Tom Nicholls-Burton is a 4 x British Sambo champion, former Judoka for Team GB, and currently 2-0 as an Amateur in MMA. After his first two MMA wins, I spoke to Tom and talked about his combat background, his older brother’s role as his coach, and his plans to burst onto the Middleweight MMA scene in 2022.
Interview With Tom Nicholls-Burton
Thank you for your time today. How are you feeling after your first-round TKO victory on Battle Arena in October?
Tom Nicholls-Burton – “At the time, I was really happy with the result, but I expected it of myself. For me, it was nothing to get carried away with. It was a box tick for me because I knew after that Battle arena would offer me a title shot. Physically this year, I’ve been really good. I did both my camps back to back because my first two fights were within seven weeks of each other, so the timeline was quite tight, but all good. The title fight has been discussed. However, nobody wants to fight me for the belt, so there isn’t an official announcement yet but hopefully soon.”
How do you find balancing your work between your fight camps and training?
Tom Nicholls-Burton – “I’m very lucky because I work for my Dad’s bricklaying company. When I left college, he said to me, ‘Come and work for my company and if you need time off when you’re touring with GB for Judo, then I will give it to you. So for my fight camps this year, I’ve used a lot of my time off so I can train and cut down to three days a week at work. It’s been tough but for me, but I know the money will come later on, and it’s made the training really easy. It used to be I’d go for a run at 05:30 am, go to work for eight hours, and then after I was done at work, I’d have to drive to the gym to train it was horrific.”
Your background is so diverse in terms of your combat sports experience. You started with Thai boxing and then transitioned into Judo and Sambo. How did you begin your journey?
Tom Nicholls-Burton – “It’s actually a really cliché story! I was a little fat kid, and my older brother and I always fought and messed about as kids. My Dad kept saying that he would get me into martial arts, but he held me off a little bit because he didn’t think I was quite ready yet. Then when I was around 11, I was playing football with my mates, and an older lad who was around 15 was bullying me and wanted to fight me. We ended up fighting in the middle of the school playground. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I pulled some WWE moves and threw him on the floor. I ended up in a ground and pound position and beat him up a bit. After that, word got around everywhere about me beating this other kid, and I quite liked that, then my Dad put me in Thai boxing. I wouldn’t say I liked it at first, but my brother had a fight that I went to and decided I wanted to fight after a while. I ended up having four Thai boxing fights from 14-16 years old against older lads, all finishes. Then I started Judo at 16 and was aiming for the GB team when I got the bug for that. I did Judo and cross-trained with Sambo for six years. Then I’ve made my way into MMA.”
How do you find having your brother in your corner and as your coach?
Tom Nicholls-Burton – “He is the ultimate guidance I look for. If I ever do something stupid, I’ll ring him up and ask him if I’m wrong. If he says that we’re going to fight someone, I will trust him if he thinks I’m ready for that. That is the same in life advice as well, not just fighting, he knows me so well, his advice is the most important to me. I’m very lucky to have him.”
Sambo is one of the more niche sports and certainly isn’t massively popular in the UK just yet. What is the sambo scene like here, and what improvements can be made to encourage others to get involved?
Tom Nicholls-Burton – “I feel that in the UK there are some really good lads out there, unknown talents for sure. The thing with Sambo is that there are many people who come to the UK and start sambo clubs and bring different parts of Sambo from Europe into the UK. The level of Sambo in the eastern European countries is massive. When I’ve been abroad to fight in the Europeans and the Worlds, it makes the amateur MMA scene and even the pro scene in this country feel like a walk in the park. The level of Sambo in Britain is getting better. Still, I feel like if I do well in my MMA career, I can be a pioneer for British Sambo and see the sport grow even more. We’ve seen Khabib, and we’ve seen Fedor, but we’ve not seen a British Sambo representative.”
You have a lot of experience travelling and competing in Judo and Sambo. Do you think that will help you going forward in your MMA career?
Tom Nicholls-Burton – “Yeah, 100 percent, the pressure I felt when I was competing on the Judo circuit was massive. It felt like every single time you had to win those comps. I was only young at the time, and my mum and Dad had to shell out money for me to go abroad and compete. The pressure that was put on me almost ruined the actual time and experience of going through it. That wasn’t due to my parents; I put pressure on myself. The difference is with MMA is it’s off my own back, through sponsors, etc. I can get support as well. Don’t get me wrong, I feel the pressure, but it’s pressure to show the best me out there in the cage. Before I go out there, I think, ‘Why am I doing this?’ But when I get in the cage, it’s like someone turns a switch, and I say to myself that I am prepared to die to win. That’s quite a powerful thing to say, I suppose, but I really am.”
With the mention of your first title shot coming early next year, although it’s yet to be confirmed when you look at the rest of 2022, what do you envision in terms of your MMA career?
Tom Nicholls-Burton – “Next year the plan is, I’m eager, so I want to get onto that pro scene. However, my brother said he thinks I should prove I’m undoubtedly the best in the UK. I want to take all the belts I can as an amateur next year, belts speak, which I want. I want to take as many middleweight belts as I can, and I’d also like to take one at light heavyweight, maybe as well, just to top it off. There isn’t a rush to go pro, there are some really good fights out there for me, and I want to make my name a little bit. 2023 I want to storm the pros, I think with my resumé with only a few pro fights, I could have Bellator or the UFC knocking, it’ll come thick and fast, and I want to be ready.”
Despite being only two fights into his MMA career, Tom has his sights set on the sport’s highest level but shows a clear vision of how he wants to get there. His combat sports experience will be interesting to follow his career, and 2022 promises to be explosive for the exciting middleweight prospect.
Featured Image credits to DN4 Photography