'100% I'm at title level' - Suffolk UFC star Allen believes he can beat the very best, starting with Yusuff
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Suffolk's UFC star Arnold Allen believes he can beat everyone in the top ten of the featherweight division - and says his next opponent, Sodiq Yusuff, is more of a test than many ranked above him.
Allen, 27, faces Yusuff in the co-main event of next weekend's Las Vegas show, a battle between the tenth and 11th ranked 145lb fighters on the planet.
It's also a match-up between fighters who are unbeaten in the UFC - Allen is 7-0 in the world-famous octagon (16-1 overall), while Yusuff is 4-0 and 11-1 overall.
And Trimley's Allen, who saw two fights fall through last year - intended foes Josh Emmett and Jeremy Stephens both pulling out injured - believes this is the battle to announce him as a major player in the division.
"It's everything I want," he said. "He's another top, hungry prospect, like myself, with a lot of hype around him. He's got a good win streak, he's the same age as me, the same height as me, we have a lot of the same statistics.
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"It's exciting, exactly what I want. It's one of those fights where we both want it, because we both want to be the best in the world.
"It's not one of those fights where I'm fighting an expired veteran, it's two legit guys, coming into our peaks and still improving."
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This clash has the added bonus of likely being a perfect blend of styles - both are strikers, with Allen relying on speed, reflexes and mastery of distance, while Yusuff boasts heavy handed pressure.
Allen said: "It's kind of nice, because everyone I've fought in the UFC has come to try and take me down.
"It'll be nice to fight someone who doesn't want to take me down, and we're going to stand - that's going to suit me very well, rather than having to counter strike and counter wrestle. It's going to be interesting.
"I think I'm going to win because of my whole fight IQ, I think I'm a bit more well-rounded, bit more versatile.
"I could definitely get the knockout in this fight. When these guys are coming trying to wrestle and take you down, it's hard to put everything into the punches, so you end up pulling your punches so you don't get taken down.
"That's the reason I haven't got the knockouts I've been looking for."
Since making his debut in the UFC with a submission win over Alan Omer back in June 2015, the Suffolk southpaw has been based at the world-famous Tristar Gym in Montreal, training under famed coach Firas Zahabi and often alongside the man that many consider the greatest mixed martial artist ever, Georges St Pierre.
And Allen says being surrounded by elite competition has helped him become one of the best featherweight fighters on the planet.
"We've had elite guys coming through week by week - obviously not at the minute, but it's always good to go with these guys, because you get ahead of the curve techniques," he explained.
"Firas was out in Vegas training with Khabib (Nurmagomedov) and his team for a couple of days a few weeks ago, and then stuff comes back, you learn little bits here and there and you're constantly learning top stuff from elite level athletes.
"In my time I've trained with GSP, sparred with him, rolled with him, been taken down by him, might have scored a double (leg) on him once when he was being nice!
"He's a really good example as a training partner, a role model. He's not in there trying to win everything, he'll let people take his back, he'll let them work for a submission, just so he can work the escape.
"People get overconfident and are like 'oh I took Georges' back' or 'I did this' and I say 'I don't think he was trying to win, he was working for something else.'
"It's really humbling, working with someone like that. You train with him and do something good, after the round, he gives you a breakdown of what you did, some tips, pointers - and when's it's coming from a guy who I think is the best ever, it's going to stick."
While his martial arts journey has taken him across the world, Allen first started his training in Ipswich, learning the noble art of boxing under noted amateur Rory Burke.
Indeed, he first dreamed of going to the Olympics as a boxer, before discovering MMA.
And with the recent trend towards MMA stars boxing YouTube celebrities or serious boxers, 'Almighty' says he wouldn't be averse to strapping the big gloves back on as a one-off and showing the fistic skills he believes are at the top of the tree in the UFC.
"For sure I'm up there in terms of boxing ability," he said. "But it's a hard one because MMA boxing and then boxing boxing is almost rugby and football, it's two different things.
"The range is different, the guard is different, everything. But straight boxing, I fancy myself up there with anyone.
"I'd like a go at it one day. Everyone's doing all these influencer YouTube fights, so if someone wants to give me some money to fight someone, I'm down!
"I'd do it 100%. When I was a kid, my dream was to go to the Olympics and be a professional boxer. I fell into MMA instead and I don't regret it but before the UFC I had some offers to turn over (go professional) and the only reason I didn't was because I would only have been doing it for the money.
"MMA is my passion, the UFC is my goal, so at the minute if they were offering me some YouTube deal I'm going to take it for sure - that's going to pay more than fighting some top boxer!"
For now though, Allen is focused on one thing, and one thing only - becoming the UFC featherweight champion.
With his 7-0 record, he'd would probably already be in the title mix, if he grabbed the mic and talked trash after every fight.
But, asked if he'd consider going the trash talking route, he replied: "Nah, not at all. It's like selling out, I couldn't do it, it's not me.
"Unfortunately, part of that is not getting or making all the noise. But so far it's kind of been perfect. Obviously, Covid hasn't helped with delays and fights falling through, but so far in my career they've all been a blessing.
"I got into the UFC when I was 21 and maybe I wasn't ready for the next level of competition, so I've been forced to slow down, take time and make improvements along the way.
"I'm not one of those guys who don't train unless they've got a fight booked - I'm always in the gym, I'm always training, always ready to go and making improvements all year around."
Looking at the fighters ranked ahead of him - Jeremy Stephens, Dan Ige, Josh Emmett, Calvin Kattar, Chan Sung Jung, Yair Rodriguez, Zabit Magomedsharipov, Brian Ortega, Max Holloway and champion Alex Volkanovski - Allen sees no-one to fear.
"Yeah, I like those fights," he said. "There's tougher fights outside of the top ten for me than a lot of those guys.
"Even the guy I'm fighting, I think he's tougher than a lot of those guys up there. He's a bigger challenge than the two guys in the top ten I was supposed to fight last year. This is going to be a bigger proving point than a win over those guys."
He added: "With a win here, I don't want to go backwards, so I'd want to fight someone in the top ten. I'd like to make a big jump - I'd be 8-0 in the UFC and I'd like to fight someone in the top five.
"All of them look like good fights to me. They're all sort of striking-based in the top ten of the featherweight division.
"Most of the guys are more stand-up, Ortega's obviously a jiu-jitsu guy, Volknanovski's a good wrestler but he doesn't wrestle too much in his last fights.
"100% I'm at title level. The top ten are all very good, all elite guys, but I think I match up well with all of them. There's some fights in the top five that are easier than guys outside the top five.
"Styles make fights, and I think they all suit me pretty well."
Before all that, of course, he has to become the first man to beat Yusuff in the UFC next Saturday.
"I'm too fast, too technical and that's going to be that," Allen predicted.
"I'd like to get the knockout, I'm always looking for it and I know I've got the power in my hands.
"Everyone I've trained with, every coach I've hit pads with tells me how hard I hit, but I haven't proved it in fights, so I guess it means nothing.
"It's definitely there, and maybe people would be surprised to know that I hit hard, but I do!"