MMA has really taken off in Ireland over the past few years, thanks to the profiles of Irish fighters Paddy Holohan, Ian Machado Garry, and, not to mention, the super successful and famous Irish fighter Conor McGregor.
Mixed martial arts is a full-contact combat sport based on striking, grappling, and ground fighting, incorporating techniques from various combat sports around the world. Its status has grown since, and as a result, McGregor and Co. became household names.
More and more fighters from Dublin’s inner city and around Ireland have taken up the sport in a bid to emulate other Irish fighters in the sport.
This week, we spoke to up-and-coming professional MMA fighter Denis Frimpong, who is known as “The Menace,” in an exclusive interview for The Irish Post.
Frimpong is an Irish professional MMA fighter who fights out of “Manchester Top Team,” Manchester’s premier mixed martial arts gym.
This week, we spoke about Denis’ career so far, his thoughts on the sport, his feelings around being the next “McGregor,” growing up as an immigrant in Ireland, his fighting style, and everything else.
Denis Frimpong’s life
Frimpong was born in Austria but eventually found his way to Ireland, where he excelled in athletics and became an Irish champion in the long jump during his teen years. Later, he transitioned to MMA and has now turned pro.
The 28-year-old opened up about his upbringing first.
“I was born in a little town in Austria, just north of the border with Slovenia. My mom’s Slovenian, and I was born close to Christmas. The parents were doing some Christmas shopping, and I decided to come out there,” he said.
“We stayed there for a couple of months and then moved to Toronto in Canada, and I stayed there till we were about four or five, and then we moved to Ireland to Drogheda, then onto Cavan and then Dublin for the last portion of my life.
“I was always a little rowdy c***t,” claimed Frimpong without hesitation. “I was always fighting when I was younger, partially because of my temper and also because, growing up in the early 2000s in Ireland, there were very few black kids in Ireland.
“You know kids are horrible, mate, and they’ll find any reason to try and bully you, and I was just one of them who was like, ‘I am not going to be bullied by them,’ and that meant I was in fights like twice a week.
Despite this, his parents worked extremely hard to make him the man he is today, and he is grateful for this.
“My dad was a big role model for me growing up. People speak about immigrant mentality, and he is the definition of that, and you know, we came to Ireland with very little. He worked his ass off with two jobs. This meant that my mom could stay at home and look after me and my sisters, “he said.
“They never took money from the government or a penny from the dole. They worked their asses off and eventually got a mortgage. I wouldn’t say I had a comfortable upbringing, but they were always building towards something, and that was an inspiration to me.”
Ending up in MMA
Some of the best fighters growing up have stories about how they eventually ended up in the likes of boxing or MMA. McGregor, for example, was on welfare and made it his mission to get off it, while former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson’s journey into boxing began at a young age.
Tyson had a difficult childhood marked by poverty and juvenile delinquency. His troubled upbringing led him to a reform school, where he discovered his talent for boxing. Tyson went on to be one of the greatest of all time because of this.
However, for Frimpong, his fighting career didn’t begin until he was 22, when he casually took up Brazilian jiu-jitsu, the self-defence martial art and combat sport based on grappling, ground fighting, and submission holds. After a few casual visits to a gym, he eventually found himself in the cage with other fighters.
“I never actually trained until I was about 22–23,” he added. “It was just after university that I went into a Muay Thai gym and eventually did a bit of jiu-jitsu, fell in love with that, and immersed myself in it.”
Frimpong’s thoughts on immigration issues in Ireland
Immigration has become a hot-button topic for many in Ireland this year, with the Irish government coming under fire for its lack of communication with the public.
This all came to a head when riots broke out on the streets of Dublin before Christmas. Shops were looted, windows were smashed, and Ireland’s capital city became the talk of the world.
