Kyle Driscoll talks CW lightweight title bid, learning from Cormier and Khabib, and the ‘soft side’ of Islam Makhachev
Cage Warriors 141, which takes place tomorrow – Friday July 22nd – in London, will see AKA’s Kyle Driscoll (13-3) take on George Hardwick (9-1) for the vacant lightweight title.
The bout headlines an event that will be broadcast live on UFC Fight Pass, as the organisation celebrates its 20th anniversary.
How have you found London so far?
Kyle Driscoll: “It’s my first time in Europe, my first time fighting outside the States, so it’s kind of surreal. It’s also a dream come true. This is what I was working for when I got into this – to see where the fight game could take me – and now I’m in London about to fight for a world title.”
Did you have any hesitation accepting this fight in your opponent’s home country?
KD: “No, you’ve got to take big risks if you want the big rewards. If you make yourself vulnerable, it makes it that much more rewarding when you win. I was eager to come out here, I was eager to see London, but mostly I want to perform out here. I’m happy for the opportunity.”
What are your thoughts on George Hardwick as an opponent?
KD: “His boxing is sound, he sets things up, but I just think I’m too well-rounded. I’m a true martial artist everywhere. He’s got holes in his ground game and in his wrestling; that’s where I’m going to make him extremely tired, take him to a dark place and break his will. That’s the game-plan. I don’t want to get too caught up in ‘do this and set this up’, I just want to be in his face and break his will.”
Do you see this as an opportunity to demonstrate that you’re more than just a wrestler?
KD: “When I fought on Contender Series, I heard [Michael] Bisping say right before I walked out – because I fought a really good boxer – that if he can just get this fight to the ground then it’ll be trouble. In the first round I took him down, I was going with the game-plan and then I let him up. When I went back and rewatched it, I saw the moment where I let him up and I wanted to prove it to the world because me and my team know that I’m not just a wrestler. All George [Hardwick] can talk about is who I train with and that I wrestle – and I’m running with it, because when I start out-striking him, he’s going to be extremely overwhelmed. I’m going to meet his level of expectation with the wrestling, but I’ll surprise him with the striking. A lot of my opponents underestimate my striking until I’m in front of them.”
How familiar are you with the history of Cage Warriors and what a CW title can represent?
KD: “I’ve been watching this for a long time. I’ve been obsessed with MMA since I was 13 or 14 years old, or maybe even before that. I remember when [Conor] McGregor hit the scene and I’ve always had an admiration for it. When I was younger, a crossover fight like this wasn’t something that was really in the picture. This is like a dream come true.”
Can you talk about how much of an impact Daniel Cormier has had on your career?
KD: “It’s just his guidance with everything. He took me under his wing to help coach his wrestling team. He’s someone who leads by example. Just being in his fight camps was tremendous because I could see exactly what he did – from Monday to Friday. That’s kind of what I’ve done for this camp. When he was preparing for [Volkan] Oezdemir, the first Stipe [Miocic] fight, all these big fights, I was looking at what he would do on each day of fight camp. I’ve had some conversations with him about what tweaks should be made for a world title fight – two more rounds and all that. He also sponsors me, he helps me there, so overall I can’t think him enough for what he has done for me from the very beginning.”
How big an asset is it to be learning in the company of someone like Khabib Nurmagomedov?
KD: “With Khabib, I was more learning hands-on because we’re the same size and I would spar him. It’s not so much now because he’s a coach, so it’s very verbal and he’s very aggressive with his coaching style. I read a thing before I moved to AKA that ‘greatness is contagious’, and that stuck with me. At the time, I was broke, I had no money, I was 5-3 and coming off a loss, and I didn’t know how it was going to happen but I knew that greatness was contagious and that I could achieve that if I got out there. I was living in a living room for the first year and now here I am, on an eight-fight win streak and fighting for a Cage Warriors title.”
How much confidence does it give you to know that you’re learning at a place of AKA’s calibre?
KD: “The utmost confidence. It’s like, the blueprint is there so you just have to follow it. I couldn’t be more confident going into this fight. My last sparring session, under the watchful eye of Coach Jav[ier] Mendez, was perfect. When you look around, you know what you can achieve because it’s right there. The guys at AKA are human, just like I am. Going there, with all due respect, humanised my idols. People I used to look at as superstars, they also pee and poop. They also have off-days and they get tired – the same as me. But through adversity they’ve stayed consistent and made it happen.”
Is it any surprise to you to see Islam Makhachev getting his UFC lightweight title shot?
KD: “None at all. They’ve thrown a ringer of opponents at that guy – even guys who are murderers flying under the radar – but he’s making these fights look easy. That’s him in the gym too. He has a huge, bright personality. He’s like, ‘brother, I’m very funny, I just need to learn more English so I can let people see’. He’s learning on his English so we’re starting to see more of a sense of humour, and he is a very funny guy. He’ll hate me seeing this, but it’s great to see the soft side of him in a sense. He’s got a cat that he loves to show pictures of. He’s just an awesome guy and he really deserves this. He’s been working with Khabib, and he also worked with Khabib’s father and that whole group for his whole life. From the stories they tell me, he was Khabib’s father’s favourite student. He deserves this and I think he’s going to go out there and dominate. Obviously I’m biased because I love the guy, but that’s what we expect from him.”