Combat Sports

Yu-Joe Lewis Lai: Playboy Returns

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Almighty Fighting Championships hosts their first event in 18 months, with currently 52 fighters ready to display their skills in the cage for the first time in a while, for some. Due to the pandemic, several competitors have struggled to find an opportunity, but Almighty owner Ray Thompson has bounced back with a brilliant event in store for the returning fans.

Many fighters have competed within the pandemic, and some have been out of the game way before. For Yu-Joe Lewis Lai, this has been the case, as he returns to the cage for the first time since November 2018. Lai started his amateur career in October 2016, with a dominant ground & pound finish over Ryan Swan. He showed his capabilities in the cage, and his grit and brutality got him the victory.

He pushed on to fight for the Ultimate Challenge MMA light-heavyweight title in his second amateur fight against a fellow upcoming prospect Beau West. The bout was an absolute war, and they both came all guns blazing for the finish. West looked shattered in the second round, with Lai not giving up, he showed his desperation for the finish and to win gold.

That he did, the referee stopped the fight with West looking like he couldn’t take any more. Lai continued his hot prospect status with another finish to defend his title against Karl Esser in his third bout. In 2018, he tasted defeat for the first time and a second time, and we haven’t seen him in the cage since. Now, he’s back, more ready than ever before.

The undefeated Joe Ambler will be looking to ruin the return of Lai, with the pair competing for the amateur middleweight title, a division Lai will be making his debut in. With Ambler’s two victories in the promotion already, Lai will be desperate to stop that streak on Saturday night.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Yu-Joe Lewis Lai ahead of Almighty FC 18.

Interview with Yu-Joe Lewis Lai

So, what was it that first drawn you to MMA and made you want to compete?

Yu-Joe Lewis Lai – So I’ve been competing since I was a kid in Taekwondo, so martial arts has always been a big part of my life I even won a silver medal in Birmingham for the national championships earlier on in my life. Because of that, it ended up leading me to take part in other sports such as Boxing, BJJ along with other things. With MMA I started this when I was continuing my training and an old friend asked me if I would be willing to take a fight on 4 weeks’ notice, I thought it would be a great idea to try competing, and then after that, I just got the bug for it. I loved it, every aspect of competing and fighting. Never looked back since.

You haven’t competed since November 2018, is there reasoning behind that? If so, what’s made you come back to fight again?

Yu-Joe Lewis Lai – Yeah so the only reason I haven’t competed since then is just because the right opportunity didn’t come up or things haven’t aligned in general. I was due to fight last year on AFC against someone else behind closed doors but because of Covid restrictions that didn’t come in to play. Was quite gutted about it to be honest as I’ve been preparing myself to get back in since before then. Like I said I love fighting and love competing so it was a no brainier when I was given this opportunity.

Tell me about the feeling of your first win and then winning the Ultimate Challenge MMA amateur light heavyweight title in your second fight?

Yu-Joe Lewis Lai – My first win was great, it showed me that I could be successful competing in MMA. Winning my title was even better. It made me realise so much about myself that I didn’t know before. Getting in the cage and going through a battle like that showed how much I wanted it more than my opponent at the time. You know after my fights I was celebrating non stop for days on end before getting back to work in the gym.

After you defended the title in your third fight, why is it you never defended it on a second occasion?

Yu-Joe Lewis Lai – It wasn’t that I didn’t want to defend my title for a second time.  Just at the time we was considering all the options and I wanted to try get another title elsewhere so that was another factor. Plus fighting in front of my family and friends meant a lot to me at the time because I had never got the chance to so I wanted to do that as well.

Your last two fights have been defeats, how have you adapted your game over the years to get to this point of competing again?

Yu-Joe Lewis Lai – Yes completely. Losses make you into a better fighter at this stage in my opinion. I can make mistakes and I can lose without it having any damage on a pro record when I decide to go and move up to them rankings. Because I had been working mostly in wrestling at the time, I tried to test my skills in the cage to see what level I was at. Since then I have come even further with my standup and my wrestling so keep an eye out because I am more than capable to do what’s needed in the cage to win.

You play American Football? Talk me to a bit about that? Have you prioritized that over MMA in recent years?

Yu-Joe Lewis Lai – Yes I do play American football, I’ve been playing since 2012 when I first went to university and that allowed me to travel to Germany to play also. Bear in mind I just defended my title and then the next day flew to compete over there. I wouldn’t say that I’ve prioritised American football over MMA as I was training both on a consistent basis. Just more the fact that due to Covid and other factors that I was not able to get myself back in the cage.

When did you find out you were given the opportunity to fight for the AFC title? Do you feel more ready to step in the cage than ever before?

Yu-Joe Lewis Lai – I must have found out about this mid-April I would say so I’ve had a decent amount of time to get myself ready to go. Like I said earlier I was already in line to compete for the title before but because the show got cancelled we had to wait. My opponent that I was supposed to fight to begin with did change though as he’s doing whatever he’s doing now but I’m sure I’ll see him later on in the future. I’m definitely feeling ready. I’m just eager to get in there now and show what I can do. I’ve gotten so much better than what I use to be and the great thing about it is that my opponent won’t know what to expect since the last thing he would have seen of me is from a while ago now. I’m a complete different fighter since then.

Finally, what are your thoughts on your opponent Joe Ambler? How in-depth do you study an opponent before a fight?

Yu-Joe Lewis Lai – I don’t really have too much of an opinion on Joe. I’ve got respect for him for getting into the cage firstly and secondly for taking the fight. I know a bit about him from what I’ve been told and what I’ve seen of him but there isn’t much you can say. He could be completely different on the night and come out with anything. I did watch his fights both in MMA and his boxing bout and he was impressive with his submission finish and he has good wrestling. I don’t think that will be enough though. Unlike the guys he’s fought before I know how to wrestle and as I’ve shown before I can tap someone out just as easy as he can. It’ll be interesting to see how he manages when it’s the other way around and he’s on the back foot for once. The guys that he has fought looked like they shouldn’t have even been in there in my opinion so it will be very interesting when the tables are turned and he’s on the back foot. 
Normally with my opponent I usually watch their fights a few times just to get a little feel for them so I know what I could do but mostly I leave it to the coaches and then we will discuss the game plan in play.

Follow me on Twitter @JakeBroderick98 for more combat sports news and discussions. Also, make sure to follow @OT_Heroics for all of your sporting needs. Don’t forget OTHeroicsMMA for all things MMA.

Featured Image Credits to Almighty FC

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