East End fighter Brad Pickett wants to become the "Gary Lineker of the MMA" when he retires from the ring.

The Bethnal Green raised combatant is hanging up his gloves to spend more time with his family and to help champion the sport with the next generation.

He is set for an emotional farewell on his home turf at UFC Fight Night The O2 in north Geenwich on Saturday, March 18.

Brad, who fights in the UFC bantamweight division, will bow out of the professional ring with a retirement bout against Mexican bantamweight Henry Briones, a fellow veteran with a record of 19 wins, six losses and one draw.

The 38-year-old said: “It feels really strange to be retiring. I have more responsibilities than ever, a house, mortgage, a kid and I’m deciding to quit my job. It is quite daunting.

“But I hope I have built a big enough name that I can do good things outside if fighting. I really want to open my own gym and start producing the next wave of fighters.

Heroes

“And I’d like to be more involved in punditry and be like the Gary Lineker of MMA.”

His heroes growing up were Mike Tyson and Bruce Lee and his competitive nature, and dislike for school, led him to try every sport going as a young lad.

A serious knee injury almost put an end to his ambition but Brad fought on.

“Sport has always been my life,” said the Morden resident. “Cricket, football, rugby, boxing, you name it I tried it. I took up boxing at 19 just to keep fit and, being the competitive person I am, when they asked if I wanted a fight I said ‘go on then’.

“When I got injured doctors said I wouldn’t be able to do sport any more. But I decided that just wasn’t going to be true.”

Instead of taking it easy, he took up MMA (mixed martial arts), at that time a relatively unknown sport in the UK.

He said: “My first class this 16-year-old kid took me on, a 26 year old man, and manhandled me and beat the crap out of me.

“Being a proud person I could not have someone out there who could do that to me so I had to learn more. That made me who I am.”

He went onto make his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) debut in November 2011, and his knockout power and exciting fighting style earned him the nickname “One Punch”.

Brad Pickett salutes the crowd after a win at the NEC in Birmingham

He retired with professional MMA record of 26 wins and 13 losses.

He said: “I have really grown with the sport. When I first started fighting there weren’t even weight classes. It has been really fun to watch it grow and I’m glad I’m part of it.

“When I started I was 27, 28 and used to work as a labourer during the day, training before work and after and taking time off for fights. I lived at my brothers in east London and paid him money when I won. It was a real tough road to become a professional fighter.”

These days he splits his training between Titan MMA in Tottenham and American Top Team in Florida, USA and said: “I started going out there because there weren’t many UK athletes in the sport so for me to develop as a fighter there were way more in America for me to train with.

“But nowadays the level of MMA here in the UK is really good, we have some really good talent.

“I still like to go away though as I can get away from the day to day distractions. It’s easier to switch off.

Family

“When I’m here I’m a fighter, a dad, a coach. In America all I am is a fighter.”

“In a way its selfish,” said the dad to 15-month-old son Buddy. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to hang it up. I love my wife Sarah to bits but since we have had a kid I realised it’s not about me any more. I want to spend time with him and not be travelling.”

When asked what he will miss most the self proclaimed "tough cookie" said without hesitation: “The fans. Definitely.

“I have fought twice at The O2 and won twice so I’m just hoping to go out on a high in my home town.”

UFC Fight NIght , The O2, Saturday, March 18, doors 4.30pm, from £40

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What you need to know

  • Mixed martial arts (MMA) combines various combat sports and Olympic disciplines including Muay Thai, boxing, judo, jiu-jitsu and wrestling.
  • The objective is to secure a win over your opponent. A bout can finish in three ways: via TKO/KO, submission or judges’ decision.
  • Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is the world’s largest and highest level MMA organisation.
  • It produces more than 42 live events globally each year, and is the largest pay-per-view event provider in the world with fights broadcast to more than 1.1 billion households worldwide.
  • More TV households in Europe watch UFC programming than Formula One.
  • Fighters compete in the eight-sided Octagon, surrounded by a fence to prevent them falling out of the ring.
  • UFC bouts are three, five minute rounds, with championship and Main Event bouts lasting five, five minute rounds.
  • As soon as the referee deems that one fighter has won the contest – regardless of which round it is in – the bout is ended.

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