The last time I interviewed mixed martial arts veteran and UFC fighter Brad Pickett, he made me tussle on the mat and choke him to near unconsciousness. It was partly a sympathy choking and partly bravado, but I swear it actually happened. This time, he’s cuddled up on the sofa of his gym with a little fluffy dog called Bonnie, tickling her belly.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the 38-year-old is softening – clearly, the hard as nails rep, exciting fighting style, and raw power that earned him the name “One Punch” is still very much in force – but Pickett’s in a chirpy, reflective mood.
That could be because the popular East End hardman is about to ring the bell on his career, with his retirement fight against fellow veteran Henry Briones at UFC Fight Night London on Saturday 18th March.
I sat down with “One Punch” (and Bonnie) to find out what he’s learned from 13 years of professional fighting.
Losing Is One Of Life’s Most Important Lessons
“People deal with losing in different ways,” says Pickett. He makes no bones about the fact he’s super competitive – and absolutely hates losing. “But losing’s not a mistake if you learn from it. For me it’s tough. I wouldn’t say I’m a sore loser, but I’m definitely a bad loser. You learn a lot about yourself when you lose – it’s a chink in your armour. When you’re winning and unbeaten you feel invincible. When you lose it’s humbling because someone’s better than you, so you think, ‘Right, this isn’t going to happen again.’”
Becoming A Father Changes A Fighter’s Perspective
“It’s hard to know how I’ll feel on the evening of the fight,” says Pickett, who became a dad for the first time 14 months ago. “Knowing me I’ll probably be emotional, especially after having my son. I want to provide for him, so I want to win the fight because you get paid more, but my health is important too. I want to be around for my son for many years. To succeed in this sport, you have to be a bit selfish. But now I can’t be selfish. That’s why I left having kids until later on in my career.”
Winning A Fight Is All About Self-Control
“I’ve never lost my temper in a professional fight,” says Pickett, about as cheery as I can imagine any MMA fighter being. “I’ve been angry with myself for losing. I’m very aggressive when I fight, but that’s also just at the thought of losing. Aggression’s very important, but controlled aggression is what I have. I can switch it on and off. If you lose control, then you’re not thinking straight, your adrenaline’s pumping, and you’ll get fatigued very quickly.”
Your Best Friends Are The Ones You Fight Hardest
“You build a really strong bond with the guys you train with and beat up day-to-day,” says Brad, looking round the gym at the team of best mates he regularly duffs up. “We beat the crap out of each other. It’s almost like the more you like someone, the harder you can go. I don’t hold grudges. My attitude is either you beat me, or I beat you. Even in a professional fight, straight away after I shake hands. I’ve never had animosity after a fight. You find even with guys who trash-talk each other beforehand, as soon as they have a dust-up it’s over!”
Male Pride Is Still Worth Fighting For
“Pride is still the driving force for me, 100%… it would suck if I lost my last fight!” laughs Pickett. He maintains that it was an embarrassing loss in his very first fight that drove him to get focused and succeed in MMA. “Losing in front of a big crowd is humbling… it’s like your masculinity’s been dented. For me, fighting is very primal. It’s something we’ve been doing as animals for years. And I like the respect you get from fighting. Growing up, I did a bit of boxing, and I because people knew I fought, they wouldn’t mess with me. I didn’t need to prove myself. They knew I could fight. I liked the respect that comes with it.”
A Man Should Leave His Mark
“I always knew I was going to be an athlete,” says Pickett. “I played football until I got injured and then went into MMA instead. This sport is something I’ve grown with. When I started, you couldn’t imagine earning life changing money or providing for a family. Now it’s a legitimate career path for young athletes. I like to think I helped the growth of the sport in the UK. And with my gym I’m building a platform for young fighters. I’ll contribute more to MMA after I’ve finished than when I was fighting.”