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Bellator standouts and Team Bodyshop members Joey Davis and Kevin Ferguson Jr. have talked to MMAjunkie Radio before about how rare it was for fighters that came into the gym to actually stay there after going through trial by fire.
A fighter who seemingly passed the test, though, is former Bellator champion Brandon Halsey. And, as he prepares to meet fellow light heavyweight Vinny Magalhaes (15-9) in the co-headlining bout of Thursday’s PFL 5, Halsey (11-3) credits Team Bodyshop leader Antonio McKee for recent strides made in his game.
“What we’ve been able to do in a year is more than I’ve done in my whole career with some of these other trainers,” Halsey told MMAjunkie Radio. “I can give a lot of credit to (McKee) in improving my game. And not even just my grappling game, my striking game, too. Because I think people under-utilize him as a wrestling/grappling coach, rather than – he’s a complete mixed martial arts coach.”
It’s certainly been a good past year for the light heavyweight, who’s scored two wins in a row since Sept. 2017. More recently, he beat Smealinho Rama, earning four points after a cut rendered his opponent unable to return to the third round of their PFL 2 bout.
The good moment, however, contrasts starkly with where Halsey was not that long ago.
In Oct. 2015, then undefeated in his MMA career, Halsey met Rafael Carvalho with Bellator’s middleweight title on the line – a title that Halsey, himself, had been made to vacate after missing weight for an ultimately victorious meeting with Kendall Grove.
Halsey was finished by Carvalho in the second round, going on to lose to John Salter in what would be his final Bellator bout and then to Alexander Shlemenko in an M-1 Challenge rematch. Three months later, though, Halsey moved up a division to meet Mikhail Ragozin and things started turning around.
Halsey meets Magalhaes on Thursday, at NYCB Live in Uniondale, N.Y., on Long Island, looking to keep his re-claimed momentum going. The bout airs on NBCSN following prelims on Facebook Live.
As for the rough stretch? Halsey would rather leave it in the past where it belongs.
“It was just life stuff outside the ring,” Halsey said. “Stuff coming up. New family. New house. Life in general, just hitting me. (I) had to make some adjustments, but it’s all in the past now. I’m focused now up in the light heavyweight division, getting ready to smash fools. I’m just putting that behind me, looking forward and looking to big things.”
“Big things” is a rather obscure concept but, in this particular case, it can mean the $1 million prize that is destined toward the winner of each division currently competing in PFL’s regular season.
And while he first needs to get through his second bout there, and only then move on to the playoffs, he thinks grappling ace Magalhaes is a good opportunity to earn the points that will help him get there.
“If you look at previous fights, where you have the traditional wrestler-grappler matchup – if the wrestler is really good at wrestling in this position, they end up nullifying that jiu-jitsu game,” Halsey said. “They’re able to stay in dominant positions. So, I think it’s one of the best matchups I could get. If you look at previous history, wrestlers usually dominate when they hold their positions right.”
But that’s not the only way that Halsey sees his wrestling base as an edge as he pursues PFL’s ultimate prize.
In order to thrive in a tournament-type situation like PFL’s, a fighter needs to not only do his best inside the cage: They need to be extra careful outside of it, too, as the tight schedule won’t allow for extensive recovery time should you get injures. Not to mention, the need to consistently make weight.
For Halsey, however, the scenario isn’t that unfamiliar; in fact, it takes him right back to wrestling season.
“I’m used to that kind of training and kind of transition from week to week into training,” Halsey said. “So I think I have an advantage, because this is what I did all my life, from age 5 until I was 25 wrestling in the world team trials.”
Another specificity that’s often talked about in PFL’s unique format is, of course, the finish-driven mentality. After all, not only do fighters get rewarded for winning, but they get rewarded for finishing – and the earlier that happens, the better.
But, while that plays a part in Halsey’s attitude as he walks into his second and final regular season bout, that part is limited.
“It does play in my head, but it’s all business,” Halsey said. “We’re all here to collect a check.”
To listen to the audio from this show, head to MMAjunkie’s page at AudioBoom.com.
MMAjunkie Radio broadcasts Monday-Friday at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT) live from Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino’s Race & Sports Book. The show is hosted by “Gorgeous” George Garcia, Brian “Goze” Garcia and Dan Tom. For more information or to download past episodes, go to www.mmajunkie.com/radio.
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