A trip to the sports section in a British bookstore can produce just as many, if not more, books on bareknuckle brawlers as there are on more traditional boxers like Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Ricky Hatton.
What stands out about these books is that many of them focus on bareknucklers who got their start as part of the traveler, or gypsy, culture which isn’t really prevalent in the United States, but that is still alive and well in Europe and elsewhere around the world. So when welterweight John Maguire, a lifelong English traveler, entered the UFC in 2011, it was assumed that he might have engaged in the odd bareknuckle scrap or two. That’s not the case though.
“You could say that there’s always been that aspect and a lot of the travelers like the boxing / standup fighting, and have a lot of background in it, but I stayed out of it,” he said. “There could be family feuds, and they try to prove who the best man is in gypsy. There’s a lot of reputation involved, and you have to stand up for yourself in the community.”
Yet while Maguire loved the art of fighting from as far back as he can remember, his heroes weren’t the locals slugging it out on the travelers’ sites, but the ones on television, first Bruce Lee and Jean-Claude Van Damme, then pro wrestler Bret Hart, and finally, Tito Ortiz and Matt Hughes, the UFC stars that prompted Maguire and his brother to follow mixed martial arts.
“Fighting was always a part of my life, and I just happened to see MMA and I enjoyed it,” he recalled. “I watched the UFC and that’s what I wanted to do, so me and my brother started doing MMA. I was a big Tito Ortiz and Matt Hughes fan. That’s when I started to watch it, when they were in full swing.”
The Maguire boys reenacted UFC bouts, emulating fighters like Ortiz until it was clear that John had a gift for the sport. By 22, the Peterborough native was making his pro debut with a second round submission win over Lee Webber, and he had begun his march to the same Octagon Ortiz and Hughes called home. And he was going to do anything in his power to get there.
“As a fighter, the whole goal is to get to the UFC and fight there,” he said. “So I just wanted to keep fighting. I looked for the best guys in the UK, and I didn’t want no steppingstones. I wanted the best, and I thought that if I keep beating these guys, the UFC’s got to take notice soon.”
Taking on all comers with his brand of what he calls “Gypsy Jiu-Jitsu,” Maguire built an 8-0 record before a rough patch in which he went 3-3 in his next six bouts. But after a decision loss to Simeon Thoresen in May of 2010, he began to hit his stride. A five fight winning streak that included a win over The Ultimate Fighter season nine vet Dean Amasinger earned him a call from the UFC last year, and in his debut against Justin Edwards at UFC 138, he pounded out an action-packed unanimous decision win, looking like a true vet in the process.
“I was nervous, but I think I just hid it well,” he laughs. “I felt the pressure going in, and I was nervous because in my debut I wanted to win more than anything. Not everyone thinks the same, but I think that if I would have failed in my debut and lost, that would have been a big setback for me. And how it went down, especially getting dropped and coming back to win, a lot of people took notice then and I’m over the moon about it.”
The win guaranteed a return trip to the Octagon, one that will take place this Saturday in Stockholm against always exciting DaMarques Johnson. It’s a bout that promises plenty of compelling action, but Maguire would be just as happy with a quick win by knockout or submission.
“The Fights of the Night are all good, but I’m looking to win and get in and out as quick as possible,” said Maguire, 17-3 with 12 finishes. “If not, I’m prepared for the long haul and to go three rounds, but the ideal is to get in and out as quick as possible. I just don’t want to lose at anything, and I want to win more than anything. I’m a strong-minded fighter, and I just want to win.”
At 28, Maguire is in the big leagues now, a respected prospect in one of the UFC’s toughest divisions. It’s that kind of change in fortunes that can alter a person almost immediately, but the British southpaw remains grounded. When he’s not living in the gym while preparing for a fight, he’s back home on the site, refusing to stray from his family’s way of life.
“We’re a real tight community, there are a lot of families in it, and I know Americans don’t have it a lot, but in England, there’s a fair few gypsies around in different sites,” he said. “I still live on the site, and we’re a tight community. I’ve never known nothing else.”
He’s also the UFC’s self-proclaimed biggest fan, and still having that sense of wonder even after competing in the sport’s biggest event may be the biggest secret to his continued success.
“I’m the biggest fan,” said Maguire. “Me and my brother watched every UFC, I still do now, and I’m always following it. So hopefully I’ll keep winning, putting on a good show, and showing the fans some more Gypsy Jiu-Jitsu.”
John Maguire - A Different Kind of Gypsy Fighter
"The Fights of the Night are all good, but I’m looking to win and get in and out as quick as possible." - John Maguire