Arnold Allen's unlikely journey has taken him from a sleepy Suffolk village to the brink of a title shot in the world-famous UFC. He spoke to Mark Heath ahead of his fight with Max Holloway this weekend.

"I always carried the idea of go all the way or not at all."

When a young Arnold Allen first found martial arts, he knew that's what he wanted to do with his life.

But a gig on work experience at Felixstowe Docks as teenager really gave him the added impetus he needed.

East Anglian Daily Times: Suffolk's Arnold Allen is a perfect 10-0 in the UFCSuffolk's Arnold Allen is a perfect 10-0 in the UFC (Image: PA Images)

"One of the things that really kicked me up the bum to do it was work experience when I was about 13 at Felixstowe Docks," he laughed.

“I did two weeks in an office doing logistics – the paperwork – and it was the worst two weeks of my life.

“I decided I never wanted to work in an office in my life! I just loved what I was doing with the MMA, even just being around the gyms – it’s a nice environment, I’m surrounded by good people and we’re all on the same journey.

“From that moment, I wanted to pursue this as a career – anything but a real job!”

And it's worked out pretty well for him - the 29-year-old is 19-1 as a professional MMA fighter, and 10-0 in the UFC, the Premier League of the sport.

This Saturday he faces icon Max Holloway (23-7 MMA, 19-7 UFC) in Kansas City, with the winner likely to face the winner of July's featherweight title scrap between champ Alex Volkanovski and Yair Rodriguez for all the marbles later this year.

It's been quite the journey for the lad from Trimley St Martin. And, as he nears the top of his sport, he reflected on his rise.

East Anglian Daily Times: Arnold Allen on his way to stopping top contender Dan Hooker last MarchArnold Allen on his way to stopping top contender Dan Hooker last March (Image: PA Images)

"As a kid I was always very interested in combat sports," he told me.

"Me and my brother (Jake) used to watch all the animes growing up and martial arts movies – the original Jackie Chan movies, Jet Li and Bruce Lee.

“Those guys were a big inspiration to us and we were always practicing techniques on each other.

“That progressed into begging my mum to pay for the PPV shows to watch the boxing – I was a huge Ricky Hatton fan growing up and I wanted to box.

“Obviously being English, every lad plays football – and I wasn’t as good as the other lads at football.

“So I think that was one of the things which pushed me into this – being cr*p at football and trying to find my thing!

“As I grew up I found a few gyms locally – training with Mark Nixon in Felixstowe and then Rory Burke in Ipswich at Kings ABC.

“My dream was to go to the Olympics and turn professional as a boxer, but it just didn’t work out. Maybe it could have worked out, but I was very inpatient as a kid.

“I wasn’t as active as I’d like to be as an amateur boxer.”

He continued: "I got kicked out of school, so I had a lot more spare time than other kids.

"Instead of going to the naughty boys’ school I was meant to go to, I’d get the bus into Ipswich, go to the gym on Turret Lane, go boxing, and then I’d get the bus all the way back to Felixstowe to train with Mark Nixon and do a bit of MMA.

"I was frustrated at not having fights in the amateur boxing and then Mark and the guys at the MMA gym said ‘we could get you a fight next weekend if you want?’

"So I said, ‘Yeah sure – I know nothing about this sport, but I’ll have a go!’ It was just that hunger for competition.”

East Anglian Daily Times: Arnold Allen's fight with Max Holloway is the main event of UFC Kansas City this SaturdayArnold Allen's fight with Max Holloway is the main event of UFC Kansas City this Saturday (Image: UFC)

Now, having started his professional fighting career as an 18-year-old, he faces a man who he's watched fight from afar for years.

Holloway, 31, is a former featherweight champion and was once considered the best fighter in the whole sport, going undefeated for five years before finally losing in a tilt at the interim lightweight title against Dustin Poirier back in 2019.

It's the biggest test of Allen's career so far. And he knows it.

