Picture credit: @CalPacinoMMA

FROM his brave and inspirational mam to the gym he treats as his second home, Sunderland-born fighter Cal “Pacino” Ellenor sees MMA as a family business.

The 26-year-old featherweight is intent on rising quickly on both the British scene and further afield after a 6-1 start to his career which saw him return to winning ways with a first-round victory over Norway’s Espen Kolltviet in the Olympus Fighting Championships at Middlesbrough on December 2.

And Ellenor has revealed how the courage of his mother in her long-term fight against Multiple Sclerosis and the fraternal atmosphere at the Team Fish Tank gym in Seaham are the foundations of his push towards MMA’s elite.

Here, SportsByte gets the lowdown on what drives a fighter who seems to have quickly put his only defeat – a split decision loss to South Africa’s Gareth Buirski in August – firmly behind him.

Q: What made you get into MMA?

A: “It all started out years ago to be honest, I was around 12 years old and I first stepped foot in a boxing gym. I started fighting for the club pretty much straight away and had a lot of success as a young amateur boxer.

“The gym I was using was a boxing gym but it had a small room at the back where people would train MMA. I was always interested in mixed martial arts because I used to stay up and watch earlier UFC events with my dad. I knew one or two of the lads that were training at the MMA class and one of my friends said I should pop along and try it out.

“I went to my first class, which was a grappling class, and I immediately fell in love with it. I started training with the gym full time and shortly after decided that this is what I wanted for myself and I wanted to compete in the sport.”


Q: What inspired you to push on in your MMA career?

“I would have to say my mam is my biggest inspiration. I mean there’s a lot of fighters I like to watch and even some I look up to and take guidance from, but my main inspiration is my mam.

“She’s suffered with MS for pretty much as long as I can remember and her positivity and attitude towards everything in life is amazing and that plays a huge part in the person I am today.”


Q: Do you think MMA’s profile has gone up since the rise of Conor McGregor?

A: “Yes, the sport has gained so much more global media attention since the arrival of Conor McGregor.

“He’s brought our sport further into the mainstream spotlight. Events are getting bigger; gyms are getting busier.”


Q: Is enough still being done to get people into MMA?

A: “Yes, I think there’s enough being done. There’s a lot of gyms that teach children’s classes now. There’s woman’s classes, beginners courses, and it’s advertised a lot on social media.

“A lot of gyms teach 1-1 private sessions in whatever aspect of the sport you want to learn or full MMA lessons if people aren’t able to make the classes or feel better learning alone.”


Q: How would you encourage people to get into MMA?

A: “I tend to just tell people of my experiences if they ever ask me about MMA or my fights/training. I always tell them about my team TFT and about our atmosphere and general vibe.

“We have a real family gym and everyone just wants to help each other. I always say it’s completely different to what people would imagine.

“Our gym is a friendly environment and everyone there just wants to learn and progress, whether that is general fitness or lose weight or getting more advanced in there MMA skills.”


Q: But do you think people stay away from MMA because of the risks that come with it?

A: “I don’t think that – I think it’s more so a confidence thing. Sometimes going into a new gym full of people you don’t know can be a scary thing.

“I think if people are interested in the sport and are wanting to pursue it, but are feeling a bit uncomfortable with the idea of joining a new club, I would suggest they go train a few sessions and see how it made them feel.

“Obviously there are risks in all sports – but if you constantly look for risks you’re always going to find them. Train safe and if you’re going to compete, be sensible, train hard and get prepared properly. Listen to your coaches and enjoy the process.”