English welterweight survives bare-knuckle night in Russia before cracking UFC

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

John (The One) Maguire had won all eight of his MMA fights when he landed in Khabarovsk, Russia, for a May 2008 bout with Arman Gambaryan.

It wasn't exactly what he was expecting

"It was under Vale Tudo rules so you could head-butt, stomp, knee downed opponents," the English welterweight recalled.

"And it was bare knuckle, which I didn't know about it until I got there."

So what did he think when he found out?

"I wasn't too keen on doing it but I had gone all that way. So I just went in and had a go. It was only two rounds and I lost by decision. Against a guy who had like 25 fights."

Maguire (17-3) has stuck with regular MMA bouts since, winning his last six fights, including his UFC debut — a decision over "The Ultimate Fighter" veteran Justin Edwards at UFC 138 last November in Birmingham, England.

Maguire returns to the Octagon on Saturday, when he faces American DaMarques (Darkness) Johnson on a televised card in Stockholm. The main event in the UFC's debut in Sweden pits local favourite Alexander (The Mauler) Gustafsson against Brazilian light-heavyweight Thiago Silva.

Maguire is no stranger to Sweden and asked to be on the card. He goes there once a year to train for a few weeks.

"A real nice place," he said.

He faces another TUF alumnus in Johnson, who was runner-up to James Wilks on Season 9 on the reality TV show.

"He's tough. He's been in the UFC for a while," Maguire said of Johnson.

"He's a good all-rounder," he added.

Johnson, who is 4-3 in the UFC, is coming off a first-round knockout of Clay Harvison last November.

Maguire was an injury replacement for Mark Scanlon at UFC 138. He was originally slated to face James Head but he too was injured so Maguire ended up facing Edwards.

The 28-year-old Maguire has lived the last 10 years in Wisbech, a small village about 50 kilometres from his training base in Cambridge. In preparing for Johnson, Maguire lived in the gym, only going home on weekends.

Home is — and always has been — a caravan or trailer. Maguire is, what he calls, a Gypsy or English Traveller.

"That's where I'm comfortable. That's where I was brought up and that's where I'll always be."

"I've never lived in a house," he added.

He's not roughing it, though. "Mine's a nice one. A big one," he says of his mobile home.

"I've got a 50-inch TV in it, so it's big enough for me."

He used to move around Britain but now keeps his caravan in one place — a site that is home to other family members and fellow Gypsies.

Wrestling and groundwork came naturally to Maguire, who calls his brand of grappling "Gypsy jiu-jitsu."

He showed those skills against Edwards, but first had to survive a couple of early kicks to the nether regions and an early knockdown. Once he cleared the cobwebs, he crowded Edwards at the fence, dumping him repeatedly and then bossing him on the ground.

Maguire showed a good chin and solid grappling in posting a unanimous win.

"I proved some Brits can wrestle and submit," he said afterwards

Having grown up mimicking UFC stars in tussles with younger brother Tommy, Maguire savoured the Edwards win.

"Are you real?" he asked Joe Rogan in his post-fight interview in the cage, feeling the UFC commentator's face as he said it. "I've waited for this so long, Joe."

"Well, it's here bro. Congratulations," said Rogan.

Maguire, who was so excited he admitted to fearing a heart attack walking into the LG Arena, had failed to crack the UFC earlier. He tried out for Season 13 of "The Ultimate Fighter" — whose cast included Edwards — but did not make the final cut.

"It was a knockback, it did set me back a bit. But I just got on with it and kept fighting and winning," he said.

He did not treat himself after his first UFC fight other than starting to eat again.

"I enjoy my food," said Maguire, who cuts 30 pounds to weight in at 170.

Brother Tommy (Two Guns) Maguire is also a fighter. The 24-year-old is a lightweight with an 11-4 record and serves as one of John's main sparring partners.

"We're very competitive ... very close," John said.

Tommy is always in John's corner fight night — "because he tells it like it is." John returns the favour when Tommy fights.

John Maguire is a rarity in that MMA has always been his sport of choice.

"I used to watch it and then just got straight into MMA. I've never really done any other sports," he explained.

"I walked into a gym and just picked it up fairly easily."

He started going to the Tsunami Gym, training for about a year before his first pro fight in April 2006.

His goal has always been to make the UFC and he says he looked for "the toughest fights in England" to get him there.

Along the way, he worked in his gym and helped construct industrial boilers.

Maguire has held welterweight titles in England's UCMMA (formerly Cage Rage) and OMMAC (Olympian MMA Championships) and the middleweight championship in Cage Gladiator (which became OMMAC).

All three are on display in his trailer.

He points to wins over TUF alumnus Dean Amasinger and Pete Irving, his last fight before cracking the UFC, as other memorable victories.

His first 10 fights were at middleweight (185 pounds).

"I was a small middleweight but I kept winning so I never had a problem," said the five-foot-nine Brit.

His second loss was also as a middleweight. He lost a decision to Tom Watson in June 2009 — "and that was going my way until I broke my hand."

His only other defeat was by decision to Simeon Thoresen, in May 2010.