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James Bond villains, designer suits, and Tito Ortiz: A conversation with Bellator light heavyweight champion Liam McGeary

The charismatic Bellator light heavyweight champion spoke to about his match up with Tito Ortiz at Bellator MMA: "Dynamite 1" on Sept. 19, 2015, his affinity for suits, and reflecting on how far he has come in his fighting career.

Anthony Geathers

NEW YORK -- The unmistakable sound of fists connecting with boxing mitts filled the air and continued in a repetitive loop as I made my way up the stairs to the second floor of the Renzo Gracie Academy on Manhattan's west side.

Bellator light heavyweight champion Liam McGeary (10-0) was working with his striking coach Jason Strout, while photographer Anthony Geathers stood off in the background capturing all the action.

This particular practice session was winding down and the champion--clad in a blue tee-shirt drenched in sweat and black Renzo Gracie shorts with the British flag adorned on the side--looked visibly tired. He paused and hung back a bit, but Strout pressed forward on him as he cracked a wry smile, refusing to let the champ rest, and forcing him to fire back at the pads once again. He was letting his student know he wasn't going to allow him to let up and not finish the practice strong.

McGeary, 32, obliged and fired away with an assortment of combinations until the buzzer on the timer sounded, ending the session on a high note. Something the champion has been able to do quite well over the course of his career, knocking out or submitting his first nine opponents before going to the distance for the first time, when he defeated Emanuel Newton for the light heavyweight title at Bellator 134 this past February.

Since becoming the championing his popularity has grown substantially, as have his media obligations and other duties that come with being a champion of a major mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion. Aside from the obvious changes, he makes it clear those are the only disparities.

"My mentality is still the same," McGeary told, sitting at the edge of the mat after finishing taking his gloves and hand wraps off. "I'm hungry for the win, always been. I'm hungry to learn more. It's a little bit easier now that I've got a little bit of cash behind me. So, that's not a worry now. I just carry on doing what I do. There's no change in mentality. I'm still ready to take over the world."

"I take everything as it comes and I take it all in stride. If I'm going to do more interviews than I'm going to do more interviews. I'm going to be training. I'm going to do my training. You can come down to the gym to find me for interviews. It's soundproof. The place where I'm going to be is in the dungeon."

McGeary has come a long way since first coming over from King's Lynn, England a few years ago. He fought his way up through regional New Jersey promotions like Ring of Combat, before joining Bellator MMA, where he has won all seven of his fights, culminating with defeating Newton for the title.

And now the champion's first defense will come against a legend of the sport in a historical event.

"I sat there yesterday and thought about that," he recalled. "Going from fighting on Ring of Combat when I first came over here, struggling to get a fight, now I'm headlining a main event of a card of that caliber, with all of these fighters, fighting Tito Ortiz. It's a nice feeling."

McGeary will face UFC Hall of Famer Ortiz in the main event at Bellator MMA: Dynamite 1 on Sept. 19, 2015. The card will take place at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., and feature both a cage and ring, as GLORY kickboxing fights will also be a part of the fight card.

"My initial thoughts were, 'man this is a legend,'" said McGeary, on learning of his fight with Ortiz. "I'm looking forward to stepping up with my opponents and fighting the best. This is why I came over here is to keep testing myself. I'm trying to find the next best thing. The next big fight. Tito has been around for a long time. I don't want to put anything past him. He's a dangerous opponent, but I'm a dangerous opponent. I've been on a tear for the last two years. As soon as I got here I've been tearing things up. I haven't finished yet."

McGeary respects the revered MMA veteran and former champion, but when the cage door closes on September 19th and his belt is on the line, Ortiz becomes "just a man."

"At the end of the day, I'm a man, he's a man, you're a man," McGeary explained. "We all fight. This is what we do. He's just another guy who I am going to go in and cause destruction or break faces as they say -- as I say.

"He's got that old-man strength," he continued, discussing Ortiz's attributes. "He's strong. He's powerful and he's dangerous with his wrestling. He's still a danger. I'm not taking him lightly. I'm not taking anyone lightly, but he's not the Tito of 95. He's now the Tito of 2015. This is a whole different ball game. The training has changed. The whole level of fighter has changed."

