Will Fleury on Sparring with Strickland, History with Vemola Ahead of Oktagon 56

Bellator MMA and PFL vet Will Fleury will make his Oktagon MMA debut this Saturday at Oktagon 56, in a light heavyweight showdown that he no doubt hopes will lead to a title shot.

Fleury has been training at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas ahead his bout with Daniel Škvor, and one sparring partner in particular stands out: former UFC middleweight champ Sean Strickland. The always controversial Strickland is notorious for hard sparring rounds, but for Fleury, the UFC star appears to have been the perfect match.

“He’s not insane. I enjoy a good go as well. I think sometimes the media gets a little carried away with things,” Fleury (11-3, 1NC) told Cageside Press in a recent exclusive interview. “Look, he’s the type of guy that’s going to put pressure on you, but in a way where it’s not ridiculous, it’s not retarded. It’s not something where you’re going to be hurting each other. It’s more just, you’re gonna f*cking fight. You’re gonna go. I enjoy that. I love that buzz. It’s something that I buy into myself.”

Fleury recognizes that “the majority of your sparring should be skill development, and the majority of your work should be skill development,” he added. “But there’s a time and a place when you’re coming up to a fight that you need a little pressure put on you. And I enjoy the fact that he’s the type of guy that’s like ‘okay, let’s go out and do that.'”

Fleury admits he needed that little push, “and I got that little push” out of Strickland.

The No Contest in Fleury’s 11-3, 1NC record came in his last fight, originally a split decision victory over Krzysztof Jotko. That win was overturned when Fleury was flagged for an elevated testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio in his in-competition drug test at last year’s PFL 1 card.

Fleury was not alone. The number of PFL fighters flagged for positive drug tests in a three-week stint in Las Vegas in April of 2023 hit double-digits. Fleury was hit with a six month ban, though he’s only returning to action now, a year on from the incident.

“They [the PFL] left me kind of in limbo for a time. Originally it was, ‘you’re going to get cut,’ and that was fine. Look, tell me, let me know, I can go and organize other things,” Fleury said of the league’s response.

Rob Wilkinson, who Fleury was supposed to fight in his second bout of 2023 and who was also suspended, just recently returned to action. As for Fleury, the PFL did not actually inform the light heavyweight of his official release until November of 2023, which led to some frustration for the Irish fighter. “If they’d told me before that, I probably could have lined something up for January,” he pointed out, noting his short suspension time.

As for the root of the suspension, Fleury owned up up to wanting an edge with a considerable amount of money on the line.

“Look, it was no supplement issue. I was offered a chance to win a million dollars in a weight class above, and obviously a lot of other guys felt the same way,” Fleury said of the suspensions. “They got a lot of middleweights and tried to make them light heavyweights, and a lot of guys used some ‘supplements’ to get there. And I was one of them. So no qualms, no f*cking bullsh*t here. Did what I did, suffered the consequences and here I am.”

Having competed for both the PFL and Bellator, Will Fleury might be seen as an interested observer of his former homes, who now fall under one banner. PFL purchased Bellator MMA last year; in February, they hosted the first crossover event between promotions, PFL vs. Bellator Champions in Saudi Arabia.

“There were some good fights that night, and I thought it was a little bit under-promoted. Johnny Eblen and Impa Kansanganay is a great fight, and it turned out to be a great fight,” Fleury said of the show. He just hopes the league does a better job of promoting its shows moving forward, noting that it comes down to the executives in charges.

“If the PFL are going to make this sustainable, they’re going to need to generate a lot more interest than that card generated. And I hope they can and I hope that it ends up being a sustainable thing for them and the fighters get paid well and the guys can keep getting the opportunity to showcase their skills. But the biggest thing to me is just how little buzz it generated considering some of the fights that were there.”

As for his own fight this Saturday in Birmingham, England, Fleury hopes it leads to something bigger — a title fight with his old training partner, Karlos Vemola.

“Myself and Karlos have a small bit of history, we trained at London Shooftfighters years ago,” Fleury recalled. “Back in 2014, I lived in London for a while, for about two years and i trained with Karlos a little bit.”

“One day we were sparring, he threw a huge overhand, he caught me with the overhand,” recalled Fleury, who admits he was wobbled a bit. “He shot a single leg. I was hopping on one leg defending the takedown, and my ankle just f*cking snapped.”

Ever since, “I’ve always wanted to get him back for that, and I’ve never had that opportunity and that’s just on ten years ago now. To me, I would absolutely love that fight, he continued. “Obviously I have to go in and smash Dan Škvor first, that’s goal number one right now. I know he’s [Vemola] got a fight with Attila [Vegh] lined up, but man if Oktagon can get that story out, mold it and push it, I’m on a level where I can smash him. I understand why he’s probably not going to do it, but at the same time if I can create a bit of a buzz and get it going, who the f*ck knows what could happen.”

Should that fight not be in the offing, a tournament to crown a new champion would be of interest. “If not, yeah cool, let’s do a tournament. Let’s do something like that. I’m more than happy to go and take out everybody in this division.”

Watch our full interview with Oktagon 56’s Will Fleury above.