round, no one else has ever done that.
“So I just think to myself, what a motive. I’ve got so many tricks up my sleeve now, way more than I ever had before. It’s going to be an absolute nightmare to him because his striking is a bit basic and I know his grappling game’s decent but mine’s good, so there’s a bigger gap in my striking to his, than there is in his jits to mine.
Empowered by the revelation that every fight could be his last, Sugden feels he is finally at his optimum. And if he can hit the ground running at ACB 87, his urgency will carry him to even greater heights.
He ended: “I don’t want to just walk out with my purse and my win bonus, I want to walk out with an added bonus. ACB reward fighters for that. Sometimes when I’ve fought on other shows before, I’ve never had that urgency, things kind of just happen, whereas this time, me with urgency is dangerous.”
Images of Regis Sugden copyright Tanko Fighting Championship.