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‘This fight is personal...I’ve got his poster on my wall for motivation.’
HOLLYWOOD scripts have nothing on this; two champion fighters from the same street, a British title at stake, a pupil out to avenge his master’s defeat...
That is the mouthwatering back story to Matt Holland’s Mixed Martial Arts bout with John Gilbert, due to take place in front of 1,200 fans at the Bucks Tennis Centre on Saturday, July 5.
Holland will defend his British TKMMA belt for the fourth time against John Gilbert, who lives just a few doors down from him in Downley.
But there is more to it than that.
In a twist taken straight from tinseltown, Gilbert is the man who ruined the fairytale ending for Holland’s long-time mentor Corey Cain.
Cain came out of retirement last March after having a tumour removed from behind his lung, but the five-time world kickboxing champion was beaten by Gilbert and Holland hasn’t forgotten it.
He said: “I was there that night and it ate me up. Even though I won my own fight I felt like I’d lost.
“Corey doesn’t hold anything against John, it was just another fight to him, but he’s my teacher and he taught me everything.
“When I was about eight or nine I used to hear stories about him running up Marlow Hill with bricks in a bag.
“Then he became my instructor and I was with him for 12 years. I got my black belt with him and when I was going to leave martial arts he is the one who made me fall in love with it again.
“He came out of retirement for that fight after a big operation, and I felt bad for him. He’d have won if it had been even a few years before.
“So this fight is a lot deeper for me. It’s personal – very personal.”
Holland hasn’t stepped into the cage since last October though, when he damaged a cartilage in victory and could barely walk for the best part of a month.
The injury will need an operation, but for now he’s managing it and all his energy is focused on redemption for Cain.
He said: “There isn’t a day that I don’t think about it. For me, this fight is everything.
“Everything I do in training, I imagine he’s doing five times more. I’ve got his poster on my wall for motivation and if I don’t want to go up Marlow Hill I look at that poster and that gets me up the hill.”
Bizarrely, the two men who will headline the bill in just over two weeks live on the same street in Downley and would only have to look out their windows to monitor each other’s training.
Holland said: “I moved out of my flat to Downley and was out jogging when John saw me and hooted. Then I saw his car parked and realised he lived just five doors down from me.
“He’s a nice guy. But he’s no pushover. His stand-up is really good, his floor is really good...I’ve got to do everything I can to take him out.”
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