North East MMA Scene – Mixed Martial Arts Newcastle

In 2019 there are dedicated Mixed Martial Arts gyms in Newcastle, Sunderland, County Durham, Northumberland, Teeside and South Tyneside. If you need to find excellent instructors in any of the major disciplines of MMA then there is likely to be a good school within a few miles of your front door. MMA Fight Events such as Made 4 The Cage, Rise & Conquer & Machine MMA to name but a few offer a place for rising fighters to hone their craft and several of the UK’s major MMA scene brands such as Revgear, MMA gear store Fightstorepro and Fighters Only Magazine all call the region their home. It would be easy to believe it had always been that way.

North East Fight Culture

Fighting and fight sports have always found a natural home in the North East of England. Perhaps the tough working class culture of the industrial landscape, the coal fields, ship yards and docks is built in to the personality of its people. Boxing has always been strong in the North East as have traditional Martial Arts such as Judo and Karate.

It’s therefore no great surprise, that as Mixed Martial Arts began to build as a sport in the UK some time around the early 2000’s, that it would quickly gain popularity with its martial artists and its youth.

North East MMA History

Although I’m certain it would be arguable as to who was the very first club to embrace Mixed Martial Arts in the North East area I’m sure few would disagree that John Atkin; founder of the Advanced Fighting Centre in the centre of Newcastle was at least one of them. A Ninjitsu specialist; John embraced the spirit of MMA and with the addition of boxing coach Lee Mayor provided a space where many of the regions martial artists could experience what was certainly to become the new religion.

At around the same time in a town called Shiney Row, between Sunderland and Durham traditional Ju Jitsu sensei Peter McQueen ran his own MMA class. Later to become known as Total Combat; Peter also started what was certainly the North Easts first true Mixed Martial Arts show, one where many of the regions fighters experienced their first taste of MMA Competition.

Dave ‘Speedy’ Elliot – BJJ

By 2001 people were beginning to latch on to the skill sets required for MMA but the most difficult task was finding somewhere to learn them. Would be MMA fighters would travel around to train with anyone, any where they could. Our own small group, which included many guys who would become central to Newcastle’s MMA development had built a tiny gym in an industrial unit in Gateshead. Pete Irving had disappeared with a rumour he’d found the grail for MMA at that time…..Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

On a freezing cold night Pete rocked up with Dave Elliot to our gym. After one session training with a man who was far ahead of his time for the UK at least, the writing was on the wall for Green Lane. One by one we moved across to join what became Gracie Barra Newcastle.

Dave was studying under Marc Walder in London, who in turn was the student of Mauricio Gomez. The heritage of Gracie Barra was indisputably pure, bringing real martial arts expertise to what was a rag tag group of guys learning what they could from where they could. Every one in our group to a degree were already accomplished in martial arts but this was a new phase, one that eventually spread across the area.

Dave Elliot’s interest was as much in MMA as in BJJ. With an injection of new talent into his group he gave a generation of Newcastle Fighters the skills they needed to excel, producing national champions and eventually the foundation of many of the regions top instructors.

Ian “The Machine” Freeman

To write a short history of North East Mixed Martial Arts would be impossible without talking about a man who to this day remains an ambassador for not only North East MMA but British MMA as a whole. Ian Freeman is synonymous with British MMA and in a career that spanned fifteen years as a fighter, still remains one of the most notable Mixed Martial Artists the UK has ever produced.

Ian The Machine Freeman; North East MMA Legend

With a boxing background, Ian took a firm interest in the new sport of Mixed Martial Arts, Like many others of that time, Ian initially studied with Peter McQueen, realising he needed more than the North East could offer, Ian travelled the world to study with names such as Marco Ruas, Renzo Gracie, Pat Militich and Josh Barnett.

The first British man to fight in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Ian fought some of the worlds best and won. No one who was around at that time would forget his demolition of Frank Mir on UFC 38 in London 2002

North East MMA Events

Over the years there have been multiple Mixed Martial Arts events based in the region. However the three that certainly have shaped the scene as we now know it are easy to identify.

Goshin Ryu, later to become Total Combat closed its doors this year. This event had almost every notable fighter in the region grace its card at least once over the last 15 years. Peter McQueen’s long standing event moved venues a few times but was certainly the first of its type in the region.

Strike & Submit
Based at the Federation Brewery which was also the home of many of the regions Boxing events, put on many ways a more accomplished production than Total Combat. Strike and Submit was notable as the event where North East fighters such as Ross Pearson and Andy Ogle built their careers. The show ended in 2010 with SAS 16.

Made 4 The Cage
M4TC has in no doubt become the premier MMA event for the North East of England. Running some excellent productions over the last ten years, the shows owners Steven Scott & Dale Percival have built a brand to be proud of and have become integral to the structure of North east Mixed Martial Arts. Few could boast having done more for the sport in the region than these two guys.
Now boasting a management company and an academy, Made 4 The Cage has been part of the infrastructure of North East MMA for many years. UFC fighters, past and present such as Arnold Allen, Colin Fletcher, James Mullheron and many more have been part of Made 4 The Cage before moving up to the ranks of the worlds top shows.

Notable Mentions

Peter Irving – Newcastle Fight Centre

Although there have been North East fighters who have made more impact than Pete internationally; it would be hard to argue that anyone had impacted the North East scene more than this amiable Geordie fighter since Ian Freeman became the first British UFC fighter in the year 2000.

BJJ Black belt, Kick Boxing champion and local hero, Pete now runs Newcastle Fight Centre in the Shieldfield area of Newcastle. In Martial Arts Peter’s achievements and knowledge are world class but his impact locally has been his work in developing other fighters, an achievement that has gone largely unseen.

Many of the top fighters of the area, High ranking BJJ belts and top MMA coaches at one time or another have regarded Pete as their coach. He has shared the knowledge he travelled the world for with anyone who has asked and given back more than he ever took from Martial Arts. In every respect the North East has been lucky to have this man as their own.

Eddie Ng – Evolve MMA

Part of an elusive group of talented fighters in Washington alongside Dave Metcalf and Lewis Barrow. At 16 years old Eddie was submitting opponents at Goshin Ryu and walked a quiet road before travelling to Singapore and joining the Asian promotion ONE FC.

Ross Pearson – UFC

Houghton Le Spring born Ross Pearson earned his place on the Ultimate Fighter show in 2009 and went on to beat fellow Brit Andre Winner in the final later that year. A true professional, Ross had a long career in the worlds top MMA promotion including a return to the Ultimate Fighter show as the coach on TUF Smashes.

The Future for North East MMA

With literally dozens of full time academies, excellent coaches and a local population of tough kids who aspire to join the ranks of the worlds elite fighters, then there can only be one direction for the Mixed Martial Arts scene of the North East….
Academies such as Newcastle Fight Centre, Middlesbrough Fight Academy, Made 4 The Cage Academy, Machine MMA and many more offering a full program then the future is certainly bright for North East MMA.