Sunday, 12 November 2017

Rosi Sexton discusses humble beginnings at SBG Manchester - Fight Game book extract

Rosi Sexton was born on 16 July, 1977, and grew up in Crowthorne, Berkshire. Contrary to what it might look like, she wasn’t a sporty child, nor did she dream of competition or fighting another woman in front of thousands of people. Instead she played cello and piano with the Reading Youth Orchestra. 

As such, her interests, passions and talents ripped up the stereotypical perception of a fighter. She came across restrained and modest during interviews, but throughout her career her competitiveness revealed itself in a constant strive to get better, learn more about herself, and learn more about the sport. After my chats with Sexton, my lasting impression was of someone who’d have been a success whatever career she chose. 

She discovered mixed martial arts through a Channel 5 documentary, Natural Born Fighters, which starred Huddersfield’s Leigh Remedios and Sunderland’s Ian Freeman. The first Brit to appear in the UFC, Freeman smashed past Frank Mir at London’s UFC 38 show in 2002 and retired in 2013. 

“I first watched the documentary in 1999,” said Sexton. “As soon as I saw it I knew MMA was something I’d like to have a go at. At the time I knew nothing about MMA but I started training for the same reason that everyone else does – self-defence.”

Sexton practised martial arts from a young age and at 14, she began learning taekwondo and judo around Berkshire. You could picture her grinding away trying to perfect techniques when she stated: “I wasn’t very good at first. I didn’t take to it particularly naturally, but it was something I enjoyed and wanted to get better at. It was when I moved to Manchester for university in 1999 that I realised taekwondo didn’t have much artistry and there was more to fighting than having a taekwondo sparring match.

“One of the things that prompted me to move to jiu-jitsu and other disciplines was that I wasn’t sure if the techniques I’d learned would work in real life. It got to a stage where I was teaching self-defence classes for people but I’d never been in a real fight, so I felt uncomfortable telling people what would work if someone attacks you.”

Sexton said in those days “everyone was winging it. If you remember the early UFC events people were still trying to work out how to put it all together. You were capable of finding fighters who were well-versed in more than one discipline, but they still didn’t combine the disciplines as well as today’s fighters. Nowadays you have Georges St-Pierre, Frankie Edgar… These guys do everything well. It’s all much better understood and we’ve seen that change and evolution in the sport in the last 15 to 16 years.

“But it was 1999 back then and you’ve got to remember people were still picking up techniques from grainy VHS tapes and practising in their mates’ garages. It was when I found Karl Tanswell’s Straight Blast Gym in Manchester that I began taking Brazilian jiu-jitsu and grappling more seriously. I also did sport jiu-jitsu which is a semi-contact, semi-sparring style of combat which a lot of people did back then. At the time there wasn’t a lot of women competing at all, certainly not in the UK.”

Apart from Lisa Higo of course. Given that both women trained at SBG they would be linked together throughout the 2000s, and would also feature heavily in some of the BBC’s first coverage of British women’s MMA – more on that later. You only needed to ask today’s generation to understand the legacy the pair left. Joanne Calderwood, Scotland’s UFC standout, told me: “Rosi and Lisa had awesome careers and maybe if Lisa arrived five or ten years later, she’d be fighting in the UFC now.”

While Sexton entered MMA due to a passion for learning, Higo began training for altogether different reasons – one evening in 1990 she was attacked in a street in Leeds. 

Throughout writing this book I’ve thought to myself: “Would Higo have taken up MMA without that attack? Would young women know about the sport without Higo making her debut back in 2008, when the British scene was still growing?”

There was so much I wanted to speak to Higo about but after a while my emails, calls and Facebook messages fell on deaf ears. Higo has a young family and her own life to lead though, and when we did speak, her enthusiasm for the sport was infectious. She would sign off every one of our conversations by exclaiming: “Cheers love!” in her broad Yorkshire accent. 

“I think if anyone is out there competing, achieving their goals, then good on them,” said Higo. “If British women keep going in the same direction there’s no reason we should be behind the men. We’re competing as well as them, if not better.

“When I started kickboxing in the early 1990s there were barely any women involved in the sport, the same with MMA,” said the strawweight, reinforcing Sexton’s point. “I was the only woman at my early kickboxing classes in Leeds. To start with the men just ignored me and probably just thought: “Oh, she’ll only be here for a few classes.” It was only until I stayed for a while that the coaches and other fighters began to really take an interest in me and act more positively towards me.”

