This is "hopefully" going to be a 32 part series with all the Bellator season 4 tournament fighters. I thought it would be interesting to help them get their names out there and allow the fans to get to know them a little better before the tournament starts in early March. Originally posted on the Toledo MMA Examiner.
"Judo" Jim Wallhead is a British welterweight who just couldn’t catch a break. After trying out for season 9 of The Ultimate Fighter: United States vs United Kingdom, he was deemed "too experienced" to be invited onto the show. Wallhead instead tried to make his big break through the Bellator welterweight tournament but Iceland's unprecedented volcanic eruption made it impossible for him to fly to the United States to compete.
Wallhead instead had to defeat season 2 tournament semi-finalist Ryan Thomas during Bellator’s third season to punch his ticket to the season 4 tournament and the 20-5 Brit is ready to make his mark. He recently was generous enough to give me his valuable time in an interview entirely conducted from his Blackberry phone.
Brian Hemminger: Let’s get the first question out of the way, how did it feel to earn the invite to the season 4 welterweight tournament, especially after you were not able to fight in the season 2 tournament due to circumstances beyond your control?
Jim Wallhead: Yeah I was very happy to get into the Bellator season 4 tourney especially with what went on in season 2 with the Icelandic volcanic ash issue. It’s felt like a long time coming and I'm just looking really forward to finally get going in this stacked, exciting tournament. It’s going to be awesome!
BH: This has been a long process for you. I’ve read that you’ve been trying to get into the Bellator welterweight tournaments since season 1. Can you tell me a little bit about the process you’ve had to go through?
I was told I was close to being in season 1 tournament by my old management and of course was disappointed not to be in it, but to be honest, it was for a reason. I am such a better fighter now than when season 1 was going on. I racked some good domestic victories and then when management approached again, I reckon I was a much better offer and Bellator invited me in.
BH: Can you tell about training at Team Rough House is like? What’s a typical day for you and who have you been working with in preparation for this tournament?
JW: Being a part of team rough house is a great experience. We have some great fighters in the camp that people know and a lot of guys people don't. We have guys from the Great Britain wrestling team who are getting into MMA, some good jiu jitsu guys and a lot of good MMA guys and guys who are going to be big in the future.
At rough house, my striking coach is Owen 'Cobra' Comrie. He was a world champion under Master Toddy. Our jiu jitsu coach is Victor Estima who is a very well known jiu jitsu champion and our strength and conditioning coach is Ollie Richardson at fighterstrength.com. Ollie has worked wonders for us all since we teamed up 3-4 years ago.
A typical day consist of two sessions, a lot of sparring and drilling all areas and a strength, power and conditioning session with Ollie spread throughout the week.
JW: Haha We are a family and a group of brothers. The banter we have with each other is ridiculous!!! I can't say much of it but jokes consist of claims that we have slept with each other’s Mrs' and wives. We crack jokes about when each other have lost fights and how they have lost them. It’s some pretty horrific sh*t looking at it now! Haha
BH: You’re a man with a lot of ink. There are many people who are interested in your tattoos, are they any interesting stories behind them?
JW: Wow my tattoos are pretty awful. Haha. I was young when I starting getting them done so my tats consist of a lot of cover ups, some nice spiritual work on my arm and stomach and obvious the tribal. I like the tribal work.
BH: Your nickname is "Judo" Jim, how well do you feel the skill-set of Judo translates to mixed martial arts?
JW: I think the skill-set I developed in judo definitely helps my MMA such as the strength that's been developed since childhood, I believe the reason I have good balance is because of judo and it’s been a massive help in my transition to MMA.
BH: I’ve read that you actually got into Judo by mistake. Can you explain what happened?
JW: My parents took me to my local judo club after I watched the Karate Kid and told them I wanted to start karate but by mistake they took me there. I remember I was very mardy but then my mum said the coach’s name was Rocky and he was my dad’s friend. Rocky was a biker/rocker had a long pony tail, spiky hair on top, a big Don Frye moustache and a black belt. I thought he looked really tough so I went on the mat. Within a few weeks I was competing!
