Second time’s a charm for Neil Berry?
No stranger to the bright lights, reigning Rumble in the Cage light heavyweight champion Berry (9-9) of Lethbridge, Alta. will once again take aim at the Unified MMA light heavyweight championship. This time he’ll be looking to spoil the first title defence for Edmonton, Alta.’s Graham Park (7-2) at Unified MMA 40 on Saturday night.
It was just two fights ago that Berry had an opportunity to claim the Unified MMA light heavyweight title when he took on Park’s teammate, Teddy Ash.
Ultimately, it didn’t go his way, but Berry said it was a great learning experience in what was his second fight back after a long layoff. Berry bounced back with a decisive submission win in his most recent outing and he’s looking to keep the momentum rolling Saturday night.
“I learned a ton from my fight against Teddy Ash,” Berry said in an interview with MMA Empire.
“It was on short notice and I definitely came in super anxious. In my next fight against Anton I was a lot more in the moment and it paid off. I don’t want to leave it to the judges; I also just don’t want to fight that long if I don’t have to. I’d rather get it done and over with as quickly as possible. But there’s ups and downs to that too. Definitely for this next fight I have to fight smart and not let the anxiety take over.”
With a long career of ups and downs, Berry has begun to build an immunity to hard times of the sport.
While the COVID-19 pandemic was a difficult time for many fighters, Berry said it was actually an opportunity to take a step back and work on certain aspects of his game.
“Honestly, it was time just to work on things,” Berry said.
“I’ve been training for a long time and I have a good method and approach to training. I’ve been able to take the last year and a bit to work on parts of my game that I needed to. I did some strength training and conditioning and just tried to do as much as I could over the last year to get better.”
Berry has shown, throughout his career, his game never stop evolving. He returned to MMA in 2018 with a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, feeling like a completely new fighter after stepping away from the game for nine years.
Since then he said he’s really been able to find a groove as a professional, much of which he said can be attributed to finding a solid game plan ahead of the fight.
“Definitely the mental game, and I think game planning has definitely changed a bit too,” Berry said.
“I’m hoping to be a smarter fighter than when I was younger and implement more strategy and a lot more technique. And my ground game has taken over; I used to be more of a striker when I first started, but my ground game has definitely surpassed my striking, so that’s been a change for sure.”
Preparing for his showdown with Park has made for an intense training camp for the Canadian Martial Arts Centre product.
Berry said he wouldn’t have it any other way and actually sees some similarities between he and Park heading into fight night.
“As far as training for Graham goes, I think he’s a lot like me. He comes out to win as fast as possible,” Berry said.
“He’s a first round guy too, so I’m expecting a lot of pressure and a lot of aggression and I’ve been training to stifle that as much as possible.”
Berry knows he can’t predict exactly how Park will come out during the fight, but he also said he knows how much instincts play into fighting, and he believes his opponent will be looking to get things to the mat eventually.
“I don’t know what his game plan is for me. I know what my game plan would be for me, so I’m kind of going off how I would fight myself,” Berry said.
“At the same time, I think his instincts are always to pressure and take people down, so I am expecting to be put up against the cage and have him trying to take me down at some point for sure.”
“My family, they’re always my biggest supporters. My entire team at Canadian Martial Arts Centre, and Kelli-Rae Tamaki at TMH Business Coaching & Consulting.” Follow Berry on social media: INSTAGRAM