From Wilmington, North Carolina to Phuket, Thailand and a few pit stops in between was the journey taken by the fighter/coach of Tiger Muay Thai George Hickman.
Before his time at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania as a nationally ranked wrestler, he was a 3-time Wrestling State Champion in his home state of North Carolina.
After graduating from college, Hickman embarked on his career as a mixed martial artist by moving to Atlanta, Georgia and joined forces with former WEC light heavyweight champion and current UFC commentator Brian Stann.
Early on, he spent his time earning a name in the regional circuit and even showed off his talents at Bellator 88 with a submission victory over Stephen Upchurch.
Life was very tough as an up-and-comer in the southeast compared to his current situation in Thailand.
“I was a full-time car salesman on top of fighting which was 50 plus hours a week. I trained and worked a lot there so being in Thailand is much better! I love Thailand and love living and working here. Life is easy when you train, coach and travel. It’s a good life.”
In April of 2014, Hickman moved out to Phuket after making the team at Tiger Muay Thai. The coaches were impressed by his skills and particularly his wrestling prowess.
The North Carolina native soon became the wrestling coach and assistant MMA coach to Roger Huerta. Later, he was promoted to head MMA coach once Huerta retired from his position.
Unquestionably, he set roots at TMT to accomplish his dream of becoming a champion one day but has elevated himself to coaching as well as fighting at the same time.
Although most individuals would not be able to handle such a task, he thinks nothing of it.
“For me doing both isn’t hard. I always train but for fights I obviously train a lot more and focus on getting ready. I love to teach so juggling coaching and fighting is easy compared to all the hours I use to work (in Atlanta) and then train.”
Living in a foreign country is not without its unusual moments and Hickman experienced something only a month into his stay that made him realise he was living in paradise.
“I was on my motorbike at a stop light looking at the view in front of me because it was pretty beautiful. All of a sudden, I looked next to me and a guy pulled up beside me on a motorbike driving with one hand while holding his rooster with the other smiling at me, I just thought to myself life is good and laughed.”
Just like most MMA fighters around the world, he wants to make his way into the UFC one day. In the meantime, he is open to competing for any promotion.
“I feel that I should already be in the UFC so for the time being I will fight for whatever promotion that will pay me the most until I land there or somewhere else. I’ve fought in Bellator and wouldn’t mind going back. But I would love to fight for Rizin in Japan. When I fought at the Saitama Super Arena, the culture and the fans were awesome.”
The last time he stepped into the cage was in June at Rebel FC 4 against submission specialist Kieber Koike Erbst for the featherweight title.
Hickman was without question dominating the fight with his wrestling and a much improved striking arsenal. Unfortunately, with around half a minute left in the third round, he got caught in a choke.
“We fell separate ways and when I came up I was in a triangle but I didn’t tap so I went to sleep” he stated about the final sequence.
“It sucks I lost because I won 14 1/2 minutes of the fight. But learning from it, I need to be aware all 15 minutes and never get caught.”
Even though he did not come out the victor, there was no animosity toward his opponent and they even trained together afterwards.
“Kleber is an awesome dude and an extremely good fighter. We helped each other learn and shared some laughs.”
The 31-year-old will not lingered on the past and has moved onto his next endeavour which is a featherweight bout pitting him against undefeated Alliance MMA prospect Matt Sayles at Phoenix FC 1 in Beirut, Lebanon.
“I’ve seen some of his fights. I respect all my opponents and I think he is good and has good tools. Obviously, I’m confident that I will win and am preparing as I should.”
The American is one of the most unheralded competitors in the Asian region and having to go all the way to the Middle East to fight is a testament to how big of a threat he is to the many fighters in the featherweight division.
George Hickman will try to erase the memory of his mental lapse at Rebel FC 4 by taking out the young Matt Sayles in the co-main event on 10 December at Phoenix Fighting Championship at the Nouhad Nawfal Stadium.