I want to promote MMA in the region
Winning The Ultimate Fighter season nine has had a major effect on both my life and my career as a mixed martial artist. It has given me the opportunity to compete in the UFC at the highest level and has also helped my profile in both Britain and America. Whereas before I could walk down the street and go unnoticed, nowadays people know who I am and recognise me from The Ultimate Fighter.
I sometimes get a few strange looks in the street, which is quite funny. I also go past some people and hear, 'is that him? Is that the guy off The Ultimate Fighter?'.
It's nice to be recognised, as it shows people are watching the sport and are following my career. I never got into mixed martial arts to become a television star, but it feels good to know people appreciate your skills.
n terms of my MMA career, the biggest upshot of winning The Ultimate Fighter is undoubtedly the chance to compete in the UFC and appear at UFC 105 on November 14. The event is taking place in Manchester, England and I've been handed the chance to make my official UFC debut against American Aaron Riley.
Not only that, I'll also be appearing on the official main card, which means my three-rounder with Riley will be screened live on ESPN in the UK and on SPIKE TV in America. This presents me with the perfect opportunity to show the world exactly what I can do inside the Octagon.
As well as improving my profile overseas, I'm also keen to become the UFC poster boy for Sunderland and the North East. I think there's potentially a massive following for MMA in Sunderland and the region and I've now got the chance to be known as Sunderland's most successful mixed martial artist.
Mixed martial arts is getting bigger and bigger in Sunderland and I think my victory in The Ultimate Fighter will only help the rise of it. Young kids will have seen my success and will have realised what doors can open up within the UFC. People from the North-East are working class and grafters and they have that inbuilt fighting mentality. We don't receive things on a silver spoon and we have to work for everything we get in life. I'm basically just one of them. I'm a normal lad that enjoys testing myself in a fighting environment.
The crowds that Tony Jeffries draws in the North-East tell me that there would be a huge following for me and other mixed martial artists from Sunderland. Jeffries was, of course, the Olympic bronze medallist boxer from 2008 and he's already a big ticket-seller in Sunderland.
I box out of the same gym as Tony Jeffries, and he's something of a local hero up here. He draws big crowds to his fights and he's only had a few to date. Tony did amazing in the Olympics and he's started really well in his pro career. He seems to have adapted nicely to the pro game and I can see him achieving big things.
Success breeds success and I try to spend as much time in Sunderland as possible during a week. From Wednesday to Saturday I'm back home in Sunderland and I then spend Monday and Tuesday down in Nottingham at the Rough House gym. I would love to spend more time in the Rough House, but it's a two-and-a-half hour drive away and it takes its toll sometimes.
I've got my Thai-boxing coach, my boxing coach and my strength and conditioning coach back at home in Sunderland, but my main sparring work is done in Nottingham. There are no better training partners than Dan Hardy, Paul Daley and Andre Winner. The Rough House gym is practically a who's who of UK MMA. I don't care what other people say; the Rough House is the best MMA gym in the country.
So long as I'm working with that calibre of training partners on a daily basis, I know I'm heading in the right direction. As I mentioned in my last column, The Ultimate Fighter success has now tipped the focus on me and opened doors in terms of training and opportunity. It's fair to say I'm enjoying my time in the spotlight...
*** Last tickets for UFC 105 are available now from ticketmaster.co.uk ***