It’s Monday, and I’ve caught Michael ‘Venom’ Page in the gym. He’s spending much of his time there at the moment, perspiring ceaselessly on the second floor of an umber 1980s shopping block in Alperton, as he looks to train his way through what he terms “unemployment”, following the announcement yesterday that his ten-year stint with mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion Bellator has come to an end. “I’ve decided to enter that free agency space again, just to see what my own worth is”, he tells me, in that confident and candid manner that’s been the hallmark of an extraordinary career so far. “I want to make sure that I’m getting what I think I’m valued at”.
It’s a career that’s seen Page try his hand at almost every type of fighting. Born in Paddington to kung fu-practising parents, there is a sense that it’s always been in the 36-year-old’s blood: by age three he too was practising Lau Gar Kung Fu; at age five he had his first proper fight; and from there it’s been a case of big win after big win, initially in the freestyle kickboxing world. He got into MMA, he tells me, because that same kickboxing world “felt too same old, same old; fighting the same people”. There was also the increased financial reward, of course; something which understandably has played a part in his decision to now become a free agent. Page is an electric fighter – he holds the record for the most Bellator knockouts, at 11, and currently sits third in the all time win rankings for the promotion – and you get the impression speaking to him that he knows that he’s a big draw for MMA. “I’m being valued a lot less than I’m worth. I’ve done a lot in the sport, I do a lot in the sport; I know I’m going to continue to do a lot in the sport”, Page says. “I draw a lot of eyes, and I just want to be valued for that”.
Away from the sport, Page’s sharpness and interest in other people has led him to taking a course in psychology, on complex trauma. “I found it through a good friend of mine, Ed Lofts, who’s done an extended course as well. I’m just waiting for there to be a spot that I can get onto”. He hopes to be a prominent voice in the African Caribbean community, and wants to use his position to talk to people about mental health – but before it has become a problem for people. “If I start talking about being a bit more proactive about your mentality, or about self-reflection, I think it will help a lot of people. People see us as fighters, or think that we’re just tough guys that just go in the ring and try to kill each other”. It’s clear that there’s a real depth; a serious substance, to the man who famously once fought 22 times in one day.
But Page’s unorthodox style, a blitzkrieg of kinetic energy born from his multidiscipline fighting background, has indelibly left its mark on MMA, and it is something that he’d like to be remembered for. I put it to him where he’d want to be in three years. “I’d love to see my style on a lot more athletes in the mixed martial arts world, and for people to know where it stemmed from: ‘oh yeah, that’s MVP’s style’”. He wants to create more moments like his incredible 2016 knockout of Evangelista ‘Cyborg’ Santos, or this year’s devastating kick to Goiti Yamauchi: “I want to have more fights; big knockouts; and memorable moments”. And then quickly, with a nonchalance and ease, “After that I want to get into acting, so”.
It’s no real stretch to imagine Page in front of the camera when his fighting career is done. He’s an entertainer. He’s handsome; he’s erudite. But for now, there’s the small matter of where he’s going next. UFC? Bellator again? Somewhere else entirely? If he knows, he’s giving nothing away. Whatever happens, there’s no doubt it’ll be electric.