Exclusive: Interview with Welsh Welterweight Aaron Khalid

MMANews caught up with Cardiff-based welterweight Aaron Khalid ahead of his upcoming Cage Warriors bout with Ross Houston on Saturday in Wales

Khalid, who is 2-0 under the Cage Warriors banner, holds back-to-back submission wins in the promotion. Having submitted Adam Proctor with a rear naked choke in the second round of his promotional debut in October 2016, the Welshman followed up on an impressive performance by landing a second-round guillotine choke against Phil Wells in March.

Adam Haynes spoke to Aaron on Thursday about his preparations ahead of Saturday’s bout in Newport and what the future holds for the 24-year-old in the sport.

How has your training camp gone? Are you feeling good ahead of Saturday?

“I feel good, I feel light. Everything felt like it has improved another step since, compared to my last training last camp which is good. I am focused on making weight [on Friday]. The hard part will then be over and the fun part starts on Saturday!

What was the reason for moving up from lightweight to welterweight?

“I started off as a lightweight, dropped down to featherweight and had two fights there and then moved up to welterweight. This is my third fight at welterweight now”

How do you find making weight at 170 in comparison to 155, or 145 pounds?

“It was kind of going along with my body. I was about 21/22 when I was a lightweight so I wasn’t as big as I am now. I was walking around at my heaviest at about 80kgs (176 pounds) getting down to 70kgs (154 pounds) and the heaviest I get to now is 86kgs (189 pounds). Getting down to welterweight is so much easier though! Like, being able to eat properly after training – it’s so much better.

“In my last fight at lightweight, I drew against Andre Goncalves [now fighting under Bellator]. I run out of gas come the second round. It was nothing to do with the fight camp. I train for every fight… hard. I think it was just the weight cut that took it out of me.

“At featherweight [the weight cut] was a nightmare. I died! [laughs]. I was lying in the back of my mate’s car and it got to the point where the bones under my eyes started to come over the top and I could feel them. I was like ‘I have to go to bed, I need to eat food!’

“You shouldn’t kill yourself, you should fight at whatever weight you can get to, comfortably”

What is your fighting background and how did you get into MMA?

“I fiddled around with a lot of karate and boxing when I was younger, then left both to play football and rugby. Started watching UFC clips then found out my cousin trained in an MMA gym in Cardiff. I went along with him for a bit, he dropped out I stayed on and it has just grown from there.

“I was 17 when I started training and then after 6 months of training, I had my first amateur fight. I didn’t even know what Jiu-Jitsu was. My mates knew the guy I was fighting. One of them came over and said ‘he is a blue belt in Jiu-Jitsu’ and I was like ‘well, what does that mean?’”

How did you feel that night, going into the fight?

“In the build-up to the fight, I was like ‘I can’t wait’. It was my first amateur fight and I was fighting at lightweight – I weighed in fully clothed at 154 pounds. Going into the fight I thought it was going to be easy. As soon as I got into the cage, I looked across and he was all pumped up. I was there, skinny, and I was like ‘f**k. I’m going to get f**ked up now’.

“I went on to TKO him in 1 minute and 37 seconds, something like that. He took me down and went for an armbar, I got out of it and got on top. I got the mount and ended up TKO’ing him.

“I didn’t even know the fight was over! The ref stopped it, I got up and went to my corner like ‘that’s the end of the round now’, [the corner said] no it’s the end of the fight!’. [After that first fight] I felt amazing, I felt on top of the world. I wanted to feel that feeling more and more.”

What has been the biggest lesson you have learned so far in the sport?

“Conditioning is key. When it comes down to it, it is key, in any fight. When you make it out of the first you are breathing heavy. You relax yourself, you go back out there like it is the first round again in the second and third [if you are conditioned]. If you can outwork your opponent in the third round, you always have a chance of winning or stopping the fight when he is fatigued.”

What impact did your environment play on taking up the sport and seeing it through? Have you always had a lot of support from family and friends?

“My dad has always been by my side, for every single one of my fights no matter where it is. When I fought Andre [Goncalves] he traveled all the way up to Norwich and stayed with me the whole weekend. My mum has been to one fight, I think. In her eyes, I am still her little boy,” Khalid said. “She doesn’t want to see me fight.

“My family and friends have always been very supportive of me.”

Tell us a little about your gym and team?

“My gym [The MAT Academy in Pontypridd] is like a little family we have going on. We have a few pros there and a bunch of amateurs, we’re all on the same weight which makes fight camps even better as you are drilling with people the same weight as you.”

Who would you credit as being the leader or an inspiration to most in your gym?

“Lewis Long, without a doubt. He is definitely the leader in the MAT Academy and is the main event on Saturday night.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned from Lewis?

“Keep pushing, keep driving. He has had a few setbacks in his career but is still going. He is still pushing forward and is basically knocking on the UFC’s door now. If he gets his win over [Roberto] Saldic and then [Cage Warriors welterweight champion] Karl Amousso is still ducking him, there is one option left: to sign for the UFC or another big promotion.”

Having spent your professional career to date fighting in Wales and England, is there a particular country in the world you would love to fight one day?

“Japan. There is something about fighting in front of their crowd which is historic.”

What is your biggest goal in MMA?

“The biggest goal? Getting that Conor McGregor money! [laughs]. That’s another level. The goal, for now, is to get to the UFC. Keep fighting, keep going until I get there and then work my way through the division. [Although] I am not looking past Ross next Saturday.

“That Conor McGregor money [would be great]. Have yachts everywhere. I do think he has done good for the sport. Everyone knows who Conor McGregor is. Whether they like him or not, they know who he is and will watch him fight.”

If the UFC offered you a contract tomorrow, would you follow the McGregor model?

“I don’t think I could pull it off as well as him or talk as well as him. I’m not as clever to come out with things as quickly as he does.

“Same goes for Chael [when asked if he believes Chael Sonnen’s success was in part related his trash talk game]. “He’s not doing so well lately in his fights but people will still watch him, cos it’s Chael. It’s how he speaks and how he sells it.

Aaron Khalid fights Ross Houston at the sold-out Cage Warriors 87 on Saturday, Oct. 14 at Newport Centre in Newport, Wales. The event streams live on UFC Fight Pass and on BT Sports.

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