Bellator Dublin: Lewis Long hoping yoga gives him MMA advantage

By Lewis StephensBBC Sport Wales

"If you'd told 10-year-old me this is what I would be doing in 20 years he would've been chuffed to bits."

After a professional mixed martial arts [MMA] career spanning 12 years, you would think Bellator fighter Lewis Long would know everything there is to know about the sport.

But at 30 years old and preparing for his 23rd professional contest, the Welsh welterweight believes the addition of yoga to his training could prove all the difference.

The Pontypridd-born fighter takes on Sweden's Oliver Enkamp at Bellator Dublin on Saturday, 22 February at the 3Arena on a card headlined by a featherweight contest between Ireland's Leah McCourt and Germany's Judith Ruis.

Long originally took up yoga when recovering from an injury and hasn't looked back since,

"I saw the benefit and how tough it was and came back to it a few years later to supplement my training. You're in the same gym all day, everyday - you go a bit stir-crazy, so you've got to have some auxiliary training to help," he explained.

Long has gone on to become a yoga instructor and has warned against some of the pre-conceived beliefs surrounding the discipline.

"It's so unbelievably tough, people go into yoga thinking it's just flexibility and you can get quite a bit of that, it just depends what you want," he added.

"But what it does give you is not just flexibility, it's strength, mobility and so much core work."

In a sport like MMA where fights can come down to the finest of margins, Long believes the inclusion of yoga is having a significant effect on his overall performance.

"In this game you're looking for percentages, a little bit better each day and for me yoga has given me the biggest gain in a long time," he said.

"Especially with hot yoga, that's where I've found my home. In that heat, going into the positions and the postures I can open up my body so much.

"And then you put it towards your grappling or your fighting you're able to deal with being put in these situations and keep yourself calm and regulate your breathing. If you can harness all that then what else is there to fighting?"

Long's opponent Oliver Enkamp is a former UFC fighter who after being released from his contract now fights in the rival promotion backed by president Scott Coker.

Bellator to rival UFC

However, Long believes Bellator should be seen as a rival to the UFC and not a lesser promotion.

"I know UFC has the prestige of being the first professional fight promotion and has fighters like Conor McGregor, but I believe it's closely followed by Bellator," he added.

"The company deal with their fighters in a different way and it's a lot more relaxed. Fighters can have their own sponsors and they're a bit more open for negotiations whereas the UFC is a bit stricter.

"And the welterweight division in Bellator is arguably better than that of the UFC."

Looking past his fight with Enkamp it is clear Long does not concern himself with demanding title shots or who he fights next, but looks at improving his own skills.

"I don't have any plans, I just look to be better than I was yesterday," he said.

"I'm not worrying about belts but they'll come in time, I'll just keep winning and training and be the best version of myself.

"Keep chipping away and the title will be mine. I'm going to win [on Saturday], I don't know how but that's the one thing I know."