Pikeman preparing to fight back after a few tough breaks
Wexford MMA star Brian Moore speaks to Pádraig Byrne about breaking both of his hands in a fight – and his hopes for 2019 as he aims for a speedy recovery
At the WinStar World Casino and Resort in Oklahoma, Wexford fighter Brian Moore has the eyes of the world upon him as he faces down Israeli featherweight Noad Lahat. This is the Wexford man's 11th fight in the prestigious Bellator franchise, a mixed martial arts (MMA) organisation that has grown massively in tandem with its rival UFC with the explosion in popularity for the sport that came along with the likes of Conor McGregor; who incidentally is a teammate of Moore's fighting out of the SBG gym in Dublin under the watchful eye of coach John Kavanagh.
With all eyes on Moore, known as 'The Pikeman', he moves fluidly in the first round, exchanging blows with his rival. He looks calm and more than a match for the Israeli. But then, disaster strikes. Towards the end of the first round, after knocking his opponent to the canvas, Moore feels a snap. His right hand is broken. As if this wasn't enough, he feels similar pain in his left hand early in the second round, preventing him from gripping or making a fist. From here on out it was a case of survival, as months of carefully planned preparation went out the window.
'I felt I was beating him quite well at that point,' Brian said, having returned to his Carrig on Bannow home. 'I had dropped him and I felt I was in control. In that very last combo of the first round, that was when I broke my right hand. These things happen in fights and I was focused on getting back in there in the second and using more left hooks and jabs. Then with a combo early on I felt what can only be described as my left thumb exploding. It turned out I had six breaks in my left hand, four in my thumb and two in my wrist.'
While, under such stress, a lot of fighters would have thrown in the towel, Brian kept fighting and was determined to see the three rounds out for better or worse.
'The guy I was up against is a high level black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu,' he said. 'He's a good grappler, but I knew I was a much better striker than him, so that was the plan - to stand up and trade blows. I felt it was an easy fight up until the second break. It's genuinely one of the most painful situations I've been in in my life. He couldn't get me down for the first eight minutes, but once my hands broke, I couldn't give a proper defence. I couldn't make a fist. I couldn't even put weight on it to get myself up.'
Frustratingly what followed was a win for Lahat in a fight that Brian feels he could easily have won. While afterwards he had to deal with the pain of his injuries, what hurt him all the more was the Bellator commentators stating that he got tired and 'gassed out' during the fight.
'That was really frustrating,' he said. 'The commentators didn't pick up on the fact that my hands were broke. They thought I was getting tired, which couldn't have been further from the truth. I put in a lot of hard work in the build-up to this fight. I'm quite busy. I run a busy gym in Bannow, I'm a very present father and we're in the process of building a new house as well; but in the build-up to this one I was up in Dublin four days a week training. Previously I wasn't able to do that. I was working on my striking with another Wexford man Stephen Murphy, who I think is one of the best kept secrets in MMA. He's a genius of a coach. I was an average striker beforehand, but now I'm regarded as one of the best strikers in Bellator, and that's down to him. My preparation was solid, so it was really hard to hear people saying I gassed out.'
'I've lost fights before and I'll always hold my hands up when I'm beaten by the better man, but with Noad I feel it was just bad luck. I've great respect for Noad. We spoke after the fight and he asked "What happened your hands?" I told him, I broke them off your large head! I'd love to see a rematch with him in 2019, either in his native Israel or in Dublin.'
While Brian may have logged another number in the defeats column, bringing him to 11 wins and 7 defeats he's taking a lot from his latest experience and what was his first fight in the US.
'I put a lot of preparation into this fight,' he explains. 'I think I'm a lot more positive after it than people thought I would be. The reason for that is that I felt world class in there for the first while. Noad is a good fighter. He came from the UFC and chose Bellator, so when you feel comfortable against these guys you're doing something right.'
In relation to the experience of the US, Brian has mixed feelings. A devoted family man, he missed being away from his wife Noirín and their two young children.
'The US is just mental,' he said. 'The place we were in is the biggest casino in the world and it's in the middle of nowhere. The US fans are very involved and very appreciative of the fighters travelling to be there. We didn't get the result this time, but I think I left a good taste in the fans' mouths.
'The most difficult part was being away from my girls. I bawled leaving and I bawled coming back! There's nothing hard about fighting, or making weight, that's just part of my job. But being away from my girls isn't and that was definitely the hardest part.'
'Having said that it was a wonderful experience fighting in the US and I look forward to fighting there again, but not too often...and not for the tax system...f**k that!'
'It was the ultimate case of rubbing salt in the wound,' Brian elaborated. 'I went up to the office with my hands smashed up and they told me what my purse would be and then how much I'd be taxed. Let's just say it added insult to injury!'
In terms of his recovery from the injuries sustained in Oklahoma, Brian is taking the same obsessive approach that he brings to his strict training regime.
'Before I got on the flight from Oklahoma to London, a friend of mine who's a well-respected doctor in Dublin rang me and told me to send on my x-rays,' he said. 'By the time I landed I was booked in with Ireland's leading plastic surgeon. In terms of recovery, I'm well ahead of schedule. I'm already back running and doing a bit on the bike and even throwing some kicks. I don't do things by halves and I'm completely committed to getting back to action as quickly as possible.'
While Brian had one eye on Bellator's next Dublin event, due to take place in February, he concedes that it will likely be too early for him to return to action.
'At this stage, it's probably going to be too early,' he said disappointedly. 'Only by a few weeks though. I think I could be back by the end of March. My aim for 2019 is to rattle off as many fights as I can. I'm always close to weight and I'm always ready to go. If you look at anyone in the top ten, I'm always the one who fights these guys, even on short notice. For next year, I've asked for my coach to keep me active, fighting inside or outside the top ten. Then hopefully, I'll be looking at a big fight towards the end of the year. Maybe a rematch with Noad in Israel or Dublin.'
Speaking to Brian, his drive and passion for his craft is evident and, while most would be content to sit back and enjoy Christmas, he has tunnel vision towards his return to the octagon.
'I'm getting itchy at the minute already,' he said. 'Obviously I train for my physical health, but it's important to my mental health as well. I have to be training.
'Obviously I have two beautiful kids at home and I'm looking forward to spending Christmas with them and having Santy and all that stuff, but I'm really looking forward to next year and getting back to it. It's been a long year on a lot of fronts, but I'm looking forward to getting stuck in and being active in 2019.'