Brought up on a council estate in Blackburn with a dream of hitting the big time, Corey Fry has proven beyond doubt that if you’re willing to work hard, anything is possible.
On Saturday evening, the Brit walked out in front of 19,000 people at the Lanxess Arena in Cologne, Germany, and produced the performance of his life, submitting local hero Deniz Ilbay inside the first round and catching the eye of esteemed referee Marc Goddard, who tweeted his approval.
But while the casual fans are just hearing his name for the first time now, in the eyes of the purists, Fry has always been destined for the top.
The road from Blackburn to Cologne — the true story of Corey Fry
The journey to success wasn’t achieved overnight. Since the age of 15, the Lancashire lad has worked tirelessly, putting in endless hours in the gym to hone his craft.
The gifted sportsman lost his first two amateur fights, with many telling him he should quit. But while even the most mentally determined of individuals would have listened to the doubters, Fry didn’t — it simply wasn’t in his nature.
In a testament to his remarkable powers of self belief, he kept grafting, knowing he had the skills to make a massive splash in the sport. Eventually, his commitment paid off, picking up the UKFC title as an amateur en route to embarking on a successful start to his professional career.
Even when he tasted defeat to Nicolae Pirogan, he didn’t let it weigh him down, taking inspiration from his training partner, Aaron Aby, and maintaining the faith that this was a mere stumbling block on the road to greater things.
And at Oktagon 49, it all proved worthwhile, as he walked out to battle alongside his brother and fellow fighter Zach, and produced a performance that will live with him for the rest of his life, with his adoring partner, Ashley, watching on from cageside.
Corey Fry has the support of his brother — Zach Fry
In an exclusive interview with Sporf, Fry reminisced: “I said to my brother after the fight, ‘We’ve come a long way from a small s**t estate in Blackburn. We’re in Cologne, Germany, in front of 19,000 people, scrapping’.
“My eldest son wants to be a professional footballer, and my youngest wants to be a professional fighter. So, it’s good to show them that if you set your mind to something, you can achieve it.”
He continued: “I was told in my early career to give it up. I lost my first two fights. I’ve just shown my kids and my family that if you stick to your passion, you can go anywhere. I’ve shown it not just to my family but to my team. I have got a lot of young lads training under me at North West Fight Academy, like Alex Maughan, Charlie Flanagan, Jamie Smith, my brother. I’m showing them that this is within touching distance.
“This, to us, felt like a mile away. I sent my family a picture of my previous fight to this fight. I’ve gone from fighting in front of 350 people to 19,000 people, and I performed the exact same. I’ve shown my family that if you work hard, you can achieve owt.”
Corey Fry loved competing in front of a packed-out crowd
Every fighter fantasises about walking out in front of a sold-out arena, and in a moment that he’ll look back on fondly, Fry well and truly lived the dream.
He beamed: “It was f**ing unbelievable. I had my brother Zach behind me, and my team, Aaron Aby and Steve Nightingale, as well. It was quite emotional, not like I was crying, but when I took it all in, I thought, ‘Wow’. I remember sitting with my coach watching UFC London, and I thought, ‘This is amazing; I can’t wait to fight in an arena like that’, and he said, ‘It won’t be long’. I thought, ‘Yeah, of course it won’t’. Truthfully, I just brushed it off. But little did I know just over 12 months later, I’d be fighting in front of 19,000.”
“I know for a fact my brother will be here very soon. He just needs to get his early pro fights and Aaron Aby is gonna come back and get that title.”
Corey Fry has a ‘Proper English chin’
Blessed with a lightning left hook, the 28-year-old is used to rendering his opponents unconscious with the first shot he lands. However, having scaled the heights of boxing, Ilbay has the striking skills to compete with the best in the business.
The German started fast, landing a series of brutal shots. But showcasing his remarkable fighting spirit and bulletproof chin, Fry weathered the storm, utilising his superior grappling ability to get the win.
He laughed: “That’s a f***ing proper English chin that. I weren’t sure if I was a Mexican, because they’re known for their chins. He threw the kitchen sink at me and hit me with some massive shots. But I said to my team, ‘At no point was I in any danger in my own head. I knew the shots had landed, and I could feel my eye swelling up. But I was always there’. You could see when it got to the grappling exchanges, I was firing on all cylinders. So, I’m glad I’ve got a good chin to be fair, because most people would’ve been out off the shots he was throwing.”
He continued: “I knew he had a solid boxing pedigree. I honestly thought I’d be able to outbox him, but he smothered my range a little bit too much. But the biggest thing that I showed that he didn’t was my ability to adapt to any situation. He couldn’t adapt to me, but I could adapt to him. I think that’s just through years of experience and lots of MMA sparring. He’s only been in the game for two years, so it’s a big ask to be able to grapple with people who’ve been grappling for 13 years. I knew it would happen, and I could adapt to the situation. I didn’t think he’d land the shots he did, but fair play to him, but I adapted, and that’s the whole point of being a mixed martial artist.”
Featured Image Credit: Oktagon MMA