Thursday May 26, 2022

Michael ‘Venom’ Page says recognition overdue as Bellator’s ‘poster boy’

Venue: Wembley Arena, London Date: Friday, 13 May
Coverage: Live coverage on BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport website and app from 18:00 BST, with the main card also live on BBC Three from 21:00 BST

“I don’t get the recognition I deserve, but it doesn’t faze me,” says Michael ‘Venom’ Page on being asked if his elite level fighting skills and achievements get fully recognised.

It is a fascinating subject – as enigmatic as the fighter himself. But there is no doubt that ‘MVP’ is a natural star of the sports firmament, with his unique style, endless highlight reel stoppages and command of the moment in promoting himself.

There is great enigma about his persona, just as there is for any of his rivals facing his fast-twitch, lightning attacks and movement, honed over years of free-style kickboxing from his long frame and languid skills. He is the viper of combat sports.

Page, indeed, is also the ‘poster boy’ for Bellator MMA in the UK, and there is an argument – a strong one – to suggest he does not get enough mainstream recognition.

But is Page genuinely not troubled by the fact MMA’s stars arguably do not receive the respect they merit from a widespread British audience, both for their courage and craft?

“Not really,” he tells BBC Sport.

“Let’s be realistic. MMA is still a very young, very new sport, especially in this country, still looked at negatively in some places, like with sponsors, for example.

“Because of that, we do have to strive to keep developing things. But if I’m honest, I don’t do what I do for recognition, I do it because I love it. I love my journey, it’s in me. I’m still happy with where I am. My status is slowly growing.

“It will come, that’s how I look at it.”

That elevated status could come because of several factors.

One of these could be the campaign for Olympic incision. First though, on Friday, interest will come through his bid for Bellator’s interim welterweight crown. Londoner Page could become a member of a very exclusive club as just the third Briton to hold a world title with one of the major mixed martial arts organisations.

In 2016, Michael Bisping became the UFC’s middleweight champion after refusing to be denied time and again in a never say die narrative, which had turned the Lancastrian into a folk hero. And in 2015, Liam McGeary claimed Bellator’s light-heavyweight crown, an achievement which went horribly under the radar.

And like Page now, heavyweight Tom Aspinall in the UFC looks two fights away from contending for the UFC’s big man crown. But champions have been few and far between, as if to emphasise the infancy of the sport here.

There is no disappointment, moreover, for Page that Yaroslav Amosov, Bellator’s welterweight champion, will not be meeting him in the cage at Wembley on Friday night. The Ukrainian withdrew from their fight to help defend his homeland from Russia.

“I thought it may happen,” Page says. “He’s Ukrainian and things are going on in his life that are beyond his control. The way I look at it is that if – when – I win against Logan Storley, I see myself the champion. Amosov will come when he is ready, and we will fight then.”

Page is a firm favourite against the American Storley, who has a 13-1 record but is renowned predominantly for his wrestling.

But the bigger picture, as MMA grows globally, is that it will become an Olympic, and maybe even a Commonwealth Games, sport, and so the resonance of the sport will grow with a mainstream, crossover audience. That certainly seems to be the case with women’s boxing, now growing exponentially 10 years after its investiture in the London Olympic Games.

Things are happening for that to become a reality, too. The International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) was awarded World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Code signatory status seven months ago, a vital step towards Olympic inclusion.

Page believes Olympic or Commonwealth Games inclusion would have a dramatic effect on the dissonance MMA currently receives in some quarters, mis-perceived as it still is in the minds of some sports fans.

“If I had come back with a gold medal in one of those events, 100% I’m sure I’d be seen in a different way,” Page says. “We give massive value to the Olympic Games in this country. My path would have been different, and maybe my path financially would not have been as it has been for me.

Michael Page punches his opponent
MVP challenges for the interim welterweight title on Friday in London

“Things happen for a reason. The recognition will come – as simple as that…we still need to educate people massively.”

For now, if Page can beat Storley in spectacular fashion and follow that up with a defence of the interim title – potentially against old adversary Douglas Lima or challenger Jason Jackson if Amosov is not available – could he find himself among the contenders for BBC Sports Personality of The Year in 2022?

“It would be amazing and I would feel very honoured if that were to happen,” says Page, with a grin.

Keep us smiling Mr Page, and do your thing and become one of a very thin list of fighters from these shores who can claim to have become a world champion in MMA with the major organisations.

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