Martial arts

Rugby players out to ‘smash each other’ in the name of charity at Just MMA’s inaugural Hong Kong mixed martial arts event

Jack ‘Nacho’ Nielsen and Mark ‘Moondog’ Mooney put their bodies on the line for a good cause

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 November, 2017, 7:12pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 December, 2017, 2:33pm

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,” goes the saying and buried deep within Just MMA’s inaugural Hong Kong mixed martial arts event lies a curious amateur fight between a personal trainer-cum-rugby player and a British army engineer-turned-teacher.

Hong Kong MMA debutants Jack “Nacho” Nielsen, 39, and Mark “Moondog” Mooney, 37, will be swapping their day jobs for the cage in a charity bout at Wan Chai’s Southorn Stadium on Friday evening.

“A few people have called me crazy,” said Mooney, who is raising money for UK-based cancer charity The Big C. “I thought my wife would be the same but she was the first one to ask for tickets.”

The charity of choice strikes very close to home for the Mooneys.

“My wife was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer and The Big C helped her out a lot when she was sick, with meditation, group therapy and psychological support,” Mooney explained. “I want to do my bit and give something back to them. I think people want to see the fight because of the adversity.”

And the Briton is certainly not short of experience in adverse conditions. Up until the age of 25, Mooney was a British Army combat engineer deployed to Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia.

Now, both Mooney and Nielsen are active in the local rugby scene, playing for Valley RFC and Hong Kong Football Club, respectively.

Nielsen – who is a part of Just’s charity bout organisation team – is using the platform to raise awareness of not only his charity, but also Hong Kong’s MMA scene.

“Having been involved with [local boxing] promotions, it seemed like a natural progression to get into the cage,” said Nielsen, who initially took up MMA to keep up with his more youthful rugby teammates.

“We are on the hunt for more people who want to raise money for a charity of their choice and improve their fighting skills.”

Self-professed “dad-bod specialist” Nielsen moved to the city six years ago to play rugby union. Still competing at premiership level, he transitioned into the fitness sector because “if there’s one thing you should invest in, it’s your health!”

The father of two is raising money for the Cambodia-based Children’s Surgical Centre, which provides free rehabilitation surgery for the underprivileged and crucial training to local surgeons and health workers.

“I took my family to visit the centre earlier this year,” recalled the New Zealander. “It was heartbreaking to see how people live over there and what the country has gone through. We are very lucky to be in positions to support charities like them.”

Primary school teacher Mooney took the fight on very short notice after Nielsen’s original opponent dropped out a few weeks prior.

“I’ve only really had two week’s worth of training,” said Mooney, who has a background in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and judo. “[Nielsen] texted me asking if I wanted to step in – I was a bit apprehensive at first but accepted.”

The pair’s contrasting fight styles make for a riveting match-up and – despite being on friendly terms outside of the cage – they will be sure to leave everything they have in it.

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“I’m eternally grateful to Mark for jumping in to save our charity fight – it shows the character of the man and how passionate he is about raising money for cancer,” said Nielsen.

“But make no mistake; we will smash each other in there and then have a few beers after … not too many because we have a rugby game the next day.”

Nielsen’s game plan could not be clearer once the cage doors close on Friday: strikes, takedowns and the classic “ground and pound”.

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“I’ve always been a fight fan so at least in the cage you won’t get red carded for punching someone in the face or submitting them,” he added.

Mooney’s craft of BJJ is widely regarded to be the martial art that nullifies any size or strength disparity. Easier said than done, however.

“It’s a leveller, but when he’s 110kg and laying on top of you, that’s when the level goes a bit towards him,” he quipped.

“It’ll be interesting to see what happens, he’s going to come out punching so I’ll have to keep my guard up.

“I’m obviously going to try to avoid the strikes and do more jiu-jitsu; maybe try some arm and leg locks. My game will be reliant on kicks and takedowns.”

As it is an amateur bout, safety takes priority; the fighters will be equipped with headgear and are not permitted to use elbows and knees at any stage.

Both have been receiving complementary training from Hong Kong’s finest MMA gyms – an initiative arranged by the promotion itself.

“It has been great in improving my fighting skills, but more importantly, building those relationships with the owners, trainers and fellow fighters has been priceless,” Nielsen said.

“For anyone who wants to participate in Just events, we can look after them whether it’s for raising money for charity or continuing their fight careers.”

Just MMA: Just Challenge – Hong Kong features nine local and international bouts headlined by Mario Schembri of Brazil and Jeff Bairon of the Philippines.

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