In a sport as brutal as MMA, fighters intentionally exude bravado, refusing to show any element of genuine emotion — but in a testament to his authenticity, Jake McHugh has opened up on his mental battle moments before walking to the cage at Oktagon 49.
Blessed with incredible artistic talent, the gifted Liverpudlian could have been a painter. However, as much as he loved putting his brush to the canvas, the sport of MMA has a hold on his heart that he just can’t break.
Consequently, he’s dedicated his life to being the very best version of himself. And while there have been bumps along the road, he’s remained courageous, always willing to tackle his demons head-on.
After amassing an impressive 5-0 amateur record, McHugh caught the attention of Europe’s number one promotion and signed up to compete on Oktagon Challenge: England vs Ireland.
In the lead-up to the show, exhibiting high-level jiu-jitsu and judo skills, the Liverpudlian had dominated every opponent who’d dared set foot in the cage with him, thus making him one of the favourites to win the whole competition. However, in a monumental shock, his quarter-final opponent, Armand Herczeg, caught him in a guillotine, rendering him unconscious in just 35 seconds.
The reality of the loss soon set in for McHugh, with the mental scars weighing heavily on his mind. There were even moments when he questioned whether the sport was actually for him. However, while most men would’ve given up, the natural-born fighter kept going, knowing that one loss wouldn’t be enough to deter him from chasing his dreams.
Jake McHugh shines at Oktagon 49
Still believing in his ability, Oktagon offered McHugh a shot at redemption in front of a whopping 19,000 people inside the Lanxess Arena in Cologne, Germany.
And rather than throwing him a bone, the organisation assigned the Englishman the difficult task of Ivan Klevets, a European Sambo champion, with the idea of springing an upset on his mind.
As the first bell chimed, the Ukrainian went to work, utilising his supreme grappling skills to put his opponent under immediate pressure. In an opening round that made British fans squirm, the sambo practitioner slammed McHugh on the canvas, asserting his identity as a truly fearsome fighter.
But rather than quit, the Next Generation star remained composed, calling upon his experience in the trenches with his teammates Nathan Fletcher, Paddy Pimblett and Adam Cullen, to weather the storm and come out the other side.
As the opening segment came to a close, a determined McHugh released a smile, in the knowledge that his rival had started to tire. Knowing his career was on the line, the 22-year-old started fast, doing everything in his power to gain the redemption he so desperately craved. And in a moment of magic, he locked in a triangle choke to render his opponent unconscious, proving not only to himself but to the world that he has the minerals to go all the way.
Jake McHugh on the mental battle that comes with being a professional fighter
While the highs of life inside the cage are phenomenal, the lows are nothing short of devasting. After his loss to Herczeg, McHugh understandably suffered a dip in confidence, but rather than shy away from that reality, he’s showcased his genuine character, revealing exactly what was going through his head before he walked out to battle.
In an exclusive interview with Sporf, he confessed: “I always try and be as honest as possible. That’s how I want to portray myself to the wider public. I was just lying in a dark room, staring at the ceiling, going, ‘I’m feeling the pressure here’. I was imagining seeing everyone’s faces, looking around the arena, thinking, this is a big thing. Then, I felt knots in my stomach; I felt like I didn’t want to be here. I was like, ‘Why am I doing this to myself? Why am I here? Do I really want to fight? I could’ve been an artist. I could’ve taken the easy way out’.”
Jake McHugh faced his fears and came away the victor
He continued: “As I was walking into the cage, I was thinking, ‘Am I actually doing this to myself? Am I going in here to get punched in the face’? Then I got in, and I was bouncing around. I was staring at him, and I was like, ‘This is boss. I have the best job in the world. This is sick. I’m going to go in here to punch his head in, and he’s going to punch my head in. Somebody’s going to sleep, because he has heart, and I have heart’. This was my redemption. This is what I wanted.”
McHugh’s triumph over adversity should serve as a beacon of hope to other fighters who’ve suffered defeat. While setbacks are heartbreaking, with hard work and determination, anything is possible.
A few months ago, the prospect was dealing with the consequences of suffering his first defeat. But now, he’s proved his ability beyond doubt and hopefully inspired fellow mixed martial artists in the process.
Jake McHugh wants a beer off the Oktagon promoters
While the fighters play their part, Oktagon wouldn’t be the roaring success it is without the hard work of promoters, Pavol Neruda and Ondřej Novotný. But after his sensational showing at Oktagon 49, McHugh believes the two esteemed businessmen owe him a pint.
He beamed: “Ondrej and Pavol, buy me a beer now.”
With his fight out of the way, the athlete intends to hit Amsterdam for some much-needed time away with his girlfriend. But the moment McHugh touches down back on UK soil, he’ll set his sights on securing a highly-anticipated rematch with Herczeg at Oktagon 52 in Newcastle on January 27.
McHugh asserted: “He asked me for the rematch. I’ve signed the contract. He hasn’t signed the contract yet. I haven’t opened it yet, but he’s put something on Instagram, so hopefully, that’s him signing the contract, and we’ll get the fight that everyone wants to see.”
Featured Image Credit: Oktagon MMA