Landmarks can be defined as a distinguishing physical object indicating a specific location relative to a larger region. A landmark may stand in history, as do significant segments of time.
May 25th, 2018 may not be a landmark in human history. But for some, it may. History can vary, not in realities but significance. For many, the aforementioned date of Bellator 200, stands as an important unwritten chapter in a continuing journey.
While this date is of grave importance to the organization, more share the sentiment. Many of Europe and England’s best young fighters take center stage that night ahead of the anticipated main card. The moment represents a challenging yet fruitful opportunity. One such man in the hunt for greatness, Mike Ekundayo, relishes the opportunity but for a differing reason.
Is this moment significant for the Team Titan fighter? Of course, but what is important falls within a narrow vein of focus which Ekundayo is fixated upon. When asked if the prospect of performing at the SSE Arena excites him, he confidently replied, “Nope. Nope, it doesn’t. To be honest, I’m looking to make history. I want one day, for people to say, ‘Ah, that’s that arena that Mike Ekundayo fought at’”.
“The thing that excites me the most about it being in Wembley arena, which I do consider my backyard, is that it is easier for my friends to get there,” he said. “The hype of the event, the arena, how many people it can seat, it being televised and all of that, adds no pressure to me at all. Two people can be watching the fight, or two thousand people can be watching the fight, it makes no difference to me. When I’m in the cage, it makes zero difference”.
A Chance Meeting
Ekundayo finds himself on the preliminary card of the Bellator 200 event. In a little over a week’s time, he will share a cage with Tom Mearns, another highly-ranked English fighter. Just a month-and-a-half ago, the London resident (Ekundayo) didn’t have a fight nor clue as to whom his eventual opponent was. Around that same time, Mearns competed on a card which featured multiple Team Titan fighters, Cage Warriors 92.
Infamously dubbed “Super Saturday,” the Cage Warriors event hosted four Team Titan fighters in total. Ekundayo came along for help and support. While at the event, he learned Mearns was set to face a different Team Titan fighter, Chad Griffiths, at Bellator’s London event. As destiny may have determined, Mearns shared a locker room with the Titan fighters. It was there that Ekundayo first took notice of him.
“I didn’t know who he was beforehand but I had a vested interest in him because, of course, I’m watching him for my teammate,” he said. “Which I thought at this time, I was watching him for my teammate. Well, how things worked [out], I was actually watching him for myself.”
In the following weeks, Griffiths was forced to withdraw from the match-up and Ekundayo got the opportunity to step in.
“With Tom Mearns, his biggest attribute I see in him is his toughness,” he said. “He is a featherweight. I am used to fighting at bantamweight but I am a very strong bantamweight and that stays at featherweight. He is going to be there to fight, he will take a barrage of shots and he’s got no quit in him but his biggest attribute is his toughness. Skill-wise, I don’t see anything that amazes me”.
There is a line drawn thinly on Ekundayo’s opinion of his opponent. There is the brash, confident nature he projects, but not too far on the other end is his calculated approach to competition.
“A fight is a fight,” Ekundayo, the Rise of Champions bantamweight champ, said. “Anything can happen in a fight. I don’t take any fight lightly, I could be fighting a tomato can. I could be fighting Demetrious Johnson for whatever reason. I could be fighting TJ Dillashaw, I could be fighting Max Holloway or a basic bum. I’m not going to take you lightly. I’m going to train for you, I’m going to respect you and train to take you out the same way.”
Ekundayo said he doesn’t believe his next opponent, Mearns, has an amazing skill set, but it hasn’t affected the effort in which he’s trained.
“I’m still in the gym working,” Ekundayo said. “My goal is to just make it a virtuoso performance. All my performances, virtuoso, and also to make all my performances better than the last. That’s where my focus is at. I’m not taking him lightly but I’m looking to do me in there.”
Instituting his attack has been a staple across all of Ekundayo’s fights. He referenced the history of his young five-fight career, and deservedly so.
“One thing that actually does offend me is when people say it is a hard fight,” Ekundayo said. “When people give him too much respect. Don’t give him too much respect. But its like, have you seen my resume, have you watched my film, have you seen my skills? I’ve got skills. I won’t hate someone for saying it or whatever. I’m just like, “What do you mean?’”
Ekundayo has a lot in his arsenal. He believes what lies before him is a continual and increasing set of questions asked of his technique and ability.
“Can I beat someone like [Mearns]? I believe it but on May 25th, I have to do it,” Ekundayo explained. “I have to answer the questions of people because I know what skills I have, my coaches know what skills I have, my teammates know what skills I have. The world learns it from the fights that I have. The performances I’ve put in.”
Ekundayo does not see his opponent as a pushover or warm-up fight, and even stated that Mearns is his biggest test to date. He doesn’t think Mearns will be the fight that puts him on the map, however.
“I still think, ‘No, you’re not the one.’”
Ekundayo is aware of the opportunity a huge stage like fighting in Bellator presents, and the significance of the venue. But he’s not going to let the moment get to him.
“At the end of the day, I’m going to have to do the same job,” he explained. “It is a bigger stage but it’s normal, it’s normal. It’s expected as well. It was expected, I expect all of this to be honest. This is why I do it. I don’t do mixed martial arts to only fight in these small arenas on small shows. I do it to hit the big time, man. This is what five years of preparation has got me to.”