Young Englishman Ben Dyson’s star is very much on the rise.
He’s had strong showings on Polaris and Fight2Win cards recently and later this month he will step onto the mats at the ADCC tournament for the first time, knowing that a strong performance there would be enough to catapult him into the upper echelons of the sport.
He’s competing in the 88KG weight-class, a division stacked with household names and seasoned vets like Craig Jones, Josh Hinger, Murilo Santana, Jon Blank… The list goes on. Faced with such a high-calibre of opponent, and knowing how life-changing a couple of wins could be, it’s easy to assume that Ben is nervous.
But actually, when I ask him how he’s feeling about the competition, the first word that comes to mind for him is “excited”. “I feel very excited, I can’t wait to test myself at the very highest level,” he says.
And why he shouldn’t be looking forward to it? He’s already been training with some of the world’s elite-level talent for a couple of years now, including a prolonged stint at ATOS in San Diego getting to grips (literally) with guys like Andre Galvao, Keenan Cornelius and Lucas Barbosa.
From the sounds of it, that was a transformative experience. “The hard days there were very hard, but above anything it made me tougher and I know I can mix it with those boys, as good as they are.”
That notion of rising above and learning from adversity comes up again and again as we talk. Ben feels it’s one of our sport’s great appeals. “Special things don’t come from positions of comfort. And I think that’s the benefit our sport has over most – the grind is hard and shows you that things often don’t go your way”.
Things certainly didn’t go Ben’s way at his two previous ADCC European trials when he failed to qualify either time. They were tough pills to swallow for him given the effort he had put in. And it’s clear that losing is not a concept that sits easily with him.
“Losing sucks, I hate it so much, especially when you sacrifice a lot in preparation; financially, time, training. But both prior losses at the trials taught me a lot about the ruleset and the tactics I needed to implement to be victorious. Also, wrestling, you must wrestle”.
So how does 2019’s Ben Dyson stack up against the 2017 version, I ask him? “2017 Ben Dyson definitely gets his arse kicked”!, comes the reply.
Whatever about that, he certainly showed incontrovertible evidence that his game has improved in every way at this year’s trials, with four of his six wins in Poland finishing via submission.
And yet, despite this incredible performance, Ben admits there was some nagging doubt in his own mind during that long, gruelling day on the mats. In the semi-final he was drawn against a really strong and talented guy called Oskar Piechota, who had beaten Ben in their only previous meeting back in 2016. This time, the result was very different.
You get a sense from him that it was a pivotal moment in his young career. “I finished on top in this one and it showed me that I could come back and beat a guy who had beaten me convincingly before three years ago. That gave me the validation I needed to go and win the final in a minute and thirty seconds”.
It’s unusual to hear high-level athletes talk so candidly about their insecurities but it speaks to Ben’s humility and groundedness; qualities no doubt instilled in him by his Cornish mum and Liverpudlian dad while growing up in Poole, Dorset in the UK.
He says he had no real sporting heroes as a kid, but played pretty much every game there was. “I just loved sport, it’s all I did when I was young. I played football, cricket and rugby. But I became bored of team sports”. Their loss was MMA’s gain. “I always loved watching combat sports on the television. I began watching boxing and the same as with most people; MMA caught my eye. I looked up my nearest BJJ school (which was a Roy Dean affiliate school) and the rest is history”!
And what was it that kept him hooked? “The desire to test myself. It’s super difficult so that’s why I fell in love with it. I had never been so battered and bruised and beaten in anything that I had done before, but BJJ and MMA will do that to you. I think that type of beating (especially for arrogant teenagers ) is a must.”
I ask him if a return to MMA might be on the cards. He doesn’t fully commit to it, but maintains it’s a distinct possibility. “I would like to go back to MMA, we will see. I still train with many active MMA fighters, and even spar still (very, very occasionally). I’m a bit battered and bruised from this ADCC training so I’m going to have a break after the tournament for a while. Then we can see about MMA”.
He’s certainly never been one to shy away from a challenge, in fact he seems to run head-first into them! How else do you explain his decision to uproot at the start of 2019 and relocate to Canada, where he had no pre-existing ties?
“I love travelling and I also love a gamble. One of my friends in Bournemouth who used to live in Vancouver told me I would love it.”, he tells me. “He was right, I’ve met some awesome people here all of which happen to be in the MMA / BJJ circle. So I fell on my feet for sure, shout out to the boys Mike, Amir, EJ and Filip. Being happy is the main reason why I feel like my game has enhanced, as corny as it sounds”.
So what has he been focusing on for this ADCC camp? “I’m always trying to add new things and try things out to see if they work”, he says. “It’s been going well, with ups and downs that are to be expected. I’m lucky where I am to have some fantastic people around me and great training partners. At the beginning I said I wanted to be in the best shape I’ve ever been in, and I’ve definitely achieved that already: early on I focused on upping my strength and was lifting weights as much as 4 times per week, now towards the end I’m doing a lot more cardio and sprint work. I’m always trying to improve my wrestling, as I love it”.
That kind of physical exertion, combined with his BJJ teaching duties and full-time workload, has to take its toll. He admits to being a little fatigued and cannot wait for the competition day to roll around, “I’m just ready to compete now”.
He knows that as an ADCC first-timer, and comparatively lesser-known grappler, that expectations are probably low. That suits him just fine, he says, let them overlook him.
“I’m certainly expected to lose in the first round, as tends to be the pattern with European qualifiers on recent years it seems. That’s not a knock on the guys before me either – I researched it and the European qualifiers always seem to get a tough draw first up against one of the top seeds. So I feel no pressure in that way. I do hope the person who gets me first round underestimates me, I feel I’m a tough match for anyone in this bracket”.
He certainly won’t face anything in ADCC that he hasn’t seen before. He’s become something of a globetrotter in recent years, training in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Finland, Poland, Holland and Iceland. All of that experience counts.
So, what should we expect from Ben at ADCC 2019? “You can expect me to be fitter, stronger and more tenacious than ever. I recognise this is my shot at the elite and I plan on causing an upset. I know at 88kgs I can pose problems for any man in an ADCC ruleset. For me to win I will need to be better than I have ever been and grab the opportunities I’m given on the mat, as small as they may be, with both hands”.
And when he steps on to the mats in Anaheim, he’ll be determined to repay the faith that others have shown in him so far.
“My original coaches Steve and Jeff Lawson back at home in England. Scramble brand for their amazing, continued support. My professor since white belt Roy Dean, who always has my back. And all my training partners along the way. In Vancouver, Mike Crisp (Lions MMA) and Filip Matos (Roll Academy). So thank you to you guys; I hope I can do you all proud’.
I have no doubt that he will.
Huge thanks to Ben for taking the time to talk us here at Grappling Insider and we all wish him the best of skill! And be sure to follow his Insta on (@dysonbjj).