Interview with IMMAF Gold Medallist Ben Forsyth

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In November of 2015, Ireland’s Ben Forsyth took part in the 2015 IMMAF European Championships of Amateur MMA competing in the light heavyweight division. After fighting his way to the final, he finished Hungary’s Balaze Kiss via TKO little over half-way into the second round to claim a gold medal. I had the chance to discuss this and more with him recently.

His IMMAF gold medal win had to be the starting point and I opened by congratulating him and asking about the whole experience. “Thank you so much. I really appreciate that,” he began. “It was a great moment for myself and my team. A phenomenal experience that I believe I will relish for the rest of my life.

Aside from the euphoria of winning, there are often moments that stand out in the minds of competitors and Forsyth is no different. “If I had to recall a certain moment that stood out to me most from the championships, apart from getting the gold of course, I would say the 1st fight of the tournament and the feeling I had after getting through it,” he reminisced. “I’m not used to competing at light heavyweight and in fact I was still under the weight class by 2+ kilos so these guys looked massive to me. The first guy especially. Myself and John (Kavanagh) knew I’d have to play matador and fight intelligently. After getting out of a solid guillotine attempt in the second round I got the TKO finish and just the feeling I had afterwards was that of reassurance. I have a big belief in my hard work and skill in any case, but after that fight I knew I could take gold.

The IMMAF are most certainly leading the charge in the development of amateur MMA, something which is absolutely vital for the future of the sport. Forsyth believes that tournaments like the European Championships can only be beneficial for young, upcoming fighters. “I am actually quite envious of all the amateur fighters coming up now, as this style of tournament is phenomenal for development and experience,” he stated. “I think the sport at an amateur level should lean away from big ticketed shows which puts an un-necessary amount of pressure and expectation on fighters. The focus at this level should be development of skills and cage experience. If there was an IMMAF style tournament once every say, 2 months, the fighters that come out at the end will be the real deal and would know they are in it for the right reasons.

In Forsyth’s case, the next step in his career is to turn professional and he now has a date and opponent for that occasion. He will be fighting Luke Taylor for ICE Fighting Championship on February 20th. “He looks like a warrior,” Forsyth said. “But I am also a warrior. We will do battle and the better man will prevail on the night. That’s all that matters.”

Something that is synonymous with MMA, and combat sports in general, are nicknames. Forsyth is known as “The Spider Monkey”, a nickname which I asked the origins of. “I got that nickname from my mate Gary,” he told me. “I think it suits me as I’m very long limbed and monkey like. I don’t know, I’m open to a change but I haven’t gotten a better suggestion yet.

In the MMA world at the moment, Straight Blast Gym (SBG) in Dublin, Ireland is one of the most talked about and highly thought of gyms. UFC stars such as Paddy Holohan, Cathal Pendred, Aisling Daly and Conor McGregor fight out of that gym under the tutelage of John Kavanagh and Forsyth is another who represents that gym. “It feels like home,” Forsyth said. “I’ve often said in the past how much of a privilege it is to train with these guys, and it is of course, but after being there for so long now, it just feels normal to me. They are my family and we’re all learning and evolving together.  It’s something really, really special that I’m grateful to be a part of.

Having a UFC champion in the gym can only be a positive thing for upcoming fighters. I asked Forsyth about any advice he might have received from the UFC featherweight champion and he responded by saying “The only advice I’ve ever gotten from Conor is probably the most valuable piece of advice you could get, no matter what you’re pursuing in life, and that is simply ‘Just keep going’.

Something else that has become evident from MMA in Ireland is the passion that the fans have for the sport and how vociferously the Irish support their own. UFC president Dana White once famously called the Irish fans ‘pound for pound the best fans in the world’. Something that Forsyth has experienced himself in his young career to date. “I have had a huge amount of support throughout my entire time competing,” he started. “It has definitely snowballed since the Europeans and people are starting to take notice. My close circle have kept their belief in me through the losses as well as the wins and I will be forever grateful to them for that. I got a tweet from one person saying that the whole of Ireland is behind me for the European finals. I couldn’t help but feel a huge sense of pride and honour when I read that and I will do my absolute best to represent the country and all of my supporters now on the professional circuit.

Forsyth is one of a number of talented young Irish stars being tipped to be the next wave to take MMA by storm. With fighters like Dylan Tuke, Frans Mlambo, James Gallagher and Sinead Kavanagh to name but a few emerging recently, the future looks right for Irish MMA. “I can add a few more to that list that are huge prospects and are going to shine over the next year,” Forsyth enthused. “It’s really exciting to be a part of this. I think that this, right now, what’s happening with Conor, Paddy, Aisling and all of the Irish fighters is a huge part of history, not only in Irish martial arts, but martial arts in general and will be spoken about for a long, long time. To be a part of it and to be even mentioned alongside the fighters you outlined there is beyond amazing to me.

Nobody could argue that the degree of success for Irish MMA over the last few years, especially when you consider how small the country and its population is in comparison to most, is staggering. I asked Forsyth if there was one thing in particular he could attribute that to. “I think it all comes down to one man,” he replied. “The Irish takeover began the day that John Kavanagh decided to pursue teaching martial arts over an engineering career. Of course there are a lot of other contributing factors but if I were to put it down to one thing. It’s all because of John.

As far as 2016 goes, with one bout already scheduled, I then asked what goals he had set himself for the year ahead. “My goals for 2016 are to have at least 3 bouts and finish the year unbeaten,” Forsyth said. “I belive this will get me into the UFC. I also want to compete a lot in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and raise my level there. I have a few other non-fight related goals including growing a coffee brand I’m working on and learning how to backflip. There are a few others too. It’s good to have goals. It’s all about evolving and learning.

As Forsyth embarks on his professional career, everyone at MMA Latest would like to thank Ben for his time and wish him the best of luck in his future progression as a mixed martial artist. In concluding the interview, I asked him if he had any closing comments and I will leave the last word to him. “All I would like to add is just a thank you to MMA latest for approaching me for this interview and to everyone who supports me out there. If you want to follow my career, my twitter is @Spydermonkeymma or just add me on Facebook. I’m a nice guy, I’ll accept you!