Stand-up fighting was always an area where Higo prevailed. She won a WKA kickboxing title in 2003 and also claimed various karate titles. “When I won the WKA title my twins had just turned two so to put the icing on the cake for them was fantastic,” said Higo. “I put a lot of work into that like any other sportsperson would. You have to sacrifice a lot and sometimes family time gets put on the backburner.”

Despite her allegiances to her family, nobody could doubt Higo’s commitment to the sport, particularly in 2009 when she travelled to Indiana to win HooknShoot’s GFight Grand Prix. Higo even won the final against Angela Magana, who would progress to fight in the UFC. It was around that time in America that female fighters such as Las Vegas’s Gina Carano and Brazil’s Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino were beginning to gain traction. 

“I wasn’t really expecting to win the GFight Grand Prix but for everything I do, I like to put a lot of time and effort into it,” said Higo. “To put the work in and then get the rewards was really overwhelming. I really enjoyed MMA and it was something I was passionate about, so as you can imagine I was overjoyed. I’m still in touch with some of the Americans who attended the event and to hear their positive feedback was amazing, it really was.”

On reflection, it’s incredible to think a British women’s MMA revolution was taking place inside Manchester’s SBG gym, which sits across the road from Manchester Piccadilly train station. Higo and Sexton would learn from each other and grow together under that very roof but it was Sexton who made her mark on MMA first of all.   

Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women's MMA in Britain is out on Kindle on November 25th. Pre-order it here

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Rosi Sexton talks retirement for MMA book, Fight Game

Reading, England - Wednesday 25th October 2017

Rosi Sexton, the first woman from Britain to fight in the UFC, opened up about retirement for Alistair Hendrie’s groundbreaking new ebook, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women’s MMA in Britain.

Packed with unprecedented insight from fighters such as Sexton, Joanne Calderwood and Lisa Higo, Fight Game reveals how Britain’s female fighters broke down barriers and finally reached the UFC.

And after Sexton walked away from the sport after losing to Joanna Jedrzejczyk in 2014, she said she still harboured ill feelings over how her career ended.

“Am I happy with retiring on that? Well, no,” said Sexton. “It’s rare that a fighter gets to the end of a career and goes: “I’m happy with that.” There’s almost never a good time to retire.

“In hindsight, I wished I’d done the Jedrzejczyk fight differently. There were a lot of loose ends that I would have liked to tidy up. With the Alexis Davis fight, the result didn’t go my way but I’d given a good account of myself – that didn’t feel like the case with the Jedrzejczyk fight.”

Elsewhere, the book covers breakthrough moments in the women’s scene, landmark fights and the personalities within the sport.

Written from the heart by Hendrie, Fight Game is an inspiring tale of dedication, sacrifice and, ultimately, acceptance.

The book will be released in November 2017 on all good ebook platforms.

For more information, review copies and interview requests, email Alistair Hendrie at

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Manchester City recover to defeat Monaco in Champions League tie for the ages

“Let’s hope the fourth official indicates 15 minutes of added time,” joked Darren Fletcher commentating on BT Sport. Who could blame him? As Manchester City recovered to beat Monaco in the first leg of the Champions League second round, the two combined to produce one of the most thrilling matches in the tournament’s history.

Monaco swept aside the hosts in the first half, with goals from Falcao and the prodigious Kylian Mbappe cancelling out Raheem Sterling’s opener. After Sergio Aguero equalised, Falcao regained the French side’s lead with a dink over Willy Caballero that will live long in the memory – and not just for the way the Colombian left John Stones on his back-side.

During the mayhem Aguero was booked for diving when he should have had a penalty and Falcao missed his own spot kick. Eventually City roared back with three goals between the 72nd and 81st minute. Aguero levelled with a lovely volley from David Silva’s corner, while Stones earned a redemption strike to make it 4-3. Leroy Sane finished the rout after a scything move featuring Aguero and Silva. In truth, Monaco collapsed just as City had earlier.

It was the kind of match that had you watching through your fingers because of the lapses in defence. Consider Caballero’s clearance which plunged his team into danger before Mbappe scored. Think back to how Subasic should have saved Aguero’s first goal. But on the other hand there were moments of brilliance, such as Falcao’s chip and Sane’s endless running and productivity.

