Barnatt vs. Johnson at BAMMA 9
© Marc Wickert
Special thanks to Izzy Carnwath

At first I thought BAMMA 9’s Luke Barnatt was called ‘BigSlow’ because he wasn’t big on interviews and was slow to give out information regarding his upcoming fight, but after much interrogation, Luke relented and told Knucklepit the real reason for the peculiar alias.
“It is a strange nickname, I know!” says Barnatt.  “Most fighters like to have an intimidating nickname, but unfortunately for me ‘Bigslow’ is the name that stuck in the gym.  It was given to me by the Maguire Brothers when I first started MMA, because I was BIG & Slow to react to their insults.  I just said ‘Errrr, errrr… I dunno.’  There were plenty of nicknames suggested for me, but Bigslow was the one that stuck, and I’ve grown to kinda like it.”
After more time of staring at bright lamps and the threat of adjourning the interrogation to the hot seat, Luke finally gives his place of birth and current address.
“I was born in Redbridge, but moved to Islington in London when I was one, and then Chelmsford, Essex, when I was 10.  I lived there till I was 17, when I left home and moved to Peterborough.  Since then I’ve floated about all over, including a seven-month stint in Thailand, and I eventually settled in Cambridge.  So I’m a Londoner at heart, turned Essex Boy, who likes the Cambridge lifestyle.  Bit of a collective mixture, but Cambridge is a great place to live and The Pro-Am Fight Centre in the centre of Cambridge Town has now become my new home,” says Barnatt.
It’s like pulling teeth trying to get a word out of BigSlow, who looks restless and measures his every word.  It soon becomes evident he’s already done time in the cage.  But I turn up the heat and ask him why he originally got into martial arts and what his first fighting style was.
“When I was about 15, I tried Tae Kwon Do but I only got to like a yellow belt which I think is the first grade.  I never had the determination to stick with anything until I was introduced to wrestling by my close friend, Jack ‘The Stone’ Mason.  He brought me up to Tsunami about three years ago and I’ve never looked back; so my first real fighting style was Tsunami Shooters MMA.  I’m a bit of a Tsunami home-grown product.”
The Knucklepit intense questioning continues…
Mr. Barnatt, you are replacing Sam Hooker at BAMMA 9; is five weeks enough notice for you?
Ha, I only got given four!  Think my manager knew about it a week before he told me, and I’d fight this Lee Johnson on five hour’s notice.  I’m always fit and ready to go.  I think Lee’s the guy who wishes he had more notice.
What areas of your game are you focusing on at Tsunami Gym?
Tsunami Gym is full of high-level grapplers: The Maguires, Robbie Olivier, Jack Mason, Mark Day, Leo Gamarra… not to mention, Lee Doski, Joachinm Hansen, Besam Yousef, Mohsen Bahari and all the other talents we have flying through there all the time.  And I believe I’ve become one of those talented grapplers in the last three years.  I’ve really pushed myself to wrestle and get a clever, inventive ground game.  My ears are living proof of that!
But I’ve made a conscious effort to improve my strength and stand-up right now.  I think my grappling is far superior than most of the middleweights in the UK, so now I just need my hands to catch up.  And being six foot makes me hard to handle on the feet as it is, so I’ve brought in a specialist boxing coach, who trains UFC fighter John Maguire, in Steve Whitwell from St Ives Boxing Academy to sharpen things up.  I see him about three times a week.
Are you mainly working your strength and conditioning at Unique Results?
Unique Results is in Chelmsford, Essex, it’s a great personal training facility, but I actually only go there to work my wrestling with Jack Mason on Fridays.  They run an MMA class out of it on Friday nights that I go to, to work some new wrestling shapes.  There are some real beasts down there and at Jack’s main gym, BKK fighters in Colchester.  They are producing some grappling animals such as Sean Carter, Toby Mclaren, Martin Fox and Arnie Allen… real prospects for the future.
Have you been studying Lee Johnson’s fight tapes?
I watched him for about 10 minutes on You Tube and turned it off in disgust.  I got bored, then had a go at my manager for matching me up against someone who’s not fit enough to last a round.  Thought my manager was insulting me.  Couldn’t believe it when he told me the guy was 5-1 until we looked at the guys he’s beat. He’s fought the same guy twice in Johnny Gillan who’s 1-8.  I mean, come on!  Why bother fighting him?  If I’m honest, I’m surprised Jude has asked him to fight on BAMMA.  Can tell you one thing for sure: He’ll never have him back after I destroy him.  Hope Lee treasures his walk out at BAMMA as it will be the last time he feels the rush of an arena show.
