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Inside the Gym Building Champions and Community

Inside the Gym Building Champions and Community

“I’ve got some proper Halloween scars on this one,” says MMA fighter Paddy ‘The Baddy’ Pimblett, pointing to the marks left by three operations on his foot and another three on his hands. “My body is falling apart at 29, but I’ve been fighting since I was 15,” he adds. “I just get on with it.”

Pimblett trains at Next Generation Gym, a renowned MMA training facility in Liverpool, where he and Molly ‘Meatball’ McCann are the most high-profile members of a tight-knit fighting community. Both fighters are preparing for significant upcoming bouts in Manchester after 18 months of challenges and changes in their careers.

A Legacy in the Making

Next Generation Gym, founded by head coaches Paul Rimmer and Ellis Hampson, has been a cornerstone of the MMA community in Liverpool for 20 years. In 2001, inspired by his interest in karate and Japanese wrestling, a 21-year-old Rimmer took out a £6,000 loan, left his office job, and trained intensively at the Next Generation Fighting Academy in California. Under the mentorship of Chris ‘The Westside Strangler’ Brennan, Rimmer earned a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt and returned to Liverpool determined to establish a similar legacy.

“Next Generation in Liverpool has been about putting in place what we never had here,” says Rimmer. “There was no MMA, no fighting heroes or gyms to look up to. This is an alternative to offices and football, creating opportunities for kids in this city.”

A Community of Fighters

The gym, located in Liverpool’s Fabric District, is a vibrant space filled with bright blue training mats and graffiti-covered walls. It hosts a diverse community, with under-16s training alongside professionals like Pimblett and McCann. The gym boasts 15 professionals across major MMA promotions, including UFC, Bellator, Cage Warriors, and Oktagon.

Coaches Rimmer and Hampson are central figures, creating an environment of concentration and camaraderie. “Most of it is like a dance,” says McCann. “Combat sports and martial arts are art forms. It’s the truest form of expression for me.”

After back-to-back losses, McCann dropped a weight division, worked on her grappling weaknesses, and adopted a new approach: “say less and do more.” Her hard work paid off when she won her debut strawweight fight by armbar in February.

Inspiration and Resilience

Next Generation Gym has also been a source of inspiration for fighters like Adam Cullen, who was motivated by Pimblett’s early success. Despite the ups and downs of MMA, Cullen finds solace and motivation in the gym’s supportive community.

Pimblett, despite his global fame and five UFC victories, has faced his own challenges. In July 2022, after a notable win over Jordan Leavitt, he made a heartfelt appeal for men to discuss mental health, following a friend’s suicide. This speech led to a surge in inquiries at Liverpool’s James’ Place, a suicide prevention charity.

However, Pimblett has also faced criticism, such as after his controversial victory over Jared Gordon and a dispute with MMA commentator Ariel Helwani. “Everyone just proper changed on me,” he says, but he remains focused on his sport.

A New Generation

Pimblett and McCann are set to fight at the Co-op Live Arena in Manchester, marking their first UFC card in the North West. Pimblett is focused on improving his striking, while McCann, who is now a board member and head coach at the English Mixed Martial Arts Association (EMMAA), works to develop the next generation of fighters.

The gym’s legacy continues with Rimmer’s 16-year-old son Jack, who is starting an apprenticeship at the gym, aiming to become a professional fighter and eventually take over from his father. “The gym brings everyone together, no matter the age or fitness level,” says Jack. “You can just make friends straight away and meet people from all different countries.”

Building for the Future

Rimmer sees a bright future for MMA in Liverpool. “The big jump will be in younger fighters now,” he says. “These kids are coming in with a skill set and training from much earlier ages. The work we’ve put into the legacy of MMA in Liverpool over the years won’t stop with me.”

Credit: BBC Sport

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