The fun started with Bernardo Silva nutmegging Yaya Toure and Mbappe dribbling past Nicolas Otamendi as if he wasn’t there. It’s easy to see why Mbappe, 18, is being touted as the next Thierry Henry. Sterling opened the scoring, turning in Sane’s cross after the German evaded three defenders on the left.

Monaco battled back to take the lead. Fabinho swung a cross towards goal which Falcao headed in, and moments after Aguero was wrongly booked when Subasic brought him down, Mbappe scored the vistors’ second. He left Otamendi for dead and side-footed into the roof of the net, taking advantage of Caballero’s shanked clearance.

The Ligue 1 leaders should have been further ahead by the time Falcao missed a penalty that would have put his side 3-1 up. The forward with 16 league goals this season slid to meet a cross with Otamendi, resulting in a tussle which nobody on the pitch thought was a foul apart from referee Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz. Otamendi was booked, and Falcao rolled his penalty straight at Caballero. It was never a penalty and City got their just rewards.

They pulled it back to 2-2 when Sterling, breaking from the halfway line, laid off a diagonal ball for Augero whose shot tricked through Subasic’s grasp and into the Monaco net. The Croat may have gained solance from Falcao’s lob for 3-2, but City completed their rout thereafter.

Aguero equalised after meeting Silva’s corner beautifully, while it felt ironic that it was Stones who put them 4-3 ahead after he let Falcao muscle past him earlier. The England defender converted Kevin De Bruyne’s corner at the far post, and as Monaco began waving the white flag, Sane got the goal his performance warranted. Meanwhile City and Monaco will meet again in the second leg on 15th March, just in case you were thinking this season’s Champions League couldn’t get any better.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

UFC Fight Night Halifax: Six things we learned as Derrick Lewis stops Travis Browne

Heavyweight Derrick Lewis earned his sixth victory in a row by coming from behind to stop Travis Browne at Sunday’s UFC Fight Night event in Halifax.

“The Black Beast” clutched his belly in pain from Browne’s body kicks, but the 32-year-old rallied and smashed through Browne’s guard with uppercuts to complete his comeback.

While Johny Hendricks earned his first win at middleweight, let’s take a look at six things we learned from this weekend’s bouts.

Lewis can move up further in the heavyweight division

Indeed, ranked at number eight, Lewis is enjoying the best form of his career and with his finishing instincts, active game on top and steely mentality he can challenge for a spot in the top five. He never gave up against Browne and once he’d recovered from a body assault in round one, he cut off the distance and hammered his rival with uppercuts. Eventually Browne crumbled to the mat and Lewis finished with ground-and-pound. Next up Lewis could face the number six from France, Francis Ngannou.

Lewis performs an entertaining post-fight interview

Of course, the Texan has always been a bit of an oddball, but he took this to a new level with his hilarious post-fight interview. Was he hurt from Browne’s tirade to the body? “No, I’ve just got to do a number two.” Too much information, Derrick. The heavyweight then spoke of all the sex he’s been getting recently, and Brian Stann must have used all of his restraint to stay professional by this point.

Browne needs to trust his instincts

On the other hand, Browne suffered his third defeat on the spin and is falling into a habit of losing fights when he has the upper hand. For instance, he hurt Andrei Arlovski before losing that war in 2015, and it was the same story against Lewis. Browne boasted a 3.5 inch height advantage and used it to connect with a range of kicks to the body and the head. But as soon as he started taking punishment, he covered up and couldn’t fight back. Should he have tried to clinch with Lewis? Should he have kept it at range with his boxing? Browne now has plenty of soul-searching to do.

Hendricks has the cardio to succeed at middleweight

Soon after Hendricks got his unanimous decision over Hector Lombard, the former welterweight king grinned into a camera and yelled: “185 motherf---ers!” Judging by the way he scored knees and punches on the exit and for the most part avoided going to the mat with Lombard, Hendricks’ delight was understandable. Notching a win on his debut at middleweight, Hendricks looked fresh at his new home, and his power and fitness should keep him around the top ten. But does he has the size to compete in the higher division? His 69 inch reach pales in comparison to the champion Michael Bisping’s 75.5 inch reach.

