There’s something different about Aaron Chalmers.
It’s hard to put a finger on. His transition from hedonistic reality show TV star to MMA fighter happened almost overnight. Then, three wins in seven months under the BAMMA banner saw him sign a contract with Bellator in 2018, only 373 days after his professional debut. He is living the life many work years to achieve.
His haters remind him of this on an hourly basis; not that you would guess it today. Beaming a grin while surveying the lunchtime rush of Leicester Square, Chalmers’ demeanor is that of a fan ecstatic to witness Saturday’s Bellator main card, not feature on it.
“I’m just taking it all in,” he says excitedly. “Being on stage with Melvin Manhoef, Gegard Mousasi, Paul Daley running around thinking f—ing hell I’m here with these guys. When I walked in, my picture’s on Leicester square so f—ing hell man for someone that’s been in the sport two years, I’m not doing too bad.”
Make no mistake, the road here hasn’t been easy. The hedonism of his early twenties on Geordie Shore grew tiresome and he knew something needed to change, immediately.
“I was in the Geordie Shore phase when I first started, so in Newcastle it was easier to go on the drink than it was to go to the gym. So the only way to get away from that was to leave Newcastle. I had a good friend in Birmingham who was pals with Leon Edwards and that’s how I found my way to Renegade. If I had stayed in Newcastle I wouldn’t be here today. Guaranteed. So I took myself out of the situation.
“It was mad because all I ever knew was Newcastle. I moved away, lived in a hotel for my first two camps. I was living a good life before that, but took the hard route and it’s paying off.”
The “good life” had taken its toll, however, and despite racking up a perfect win record over his first four fights, there was an underlying problem that he needed to address. Despite widespread campaigning with celebrity endorsement, mental health issues still lack sufficient attention, particularly in the bravado-sphere of combat sports. In Chalmers’ case, the impact was severe; both personally and professionally, playing a part in his first loss in February of this year; an event intended to be his heroic homecoming.
“So many people don’t want to touch on anxiety because let’s be honest, it’s not a manly thing to speak about. At the start, I was nervous to go out and it got to the point where I couldn’t leave the house. I was drinking a lot at the time and I said to my missus, I need help. And she got us it. So I started climbing the ladder a bit and the nerves got less and less and I thought I was over it.
“But before that fight, my anxiety was through the roof. I was walking down the ramp thinking he’s going to beat us, my head just wasn’t there. That’s the only fight I’ve ever had where I’ve never spoke to my therapist the whole camp. And it showed. Mental health is a massive thing for me and when my mind wasn’t there, my body wasn’t either. It was just shocking. It can’t get any worse than losing my first fight in Newcastle so the only way is up.”
Ironically, the journey upwards started with a move back to his hometown earlier this year, taking up camp with former Cage Warriors Featherweight champion Alex Enlund at SBG South Shields. Gone is Chalmers’ old Newcastle; the town now offers him stability and purpose. The goal? A long, prosperous career in MMA, something he believes he might have an advantage over his peers in achieving.
“When I put my mind to something, it’s all or nothing. I’m looking to have twenty to thirty fights in MMA; a good four or five year career. I haven’t got the wear and tear of people who’ve been fighting for ten years. I’m still quite fresh in training terms.”
First in his way is the relatively inexperienced Fred Freeman, most well known from his first-round loss to Kevin Ferguson Jr. (AKA Baby Slice) at Bellator 187. Their bout takes prime position on the main card, featuring some of MMA’s biggest names and prospects including young superstar James Gallagher and Gegard Mousasi’s second middleweight title defense against BJJ legend, Rafael Lovato Jr.
“I feel nice and relaxed,” Chalmers says. “I’ve trained extra hard since my loss, put everything into it. Nothing’s really fazing us, I know I’ve got a fight on Saturday but I know this guy isn’t going to put me anywhere I haven’t already faced ten times in the gym.
“If I go in there knowing what I can do then it’s going to be a good night. If I beat myself up, then I’m in for a tough night. I need to stay level-headed and emotionally unattached. In the past I’ve been like, ‘I wanna f—ing hurt this guy. But I’ve just got to go in there and do what I do, and then I’m gonna have a good time.”
“The Joker” has taken on many responsibilities since stepping out of the reality television spotlight. But perhaps most significant is the two-fold promise to himself; enjoy the struggle and take care of the body and mind. Perhaps it is this that sets him apart; despite the slew of negativity against him, he wants to help whomever he can, smiling all the way.
“I know I’ve got a lot of younger followers from Geordie Shore. A lot of people are suffering from anxiety and stuff because of social media these days. So if my fans see me speaking out about it they might get help. Fight fans, hardened fighters, if I can help one person, or ten or one hundred, then f—ing good because I’m very passionate about it. I don’t want anyone to feel how I was feeling, I was in a bad place. But if I can help one person not be in that position, then I will until I’m blue in the face.”
Rhodri Morgan is a combat sports writer based out of London, England. When not covering MMA, he can be found roaming the halls of a south London Wholefoods, finding a dog to befriend and rolling in the doomed pursuit of the perfect kimura.