Belfast Telegraph

Retired Rodney Moore is getting his kicks as coach

By Ali Gordon

From a make-shift gym in his father's garage to running one of the best mixed martial arts facilities in the country, Rodney Moore has come a long way.

Taking up the sport aged just seven, Moore embarked on a trip around America in January 2000 to develop his skills.

After starting his MMA training in Colorado Springs under the guidance of Mike Brewer and Pat Cross at the prestigious Cutting Edge Martial Arts Academy, Moore travelled with the best mixed martial artists in the business, learning every day.

Returning from his stint in America in October 2001, Moore used his father's garage as a gym. Opening the doors to anyone willing to learn and train, Moore's home gym grew increasingly popular.

Moving to a new premises in Ballymena a few years ago, he now trains some of the best MMA fighters in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Moore commented: "When I came home from America, I'd try and get boys to come and train in my dad's garage and I'd show them the techniques I'd learned and it just went from there to having our own unit.

"I used some money I'd made from fighting to fund the gym and then the guys pay their dues and keep it running."

Now the fastest-growing sport in the world, the popularity of MMA has increased dramatically in Northern Ireland and competition for fighters to win both belts and professional contracts home and abroad is as fierce as ever. It seems Moore's Next Generation I.M.M.A Gym is coping well under the pressure, though.

"It's been the fastest-growing sport in the world for a while but in the last two years more people are coming through the door and people are generally more aware of the sport.

"At the minute, we have at least one top Irish fighter in each weight category from the gym so it's about moving them on from the local shows."

Among those fighters is Norman Parke - Northern Ireland's most decorated mixed martial artist - who is off to Boston in January to face Jorge Masvidal, in what is potentially a career-defining fight.

If Bushmills native Parke, ranked in the top 30 in the world, wins at the UFC Fight Night, it will set him up for a number of other world-class fights.

Parke said: "Masvidal is ranked 13 in the world so a win will put me right up the rankings.

"I've been travelling back and forth to San Diego over the last year or so and I firmly believe I'll be a world-class contender in the near future. A win over Masvidal will put me up there."

Coach Moore added: "Norman is now fighting in America and Mexico so he's doing really well. His successes have got the sport a bit more notice over here and it's allowed people to see that making it to the top is possible."

Another of Moore's exciting prospects is Andy Young. The 24-year-old from Newtownards won the Professional MMA Fighter of the Year award in 2013 and is currently ranked ninth in the UK and Ireland.

Young said: "Having a team-mate and friend like Norman get his contract with the UFC and attain all his success inspired so many of us. He showed that it really was reachable and possible to be from our small country and to win in the upper echelons of the sport.

"I'm extremely grateful to him for giving me the confidence and belief that I can one day achieve the same," he added.

Moore is no stranger to big fights either - fighting across the globe which saw him earn UK and Irish middleweight titles, four shots at European titles and a spot in the quarter-finals of the Ultimate Fighter 3 television series - but the talented coach has no regrets about his recent retirement.

"I'm 41 now and I only stopped competing in March but I do miss it. When I'm standing doing the corners for the guys, there are some times I just want to get in but I'm just over the moon to see the guys doing so well," he revealed.

"I've fought all over the world and with some of the boys fighting, I've got to go places with them as a coach too and that has also been great.

"But I've achieved a lot in my career and it's nice now to see the boys enjoying that success too. I'd rather see them out there fighting well and winning than doing it myself - I get a real enjoyment from that."

Using his wealth of experience, Moore's Next Generation I.M.M.A. Gym provides training for all ages and levels of ability and Moore is keen for the sport to continue to grow across the province.

"In the last few years, the sport has really got noticed.

"We've got a meeting in Stormont about forming a governing body which would qualify us for a lot more things, like funding, so it's going in the right direction," Moore explained.

"I'd love to see the sport getting a bit more support but we're getting there. If you look back at the history of boxing, in the early 1900s there were only three states that allowed it. You fought until you dropped so you could be fighting for two hours or so but look at how much boxing has developed. This sport has only been around for 20-odd years so we're still in the early stages," he added.

Known for knock-out blows, MMA may not be for the faint-hearted but Moore insists it's not as dangerous as it looks.

"It's funny because there have been more deaths in golf than there have been in MMA - that's the joke!" he laughed.

With such intense training and immense skill involved, it is no wonder that mixed martial artists are considered amongst the fittest athletes in the world.

Moore said: "It combines all aspects of training, such as power, agility and speed, and that's why it takes such a high level of fitness."

As the province's top mixed martial artists flourish under Moore and his team, the Next Generation I.M.M.A. Gym looks set to leave its mark across the globe.

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