South Shields heavyweight James Mulheron will make his UFC debut this Sunday (July 16) in Glasgow, Scotland, when he faces American, and fellow debutant, Justin Willis.
It will, for the pair of them, be a night of pride, excitement, nerves and anxiety. And, for one of them, jubilation. But, to experience triumph at the end of it, Mulheron knows he will first have to go through a process. It’s a time-honoured process that requires a fighter doing away with any fear they might have, relaxing and somehow staying loose with a battle on the horizon. It’s the fight before the fight; the fight against Octagon jitters.
“When you’re in the UFC, there are millions of people watching,” says Mulheron. “You’re bound to get some jitters. You get them whenever you fight. But then the first bell rings, the first punch is thrown, you go through some movements and you could fight anywhere.
“I think anybody who says they’re not nervous is lying. We all get nervous. But, at the end of the day, this is work for me now. I’ve got a job to do. That’s how I look at it. This guy I’m fighting is stopping me earning money. What I’ll be doing that night is going for that bonus. He’s stopping me getting paid.”
Mulheron is 12-1 in his mixed martial arts career to date and the one blemish, a loss against Ruben Wolf in 2015, was avenged two years year later. Ask anyone on the British circuit and they’ll tell you he has not only come on leaps and bounds in recent years, but has been considered a potential UFC heavyweight for some time now.
Admittedly, though, whether ready or not, his move to the UFC represents a sizeable step-up in class for a man who has mostly had it his own way in a five-year professional MMA career. Even first opponent Willis, 41, though lacking in professional experience, has the advantage of training alongside some of the world’s very best heavyweights and light-heavyweights.
“I watched a bit of Willis on YouTube,” says Mulheron. “He trains with (Daniel) Cormier and (Cain) Velasquez. He’s going to be a tough kid, like. But it’s time to show how the British train. We always hear how the Americans train the hardest, but we train just as hard as them over here. I’ll show that in the fight. We can grind just as much as them.
“I think he will be shocked by me. When you’re fighting a guy from AKA (American Kickboxing Academy), you’ve got to train hard. He’s going to think no one is going to be as good as Cain Velasquez or Daniel Cormier. He will get a shock on the night.”
Ever since being called to replace the injured Mark Godbeer for a UFC slot this weekend, Mulheron, 29, has been walking with a spring in his step, delighted to have finally reached the Promised Land. Unlike some, he puts no pressure or expectations on himself from this point forward. He wants to win fights, of course, starting this Sunday, but he also talks like a man satisfied to know that, whatever happens, he has already far surpassed the expectations many others have placed on him.
Now, with just days to go before he can officially call himself a UFC heavyweight, Mulheron feels free – and confident.
“I think I’ll be much faster,” he says. “I’m prepared to go in every area. If he wants to wrestle, I’ll wrestle with him. If he wants to stay striking, we can strike. My cardio is ridiculous. I can get my heart rate down to 45 beats per minute before fights. Nothing fazes me. My cardio on the night will win me this fight.
“All I want is to put on a great show for everyone and get a bonus – whether it’s a knockout or fight of the night. I’m there to take that bonus. I want to make money.”