Traveller on quest to leave mark in UFC

The traveller life is the only life John Maguire has known. Mary Turner/Getty Images

Making his highly anticipated debut for the promotion at UFC 138 in Birmingham, John Maguire is without a doubt one of the most decorated new breed of British fighters to be drafted into the organization. Holding two of the UK’s most prestigious domestic titles, Maguire’s story is bound up with a rich heritage of fighting and personal sacrifice.

As a traveller, (or gypsy as the culture is better known in the US), Maguire was no stranger to the bare knuckle methods employed to solve family feuds. “Straighteners” are a regular way for the travelling community to settle disputes and deal with issues of pride.

These days, travellers engage in that old pastime of fighting with their fists and only their fists. In the past, “all-in” would also allow wrestling, throws, clinch work, kicks and elbows before becoming reduced to what is now referred to as Queensbury Rules.

Maguire eschewed bare knuckle boxing, preferring to study MMA, giving a brief nod back to those earliest of bouts fought on village greens where anything was allowed.

“Fighting can be big in the community. It is usually more to do with family rows than for money and it’s just the way travellers settle problems,” the welterweight fighter said. “Travellers prefer the fair-play style or “straightener” than the all-in style. They don’t really like the wrestling and grappling and a lot of them are ignorant of MMA. I was brought up around boxing as it is a big deal with travellers, but I love MMA.”

Having grown up living “on site” (what travellers term a caravan camp of families, similar to trailer parks), Maguire has never once lived in a house. After travelling extensively around Britain, John settled in Cambridge, where he would eventually find Tsunami Gym.

“I’ve never lived anywhere else than caravans,” Maguire said. “I’ve been on the current site for about 10 years now and all my family live there. It’s a nice, quiet family site and I’ve got my own caravan; it’s a nice big one as well.”

It was in Cambridge that Maguire found Tsunami Gym. Under the tutelage of UK fight scene veterans Robbie Olivier and Pierre Guillet, Maguire quickly developed into a formidable competitor. Regularly competing above his own weight class, Maguire defeated all comers using his crushing wrestling game to grind his opponents into an early defeat. After adding an explosive Muay Thai skill set to his tool box and dropping to a more natural 170 pounds, Maguire took back-to-back titles on the UK scene, establishing his dominance in the division.

All of this has culminated into a bout with Justin Edwards in the UFC’s return to England on Saturday, and it is an opportunity that he is grabbing with both hands.

“I’ve been sleeping in the gym for the whole training camp,” Maguire said. “I’ve only been home once. There are no comforts; no TV, no computer or Playstation. I’m sleeping in a store room on the floor.”

It’s a mark of just how important this fight is for Maguire. The UK standout has pursued his MMA career while also working as a heating engineer, paying for his training and his caravan with his own hard work and graft, a work ethic that is mirrored in his fighting style.

Taking time off for the first time in his pro career, Maguire is doing everything to ensure he is fully prepared.

“I’m training twice a day. I’ve taken off the last five weeks from work and I’m even adding in a strength and conditioning program,” Maguire said. “Everyone at the gym is helping me to prepare and I’m doing loads of sparring and wrestling. My brother Tommy is helping out loads; he tells me how it is if I’m being lazy or crap.”

But while camaraderie is clearly important for Maguire, he knows that when the cage door shuts it’s all down to him. A seasoned competitor, he’s under no illusions as to the task at hand.

“I don’t know how I’ll deal with the nerves until I get there but this is what I’ve been working toward,” he said. “The UFC is the biggest show in the world and I’m going to take my opportunity.”

Taking on Edwards, a man Maguire met in Las Vegas a year back during “The Ultimate Fighter” trials, Maguire has a good idea of what to expect.

“Justin is coming off a win but I’ve fought guys just as good if not better. I just need to hold my nerves together,” Maguire said. “He likes to wrestle but I’m a wrestler with a very active ground game so I’ll be happy to trade takedowns with him. More than anything though, I want the win and that’s the top to bottom of it. He’s a mini-Randy Couture and he comes out fast in the first round.

“I’m ready to ride the storm and wait for the openings. Whatever comes, any mistake, I’ll capitalize on it ... but to win with my trademark Kimura would be good.”