Frimpong, the son of immigrants looking to make a better life for themselves in Ireland, gave his thoughts about growing up as a child of immigrants in Ireland:
“It was something that I thought changed until very recently with the whole riots. I think they highlighted the worst of some people’s mentalities in Ireland, and I still think that to this day, people of other races and cultures are not necessarily welcomed; they are tolerated.
“I don’t think a vast majority of people in Ireland are xenophobic or racist; it’s a small minority, but I do think there is a strong sense of national pride there. When that’s there, national pride can draw a line between national pride and nationalism.”
Fighting at OKTAGON 52 in Newcastle and fighting style
On January 27, Frimpong will face Polish fighter Jan Široký on the undercard of OKTAGON 52 in Newcastle. When asked who he would compare himself to, the 28-year-old said that he reminded himself of the UFC great Israel Adesanya from New Zealand, who is an excellent mixed martial artist and kickboxer, as well as UFC legend Anderson Silva.
“In the current scene at the moment, people always draw comparisons to Israel Adesanya because, like him, I am a long-range striker, and I’m good on my back, and people do say Anderson Silva,” said Frimpong confidently.
“I don’t think there is anyone who is quite like me. I like to mix my own style up, but I do take inspiration from the likes of Silva, Jon Jones, Adesanya, and Conor McGregor.”
Frimpong’s thoughts on McGregor’s influence in MMA
Speaking about McGregor, a lot has been made about his comeback into the UFC after such a long time away from the cage. A lot has been made of McGregor’s comeback because of his status and legacy in the sport.
McGregor’s influence, fighting style, and lifestyle are clearly huge motivating factors for many Irish up-and-coming fighters, but for Frimpong, he doesn’t want to be put in the same bracket as the Crumlin native and wants to carve his own pathway as the first “Denis Frimpong.”
“I don’t want to be the next Conor McGregor, and I don’t think I ever could be. I want to be the first Denis Frimpong,” he added.
“Obviously, he’s an inspiration and one of the reasons why I started doing martial arts. MMA, which I was always a fan of as a kid, I used to watch Anderson Silva grow up all that.
“But growing up in Cavan, it was always GAA, rugby, and soccer. There were no MMA gyms, and there were a few boxing gyms here and there.
“However, seeing Conor McGregor did give me inspiration to go, ‘Oh wow, there is MMA in Ireland.”
Changing people’s perception about MMA in Ireland
It’s clear that MMA’s popularity has only risen to new heights since McGregor’s rise to stardom. However, MMA’s status in Ireland gets mixed reviews from different generations in the country. On one hand, the younger generation and kids in low-income areas are more accepting of the craft, while older generations of Irish people have little or no time for seeing people getting their heads kicked in.
When asked about how people perceive his chosen sport, Frimpong remained on the fence and claimed that he could see both sides of the argument.
“I am on both sides of the fence about it. On one hand, I went to university, and I am not a thug, and I think now there are UFC Champions that are educated, and they are literate guys,” he said.
“You know, when you watch UFC, it’s not as brutal as boxing because we don’t get 10 counts. In the UFC, we don’t get another chance if we get knocked out. For you to understand it, you have to be in it.
“On the other hand, I also feel like I don’t want it to be for normal people. It’s not a normal sport. Like I said, it’s for people on the fringes, outcast sports.
“Most of the people who do it are tapped, and you need a different mentality. There are a lot of athletes in other sports who could never do what we do.”
What’s next for Frimpong?
When asked what was next for him in 2024, Frimpong admitted that adding more wins to his belt was something he was looking at while also being relaxed about it.
“To be honest with you, I am not interested in going to the UFC. If I get there, I get there, but I am not hooked on it. There are other ways to make money in the sport. It’s like the Premier League and La Liga; I’d be happy to go to La Liga.
“I want to have four or five fights this year and get a few highlights on the knockout reel.”
Frimpong will be fighting at OKTAGON 52 on the MÅGÅRD VS. CARTWRIGHT undercard.
The fight takes place on January 27, 2024, at 5 p.m. at UTILITA ARENA in Newcastle.
All further details can be found here.