Marshman belongs in the UFC

Also at middleweight, Welshman Jack Marshman suffered a stunning knockout via a second round wheel kick from Brazil’s Thiago Santos. But given the boxing prowess he showed in dropping Santos with a counter right in the opener, he should be able to develop as a fighter in the UFC’s 185lbs scene. Indeed, Marshman was unhappy with the stoppage and don’t be surprised to see him lining up at a UFC event in Europe any time soon.

Tucker boasts nerves of steel

Imagine making your UFC debut in your home country. And on the main card, no less. You’ll hear UFC commentators discussing “Octagon jitters” for UFC debutants, but that wasn’t the case for featherweight Gavin Tucker, who landed kicks at will against Sam Sicilia before winning a unanimous decision. Although Tucker’s opponents had a combined ledger of 37-46 before the bout, the 30-year-old used his footwork and variety to dominate Sicilia. He landed 60 strikes to his opponent’s 10 and even found time to showboat for his home crowd. Nicely done.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Roma thrash Fiorentina to seal a record 14th consecutive home win

Roma earned a record 14th consecutive home win on Tuesday with Edin Dzeko scoring twice to complete a 4-0 rout over Fiorentina.

The hosts broke a record that stood since 1930 thanks to strikes from Dzeko, Radja Nainggolan and Federico Fazio.

With that, Roma closed the gap on leaders Juventus to four points, while Fiorentina sank to only one win at the Stadio Olimpico in their last 22 visits. 

But it was the Giallorossi who were tested early on, as Fiorentina winger Federico Chiesa went close twice in the first half. 

Fazio cleared Chiesa's lob off the line, while Emerson headed Federico Bernadeschi’s cross out for a corner before the youngster could meet it. 

Roma found their groove soon enough though. Nainggolan linked up with Kevin Strootman who fed a diagonal ball to the Brazilian, Bruno Peres, who scuffed over from six yards out.

Would Dzeko have finished from there? Roma wouldn’t have to rue their missed opportunity for long. The former Manchester City striker scored his first on 39 minutes, killing Daniele De Rossi’s lob before stroking past Ciprian Tatarusanu in the Fiorentina goal.

Indeed, Dzeko’s weight of touch belied his 6 foot 4 frame but Bruno Sanchez should have shrugged him off the ball.

By the time Fazio netted with 58 minutes gone, Fiorentina looked down and out. De Rossi whipped in an inswinging free kick which Fazio nodded in across goal. The defender wanted the ball more than anyone else, while De Rossi impressed with his second assist of the evening.

After the hour mark, Roma picked up the tempo. Nainggolan dribbled through tight spaces, and Stephan El Shaarawy carried the ball with intent. 

Dzeko was everywhere. He cut out a Sanchez back-pass and swiped wide. He flicked a header towards Fazio, who couldn’t quite stretch enough to head in his second.

As Fiorentina continued to crumble, Naingollan took full advantage. The Belgian scored a third on 75 minutes when, in one airborne motion, he brought down a Strootman lob with the outside of his boot and slammed in past Tatarusanu.  

Few defences can live with Nainggolan in this kind of mood and the same can be said of Dzeko, who became Serie A’s top scorer with his second of the match and 17th of the season on 83 minutes.

Sanchez played another suicide ball in the air towards Davide Asotri, who Dzeko easily muscled past to slide in the winner. Roma were rampant but it’s hard to decide which team 4-0 flattered the most.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Costa and Chelsea unite to hold off Hull

Diego Costa and Chelsea appear to be on the same page again after the Spanish international scored to help the west Londoners hold off Hull on Sunday.

Costa, who returned to the side after being dropped amid rumours of a training ground bust-up, rammed home Victor Moses’s cross before Gary Cahill’s header sealed the three points.

Ironically enough, the man who was exiled was Chelsea’s best player as Hull looked much better than a side occupying nineteenth in the table.

Costa took his chance when it mattered, but Harry Maguire was a threat for the visitors through the match, while Tom Huddlestone and Sam Clucas lined up through-balls that should have been gobbled up by Abel Hernandez.

But even on an off day, Costa’s teammates are more than capable of grinding out victories. It’s that sort of coolness under pressure that Pep Guardiola and Manchester City would kill for at the moment.

With an eight point lead at the top of the table, Costa and Chelsea sent a statement to Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and the chasing pack: whatever happens, we will always produce on the pitch.

