Training under Eamonn Madden at AEON Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in London, England, Daniel Crawford has amassed an impressive 9-1 record since his pro MMA debut in August 2013. Career highlights include a first round TKO victory over Sengoku, Bellator, and BAMMA veteran Ronnie Mann, as well as a victorious debut for surging Chechen-based outfit Absolute Championship Berkut last year. “I’ve had a long, tough road, and I’m still here,” Daniel told The MMA Vanguard in an exclusive interview. “Global promotions have to realize that. I’m not some average fighter.”
That sentiment has rung true during a perfect 3-0 run over the course of the last 13 months. Able to meet every step up in competition with an even more impressive performance than the last, Crawford has underscored his position as one of the UK’s most outstanding prospects.
It started with boxing as a teenager. “I boxed for four to five years as an amateur,” Crawford told us. “I had 24 fights during that time. Now, I’m also a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.” That BJJ training came courtesy of the aforementioned Madden, a black belt under Leao Teixeira, as well as a black belt in Judo. A coach who has professed to focus on technical excellence as well as the mental side of the fight game, Madden is one of three men Crawford points to as having played a huge part in his ongoing development.
Steve O’Keefe, an outstanding boxer and TaeKwonDo stylist who recently bested highly-touted prospect Sean ‘Sexy Curls’ Carter and faced off with Conor McGregor back in 2012, is his striking coach; Rahim Modaressi, an Iranian national-level competitor, meanwhile, is charged with sharpening Crawford’s wrestling skills, and in fact first introduced Crawford to MMA after Daniel had begun to tire of boxing. An impressive triumvirate indeed, and three men who prove that good things are happening on the London MMA scene right now. Daniel Crawford, for his part, stands right there at the forefront of it all.
Irishman Martin Sheridan probably expected to nip Crawford’s career in the bud, however, back in 2013. With a record of 5-2 and experience fighting the likes of Saul ‘Da Hangman’ Rogers and Dean Trueman, Sheridan was a tough out for anyone, let alone a debuting professional. “My pro debut was against a durable and respectable opponent,” Crawford recalls. “No one in England would take a fight like that on a debut, but here I am. I was very confident even though I hadn’t had a pro fight before.” The lack of a pro fight, however, was tempered with his boxing and amateur MMA experience: “I’d had 26 fights in total at the time [of my debut], and knew I could exploit some weaknesses [in his game].”
That statement is not mere rhetoric. While Crawford has previously admitted he expected to flatten Sheridan in the first round, and the Irishman proved to be every bit as tough as Daniel states, Crawford nonetheless made the most of his boxing and striking acumen, pulling out a Unanimous Decision at UCMMA 35.
Two months later, Crawford was back in the cage, once again under the UCMMA banner. His opponent, Pablo Ben, was 2-1, and coming off a three-year absence from the sport. A flashy striker with a plethora of low percentage kicks in his arsenal, Ben would be unable to land his Capoeira-esque roundhouse kicks, and wound up throwing one leg kick too many as a slip was soon pounced upon by the all-business Crawford. A few strikes later, and Crawford had proven not only his technical superiority, but perhaps more importantly the killer instinct he had expected to show off against Sheridan in his previous fight.
Crawford’s third fight would see a change of scenery. Competing for Cage Warriors Fighting Championship, Crawford would enjoy a bigger stage as he took on 8-fight veteran Huseyin Garabet. Displaying excellent striking combinations, Crawford was able to light up Garabet’s lead leg and body in round one, before an unfortunate low blow on Garabet brought events to a temporary halt early on. The restart saw Crawford display outstanding Thai-style striking after catching a body kick, as well as the wrestling chops to ground Garabet with ease. Though the fight would resume on the feet fairly quickly, Crawford continued to display more active striking and greater volume, putting his opponent squarely on the back foot. With a straight right hand landing at will for Crawford as the first round drew on, Garabet wisely completed a takedown, and ended the round in top position.
The second round would see Crawford secure a Thai clinch early, but in his haste to land knees soon suffered a second takedown from Garabet. Here, Huseyin would gave Crawford something to think about with a huge right hand bomb from standing, as well as some hard elbows. To his credit, Crawford weathered the storm impressively well, and was able to use the cage to regain verticality. Here, Crawford would turn the tables completely, landing a huge overhand right, dropping Garabet before taking his back. Crawford would land several unanswered right hands, and that was that. Crawford was 3-0, had been forced to endure a torrid sixty seconds, and had duly responded with a fight-finishing flurry of his own.
