For Pimblett, competing with significant injuries was commonplace. In fact, it became so normal that in his last outing, he decided to go into a bout with a then Cage Warriors lightweight champion Soren Bak—one of the most highly touted talents in Europe—three-and-a-half months after having surgery on his hand.
Due to the polarizing nature of Pimblett, when he revealed the extent of the injury two months later, fans and Bak himself insisted that the Liverpudlian was making excuses for his decision loss. Yet, the former featherweight champion thinks he might have done permanent damage by competing that night.
“The hand is getting stronger, it is getting better, but I don’t think it’s never going to be the same,” Pimblett told .
“The doctors even told me to not fight the last time, but I did and there’s nothing I can do about that now. In hindsight, I probably should’ve pulled out, but it’s hard for me to even say those words. Yeah, it’s made the hand worse, but it was my call to fight and that’s what I did.”
The frustration in Pimblett’s voice is evident. It’s obvious that the year away from MMA has dragged by and he’s still battling with his will to compete, knowing that he will never truly regain full fitness unless he heeds the advice of his doctors.
He still replays his last outing in front of his adoring Liverpool fans through his head, vividly remembering his dominance in the opening round. “The Baddy” still believes he would’ve finished the rear-naked choke he latched onto in the opening five minutes had he been in his full capacities.
“If that was my left arm underneath [Bak] goes to sleep, but with my grips after the surgery, they just weren’t there. I WISh I didn’t get the surgery and got it after I fought instead, because I know for a fact that he would’ve went to sleep. I put everything into that choke, I squeezed and I squeezed and eventually I burned my arms out and I had to fight four rounds like that.”
You might think Pimblett would have cut his losses after the Bak fight and concentrated on getting back to full fitness. But, when you consider how forgetful the MMA faNBAse is and understand how uncomfortably defeat sits with someone as prosperous as Pimblett, maybe you can justify him signing on the dotted line to meet Donovan Desmae three months later in an effort to get back to winning ways.
Luckily, Next Generation head coach Paul Rimmer talked him out of it.
“After the loss I just wanted to get right back in there and go again, but Paul [Rimmer], put the blockers on it. He just said to me, ‘Do you really want to do this, do you really want to go in there injured and get another loss?’ That was something I needed to hear.”
Rimmer has guided Pimblett towards reacquainting himself with the submission skills that have helped him to half of his professional wins. “The Baddy” had focused so much on improving his striking over the last number of years that he admits he didn’t put as much of an emphasis on grappling.
Polaris 11 has given him a focus, and although it pales in comparison to full MMA competition, it will be Pimblett’s first opportunity to put his wounded paw to the test, which just so happens to fall on the day before the one-year anniversary of his last fight against Bak. He had another surgery on his hand three months ago, but this time he has given it the space it needs to breathe instead of pushing himself through a full fight camp.
“The match with Stevie is to see how the hand holds up without punching,” he explained.
“It’s still limiting me in certain positions, there are things that I used to go for that I can’t go for at the moment, takedowns, sweeps and submissions, but I just can’t do them because of the hand. It still has no flexibility and it’s very painful. Even when I’m rolling if someone’s weight comes down on it, it will kill me. I could be putting my hand in my pocket and if my thumb catches something it really hurts too. I’ve been trying to rehab it for a year, really.”
Pimblett’s bout with Ray is one of the most talked about meetings on the Polaris 11 card, which is nothing new for the Liverpool native.
It’s easy to forget how much “The Baddy” meant for Cage Warriors when it reemerged in 2016. He reminded the masses of the organization’s ability to promote, to build talent and he also helped them to some of their biggest gates with his hometown showcases at the Echo Arena. As well as that, Pimblett fixed the spotlight back on the path from Cage Warriors to the UFC—although he never signed the interest was clearly there as Pimblett, the reigning Cage Warriors featherweight champion, became one of the most captivating stars in the European sport outside of the UFC.
“The Baddy” took to the cage five times inside a year for Cage Warriors when they returned to business. He went from camp to camp, often lamenting the lack of time he had to develop his skillset. The wear and tear of activity eventually caught up with him and since losing his featherweight title to Nad Narimani in April 2017, he has competed just twice over the course of the last two years.
At just 24 years old, Pimblett still has a long career ahead of him, but he admits it annoys him when people think he’s already finished with the sport.
“The worst one I’m getting lately is, ‘Why aren’t you fighting anymore, Paddy?’ And I’m just like, ‘Do you think I’ve put ten years into this just to suddenly stop competing after bringing thousands of people to the Echo to watch me in a title fight?’ It gets annoying sometimes, to be honest with you.”
Over the course of the conversation, Pimblett doesn’t hide his dissatisfaction with the injury situation, but just an utterance of some of the lightweights he could possibly face on his return completely lights him up.
“I still feel like I can beat every single one of them,” he exclaimed. “Just like Steve O’Keefe did, Jai Herbert would get taken down, controlled, but this time he’d get subbed. With Bak, everyone knows what would happen based on that first round. And if I did get a dominant position against him again I wouldn’t even go for the submission, I’d just punch his f*ckin’ head in. I’d elbow the sh*t out of him to the point that his girlfriend doesn’t recognize him when he gets out of the cage. Desmae is going to want to fight me too, but he’s just a wild brawler. As soon as he steps in front of me he’ll be put on his back and subbed.”
“I want to be thrown right back in the mix at the top of the division, I really want to batter someone,” he added. “It’s doing my head in, I’ve been very depressed over the last year because I haven’t been able to compete. All that plays through my mind is that choke and Bak and how one little thing could’ve made everything so different. But you just can’t keep thinking about it. I’ve taught myself to look forward, about getting my hand better. [My return fight] could happen in 2020, but I want it to be 2019 because if it’s 2020 it would feel like another year has passed me by. Whenever it happens, mark my words, I’ll be back.”