They were made to work though. Although Hull trailed by a goal at half time, Maguire dribbled with intent and drew saves from Thibaut Courtois with a swipe across goal, a tame header and a 25-yard bullet. At times it felt like Maguire wanted a ball of his own. His battle with Courtois dominated the first half.

But the visitors suffered earlier when Ryan Mason was stretchered off injured after bashing heads with Cahill. Costa added to their woes, finishing Moses’ cut-back after a skillful dummy by the Belgian, Eden Hazard.

Maguire continued to stand out and Hernandez should have got a penalty when he was hacked from behind by Marcos Alonso. While Marcos Silva’s team kept the ball well in the second half, Antonio Conte regained Chelsea’s control by bringing on Cesc Fabregas in place of Hazard.

Fabregas lofted a free kick from the left which sailed over everyone apart from Cahill, who ghosted in at the far post to head in one of the most stress-free goals he’ll ever score.

And if Costa does stay at Stamford Bridge – and it looks like he will, for now at least – his exchanges with Fabregas will be crucial to Chelsea’s march to the title.

The Premier League’s joint scorer fired straight at Eldin Jakupovic in the Hull goal after Fabregas slid him through beautifully.

There was enough time left for Hull’s Everton loannee, Oumar Niasse, to turn and shoot but Chelsea held out to keep the clean sheet.

Moving forward, Conte has crunch Premier League matches against Liverpool and Arsenal in the next two weeks, but they will start as favourites in both if Costa continues his revival.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

5 things we learned from Lazio-Napoli

Napoli rebounded from last weekend’s defeat to Juventus by defeating Lazio 1-0 to go third in the table, one spot ahead of their rivals in the capital in the race for the Champions League.
Rafael Benitez’s side arrived in Rome intent on shutting their opponents down and Gonzalo Higuian’s acute finish in the first half was all they needed.

So as Napoli move forward, and Lazio remain weighed down by injuries, let’s look at what we learned from today’s action.

Higuian still loves playing The Eagles
By scoring his side’s winner, netting for the tenth time in Serie A this season, Higuian made it seven goals in his last four appearances against Lazio. You might think he raises his game against the Romans then, but to tell the truth, he’s been this good all season and now becomes the fourth player to score at least ten Serie A goals this term. His finish, a venomous drive at the near post after holding the ball up alone, was the mark of a striker in form.

Napoli grind it out without exerting themselves
Indeed, the solitary nature of Higuian’s goal epitomised Napoli’s performance – quick-thinking, industrious and economical. While the hosts wasted their chances in front of goal Napoli came off on top by making better use of the ball on the counter-attack - not from starting out with any sense of attacking panache or reckless ambition. Their pace on the break was frightening, and Higuian, Jonathan de Guzman and Jose Callejon all exploited space in the final third. 

Naples men can look ahead to European qualification
Although Napoli missed out on reaching the Champions League last season, dropping out in the play-offs to Athletic Bilbao, the Blues look assured of at least a preliminary spot again this time around. They move to third above Lazio and the nature of their battling, with Marek Hamsik benched until past the hour, shows they can grind out results on the road – a habit they will need in Europe. That’s without mentioning the experienced signing from Dnipro, Ivan Strinic, who kept Antonio Candreva quiet and impressed on his debut at full-back.

Crowded treatment room at Lazio is taking its toll
It’s not so rosy at the Stadio Olimpico however. Having thrown away a two-goal lead  to draw 2-2 in the Rome derby last weekend, Lazio entered this defeat with a threadbare squad once more. Standouts at both ends of the pitch such as Stefan de Vrij, Stefano Mauri and Felipe Anderson are all still out while the likes of Keita Balde, the tricky 19-year-old from Barcelona, and Danilo Cataldi, a 20-year-old with potential in midfield, will need time to express themselves.

Djordjevic is struggling to fill the void
Of course, with attacking talent on the sidelines now is the time for the Serbia forward, Filip Djordjevic, to rediscover the form that helped him score a hat-trick against Palermo in September. Still, against Napoli he failed to read any of Candreva’s crosses – despite their variety – and didn’t create any chances himself, stretching his barren run to just two goals in 12 appearances. Elsewhere Marco Parlo headed against the bar, while Balde and Luis Cavanda missed chances that will haunt them in their sleep.

By Alistair Hendrie (January 2015)