Fighting Pride of Manchester
- NQ's Nick Purdham caught up with up-and-coming Mancunian fighter, Mike Woodhall, ahead of the Brazilian Ju-Jitsu tournament at the Bell Vue Leisure Centre this weekend
Manchester has a rich history when it comes to combat sports. Ricky ‘Hitman’ Hatton was the first to really put the city on the map when his staggering stoppage of linear light- welterweight champion Kostya Tszyu in 2006 announced him as a major player on the world stage.
Fellow pugilists Anthony ‘Million Dollar’ Crolla and charismatic former world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury have followed in Hatton’s footsteps in recent times, cementing Manchester as somewhat of a hotbed when it comes to combat sports. There is a new contender for the title of ‘fighting pride of Manchester’ however, and he is much more likely to choke you unconscious then knock you out.
Mike Woodhall initially began his journey into martial arts, aged 13. His brother competed in Muay Thai, and while he was keen to do the same, the lure of a kickboxing academy that opened near his home in Chorlton was too much to resist.
After three years of purely kickboxing, Woodhall moved to Fighting Fit, in Ancoats, in order to take up mixed martial arts. “After five fights, I challenged for the title at a small independent organisation. Unfortunately, I was on the receiving end of a close decision that night. I decided to move away from MMA for a while, to try and focus on my ground, with the intention of returning to mixed martial arts.”
“Despite having a background in striking, all of my victories in the cage came via submission. I think this is what made me really fall in love with Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Even though I only decided to focus on jiu-jitsu to improve my mixed martial arts, once I began competing solely in that, I never looked back.”
Despite only taking up the sport in 2011, Mike quickly rose up the ranks and was able to capture his first medal, silver at the Grab and Pull Midlands Open, in 2013. He followed this up with a solid competition showing in 2014, grabbing gold at the North West Open and a silver at the IBJJF Paris Open, as well as being consistently on the podium in 2015.
However, it was 2016 when Woodhall really began to hit his stride. “Once I had a couple of years’ experience under my belt competing at major tournaments across the UK, I began to get to grips with everything that surrounds a competition. Managing my nerves heading into a fight, as well as controlling my weight cut are both things that improved with repetition and experience.”
“I started the year well, winning the Scottish Open, followed by another gold at the Manchester Open. This really gave me the momentum I need to carry me through the rest of the year, which resulted in me winning the ADCC Pro UK National Championships No Gi. To become UK champion only five years into the sport is something I never thought would happen and something that I am very proud of.”
He’s followed up a great 2016 with a stellar 2017 thus far and recently medalled at the European Championships in Rome. “It was amazing to medal at the Euro’s, as there were over 40 competitors in my category, which made it extremely difficult. I was able to win all of my fights in the run up to the semi-finals by submission in under a minute. I went into the semi’s feeling confident and fresh, but my opponent was really good.”
He continued: “I was only able to get in a couple of months of good training, after recovering from a broken arm I suffered towards the end of last year, so with that in mind I’m very pleased with my performance in Rome, and just goes to show that all my hard work and preparation paid off.
"I make a lot of sacrifices to be able to compete at the level I want to, such as not being able to go out with friends, constantly having to watch what I eat, long days at the gym and having to pay out of my own pocket to travel all over Europe competing, which isn’t cheap.
“I like to stay busy and consider myself quite a prolific fighter. I competed at NAGA the week after the Euro’s and was able to capture the belt, submitting all of my opponents. Luckily, I’m fighting a lot closer to home this weekend at the Manchester Open.
"I’m hoping to use this as a warm up for the two competitions I have at the end of June, the British nationals and the Spanish National Championships. If all goes well I could become the Spanish national champion, hopefully, they don’t make me change my name to Miguel.”
Mike will be competing at Belle Vue Leisure Centre this Sunday from 10am, tickets available online.