Ben Royle talks move to Phuket Top Team; second pro fight at Full Metal Dojo this Saturday

One of the finer aspects of martial arts is its ability to take a combatant around the world, experiencing atmospheres and attitudes accustomed to fighting.

Forever being a perfect hotspot for the travelling fighter is Thailand – Phuket a mainstay. For Manchester, England’s Ben Royle (1-0), an opportunity to partake in such an experience was not one he could deny. After first experiencing Thailand in May 2016 as part of a training trip, Royle met the right people along his journey, presenting him with an opportunity for sponsorship to move over to the fighting island just over twelve months ago.

Despite its unexpected arrival, such is life, as Ben jumped at the chance.

“There’s quite a few factors to my decision to move out here,” Ben opined. “The main one was that I’d just finished up at university and didn’t really know what I was doing with my life. After I came out for the initial month in May, I was told I’d be able to get a sponsor if I came back for my training. So I thought I may as well go for it – worst case scenario would be having to come back home after six months, so why not try to make it, y’know?

“To be honest I don’t know much about the Thai way of life. All I know is my life here is a lot different and better to my life back home. All I do is wake up, train, eat, teach some classes, train and eat some more. I live 100 metres away from Phuket Top Team. I’ve got a little motorbike that I get around on in this island life. It’s difficult to answer, but I do prefer this life. This is the life for me. I get to do what I want and that’s what I think it should all be about.

Whilst in the UK, Royle found his fighting form in the amateur ranks through Hyde MMA and ASW. However, being a young British fighter outside of the UK can lead to being out of sight and therefore out of mind.

In the mind of Ben Royle, the idea of the spotlight is not yet something on his radar as he prepares for his professional future. This is about him and only him.

“Obviously I hope I reach the levels that I believe I will,” Ben began. “I don’t put much thought into being known. It really doesn’t bother me. I’m doing this for me. I’m not hoping everyone back home is watching because this is my pursuit. I rarely post on social media – I’m even pretty sure that there’s probably people who haven’t even got a clue that I’ve left England. This is for me.

“Don’t get me wrong, I still keep in touch with family back home, but if anything goes wrong out here, whether it be finance or fighting-wise, that’s on me. It’s pressure, but that’s the reality of this opportunity.”

After settling with his sponsor and turning up to regular practice, it didn’t take much time for Phuket Top Team to begin looking for opponent’s for Ben’s professional debut, despite hardly any discussion on the subject.

In Ben’s view, not much discussion was necessary. After all, whether it be amateur or professional, fighting is the reason the Mancunian is out in Thailand. The level it’s at was irrelevant.

Finding an professional debut opponent wasn’t easy and a search he kept quiet for personal reasons. Funnily enough, after a long search, Ben found himself up against Englishman Paul Winsdor (1-1) on Full Metal Dojo 14, a bout in which Royle was victorious with a first round submission.

“There isn’t really an amateur MMA scene here and a lot of things fell through,” the British bantamweight revealed. “It wasn’t until July that I actually got to fight. Now that I’ve had that pro debut fight, it’s a lot easier to find competition.

“There wasn’t really a decision making process involved in it for me as I’d always intended to do it. Going back to when I was in England, there was a period of time where I wasn’t training or doing much of anything and felt done with fighting, but as soon as I decided I was coming here, I was reinvigorated with no questions about.

“I kept my pro debut relatively quiet. I think I only put one Facebook status up about it and then one after it saying I’d won. Funnily enough it was against an English guy, too, but fighting out here felt entirely different.

“It was under different scenes and that brought pressure because I thought,” Royle continued. “If I lose then people back home are going to think I’ve f—ked of to Thailand and done nothing, so I knew I had to win. The experience of the days before it and afterwards one of the greatest in my life. Fighting on Full Metal Dojo, the show itself and characters involved in it are such a spectacle.

“Out here, the cage is only eighteen foot, soccer kicks, 12-to-6 elbows and stomps are allowed. What I found even more intriguing was that they have you warm up in an underground car park underneath a nightclub in Bangkok. They believe it should be all very Bruce Lee-like. There’s pipes hanging, water dripping, open air which backs out onto the street. There’s a few mats threw on the floor for you to warm up and then a few metres away is your opponent. There’s no barrier between you and your opponent.

“Getting the win was a big relief, though. Realistically, all the pressure is put on by me. I think it was more about wanting to win for myself, but there was definitely a big element of worrying what people back home would’ve thought, which isn’t a good thing necessarily.

“This time around, I’m much more excited. The debut was about getting it done to get the ball rolling. This is where I can start getting excited.”

This Saturday, Ben takes the next step in his professional career as he returns to Full Metal Dojo to do battle with an accoladed opponent in American Jason Cleveland. Full of confidence following his positive start, the 22-year-old plans to make a better showing of himself against a bigger, more experienced adversary.

“I don’t know too much about my opponent,” Royle confessed. “I know he lives and trains out here and is a former USA Muay Thai champion and has fought in the elite levels of Muay Thai and some big shows over here, so I’m expecting him to be highly skills in that area. Despite that, I feel like my last fight was a much more dangerous fight than this.

“On paper, my last fight was much harder for me and everybody thought, with the credentials he brought, that I was going to get the shit kicked out of me. Not to take anything away from Jason, but I don’t see this being a harder fight.

“I’m completely well rounded. I’m not the jiu jitsu guy many thing I am. I’ve been training seven years overall and only over one full year have I spent doing just BJJ. I’m confident in absolutely everything. People can think I’m just a grappler but it’s showing in the gym. I know I’m really well-rounded.

“I know I have a lot more aspects to my game than people have seen and I’ve been tested out here against some killer partners. It’s a really good chance for me to show more of my skills. I believe I’ll have the grappling advantages, but I want to demonstrate and get comfortable with my style.”

After finding MMA at 15-years-old, Ben always had a profound desire about the sport. At a time when even daring to dream about making a living through MMA was deemed impossible, Royle stuck to his guns through thick and thin. Now, he’s in the pasture and believes that, in having the life he’s chased, his progression can only improve by leaps and bounds.

“I don’t want to sound cringeworthy, but when I started this at fifteen years old, I fell in love immediately and became obsessed with it. I always believed from the start, even though it didn’t seem tangible, that I could figure out a way to do this with my life. I wanted this as a career.

“As I got older I saw the reality of the situation; living and training in Manchester, seeing how much people actually earn from it. I had people telling me I’d probably have to get a job around MMA as it’s hard to make a living in this. I started to believe that when I stopped being obsessed for a short period.

“However once I got obsessed with it again, I made it happen. I made the life that I want. People have helped me and served me with opportunities I’m forever grateful for to get me here, so I’m not surprised it’s turned out this way and it all means more come Saturday night.”

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