Born and raised in Leicester, England; in 2000 James decided to take the next crucial move in further developing his MMA career by travelling and settling down in Orange Country, California. His first professional fight took place in October 2003; with his big break commencing a little later on the 20th of June 2009 when he beat his opponent DaMarques Johnson by means of Spike TV’s regular series, ‘The Ultimate Fighter’.
How has life changed for you since winning Season 9 of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’?
Winning the show allowed me to open up my own gym, Lightning MMA in Orange County which is great as I really enjoy passing my knowledge onto others.
How did your journey to MMA fighting begin?
My Dad, Gary, got me into Karate at the age of 8. From there I got into Taekwondo, Japanese Jujitsu, Kickboxing, Jeet Kune Do and finally into MMA. It was really just an evolution of seeking out the most realistic Martial Arts out there combined with my competitive nature.
It seems the gym is a fighter’s second home, what motivates you to get up in the morning and stick to such intense routines?
I really like improving both my mind and body. I want to become the best that I can be and the only way to do that is to be consistent.
Behind every fighter is a ring side team and coaches. To what extent do you feel these people aid in moulding a fighter?
These play a huge role. Day to day training, fight strategy and cornering are all big factors in a fight. I think having the right training partners is also key.
What aspect of being a fighter do you least enjoy?
I don’t like long lasting, persistent injuries. Some areas on my body have been hurting for years.
How does it feel to have your own character in the UFC 2010 game?
It is cool but every time I play against my wife, Alicia or her son, Joseph they beat me so I am constantly seeing myself getting knocked out. I am not sure if that is good for me mentally. Just kidding!
How competitive of a person are you?
I am very competitive. I think anyone who fights must be pretty competitive. Why else would they risk getting kicked in the head?
In your opinion, what is the difference between being a great fighter in comparison to being just a good one?
I think it is a combination of things; natural talent, body type, coaches, training partners, training regime, diet and a positive mental attitude.
Who are your favourite MMA fighters?
AJ Matthews, Johnny Cisneros and Mark Vorgeas. These are guys I train with that most people haven’t heard of yet but I know how good they are, they keep improving and I am confident that they have what it takes to be in the big shows.
If you could chose any two fighters regardless of their weight division to fight. Who would you love to see?
Bruce Lee versus Fedor, with groin shots and eye jabs allowed.
As a fighter, what do you feel are your biggest assets?
I think I am well rounded, have a good chin and a strong submission defence.
What advice would you give to aspiring fighters looking to get into the industry?
Find a good gym with pro fighters and be consistent with training. It seems that the people who train consistently beat those with natural talent.
Neelam Atique – July ‘10
How did you get into MMA fighting?
I’ve always been into Martial Arts, Boxing and things like that but as far as like MMA I started in 2002 I think it was, I went to help a friend out at a self defence class at Leicester Shoot Grappling Club and when I was there I met Dan Hardy and Paul Daley who are now signed to the UFC as well and I saw them and they were fighting and they were doing well. They were the same type of age as me and I got along well with them and I thought to myself if they can do it then so can I.
Do you ever get nervous before fights, if so then how do you deal with the nerves?
I’m a pretty laid back person so I don’t get nervous as most other people do but for certain fights I have been a little bit nervous, erm what I normally try and do is think about it like sparring. I just say to myself that the fight will just be like a hard sparring match, many of the guys I train with are normally bigger guys than myself and they’re at the top of their game so if I can handle those guys then I can easily beat this guy I’m gonna fight. Also, you just gotta think about the rewards you get at the end of it, you gotta think to yourself it’s either him or myself at the end of the day. If someone’s gonna get the rewards then why not me, you know what I mean. I’ve worked hard for it, I got all the skills to do it so I should win this, you know why am I gonna give it to the next person. There’s only one of us in there, I’m not fighting the world, I’m just fighting this one guy and as long as I do what I’ve done in training then I’ll win that fight.
Being a MMA fighter do you watch what you eat carefully?
It all depends how far away I am from a fight, I’ve got a good metabolism naturally anyway so I don’t really get too fat or anything like that but I do eat a bit of junk food, I’ve been known to have a bit of cheese on toast late at night. [Laughs] When it comes to fights though, you have to start to cut down on the carbs and gradually tighten your diet up. I mean the thing is yeah, people think you have to be really strict to cut the weight but you just have to eat at the right times, the right portions and the right foods. You can still have a lot of nice food, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be eating broccoli all day.
What would be your choice for the perfect entrance song to a fight?
I dunno, I don’t really like to stick to one song you know I’m always on the internet downloading new songs, but erm if I had to pick one it has to be something hip hop-ish, it’s got to have a good beat to it, if I had to pick one it’d probably be ‘Pain’ by Tupac.
You tried out for Season 8 of The Ultimate Fighter but did not make it through. How did you go about getting ready for your Season 9 audition?
