WAVERTREE UFC star Terry Etim and Everton fight fans Tim Howard and Sylvain Distin have a shared ambition – they all want to step out at Wembley this season.
But while the footballers have a tricky trip to giantkillers Oldham to negotiate en route to a possible appearance at the national stadium, fight star Terry is already guaranteed a Wembley billing when the Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to London next week (February 16).
It will be UFC’s first show in Britain for two-and-a-half years – and Etim can’t wait.
“It’s going to be huge. I’ve always wanted to fight at Wembley and when I heard the UFC were putting on a show there I was thrilled. It’s going to be a very good night.
“I’ve fought in Brazil, Germany, Abu Dhabi...but the crowd always turns out in force in Britain and hopefully they will give me a real boost.”
It won’t be just the 10,000 crowd packed into Wembley who will rooting for the Liverpool lightweight when he steps into the Octagon against Brazil’s Renee Forte.
Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard and defender Sylvain Distin are big UFC fans, and for Howard it’s not just entertainment.
Blues stopper Howard tries to pick up some tips from the fighters he can use in his own sport.
“I admire fighters and how they train and their mindset. If I ever encounter a fighter I always try and pick their brains,” he explained.
“You have to gain an edge with the mental aspect of fighting and I try and incorporate that into my mentality too.
“Football’s a team game, but goalkeeping is an individual part of that so I always try and gain a mental edge.
“I’ve met a few UFC fighters before and they’re always humble so every time I meet them I enjoy picking their brains.
“I’ve been following UFC for probably about 10 years now. It’s something I got into when my brother trained ju jitsu and I really enjoy it.
“Down the years I’ve watched everyone. Obviously I was a big fan of Randy Couture and at the moment Jon Jones is currently electrifying people. I tend to ebb and flow and like to see fighters win and get on top, but if they get too big you then want to see them lose because they’re so good.
“Georges St-Pierre seems to have revolutionised the game.
“He is masterful at taking away his opponents strengths so I like watching him at the present.”
Team-mate Distin is just as enthusiastic.
“A good friend of mine has been fighting UFC for a long time and I appreciate the sport,” he added.
“We stay up late to watch it as a team when we can and ring each other to talk about it, or we record it and watch it the next day and it’s always talked about in the dressing room. It’s great to watch.
“I like the style of Jose Aldo, he’s quite attacking and when you watch it on TV that’s what you want to see.”
Distin added that the Blues stars even pull on UFC gloves every now and then and try to put what they see into practice.
“We try to do some pad work once a week,” he added. “Just three one minute rounds, and that helps us understand how difficult it is which is why I enjoy watching the guys.”
The players stress that they only work on the pads and the punchbag, but – hypothetically of course – if Terrible Tim stepped into a UFC arena with Slugger Sylvain, who would come out on top?
Tim smiled...“Sylvain has a big left hand, but if I slip it, and get inside...he could be in trouble!”
Terry Etim will be fighting for real at Wembley, and he aims to ensure that Brazil’s Renne Forte is the man in trouble.
“I don’t know too much about him, but he’s top level so I’m expecting a tough fight,” he said. “But I’m also 100 per cent confident and I know I’m going to come out on top.
“I’ve trained three hours in the morning three hours at night – I’m super-fit and super-ready.
“But I’m fed up with training now and just want to get to fight night and come away with the win. I love fighting in England. The fans have always shown me such great support. It really makes you want to dig deep because you can hear the crowd. I will be looking to put on a show for them.”