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Sam Represents Ireland at World MMA Championship

AN avid sportsman in his formative years, Sam Slater tried every sport available to him in the small-town rural setting, where he grew up in East Clare.
He tried traditional sports, like hurling, rugby and soccer, which was his main sport, but having discovered mixed martial arts by playing a computer game, he thought this sport was too good to be true.
“We were on a holiday in the UK for three weeks and me and my brother were playing UFC 2009 Undisputed on X-Box and we were loving it. There were loads of little real video clips but we were saying that it couldn’t be real – it’s probably like pro wrestling, it’s not real. We did a bit of research and we realised this sport is actually real, so, from
then, I had to try it. I was just 15 at the time and living in East Clare so there was nowhere to try mixed martial arts (MMA),” he said.
Sam tried taekwon-do but it didn’t have the same appeal. His interest in MMA never waned, so, when he decided to go to university in Dublin, it seemed like the natural thing to find a gym and make a go of it.
“I already knew that I was going to end up at the SBG [Straight Blast Gym]; that’s a gym in the city centre. I vividly remember the first day going in. I thought, I’m 18, I bet all the fighters start when they are 10 or 12. I walked in and one of my first coaches was there, Stephen King, and he introduced me. It was nice, it had a nice vibe. I didn’t feel particularly intimidated. I think that was because I’d already been so passionate about the sport,” Sam said.
In terms of contact sports, the closest physical sport he had played prior to joining this gym was rugby so he was facing into unknown territory.
“I’d never been in a fight on the street, in school or on the sports field – the closest to a fight would have been the odd scrap with my brother, or I have vivid memories of me and a couple of the lads trying to wrestle each other into submission on a trampoline, not knowing what we were doing,” he said.
Sam started out in 2012, diving in headfirst and, after putting down just two weeks, he had gone from doing two classes a week to training five nights a week and, soon afterwards, progressed to twice daily.
By May 2015, he had moved out to Walkinstown to a larger gym, where Conor McGregor was training at the time.
“I remember being in the gym and some of the coaches saying that one of the bigger fighters from SBG Longmile is going to the UFC. That was when I thought maybe an Irish fighter could be successful in the sport.
“I think I always knew I could make a living out of it, but Conor’s success has made that certain. If you work hard, and you do have to work hard, you can make a living,” Sam said.
The Tuamgraney man, who now lives in Dublin, said he has set his sights on that path and is planning on turning professional at the end of the year, something that is more of a reality following Conor McGregor’s success. McGregor, he says, is someone he looks up to as a fighter.
“I’ve met Conor. I see him around the gym and I have trained with him. Since he’s come into the limelight, he has done nothing but open doors for us and Irish MMA fighters. Before, I didn’t think it was possible for an Irish fighter to be in the UFC and now he is at the very top of the sport. He has done amazing things. He has made me realise it is possible to do well in the sport.
In terms of his technique, maybe sometimes it is difficult for the untrained eye to see it, and people see him winning and think he is very good, but he just is. The things he can do and the way he way can manipulate his weight and his opponents’ balance, and his timing is just milliseconds, it’s just amazing,” he said.
Before he makes his professional début, Sam is planning to compete on the world stage, as an amateur.
“I knew the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation were doing the World Championships in Bahrain and it’s something I’d really like to do for myself. Now, I really feel I can bring back a gold and it would be a great platform to turn pro,” he said.
Sam has already represented Ireland at the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation European Championships two years ago, winning two out of three fights.
“While I can ‘represent Ireland’ when I’m fighting at shows professionally, this is truly representing Ireland. I think there is something more admiral about the amateur level in a way because there’s no financial gain. I think I’ll have Ireland on my shorts and I won’t have another opportunity to do that, so it is amazing,” he said.
Although Sam normally fights at lightweight (70 kilos), for this championship the weigh-ins are more regimented and so he will compete in the welter weight division (77 kilos).
“Normally, we would have at least 24 hours to refuel after the weigh-ins, so we can use all the dehydration methods and stuff without too much effect in the fight; whereas, in the championship, we have to weigh in every day for six days so I have to still be able to eat my breakfast and I can’t be dehydrated,” he said.
Sam said the diet “has to be the worst part of the sport” and acknowledges that it does take the fun out of it, to a certain extent.
“I am working with a great nutritionist at the moment, but that is definitely the roughest part of it,” he said.
The championship will be held on November 13 and runs for five days, with a fight each day. There are 32 competitors in Sam’s weight division and, although he won’t know who he is up against until he gets there, he remains confident about bringing home a gold medal.
He explains that his end-goal is to become affiliated to a worldclass organisation, like the UFC or Bellator MMA.
“For now, I have set myself a short-term goal to become a contender with Bamma. They do shows in the 3 Arena,” he concluded.

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