‘SLAMMIN’… Sam Hibberd has been passing on his MMA and boxing knowledge while back in Mildura. PICTURE: PAUL MENSCH


BEING an athlete in the current world climate is an interesting situation. Fighters in Australia, especially, are finding it tough at the moment.

Mildura mixed martial arts (MMA) export Sam Hibberd is a prime example. The 31-year-old was on a roll in late 2019 and had a number of rare opportunities in the pipeline, including Australian title fights and bouts in Japan.

The Aussie fight scene came to a halt in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many professional fighters in limbo.

Hibberd, however, has still made the most of the situation. The time off has allowed his somewhat injured body to recover, and the Melbournian has now been able to spend some quality time at home with family and friends.

‘Slammin’ Sam has also been able to pass on some of his extensive knowledge to students at both Mildura Martial Arts and Sparkes Boxing Gym in recent weeks, until the latest lockdown came into effect.

“I came back with my girlfriend a couple of weeks before Melbourne went back into lockdown,” he said.

“We’ve sort of been in camp all year because things keep getting cancelled, so I figured I’ll come home, have a break, spend time with family and then head back.

“As soon as they went back into lockdown I thought I may as well stay and do some work here and spend some time with family.

“Everything in training is at a distance, but there is still a lot you can do. You can focus on mobility and footwork. If you’re a registered professional you can train with contact, but there’s still a lot you can show especially when you teach. It’s all about how you approach things and what you can focus on during this time.”

Fighting out of Absolute MMA, Hibberd has a professional record of eight wins and two losses and is the sixth-ranked Bantamweight (61kg) fighter in Australia and New Zealand. He was on a two-fight winning streak before COVID-19 had its say.

Hibberd said the Australian fighting scene had taken a hit during this time.

“It’s tough because there are a few guys, kind of like myself, who are on the cusp of something bigger,” he said.

“Those bigger shows are running but the problem is to get to those shows, you need a streak of three or four wins and a few finishes. I was sitting on two wins for 2019 so everything was happening, and then everything stopped.

“At the start of the year something nearly happened in Japan, which would have been nice, but that sort of fell through, and then I was booked to fight for the AFC (Australian Fighting Championship) Bantamweight title in April, and that fell through, then was booked for a four-man tournament in September which has now been pushed back further.

“It’s just hard for the shows in Australia because so many of them rely on ticket revenue. If you can’t sell 500 to 1000 tickets the show won’t go ahead. There are a few like Eternal MMA who are broadcast on the UFC Fight Pass, but fighters make a lot of their money from ticket revenue too, it’s thrown a spanner in the works.

“The pros are staying ready and preparing for whatever comes.”

Hibberd looked to return to the cage against Michael Mannu on an Eternal MMA fight card in September. Following the recent Victorian lockdown laws, the Queensland-based group said they would look to adjust plans for Victorian fighters.

Last year was massive one for Hibberd, who spent 2019 living and training at Absolute MMA’s Thailand gym, as well as having two bouts. He believes the enforced time off may have helped his body to recover.

“After my last fight in December last year, I was a little broken,” he said.

“Before that I spent the year in Thailand. The Thais run a very old-school method of training, so it’s running 10km before each session, etc. There’s a photo of me from my last fight, and you can see that I couldn’t move to my left. So it was nice to have a bit of time to rehab things and do it properly, because you finally have the time and you’re not rushing.”