James Haskell adjusting to mentality change from rugby to Bellator MMA

"For me, the training has become very real, the sparring has become very real."

Wednesday 26 February 2020 15:34, UK

Former England international James Haskell has signed for Bellator
Image: Former England international James Haskell has signed for Bellator

James Haskell received a welcome insight into the pressure environment awaiting him in May as he sat cage-side at Bellator Dublin on Saturday night.

The former England rugby star is due to make his Bellator MMA professional debut at London's SSE Arena on Saturday, May 16, with his opponent yet to be confirmed.

Haskell was accompanied by fellow new Bellator signing Ross Houston, who boasted an undefeated record on the European stage prior to being released by Cage Warriors earlier this month.

It is Houston's confident approach that Haskell pointed to as evidence of the switch in mentality in his transition from rugby to Bellator MMA.

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Bellator's new signing Ross Houston offered some advice to James Haskell

Speaking ahead of his debut, Haskell said: "I'll be very proud, listening to Ross I'm taking notes here on his plan.

"It's a very different mentality from rugby, we spent a lot of time talking ourselves down never talking ourselves up so when I was asked in the press earlier 'How am I going to do?', 'What's my expectations?' my natural thing was to go 'Well, actually I'm just going to try my best, we'll work hard, we'll have a good go'.

"But to be sitting next to somebody of his quality (Houston) is amazing. To come here again with this Irish crowd and see the intensity."

More on this story

Headliner McCourt victorious in Dublin

Headliner McCourt victorious in Dublin

Leah McCourt claimed victory in the main event of Bellator Dublin on Saturday night, as she overcame Judith Ruis via unanimous decision.

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Haskell will make his Bellator debut in London on May 16 and he says he is taking the sport very seriously

Haskell was in attendance to see Leah McCourt beat Judith Ruis via unanimous decision in the main event, while Aaron Chalmers suffered defeat to Austin Clem.

It won't be long before the 34-year-old finds himself competing, with training having intensified ahead of his maiden event.

"For me, the training has become very real, the sparring has become very real," added Haskell. "To come to a Bellator event and actually sit cage-side it's become a living thing in my mind now, I'm quite glad I came.

"I had full sparring and I was a bit tired but actually to see the cage, to see people, how people fight and see the heart people show, to be amongst top, top fighters is very exciting. I'm very excited about my opportunity now."

preview image 5:28
Haskell tells Sky Sports why he's joined the world of MMA

Houston underlined Haskell's experience on the international rugby stage as a key advantage in helping him deal with pressure and potential nerves.

"Obviously James is an international rugby player as well so he'll be used to the big crowds and handling the pressure and performing well," he explained.

"He's obviously had to perform very well throughout his career to get to that international level. The other thing is we've seen some great transitions from rugby players to MMA fighters, everyone knows it's a very physical sport.

"I've played two games of rugby in my life and I got more beaten up in them games than I did in my MMA fights."

Tim Johnson celebrates after knocking out Tyrell Fortune 2:28
Highlights from Bellator 239 including Tim Johnson's incredible knockout victory over Tyrell Fortune