Photo: Esther Lin / MMAFighting.com
This is a guest post by Stephie "Crooklyn" Daniels. Follow Stephie on Twitter @CrooklynMMA.
After an unsuccessful bid at middleweight in his UFC debut, James Head is dropping down for his first foray at welterweight. The young petroleum engineer (yes, you read that right), who fights out of Oklahoma, will be put to test when he meets tough Swede, Papy Abedi. Both men are coming off disappointing submission losses, but James feels that he's found his place at 170, and will emerge the victor on April 14, at UFC on Fuel TV 2 in Stockholm, Sweden. In a recent interview, Head talked about his upcoming bout with Abedi.
SD: You're fighting in Sweden for this fight. Will it be your first time there, or have you already gone over for PR reasons?
JH: This will be my first trip.
SD: How far out from your fight will you be arriving in Sweden?
JH: The UFC wants us there the Monday before, so that's what I'll do. It will allow me to get acclimated to the time change and stuff, so I'll be training really hard up until then.
SD: Both you and Abedi are coming off losses. Break down where you think each of you went wrong in your last fights.
JH: I've watched his last fight a few times. I thought he looked good. He's a pretty big, strong guy for a 170 pounds, and he matched up well with Thiago (Alves). I do think that the way his stand-up was going, it was just a matter of time before Thiago caught him, and that's what happened. There's definitely holes in his game that were exploited, and I feel like I have the tools to exploit them in our fight. We really didn't have a chance to see what he had on the ground, because he was out when Thiago pounced on him, and never really regained himself.
As far as my last fight, I think that I let the fight be bigger than what it really was. You hear Joe Rogan talk about octagon jitters, and I used to say it was bullsh*t. All of us fighters have fought in main events leading up to being signed by the UFC, but you get under those bright lights, and it's a little bit different. I just let the fight be bigger than it was, but I feel like this time is definitely going to be different. I'm going to go out there, and it's going to be a dogfight. Papy and I match up very well. He's a big, strong guy, dropping from 185 to 170, and I'm doing the same. My weight cut is going great. Never felt better. Never been stronger. I'm really looking forward to getting in there and mixing it up.
SD: Since you're coming down a weight class for the first time, how far out did you start your cut?
JH: I sought out the advice of a dietician. That's what many athletes do, from Olympic wrestlers to everyone else. I started my weight cut about six weeks ago. As soon as I got the call, I talked about it with my management, because we wanted to make sure we were prepared. I'm not doing a crash diet like a lot of these guys that you'll see get on the scale, and be completely drawn out. I want to do this scientifically. I think some of these guys just lose too much too fast, and it's hard to replenish. I've already made a test run, got down, rehydrated. We even simulated a fight, and I felt great. I'm excited to be fighting at welterweight, and I think I'm going to be able to big things in this division.
SD: How important do you feel using a professional dietician to aid in your training is, considering there are so many "do it yourselfers" out there?
JH: The great thing is that my dietician and my strength and conditioning coach are working hand in hand. Coming from my background, I still work as an engineer full time, so math and science, and just doing things scientifically has always been important to me. I approach fighting the same way I do everything else. I think that you have to seek out the best people in every aspect. I can do all the research in the world I want, but when you seek out a professional, like a dietician, and you follow their plans and recommendations to a tee, it works. It's proven it's worth. I feel great. I definitely think that seeking out someone that has the experience is a big factor in competing.
SD: You only have two losses on your record. How important is it to you to avenge those losses, or are rematches not high on your priority list?
JH: I don't know what it is. Maybe it was because my dad let me win when I was growing up. I'm just one of the most competitive people that I've ever been around or met. Not just in fighting. I'm talking in poker, shooting basketball, you name it. Anything and everything. As a child, me and my dad bet on everything. It just bothers me to the core to lose. It's almost to a fault. To answer your question, the losses on my record do eat at me a little bit. I would love to fight those guys again. I would love to get in the cage with Jesse Forbes again. I'd love to go back on the big stage with Nick Ring again. I think that I would win the second time around.
At the same token, I know that my opponent right now is Papy Abedi, and I'm focused on him. I hate to lose, and I don't plan on it.
SD: Where do you see Papy's strengths and weaknesses?
JH: He definitely shows strength in the clinch. Being that he has that judo background, and even in there against somebody as big and strong as Thiago, there were times in the clinch when he looked really strong. His control was very good there. Him being a southpaw might cause some problems for some guys, but I've fought a lot of southpaws, including Nick Ring and Jesse Forbes. That's not such a problem for me. I feel that I match up well with him on the feet, and my boxing background is going to pose a problem for him. On the ground, I'm training with some of the best guys in the entire world. I feel comfortable anywhere the fight goes.
SD: You have a very distinguished striking background with some accolades in boxing, but who are you training with for your ground game?
JH: I'm training with Rafael Lovato, Jr, who is the only American ever to win the Mundial World championships both in the gi and no gi tournaments. He was the second American after BJ Penn to win in the gi. He actually lives in Oklahoma City, so I've been really fortunate to be at his academy. I've been training with him for the last few years, and he is an absolute beast on the mat. He has really kicked up my jiu jitsu game.
SD: Is there someone in your camp that has a similar style to Abedi's or have you brought someone in that can mimic him for your training purposes?
JH: I haven't brought anyone in, specifically. There are several southpaws that I've already been training with, as far as the stand-up goes. To simulate his clinch work, Brian Picklo, who was an Olympic alternate in judo, I've been working with him. He's also a Big 12 national champion in wrestling at Michigan State, so as far as judo and clinch work goes, I don't feel that there's anybody out there better to train with than him.
SD: You mentioned that you're a full time engineer. Elaborate on this.
JH: I work for a major natural gas and oil company as a petroleum engineer. There's several different kinds of engineers involved in the oil and gas industry. I'm a drilling engineer, so I manage four or five different drilling rigs that drill oil and gas wells for the most active drilling company in the United States. It's a pretty demanding job. Between my fighting career and this one, I have a pretty full plate, but I really like the challenge.
SD: Do you have plans for a vacation after your fight, since you'll already be in Europe?
JH: I plan on staying in Sweden for that following week after the fight, instead of flying right back. I want to see what Sweden has to offer, but I'm not doing a big European tour or anything. I'd love to stay for a couple weeks, because I've never been over there, but juggling two jobs, I don't have that luxury. I'm going to go over there, take care of business, hang around for a couple days, and then get back to the grind.
Follow James via his Twitter account @thejameshead