BH: I heard you walked away from Judo in 1999 and didn’t get back into the martial arts until 2005, can you tell me about what was going on with you during that time period?
JW: Well I will be honest, no one has ever asked me that question. I basically went off the rails. I was working the doors, doing a lot of partying but just lost my way and was doing a lot of drugs and drinking and going nowhere in life. That went on for a long while. One day I just had enough. I missed competing. I remember it was after a New Year’s party. I had a bet with friends and the bet was who was going to achieve the most next year. It wasn’t that bet but it made me look at what I was doing and it needed to change.
I woke up the following morning, smoked half a cigarette and went for run. I puked up bad! I basically started lifting weights and doing a bit of grappling with friends, but no sparring. I stumbled into an MMA career, won a couple lost a couple, but in that time I met my now fiancé Joanna and she turned my life around. Then, after my second loss I met Owen Comrie and Dan Hardy and was invited to Rough House. The real journey began then in my eyes.
BH: When you fought your first amateur fight, you actually came in as heavyweight. I just can’t picture it. How was the process of working down to welterweight?
JW: Yeah my first fight was at heavyweight. I was very bulky. I basically only body-built at the time with no proper MMA training. It was very easy to get down to welterweight as soon as the knowledge of diet and correct training was shown to me.
BH: You aren’t the only Judo practitioner in this tournament, there’s also Rick Hawn, who used a beautiful throw to set up a first round TKO of LeVon Maynard. I know it hasn’t been "officially" announced yet, but what are your thoughts on Rick as an opponent in the first round?
JW: Well one thing I know, Rick Hawn’s judo is sick! The guy is definitely a better judoka than I ever was. His win over LeVon Maynard was very impressive and Rick is a very good, well-rounded opponent. It’s amazing how every guy in this tourney could get to the final. Everyone brings something unique to the table.
BH: Are you concerned at all that if you both go for a judo toss at the exact same time, you might rip open a hole in the space time continuum?
JW: Haha, put it this way. There's no way I'm gonna try and play judo with Rick Hawn but I will play MMA with him gladly!
BH: In my recent interview with Ryan Thomas, he said you had a lightning fast sprawl and the best takedown defense of anyone he’s ever faced. That’s a pretty damn good compliment considering he’s fought in the UFC, faced US Olympic wrestler Ben Askren and currently trains at American Top Team. What do you attribute that takedown defense to?
JW: Yeah I read your interview with Ryan Thomas. That's an awesome compliment from him. He's a tough guy and I was very happy with that win and very happy with my takedown defense. My takedown is something I focus on very much because it can help me dictate the fight. I love to stand and trade but if I'm not getting the better of it, I can hopefully put a dude on his back. Also, if I'm lighting someone up, the defense allows me to continue to do so.
BH: Speaking of Askren, what are your thoughts on the current Bellator welterweight champ? Thomas said you have the perfect skill-set to counter him because you are the only fighter in the tournament that could keep the fight standing.
JW: Yeah, I mean Askren would no doubt put me on my back at some point but it wouldn’t be easy. I'm good at getting up as well and I would be confident I could get something on his chin in 25 minutes. He is a great champion and is going to be hard to catch.
BH: There’s a stereotype of British fighters not being great on the ground, or not being able to defend the takedown against strong wrestlers. Why do you think that’s the case and what have you and Team Rough House done to counter that?
JW: I mean on a majority, American fighters have better wreslting than us Brits but we realize it and are working hard to get our wrestling strong for MMA. At Rough House, we work our jiu jitsu with Victor Estima three times a week and it doesn't get better than that guy! Our wrestling is pushed all the time and with visits from Kenny Johnson and the Great Britain wrestlers, we’re learning fast.
BH: Lastly, what’s your prediction on how you think the fight with Hawn plays out?
JW: I think my fight with Rick Hawn will be fast-paced and exciting. My prediction is a TKO by ME in the third round.
BH: If you have any shoutouts to trainers or sponsors, here’s your opportunity: