Marc Diakiese in January had endured enough of the four-hour round trip required to get him to various training obligations in Doncaster, Leeds, Mansfield and Sheffield in his native England. After back-to-back highlight-reel knockouts in the British Association of Mixed Martial Arts led to his being signed by the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the undefeated prospect was hailed as a potential future titleholder.
“Bonecrusher” overcame a slow start in his Octagon debut before adding to his streak of finishes at the expense of Lukasz Sajewski at UFC 204 on Oct. 8 in Manchester, England. Diakiese followed it with a unanimous decision over Frankie Perez at UFC Fight Night 102 in December, but he was far from satisfied when he watched his performance. A month later, the 23-year-old walked through the doors at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida, for the first time.
“Going into the fight I was classed as one of the biggest prospects in the sport, but when I looked back at the footage, it wasn’t me,” Diakiese told Sherdog.com. “When I look at my performances, I want to see a future world champion. There weren’t enough bodies in the places that I used to train in. It felt like the right moment for me to make a change.
“If I want to make it big in the UFC, I have to make sure I’m training at the highest level possible,” he added. “That’s why I decided to go to American Top Team. The move made me realize that there was no way I could get to where I want to be if I stayed in the UK. The training is just not on the same level. For me to prepare myself in the best way possible and to get to that elite level, I need to be here.”
Changing gyms can be touchy. The strong relationships that are forged between fighters and coaches are often frayed when it comes to parting ways, but Diakiese did not believe he was getting results equal to the effort he was putting into his MMA career. With an abundance of coaches under the same roof at American Top Team, Diakiese’s days of uncomfortable commutes are a thing of the past. Given the prestige of the Florida gym, there is no shortage of high-level training partners.
“If you need to work on your wrestling over here, you can train with elite wrestlers,” he said. “The same thing goes for the striking; there’s no trouble finding certain styles. There are plenty of southpaws, there are kickboxers, boxers, karate guys. You name it, they have it. When you’re striking, you have a striking coach. When you’re wrestling, you have a wrestling coach. They guide you through every session and will highlight everything that you’re doing wrong.
“Back in the UK, your striking coach is your wrestling coach,” Diakiese added. “In a lot of cases, he’s probably your jiu-jitsu coach, too. Here, you have everything under one roof, and you have experts in each discipline to learn from. There’s no way one coach could put in the same amount of work as all of those coaches collectively.”
Diakiese made some major sacrifices to prepare for his upcoming clash with Finland’s Teemu Packalen at UFC Fight Night 107 this Saturday at the O2 Arena in London. Since he left the UK, his infant daughter has begun to crawl and stand on her own -- definitive moments for parents. Once-silly holidays like Valentine’s Day have taken on new meaning in the absence of his partner. Although the circumstances are difficult at times, Diakiese finds comfort in knowing everything has been geared toward moving forward professionally. His off days are spent watching teammates spar or getting massages to keep his body functioning at its optimum levels. Despite the friendships he has developed in Florida, Diakiese sees the competition between the athletes at American Top Team as one of the driving forces behind the gym’s success.
“Everything is just so competitive,” he said. “Even strength and conditioning class is competitive. We could have four guys doing sprints, and none of us want to be beaten. That carries over to sparring, too, and I like that kind of intensity. After training with guys that I know are high-level, I know that I’m on that level, too.”
While the competitive nature of the gym demands the most out of him, Diakiese cited some moments that made him feel as though he had impressed his new stablemates.
“I’ve had people like Hector Lombard ask me to spar, so that was a big deal for me,” he said. “It made me feel like a ninja when he asked me. I’ve had Thiago Alves watch me spar and tell me that I looked sharp. That was pretty cool, too. They call me ‘Bruce Lee Ninja’ in the gym. I feel like I can be very loose here, and I’m learning so many different kicking techniques from the kickboxers. I’ve been trying a lot of new things in sparring, like using the right techniques when I’m sparring. Every time I spar, there is a group of guys standing alongside the mats watching me, so I guess that’s a good sign.”
Diakiese intends to prepare for future fights at American Top Team. He plans to stay sharp by grappling, training his taekwondo and focusing on conditioning once he returns to the UK before flying back to Florida “to put everything together” eight weeks before he competes. He hopes to show new wrinkles against Packalen.
“I’m expecting to see Marc Diakiese, future world champion, in London,” Diakiese said. “I’ve put in the work with guys who have been at the elite level. If I’m performing well against them, why shouldn’t I perform like that when I fight? This guy looks like the type that hates my style. I feel like I can be free in there with him and throw whatever I want at him. I know he’s going to be looking for a quick takedown; that’s what I’m expecting anyway.
“I’ve got the guy worried,” he added. “I think he’s scared because he watches every single Instagram story I post. As soon as I figured out that he was watching them every day, I thought, ‘I like that. Keep viewing.’ I think he considers himself a good grappler, but with the training that I’m getting out here, I can’t see him posing much of threat.”