The thing was for the Season 8 Ultimate Fighter basically someone had said to me why don’t I try out and there was a few days left for it. What I did was I just did a short interview with my bredrin, you know just spoke to the camera so that they could know a little bit about me and I did a rough edit of a few of my fights which didn’t take very long so it wasn’t really a very good representation of myself and I just sent it off and the reply that I got back from the management team was that they weren’t looking for a lot of English fighters whereas for Season 9 what I did was I actually went down for the auditions and did it properly there you know like I went and did the pads in front of them, I met them face to face. I’ve always done the same type of training so there wasn’t a big difference in what I did to get into the show other than just signing up to the audition myself cus I do think that made a big difference. Also, the other main difference was they were looking for UK fighters.
[Laughs] Yeah just a little bit.
Do you feel you would’ve been as successful as you were in Season 9, if you had gotten through the first time?
Most definitely, I think I would’ve been just as good then but obviously given the time would help you get a little bit more experience and improve yourself but I’m still the same fighter so I think I would’ve done just as well, I mean there were guys on this show that had been trying out since Season 2 like the guy I fought Santino DeFranco, I fought in the second fight. The second fight in the house is my first fight on the show and he was meant to be on Season 2 but what happened was he had a brain aneurysm and he wasn’t allowed to fight and obviously he had an operation and then he was cleared and so he was able to compete in this season.
The UK team gelled much better than the Americans did, do you think that was a major factor that contributed to the success of the British fighters?
I think by the American’s arguing it didn’t really help them get the best out of each other, I mean I dunno how they trained cus we couldn’t see. All I know is what we did, and I know that we all really wanted each other to win.
In the TUF final you had to fight against Ross Pearson. Was that harder for you as you two had become good friends on the show and were on the same team?
The thing is I knew Ross previously like a year before going onto the show. He’s from near Sunderland and I’m from Leicester and we both trained in Nottingham at the same gym. I mean me and him both had the same idea, cus before we got into the show we said if we had to fight each other in the final, we’d just go out there and do what we had to do and whoever wins, wins. You know somebody’s gotta win the show. You know if you’re in the final with your friend its better that then not to be in the final at all. So, it didn’t really bother either of us, it was just unfortunate from my situation because what a lot of people don’t know is that I was ill leading up to the fight. Like two days before the fight I had food poisoning so I wasn’t able to perform at my best. I’m not tryna take anything away from Ross or anything like that cus he’s a good fighter. I’m not complaining I mean I’ve still gotta contract with the UFC so I’ll be fighting again soon so I’ll be able to do what I need to do to shut people up or you know give people who support me something to cheer about.
How do you go about preparing and training for upcoming fights?
You’d normally that you got a fight around 8 weeks in advance, so you got like 2 months to get ready for your fight so you do all your training like your strength and conditioning, grappling, if you like to wrestle, if your a submission fighter, whether you’re a striker. You know me, I’m an all rounder so I do everything and you know just do your research on the guy you’re fighting as well, you look at his videos for his strengths and weaknesses and you build a game plan for it.
What was it like to be coached by Michael Bisping on the show?
I knew Mike before going into the show, I didn’t know him really well but I had met him a couple of times and we had a mutual friend and so I wasn’t really too nervous going into the show thinking ‘Oh it’s Michael Bisping’, you know I was just like ‘Hey you alright Mike?’ You know we get along well; he’s a really nice guy so it was good being around him.
What was your opinion on Dan Henderson throwing in a second punch when he had already knocked out Michael Bisping?
I think it was just a little bit of frustration, there wasn’t any need for the second punch but it is what it is you know what I mean. I mean Dan Henderson’s an awesome fighter and Mike’s a great fighter also but you know Dan did his thing on the day and unfortunately Mike lost. I don’t even think Mike felt the second punch to be fair but that’s how it goes sometimes.
What would you say to people who think UFC is too violent and not a ‘real’ sport?
I’d say they’re just being a little ignorant to what it is really. I think as far as like combat sport it’s the best sport around I mean I love Boxing, I love Thai Boxing and all the other sports but MMA is a sport which contains all those elements. UFC back in the day was like Karate Vs Boxing or Judo Vs Boxing and so on but now it’s mixed Martial Arts, it’s really come on a long way, you have rounds, gloves, and the thing is they’re all skilled fighters in there. People think it looks a lot worse than it actually is; a lot of people come up to you like ‘Oh you do that cage thing!’ They think the cage makes a difference, but it’s literally just a netted fence. People have this idea that it’s bare knuckles in there and that you can bite but there are a lot of rules to it.
Who is your ultimate MMA fighter?
It’s got to be Anderson Silva or BJ Penn for me.
You must’ve really enjoyed the last UFC event then?
Yeah!! I was shocked! Going into it I thought you know what Forrest Griffin is a tough guy and he’s really gonna make Anderson work but Anderson just absolutely annihilated him, I couldn’t believe what I was watching. My girlfriend was mad at me because I was ringing my brother at like 6oclock in the morning like, ‘Oh my god! Did you see it?’ and I woke her up and she was just like ‘Shut up or I’m gonna throw your phone out the window.’ [Laughs] But I had to you know, to see someone go down like that, I mean he knocked him out with a jab!