You’re going in as the underdog; how do you feel about that?
Underdog? Says who?
Right!  Whoever said that better write a letter of apology to me, my coaches, my family, friends and all the BAMMA fans, saying:
  • Idiots name who put me as the underdog;
  • Apologise for having my (idiot’s) head so far up my (idiot’s) own arse that (idiot) didn’t look into this match-up enough to realize that Lee Johnson will struggle with every part of Luke Barnatt’s game;
  • I (idiot’s name) saw that Lee Johnson was 5-1 and Luke Barnatt was 2-0 and played MMA maths.  I (idiot) sincerely apologise for being such an idiot, and I (idiot) promise I (idiot again) will never underestimate Luke Barnatt nor any fighter that comes out of the best gym in the UK (Tsunami Gym) again.
Yours truly,
(Idiot’s name)
I’d also like him to write a completely separate letter to Lee Johnson and his coaches/gym saying:
Dear Lee,
I (idiot’s name) feel like I have failed as a human being, and would like to say sorry to you and the rest of the human race for giving you the ego boost and heightening your expectations for this bout; giving you that glimmer of hope that you will be anything but a moving punch bag in this bout.  I retract my comment and wish you all the best in your recovery from BAMMA 9, and look forward to seeing you back on the shows that are more set to your fighting standard, where you can win titles and feel like you really matter to the world, so you can carry on telling the ladies and your friends that you are a cage fighter like Alex Reid.
Many Thanks
(Idiot’s Name)
Once everyone has received that letter you can retract that comment and re-write the interview question:
Question: Luke how does it feel to have Lee considered as a huge underdog?  Does it add any pressure to the match-up knowing you are expected to wipe the floor with this ‘athlete’?
Answer: I am happy to be considered the more accomplished fighter in this match-up and it doesn’t add any pressure to me.  I’m very relaxed when I prepare for my fights and, at the end of the day, everyone has a puncher’s chance, so Lee Johnson obviously has the chance.  But the longer the fight goes the more you’ll see that chance fade as he gasses and I get stronger round-on-round.
I hope that answers your question sufficiently???
How would you describe your MMA fighting style?
Relaxed, constant pressure that breaks people down.  It’s intelligent and well measured.  There are not many middleweights with my fitness that can keep up with my stand-up pace mixed with the relentless grappling.  I am constantly looking to submit you from everywhere and if that doesn’t work I’ll keep position and G&P you out.  I’m never looking to hold you down and rest, constantly transitioning and punishing your mistakes… That’s if you’ve managed to get past my jab, uppercut, knees, sprawl and guard.
Who are your coaches for BAMMA 9?
Same as always– real quick:
*Head MMA coach Robbie ‘The Flame’ Olivier (the best featherweight in the UK and the hardest hobbit on the planet!),
*Brown Belt in BJJ & Black Belt in Judo former Cage Rage featherweight Champ (when it matted) fighting out of Tsunami Gym,
*Wrestling coach, Jack ‘The Stone’ Mason (BKK fighter, head MMA coach, middleweight CFC Champ & wrestling BEAST),
*Gypsy Jujitsu coach, John ‘The One’ Maguire (UFC welterweight out of Tsunami Gym),
*Boxing coach, Steve Whitwell (St Ives Boxing Academy),
*BJJ Coach, Leo Gamarra (Brazillian Top Team Black Belt at Tsunami Gym),
*Thai boxing coach, Colm Gilane (beaten many Thai world champions and a relentless cardio machine at the age of 48; trains out of Tsunami Gym),
*Strength coach, Andy Elkins (from Core Cambridge, the biggest strength geek I know),
*Nigel Burgees – part of my management team and my G&P coach… Been around the sport forever and has the odd pearl of wisdom, but you have to listen to relentless amounts of verbal garbage until you get that pearl!  But it’s always worth it!  And the man knows his tractors – don’t know how that helps.
Who are your training partners and in what areas of your game are they assisting you?
I always train with the same guys: the Tsunami boys (mentioned earlier) and they help me with everything, but main training partners for this fight are
*Warren Kee (7-0-1) welterweight who’s got a relentless pace,
*John ‘The One’ Maguire (17-3) UFC welterweight, who’s a grappling machine and a ground specialist; mainly helps me with my ground fighting and fight strategy; an extremely intelligent fighter who can analyse any situation and find the right answer,
*Jack ‘The Stone’ Mason (18-10) CFC middleweight champ, a big powerful wrestler with power in both hands; plus a solid base and ground ‘n’ pound game,
*Along with all the other guys, Tommy Maguire, Robbie Olivier, AJ Wenn, Jay Cucciniello, Jesse Smith, Mark Day and the rest. We’ve also got some fantastic NEW talent coming through this place; give it a few years and they will be fighting on BAMMA.
