The sport of Mixed Martial Arts has come a long way over the last number of years … from UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship] 1 in 1993 when the world turned its nose up at the sport, to the global phenomenon it has become today.
The sports growth has led the likes of Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey, Georges St. Pierre and Jon Jones to superstardom, and has paved the way for young men and women to have their crack at following in their footsteps.
James Sheehan, 22, is hoping he has what it takes to become the next big thing. Having been the #1 ranked amateur welterweight in Ireland and the UK, James is now fighting professionally as part of the BAMMA promotion. He has come a very long way in a short space of time.
“I was actually seriously involved with the GAA up until I was about 16 or so, playing hurling was my passion. At the time I was training 3 or 4 times a week with my club and with my school and then playing a match or two over the weekend. I did watch MMA back then when it used to come on Setanta at whatever time at night but it never really crossed my mind to give it a go myself. It was when my older brother started doing the training that something just kind of clicked in my brain and I decided I had to give it a go as well and I haven’t looked back since.”
Quickly rising through the amatuer ranks with a record of 6-1, accumulating the Clan Wars and Akuma welterweight championships along the way, the bright lights of professional MMA and eventually conquering the UFC have always been the goal.
He caught the attention of MMA fans worldwide after a clip of him knocking out Fionn Healy Magwa with a head kick just seven seconds into their fight went viral.
“It was around the summer of 2016 after I beat Fionn with the head kick; the clip of it was getting shared around Twitter and Facebook and a few famous faces from the fighting world seemed pretty impressed with it. After that I got a title fight against Vincent McCorry at Akuma and after I won that one the discussions kind of started about going pro but I kept it on the back burner a bit. I was just going training a few times a week and working as an electrician for my dad’s company but then when it got to around October I just said to myself ‘imagine [if] I could actually make my living from fighting and not have to work a regular 9 to 5 job’. It was a now or never moment so I just rang up my team and said let’s do it.”
James’ first steps into professional fighting didn’t go as planned however, as he lost his debut via unanimous decision to Matthew Bonner on a Cage Warriors card in Liverpool.
“That was a tough one to take, it was a bit of a reality check if I’m honest. It was just one of those things that he came in with a game plan and executed it on the night and I didn’t, simple as that.
“It’s annoying looking back now because that kind of hurt my reputation a bit after doing so well at amateur and having a bit of hype around me. To go down to a guy who I really should have beaten, but that’s how it goes in fighting I suppose.”
Following the loss, James went back to work and began training even harder in order to avenge that defeat, quickly signing up for a second fight with BAMMA to take place in the 3 Arena.
“Fight two went according to plan thank god. It was against another young guy called Dillon Manning and I managed to get the win with a rear naked choke about two minutes into the first round. I needed that. I feel like if I had lost that fight it might have been the end of my pro career because there aren’t many promotions that will take on a guy that’s 0-2.
“So it was pretty much a win or go home situation and thankfully I did it decisively and it was special as well fighting at home in Dublin with all my family and friends there in the crowd. Standing there getting my arm raised and everyone going mad I was just thinking, yeah this is where I want to be.”
With talks ongoing for his next fight, James is planning on staying in the win column and wants to keep moving up the ranks towards the ultimate goal, the UFC.