Duncan Djillali has a few genetic advantages. A mix of Algerian and English heritage has gained him a fairly substantial (possibly shallow, but who am I to judge?) female fan base, a base that seemingly grows with every appearance in the cage. Couple this with a controlled, effective and aesthetically pleasing fighting style, which heavily leans towards his striking background; you’d be right in thinking that Duncan has a lot of things going for him.

“I wish it was as easy as that!”, Duncan laughed. “I’ve suffered pretty badly with anxiety, especially in my late teens and early 20’s. It was so bad that I ended up dropping out of university as I fell deeper and deeper into the hole. Luckily I’ve got some really supportive people around me who have helped me through this”. Duncan spent his teenage years in foster care, before being taken in by his best friend’s family at 18, a family he still lives with to this day. “It was only supposed to be when I was at university, but I ended up staying. They’ve been amazing, I don’t know where I’d be without them. I’m so grateful for what they’ve done for me. I love them like they’re my own flesh and blood”, he said.

“I started fighting to try and overcome the anxiety. I set myself a target of having four fights. You can see from my early fights that I was nowhere near prepared to compete. My lifestyle was more like a student’s than a fighter’s. I used to go out and drink during fight camps then turn up at the fight, panicking that I wasn’t prepared and performing in the way you’d expect me to in those circumstances; very badly! No one likes to get hit, but I used to shy away from it and mentally quit in the cage”.

Whilst Duncan’s foster family played a huge role in helping him overcome his stress related issues, another man had played a pivotal role in turning his life around, his longtime friend, coach and mentor, Sammy Leaver. The owner of Prime MMA has nurtured Djillali’s talent from day one. “Sammy’s got the patience of a saint! He’s built me into the fighter and the man I am today. Rather than force me down any path, he’s quietly guided me. When I’ve let myself down he’s not shouted or kicked off at me, he’s told me where I’ve gone wrong and shown me how to make things right”.

‘The Handful’, as Djillali is now known, feels that things are finally clicking into place. “I’ve never felt so good going into a fight. I primarily train with Sammy, but also mix it up putting in some rounds with the likes of (Cage Warriors star and current no.1 ranked professional flyweight in the UK) Sam Creasey, (ex UFC fighter) Vaughan Lee and a bunch of other high ranking professionals in the area. Couple this with the PT sessions with my sponsor, Impulse PT Dunstable, I’m in a shape I’ve never been close to before”.

With his eyes firmly fixed forward, Duncan is no longer agonising about things outside of his sphere of control. “I’m not looking past (next opponent) Jaye John at all. A couple of years ago I’d have been petrified about performing at home, but now I’m really excited about it. I want to get in there, put on a performance I know I’m capable of, get another belt to add to the collection, learn something new, then get another fight booked in. I’m looking to turn pro at some point in 2018, but only when my team think I’m ready”.

Duncan is performing next this Saturday at Battle Arena 46 in Dunstable. He’s fighting for their Bantamweight British Title. There are a few tickets available for the event, which you can purchase on the door. Doors open at 3pm.

Duncan would like to thank the following people for supporting his career so far:

  • Sammy Leaver, Head Coach and owner of Prime MMA
  • Battle Ready Fight Management
  • 1981 Events
  • Impulse PT Dunstable
  • KL Dance Studios