The 6' 6" English fighter has a commanding presence and a unique air about him, a certain bop in his step His accent combined with his charismatic nature and willingness to speak his mind always make him an interesting interview. "I've always been honest," he admits. "I speak from the heart. I don't bullshit. I'm not very good at lying."

I've likened his demeanor to that of a character in a Guy Ritchie film, think Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, or Snatch. However, I underestimated his level of style when he came decked out in a designer suit at Bellator 138, when he, Ortiz, and the light heavyweight tournament participants were unveiled to the St. Louis crowd.

"The Spike PR team said you were very proud of that suit," I joked with him.

"I really was," he laughed, nodding his head.

McGeary looked like a villain straight out of a James Bond film in his attire that night.

"That's what I'm going for," McGeary said, smiling.

And his tailor, if you can believe it: Suit Supply. "I got if off the rack and she pinned it up a little bit to make it nice and fit, but it was basically off the rack," he said. "I'm going to hit them up again. I'm going to have plenty more."

He was alongside Ortiz that night and for several other days to promote the Bellator MMA: "Dynamite 1" card, and said the two got along fine, but like most fighters and men in general, there was some sizing up going on.

"We are men, we are always sizing each other up," McGeary laughed. "You can't help it. There's that handshake and an extra squeeze. You do that regardless if you're fighting. We hung out at that time. He's going back to work. I'm going back to work and the next time I see him I'll be punching him in the face."

McGeary says England wasn't as "well versed as the States for fighting and kickboxing" back when Pride and K-1 were hosting big tournaments. So unlike other fighters who are listing their favorites from those days ahead of this card --  which tips its hat to that era -- he hasn't seen any of them. "Things are definitely picking up over in England and the knowledge of what's going on," he said.

Having a Bellator card in England "would be amazing," he says, eyes widening at the thought of it.

"We've got a lot of talent in England it just hasn't been noticed," he continued. "There are so many guys like myself who can fight, they just haven't had that opportunity. They can't go and get that opportunity, if you know what I mean."

One of those English fighters, Linton Vassel, will be taking part in the night's four-man tournament, which will likely decide who fights the light heavyweight title next. Vassel faces Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal and in the other bracket Phil Davis takes on Emanuel Newton.

McGeary said he's "going to let them boys do what they do" and whoever wins it, he'll turn his focus to him after he takes care of Ortiz later that night.

"They are four very talented fighters," he continued. "You can't tell out of any of those fighters who is going to win. All four of them have the chance to win that tournament, it's just whoever turns up on that night. I'm going to take care of business on my end and let them take care of their business and whenever we meet, we meet."

The reigning Bellator 205-pound had his true reflective period on how far he has come when he won the title over Newton back in February. "That's when that happened," he said. "That's why that look on my face was like...It was like, 'wow it's finally happening.' It's one of those feelings. It's a strange feeling. In a good way."

He's appreciative of all the love and support he has received from friends, fans and family back home in England and all the public support on social media as well. "I can't thank the fans enough," he said. He's grateful he made the choice to leave his comfort zone back home in order to chase his dream, which quickly turned into a reality. "I didn't leave it behind for nothing," he told back in February, after explaining how his journey into MMA began.

McGeary's journey is far from done, but his message rings true not just for aspiring fighters and fellow athletes, but for anyone going after what they want in life.

"I've said this so many times, don't ever stop fighting for what you want," McGeary says, his voice and expression easily indicating he's a man who never forgets where he came from and how hard he worked to get where he is. "If you want to fight for a world title than keep on fighting. This can go for anything. If you want a job, a specific job in life and someone tells you, ‘you're never going to be able to do that.' Stick your finger up to them and say, ‘you know what, watch me' and go and do it and don't let anybody stop you. That's exactly what I did. People were telling me, ‘you're never going to do this. You're never going to do that.' I borrowed money left, right, and center to come over, to make sure I could survive over here and I did it, but it was a struggle."

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