A submission victory in Phoenix MMA over Anthony Phillips outlined Crawford’s continuing development as a complete mixed martial artist, and was the precursor to his first title victory in Warrior Fight Series. Facing off against Greek veteran Athinodoros ‘Theo’ Michailidis, Crawford showed off an excellent all-round game with aggressive-yet-cerebral striking, great wrestling, and solid ground control in what was described by commentators as a ‘masterclass’ of MMA. With confidence growing by the round, Crawford hit Michailidis from all angles, bamboozling the Greek national with an ever-more complex algorithm of head and body shots. The cross-arm guard Crawford displayed was not mere show-boating; it was all part of a seamless succession of stance-switches and highly accurate striking. There was no surprise when Crawford was declared the winner by Unanimous Decision – it was a superb performance from a prodigious 21 year old.
There was no surprise, then, when 5-9-1 Frenchman Herman Grebaba failed to last even half a round with Daniel Crawford in their fight in October 2015. A TKO win at just 2:03 had Crawford at his most confident, and ready to take on the world. When Xavier Sedras came calling two months later, however, Crawford would taste a moment so rare it has never been repeated since; a loss.
“That loss didn’t hurt me at all,” Crawford told The MMA Vanguard about his outing against the South African. “Before going into that fight I had a lot of [fighters] pull out [of fights on me]. I kept training, and I kept cutting weight instead of resting. I wasn’t training to compete, I was just training to see what happened. It was a learning experience on how I should conduct myself in the future, to stay in shape, and not [wait around for] whenever I get the opportunity.”
That lesson, that requirement to be ready to fight at the highest level at the shortest notice, was not lost on Crawford. Another part of Crawford’s learnings from that sole defeat regarded his own toughness and endurance levels: “The main thing I learned is that I don’t quit before the fight. I knew [going in that] I had only about a round in me before I would tire, but I still showed up, [and] somehow I made it to the third round before my back was taken and [I got] flattened out. I couldn’t move [to defend strikes], so the referee had no choice but to step in.”
The fight lasted 11:57 in total, and left with a still highly impressive 6-1 record. Despite the loss, Crawford would not be prepared to take a step down in competition. Unbeaten Frenchman Kams Ekpo was next, a 4-0 karateka nicknamed ‘The Shin Panther’. A TKO artist with excellent striking, Ekpo was a tough test for Crawford, but not one that was beyond him. A potential Fight of the Night candidate at Warrior Fight Series 4, the only downside for Crawford coming out of it was that he had weighed in a pound over the 145 lb limit, and was therefore unable to fight for the featherweight title.
That minor disappointment was soon forgotten when ACB came calling, and Crawford was lined up for their debut show in the UK from Glasgow. Speaking of his time with the company, Crawford told The MMA Vanguard: “ACB was very professionally run, and we were looked after well at arrival,” before adding: “The fight was only a one fight deal.”
His opponent, Alikhan Suleimanov, was a dangerous submission artist with four first round tap outs to his credit, and an overall record of 6-1. Despite being taken down early, and being threatened with everything from a D’Arce choke to a side choke, Crawford did well to resist the slick grappling of the Chechen fighter. To his credit, Crawford fought back, threatening with chokeholds of his own in an impressive display of back-and-forth Jiu Jitsu stylistics.
When the fight returned to the feet, the tables duly turned in Crawford’s favour. A left hand landed flush, and body shots seemed to slow the quickly fading Suleimanov. Two more lefts tested the chin of the Chechen, and a series of body shots and an undefended left-right-left combination spelled the end. Suleimanov finally crumbled after yet another left hand, and a few token ground and pound shots were enough to draw the stoppage. While Suleimanov’s conditioning left a lot to be desired, Crawford’s performance merited a great deal of respect in both offensive and defensive terms.
It was a big win for Crawford on the biggest stage of his career. Admitting his favourite moments have always come on the biggest stages (where he feels he belongs), Daniel must have been keen to build on his ACB success. Fortunately, then, an offering from BAMMA would land at his door, and on May 12, Crawford earned the biggest win of his young career.
Ronnie Mann, a seasoned, thirty-plus fight veteran, had fought around the world, and was once regarded as Britain’s top bantamweight. Now a featherweight, Mann still commanded a great deal of respect in the MMA community, and remained just 30 years of age. Speaking of that fight, Crawford says: “I expected Ronnie Mann to stand up with me throughout the fight, but [instead] he went for a takedown. He felt quite strong to begin with, but any opponent I fight will have to deal with the unfortunate reality that I will hit them, and I will hit them very hard.”
Mann, who had not been stopped by strikes for a full twelve years, could not deal with the speed and accuracy of Crawford. Despite successful level-changes, Crawford showed that he was now more than capable of putting together all of the elements he had already displayed throughout his career. Volume, speed, movement, angles, an ability to defend himself in difficult situations, and an ability to get back to his feet; and that’s not to mention power. A dangerous man in any facet of the game, Daniel Crawford has been described as a ‘rare talent’ by some observers – with his innate understanding of the importance of variety, and his outstanding athleticism lending itself to sheer volume, the sky could be the limit for this young man from London.
Daniel Crawford, the MMA Vanguard looks forward to witnessing the next chapter of your career!