Charlie Souter-Phillips speaks to Bournemouth MMA sensation Harlem Dillon

Harlem Dillon the 6’4”, 18 year old from Bournemouth, dominated the mats in his Jiu-Jitsu session at Ippon Gym last week. The blue belt, dressed in an all black Gi (traditional Japanese robe), took on his challengers during their training session, with one of his older opponents stating, ‘You’re always the one that finishes me off.’

Harlem Dillon

The kickboxing, Jiu-Jitsu fighting MMA competitor started his career at five years old after his mum and dad, who have also competed within these sports, put him into a kick boxing class.

So it’s understandable that Harlem wants to be an MMA fighter and win the middleweight belt in the UFC, even though he started out studying forensic and medical science and wanted to be a GP! But halfway through his college studies Dillon chose the path of MMA, ‘My granddad had a lot of influence on this decision. He said you have to think about your future by doing something that will make you happy.’

Since then he has dedicated six days a week training around two part-time jobs in order to achieve his goal. ‘It’s hard to get to the gym sometimes if you finish late from work you have to quickly hop on the bus and sometimes you don’t have time to eat. You can’t do that unless you love the sport, I don’t see many people doing as much as I do.’

With the many skills he has learnt over the years, he finds it hard to choose his favourite, ‘Kickboxing was the first one so it will always be close to my heart, but I love Jiu-Jitsu because the techniques are so complex but when you break them down in your head its like Tetris, they fit together.’

To help further his dream, Dillon went to America to train at the MMA fight camp, Victory. Run by three times Abu Dhabi Combat Club winner, Dean ‘The Boogieman’ Lister, ‘He treated me like family, he’s a legit dude and we spoke about some deep stuff.’

Ippon Gym

Ippon Gym

It was in America where Dillon had his debut fight and beat his rival in just 49 seconds, ‘The guy was 20 pounds heavier then me and he towered over me, he was huge. I had never been nervous before, that was the first time because it meant so much to me. It was my first MMA fight and I had the pressure of trying to live up to what I had been pictured as.’

Winning was a great outcome for the teenager, but he may have to be reminded about what actually happened during the brief fight, ‘Because of the adrenaline I literally cant remember my fight. I just remember touching gloves and then having my arms raised that’s it, nothing in between.’

‘When I did watch it back and saw that in the fight he literally sat on top of me punching me, he loaded up with a big right hand I saw it coming and switched to an arm bar and finished it there.

‘It was 49 seconds of adrenaline rushing through your body, then I got really emotional after my fight, it was the weirdest thing I’ve ever had, all the emotions put into one and I just broke down. It was probably one of the happiest moments of my life, it was surreal.’

After Training

After Training

To have accomplished what he has is a significant achievement for a young fighter, but success doesn’t come easily, ‘If your not mentally tough then you won’t make it. Weight cuts are the toughest things in the world. I had to sit in the sauna for six hours, and I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything 36 hours before the fight, which was really hard.’

Although Dillon wouldn’t continue doing the sport if he didn’t gain anything from it, ‘I would be a totally different person if I didn’t have this. I had a lot of stuff to deal with growing up but this sport has kept me on track. It changes people for the better.’ His passion is plain to see, with his whole body language changing as he speaks about the sport he becomes more animated and excited.

Harlem is hoping to go back to Victory fight camp in San Diego and is looking to raise £1,500 to fund the trip. To help the teen fighter with his dream, donate at