James Head will be the first to admit that the infamous "Octagon jitters" got to him last summer.
The Oklahoma-based fighter started strong, even hurting Nick Ring in the first round, but for the first time in his career, he was tired. He'd entered the fight in incredible condition like always, but for some reason he just couldn't catch his breath.
And there were still two rounds to go.
The fighter/petroleum engineer would go on to lose that bout in the third round, but has since dropped down to the more competitive weight of 170 pounds. Now 10 months since his UFC debut, Head will be traveling across the pond to Sweden to take on hometown hero Papy Abedi at UFC on Fuel TV 2 in Stockholm.
Head spoke with MMAmania.com about getting over the Octagon jitters, dropping down a weight class and what he needs to do against Papy Abedi to secure a victory in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You talked about how you had a bit of the jitters in your last fight at UFC 131. You said that wasn't the "real" you against Nick Ring. I want to know what you consider the "real James Head" to be when you're stepping into a fight.
James Head: That's a pretty good question. I think the real me is more aggressive. I made some mental mistakes that are uncharacteristic for me. I'd never felt tired in my entire life before and I think that adrenaline dump really affected my physical response.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You stole my next question. I was gonna say I've watched a lot of your fights and you've never seemed tired, not even against Gerald Harris, and you did get tired in your UFC debut.
James Head: Oh yeah, it was the craziest thing that I've ever experienced in a fight because I'm always in shape, don't get out of shape and I don't ever fluctuate really over 190 pounds and I went into that fight really in the best shape of my life. That was an eye opener. I went back into the gym, I fought Saturday and was back in the gym Tuesday and I felt great. I went through a really hard CrossFit workout and didn't really even break a sweat. I couldn't believe how I felt.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): So now that you've actually been through it, do you feel you'll be a lot more composed the second time around?
James Head: Yeah I do. I think I'll know what to expect. You've got Burt in the back screaming like crazy, "Let's go, it's UFC, let's go baby!" When I walked out to the cage to warm up the first time, it was like I was ready to fight right then. It was hours later until I got back into the cage. I think this time I'll approach it just like any other fight like I have dozens of other times in my life. I'm looking forward to it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Now you spent the majority of your career at middleweight and you were originally planning on dropping down to welterweight at UFC 138. What was it that really motivated the drop? You didn't seem that small compared to Nick Ring.
James Head: Nick Ring, he's a pretty good sized middleweight but he's not one of the big guys like Tim Boetsch or Okami or anything like that. Like I said, I've always kind of walked around at 195 pounds. To make weight weight for my last fight I just walked to the mall in Vancouver which is like four blocks. I woke up at about 187 pounds, walked to the mall, didn't eat anything that day, maybe had like a granola bar. That was Kenny Florian's first time cutting to 145 and I walked in and saw him doing all that work to cut weight and it was an eye opening experience to realize that it wouldn't be that difficult for me to cut to 170 pounds and be one of the bigger guys in the division. I felt it would impose a physical advantage for me.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Moving on to your upcoming fight, you're facing Papy Abedi and you're going into hostile territory. Abedi has never even left Europe and he's got a pretty strong following in his native Sweden. So what are your thoughts about heading in there and having a pretty large amount of people not on your side?
James Head: I'm gonna love it. I fought once earlier in my career in Ireland and I fought an Irishman. I came out in my Rocky Balboa red, white and blues and I had the Hulk Hogan song "Real American" playing. Talk about a hostile crowd, they were screaming "spank the yanks!" so I kind of feed of it. It's gonna be good. Maybe I'll wear a viking helmet or something and swing the Swedish people behind me. I don't think it's gonna be an issue. Once they shut the door, it doesn't matter how many people are on the outside booing ya, it's just you and him on the inside.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Abedi is probably at his strongest in the clinch because of his judo base, but you're no slouch in the clinch yourself with your muay thai skills. That's probably one of your most dangerous positions. Do you expect an interesting battle if and when this fight enters the clinch?
James Head: I do and I look forward to it. One of the things that makes GSP so good in this sport is he can beat you at your own game like when he outwrestled Josh Koscheck or really do whatever it is he wants to do if he wants to take away your strongest weapon. I feel clinch work is definitely strong for Abedi. It's not like I want to live in the clinch with him or anything but I'm not afraid to be anywhere with him. On the ground, in the clinch, I'm confident that my skills will be fine.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Abedi made his UFC debut against one of the top guys in the division, a former title challenger in Thiago Alves. He's said that he doesn't know much about you, hasn't watched much about you. Do you think he's underestimating you because you don't have as big of a name as his last opponent?
James Head: Maybe, but anymore in the UFC, you can't underestimate anybody. If you look at Abedi, he's fought one guy that you could look on his record that you would recognize them and he didn't make it out of the first round. If he's not giving me respect, that's fine. It's his problem.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): In your last fight, you were having difficulties keeping it upright because you were having a lot of success on the feet. How much of a concern is it, having the ability to keep the fight standing against Abedi because he does have the possibilities of taking the fight to the ground with his judo if he were to close the distance?
James Head: Yeah, that's a good point. That was one of the those mental mistakes that I was telling you about. In my fight with Gerald Harris, he's tough but Nick Ring was a much better wrestler and at getting the fight to the ground. If you would have asked me beforehand of who has the better chance of taking the fight to the ground, Nick Ring or Gerald Harris, I would have told you Gerald Harris 100 percent. I don't think, I'm not really concerned with Papy's takedowns. He hasn't really shown much. I haven't seen much on him other than the Thiago fight and a little bit of stuff he's got on the internet. As far as him coming out and outwrestling me, that's not going to happen.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I've got a couple last questions here about your background. Most fighters start in wrestling or some other martial art before transitioning to MMA but you got your start in mixed martial arts and then through that, you started doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournaments and then boxing and now muay thai. You're kind of like the reverse of a lot of fighters and I think that's really interesting.
James Head: Yeah, I stumbled into MMA. My background growing up was just an athlete. I played everything, baseball, football, basketball. Anything I could compete in, I did, race motocross. When I went away to college, I still wanted to compete so I went to the Warrior Gym in Missouri and I thought it was a boxing gym at the time and the guy that owns and runs the place will be in my corner. That Saturday, Ken Sparks, he was a pro boxer that had just got started in MMA back, way back like 9-10 years ago.
Once you get into it and start learning about it, I was just grappling for MMA and then I joined and put on a gi like that way so I thought I knew what jiu-jitsu was and then I put a gi on like, "Holy shit, what is this? I have handles on me now!" It's just been a really awesome journey and I'm still learning, I'm still getting better every day and that's what fuels me.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What do you think has to go right the most in order for you to get a victory next Saturday?
James Head: All I need to do is to show up and perform up to my capabilities and there's no way I can lose.
James would like to thank the Lovato School of BJJ and MMA, R1 MMA, Matt Grice, Jared Hess, Tapout, Training Mask, Kevin Malahy, CrossFit 405 for strength and conditioning and his nutritionist. They made this next week possible. You can follow him on twitter @TheJamesHead.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Will Head be able to conquer the Octagon jitters his second time around? Or will facing a top prospect like Abedi in hostile territory be too much for him?