"He’s the best guy available that makes sense for me," Allen said. "He’s the best guy to get me to a title shot, and with his resume I don’t think it could be denied.

"We match up quite well. It’s a style that suits me and it’s a fun fight for the fans. It’s not going to be two blokes holding each other on the fence, it’s going to be a fan friendly fight.”

East Anglian Daily Times: Arnold Allen is one of Suffolk's biggest sporting starsArnold Allen is one of Suffolk's biggest sporting stars (Image: PA Images)

He added: “I rate him very highly. He’s one of the best featherweights ever – and you could argue he’s the best.

“Mentally, he seems unbreakable, he’s a cardio machine, he’s never deterred. Even at lightweight he took some big shots off (Dustin) Poirier and it was the same old thing – he soaks them up and keeps walking forward.

“I think those strengths are going to be his weaknesses for me.”

One of the big tests of facing Holloway is the mental warfare he brings to the fight - a super-friendly and respectful character outside the cage, he tends to become a different animal inside it.

Allen laughed: "As soon as I signed the fight, people were saying ‘a fight between two really nice guys, two of my favourite guys’ – and I was like ‘no, no, no, he is not a nice guy.

"Maybe outside the cage he is, but when he’s in there, he’s ruthless. It’s part of his mental warfare – maybe being a bit Suffolk simple is going to play on him!

"He’ll be saying all these things and they’re just going to go over my head. I just need to be cool, calm and collected – and maybe play a bit dumb.”

So, where does Allen see himself having an advantage over Holloway, a fighter who throws crazy volume, pushes the pace and calls himself the best boxer in the UFC?

“I think I match up with him very well," he said. "I work with some great coaches and box with some good pro boxers – I’m fortunate to have that high level sparring for years now.

“He is obviously very good, when he’s moving and slipping, he’s confident and comfortable, doesn’t fatigue or get deterred.

“So he’s very good – but I’m very confident in my own hands and I’d back my striking against most guys.

“I think I’ll be better than him there, in the striking. I’ve seen a lot of people saying that I’ve got a big wrestling advantage to take him down and submit him, but he’s a good grappler who scrambles very well.

“I’m a striker and we’re both strikers – I’m pretty sure that’s the fight we’re going to see.”

East Anglian Daily Times: Arnold Allen believes his striking will be better than Max Holloway'sArnold Allen believes his striking will be better than Max Holloway's (Image: PA Images)

Asked for a prediction, he said: "It’s going to be a decision win I think. He’s tough as hell.

“I know I’ve got the power and accuracy to do the job, and I believe every man can be knocked out.

"I’ll certainly put that to the test, but the plan isn’t to go and be the first guy to take him out, as nice as that would be.

“I’m going to say a points win.”

And, if he does get his hand raised, thoughts will quickly turn to that July 8 title fight between Volkanovski and Rodriguez.

"Yair is like a hand grenade," Allen said, comparing the two and breaking down the title dispute. 

"Wherever he is, there’s explosive movements. If you’re holding him he’s throwing elbows and knees, he’s always firing things your way.

“He’s very good, but I put Volkanovski as one of the best strategists in the game.

"Almost like GSP (MMA legend Georges St Pierre) – he was so tactical. He’d have a gameplan and he’d stick to it.

“He can adapt on the fly if he needs to, but usually the gameplan is so solid he doesn’t need to.

“I think someone like Yair is very emotional, very passionate, he fights with his heart on his sleeve.

"I feel like that is going to suit someone like Volkanovski – he’s a cold character, he’s got a plan and he’s not going to break it.

“I think he’s going to get the win.”

He added:"Volk is definitely the guy I want. He’s the number one and he’s starting to cement a real solid legacy now.

"To be able to dethrone him after this would be the one I’d want.”

- You can watch Allen v Holloway live on BT Sport this weekend. The prelims start around 11.30pm GMT on Saturday night, with the main card set for a 1.30am start.