I’m blessed to have such an amazing, experienced team behind me, and they mean everything to me.  Without them I’d never be half the MMA athlete I am today!
All of Lee’s victories have come about via submissions, but you’ve been putting a lot of work into your ground game.  Will you feel confident if the fight does go to the canvas?
Lee Johnson better hope the fight doesn’t go to the canvas.  My ground game is my strongest asset, especially from my back.  Robbie Olivier & John Maguire are fantastic no-gi Jujitsu practitioners and I roll with them about five – six hours a week.  I’ve recently placed gold in the 93kg Go-to-the-Ground grappling tourney.
I faced a high level grappler in JD from Nathan Levertons gym in Leicester (Leicester shootfighters) in the final, so I was happy to take home gold, and felt ever since my last fight, where I failed to sink in the choke against a very resilient Ben Callum, that my ground game has shot up another notch.
I worked on finishing my RNC for weeks following that fight, and got some great tips from Brown Belt and top grappler, Lee Doski, from Blue Wave in Bury St Edmunds, but he’s a Tsunami boy too!
So in short, Lee Johnson doesn’t stand a chance in hell in getting me down, but if he manages to (like the canvas is wet and I slip over), then he better protect his neck and limbs, because I’ll be choking the guy unconscious or ripping his limbs from his body!
What will Lee’s strengths be?
Let’s hope the guys got good taste in music because his only highlight will be his entrance!
But in all seriousness, a man can’t get to five wins all via submissions without a good idea of a ground game, (unless you fight bums or the same guy twice who’s 1-8).  I just think I’m five steps ahead on the ground.  It’s like he’s still playing checkers and I’ve moved onto chess and playing with the style of Magnus Carlsen, a famous Norwegian chess whizz kid! (
So I think I nullify his strongest asset which is why I say he’s only got a puncher’s chance.
But I do expect the best Lee Johnson that the world has ever witnessed, especially as he’s had six month’s out.  So let’s hope he’s been working hard in the gym, because I do this fulltime and am in the gym day and night improving my MMA game.  I don’t want a walkover, so let’s hope he brings it.
What will your strengths be?
My self-belief, relentless pace and unpredictability.  I’m going to put Lee in places he’s never seen before.  My strength comes from the experience I have surrounding me, training with the guys I do – the way I do, and it gives me the confidence that I can beat Lee anywhere because, let’s face it, I don’t need a game plan.
As soon as I lay a glove on his face he’s going to panic, shoot and simply get out-classed from that point on.  He won’t stand with me and he can’t beat me on the floor.  So like I’ve said before, just quit while you’re ahead, give me the win, save me cutting all this bloody weight and save yourself the trip down from Manchester.  It won’t be worth it!
Luke, is there anything you would like to add?
Yes!  And it’s important, so read up!
As you have guessed I love to talk, but I’m not deluded. I don’t think I’m better than I am.  I’m not trying to be no Chael Sonnen.  I simply fight to challenge myself in this life; It’s my managers job to find me suitable fights, that are going to challenge me, make me train harder than I did for the last fight, and at the end of the day, turn me into a better MMA athlete and a better person.  I don’t need to take on the top fight guys in the country.  I’m never trying to insinuate that.  I want good fights against dangerous opponents who are my standard.
And it’s not my fault I think that Lee Johnson is not that guy.  I honestly believe I am better in every range, including strength, speed, fitness and mental agility.  I want fights to influence me to improve. This fight doesn’t.  I think I could of beat this dude a year ago!
I am just saying what I feel and being honest: That’s not disrespectful or being rude!  That’s just how it is.  So stop hating and tune in on the 24th to see if I can bite as loud as I bark, back myself up, and DOMINATE Lee Johnson.  I don’t make predictions, but the only thing I see in Lee Johnson’s immediate future is Pain.
Your sponsors?
Pro-Am Fight Centre – my training facility where I master my trade.
QNTUK fuelling my training with the best supplements and nutritional advice money can buy!  Kelly my account manager is a gem and I appreciate everything she and the company do for me.
British Fighter – keeping me stylish, providing me with all the gear that makes me look super cool when I train/fight.
[Interrogation over… for now].
Stance: Orthodox.
Height: 6’0”.
Class: Middleweight.
MMA record: 2-0-0.
BAMMA 9 takes place on Saturday 24th March 2012 at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham UK. presents BAMMA 9 in association with Lonsdale and


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