Sport

Poster boy Simeon Powell knows he's a target to be hit at PFL Europe opener

Simeon 'Smooth' Powell in action at PFL1 in the Esports Stadium Arlington, Texas, in April 2022.
Simeon 'Smooth' Powell in action at PFL1 in the Esports Stadium Arlington, Texas, in April 2022. Simeon 'Smooth' Powell in action at PFL1 in the Esports Stadium Arlington, Texas, in April 2022.

THE poster boy knows that he is also a ‘Wanted’ man. Simeon Powell is the fighter to beat in the Professional Fighters League Europe light-heavyweight opener this weekend – in his own mind and in the eyes of others.

That pressure doesn’t weigh heavily on the 24-year-old Londoner, though, who declares: “I’m pretty confident that I’ll win this whole thing.

“I’ve got a big target on my back because I’m the one that’s getting promoted. Obviously they’re all going to challenge me, try to take my head off and get where I am – but I’m not going to let that happen.”

PFL Europe starts this Saturday, in the Vertu Motors Arena in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, and Powell is up against Mohamed Amine, fighting out of the Netherlands.

Simeon’s sights are set higher than ‘just’ a continental title, however: “I’d love to be a world champion. That’s a big goal of mine, ever since I started this sport, I wanted to be known as the best. Being known as the best fighter in the world would be pretty cool.

“Obviously, financially, I’d love to have a lot of freedom – that whole ‘nine to five’ and retiring at 70 doesn’t sit well with me. That would be great, retire early and give my family some financial freedom too.”

Relaxed and affable during our interview over Zoom, he carries that persona into the octagon, living up to his nickname, ‘Smooth’:

“I’m smooth in the cage, smooth in life. Sometimes it’s rough but I just smooth it out.

“I got the name from my coach after my fourth amateur fight. He said ‘You’re so smooth’ and it just stuck.

Asked about a suitable entrance tune, he ponders, before replying: “It changes every time. Depends on what I’m listening to. The one that gives me those pre-fight nerves, that’s the one I want. Maybe I’ll walk out to ‘Smooth Criminal’,” he says with a laugh.

With these quarter-finals in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the aim is to move on, with events in Berlin and Paris, before the finals in Dublin. Powell is adamant he’ll be in the Irish capital in December, and is relishing the anticipated atmosphere already:

“100 per cent. I love the Irish culture. They get behind their fighters. I grew up next to two Irish neighbours, taking in their culture. It’ll be great…

“You win, you progress; you lose, you go home. So losing is not an option.”

Mention MMA and Ireland and the name Conor McGregor invariably comes up. Simeon says the controversial Dubliner has been an inspiration to him:

“Conor was definitely a big part of the reason I wanted to really got for it. There are a few people I look up to and Conor, how he branded himself and marketed himself to be a global superstar.

“I’m sure he has changed the lives of a lot of people with his career. I look at that and think ‘Wow! I wish I could be that.”

His own boyhood dream was soccer, but he switched sports, although not exclusively to martial arts straightaway:

“From the age of seven I was playing football, that was my thing. That was the first dream but I slowly realised that a very low percentage [make it] and I just don’t think I loved it enough.

“When I got to the age of 16 I stopped playing football and went into basketball, kick-boxing, and then stuck with the kick-boxing.

“I was a high energy kid, I always needed to put my energy into something positive.”

Variously listed as 6’4” or 6’5”, he chuckles when asked to clarify: “I actually don’t know. I think I’m in-between. When I measure myself I think I’m 6’4-and-a-half. Round it up.”

His build is perfect for light-heavyweight, he believes: “In this day and age of MMA, light-heavyweights are six foot to 6’6”, that range. I don’t struggle to make the weight, I feel I’m the perfect build for this weight class. Some of the greatest in that division are the height I am. It’s about how I apply and use my advantages.”

Simeon Powell sizes up his opponent in the Esports Stadium Arlington, Texas, in April 2022. Pic: Cooper Neill / PFL
Simeon Powell sizes up his opponent in the Esports Stadium Arlington, Texas, in April 2022. Pic: Cooper Neill / PFL Simeon Powell sizes up his opponent in the Esports Stadium Arlington, Texas, in April 2022. Pic: Cooper Neill / PFL

His amateur career started in 2018, a recollection which surprises him somewhat: “Wow. Yeah, God, time goes quickly.”

He actually lost his first MMA fight, but he believes that defeat was the making of him: “It was different. I’d had one or two kick-boxing fights before that. The ring is quite open, you still feel very connected to your coaches, you can hear everything.

“The cage – the first time, the camera, you’re locked in… I got a bit distracted, I wasn’t focussed. I felt like I was better than the guy but he was hungry, he hit me with a shot. I would say it was an early stoppage, but…[laughs]

“If I didn’t take that loss I don’t think I would have taken it [MMA] more seriously. After that loss I thought ‘I never want to feel like that again’. I felt like I disappointed everyone.

“I trained really hard and was fully locked in.”

His response was to prove he was better than that, he agrees: “Yeah, 100 per cent. I was training harder than before and was hungry to get back in there.”

His route to PFL Europe was not easy, but he was determined to showcase his talent: “Last year I was asked to fight in Orlando [Florida] in the PFL Challenger Series and I performed, won the contract.

“I had another fight in Texas 12 days later, to fill in the spot for someone, and I won that, then fought in London and put in a great performance."

The octagon from above at the Esports Stadium Arlington, Texas. Pic: Cooper Neill / PFL
The octagon from above at the Esports Stadium Arlington, Texas. Pic: Cooper Neill / PFL The octagon from above at the Esports Stadium Arlington, Texas. Pic: Cooper Neill / PFL

“I felt with my three performances it was a no-brainer for them to put me into this. I’m grateful, but I feel it’s all mine to win.”

That’s not a normal fight schedule, but the ‘high energy kid’ he was lives on in the man he’s become:

“That was very unusual, but I just wanted to prove myself, and it worked. My masterplan worked,” he chuckles. “On average, fighters fight two to three times per year, whereas I like to be active. That’s just me, I just love to fight.”

On Saturday night he’ll take on Amine and he is more than ready: “I had a couple of days off around the Christmas period, but my training camp really started on January the first. I think I’m in the best shape of my career already – which is scary for these guys. It’s hard work, it’s a serious grind.

“I’ve never been to Newcastle but I’ve heard they have great energy up there, so I’m looking forward to it.”

We conclude by promising to talk again. His parting shot agrees to that: “When I’ve won the whole thing.”