Years of hard work will culminate in a dream come true for Tom Mearns on Friday night, but he isn’t about to let the spectacle of Bellator 200 get in the way of his chances of victory.
An MMA fighter in training since he was 18, the 25-year-old from Downs Barn will fight Mike Ekundayo on the under-card at Wembley Arena on Friday night as part of one of the biggest cards this side of the Atlantic.
Having risen through the ranks, fighting on local cards before being picked up by the Cage Warriors tour, the former Ousedale pupil has fought all over the country and indeed Europe, dreaming of fighting on one for one of the biggest brands in MMA.
“When I was younger, I always wanted to go out and perform in front of a huge audience,” he said. “This will be my first real opportunity to do it on such a huge platform.
“I was fighting on the small promotions, where it was a bit nitty-gritty, a lot more rough and ready. I fought all over the country and in Europe, learning my trade and improving all the time.
“I want to make a career for myself but I also want to inspire.
“Of course I’d love to become a regular on the Bellator card or on UFC too.”
He won’t be the only MK lad on the card though - Broughton’s Linton Vassell will take on former lightweight champion Phil Davis.
And Vassell, a Bellator regular for several years, was a huge inspiration for Mearns, who hopes the pair can put Milton Keynes on the MMA map.
Mearns said: “When I first went to an MMA gym, I saw Linton training and he was at the start of his pro career. He was so professional, determined and driven and it inspired me to want better for myself.
“I want to give Milton Keynes something else to be proud of. I’m fighting alongside Linton Vassell - another fighter from our town. We’re doing something a little bit different, something outside the box.”
Taking on an undefeated opponent, Mearns admitted he will be nervous before walking out towards the cage, but confidently predicts he will hand Mike Ekundayo his first defeat while picking up what he hopes to be the first of many Bellator victories.
He added: “I usually get nervous before fights, but I’ve worked for so long to get this opportunity.
“There’s nothing I’m thinking about other than winning. I have to win. My opponent has never lost a fight, so by beating him, I’ll improve him as a fighter. I have to win, and I will win.”