2016 was a year to forget for Brad Wheeler, his only appearance in the cage ending in a loss to 38-year-old Scott Clist, a relatively unknown fighter compared to Wheeler, at Cage Warriors 75.Wheeler didn’t look like the athlete UK MMA fans had come to know, which he puts down to the awful weight cut he put himself through, one that made Cage Warriors move the fight to a catchweight of 159lbs.
“I felt dead two minutes into the fight, my arms were flat, I had nothing left” he said. “I got dropped hard at the end of the first and went back to my corner, they stopped the fight, which was the right move.”
‘The Crazy Kid’ shows nothing but respect for Clist, acknowledging that he was able to knock him down and walk out victorious, but had it not been for the weight cut having such a significant impact, Wheeler feels he would have been the winner of the bout.
There was a point during fight week where he was struggling to stand on his own two feet and had to be carried into the car that would take him to the weigh in. Reflecting on his performance against Clist, Wheeler admits that he should have pulled out of the fight.
A scheduled bout against Tom Green at Cage Warriors 77 fell through on weigh in day. He entered fight week weighing 3 kilos lighter than he did when he faced Scott Clist, but was again experiencing problems with his kidneys. And instead of making the same mistake twice, once Wheeler realised that he was unable to cut any more weight, he got in contact with the Cage Warriors team.
“I had deja vu of the Clist fight,” Wheeler explains. ”I did more damage than good in that fight. I could feel my kidneys hurting again. I let Ian Dean (Cage Warriors matchmaker) know that I couldn’t make that weight.”
There were discussions to change the weigh in format, Wheeler would have been unable to rehydrate to a weight more than 76kg and was asked to weigh in again two hours before the fight, neither party were able to agree new terms.
He has since made the move to welterweight. Previously he would gradually bring his weight down to 155lbs over a 10-week period, now he can increase his calorie intake and spend more time on developing as a fighter, and put less pressure on his kidneys. And Wheeler is already feeling the benefit of making the move up, believing that a less severe cut will allow him to be more active this year. “I feel the best I’ve ever been!” Wheeler declared. “The cut isn’t as ridiculous now, I want to have four fights this year. I’m training better as well.”
And not content with just having an active year and establishing himself as one of the best welterweights in the region by the end of 2017, Wheeler is aiming for Cage Warriors gold. “I want to win a few fights and then look for a title bout. It would be nice to have a strap around my waist by the end of the year.”
“I want everyone to know I’m the new threat at welterweight. Watch out!”
His first challenge of 2017 comes this Saturday at the O2 Indigo, as Warren Kee (8-4-1) welcomes Wheeler to the Cage Warriors welterweight division. Like Clist, Kee walks into this bout as the underdog, and Wheeler again has the technical advantage over his opponent, but Wheeler won’t be underestimating his opponent this time.
“I was on a high, I had won a belt, I had won 6 fights. I’m not looking at this fight like that. Warren Kee is an aggressive fighter, a bit of a banger. But I’m not afraid to strike with him, I’m a better technical striker, I think I’m better in every area.” He told SevereMMA. “ I’m just making sure I’m ready for everything, wherever the fight goes. I’m looking forward to it.”
Appearing on the main card of Cage Warriors 80, Wheeler has the opportunity to show UFC Fight Pass and BT Sport subscribers that he has developed greatly as a fighter since his last outing. And part of that development is down to a month long stay at TriStar in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in late September. The trip across the Atlantic provided Wheeler an opportunity to recharge his batteries and a chance to train under one of the best coaches in MMA.
“I just felt that I needed to get away and sort myself out,” he said. “I didn’t have a great year in general. I went over to Canada and was by myself. I think it has massively paid off, I feel a hundred times better. I’m moving, rolling and striking better. My head is back where it should be. I want the Cage Warriors welterweight title!”
The loss to Clist was his first since May 2013 when he was on the wrong side of a split decision to Jamie Rogers at Cage Warriors 54. Wheeler had a lot of momentum behind him going into the Clist fight, he was on a six fight win streak and had just won the Warrior Fight Series lightweight title.
Despite adding another loss to his record, Wheeler still hopes to reach the UFC, and hopes that fans will look at his recent performances and not just dismiss him for a poor start to his professional career. “Hopefully they take more into account than the numbers of my overall record. If I was 6-1, people would think it is a good record, but I’ve had so many fights over the years and I’m 15-10.”
“I’ll get there, I know I can beat anybody that is in front of me,” the Londoner declares.
A large proportion of those losses came before Wheeler had turned 21. He was an ambitious 18-year-old looking to take out the biggest names in UK MMA, and hoping that those victories would secure him a UFC contract. Things didn’t quite go to plan and he left UCMMA with a 3-4 record.
“I was an 18-year-old boy going against fully grown men. I was going the distance with them, but I was losing those fights.”
“I just took any fight. I thought I could beat everybody, and I was 2-4 in my first 6 fights, and then I’d rack a couple of wins, then I became too confident and would not take some fights seriously.”
The recent success of amateur MMA has given young fighters a great platform to learn their craft before moving into the world of professional MMA, a route that Wheeler would have taken had it been more widely available when he was younger, and he encourages all young fighters at the MMA Clinic to go down that path. “The younger guys are so eager to fight,” he said. “We build them up [at the MMA Clinic], I tell them to do it gradually, don’t do it like me!”
“If I was in that position now, yeah, I would have gotten my experience at the amateur level and then stepped up when I was ready.”
8 years into his professional MMA career and Wheeler explains that he now looks at every fight like a title fight so that he can have no excuse if he comes up short. And honest enough to admit that he wasn’t as focused on training as he should have been for a long period, he felt that his natural talent would be more than enough to beat his opponent. He looked past Antanas Jazbutis simply because he felt the size advantage would be too much for the Lithuanian, the judges decided that Jazbutis had done more than the bigger fighter.
Now a fully grown man himself, and a UK MMA veteran at 26, Wheeler has learned from those experiences and is hoping to make 2017 his year.