It’s been a tough run inside the Octagon for James Vick. It’s not that he’s lost fights. He’s not only undefeated in all of his UFC fights, but nine MMA fights professionally. Vick’s problem is different: he just can’t stay healthy enough to do much more than spin his wheels. Since joining the UFC in 2013 off of The Ultimate Fighter: Live season, he’s fought a total of five times, the last of which came a week ago at UFC 197 in Las Vegas, Nev.
Vick looked a bit rusty at first, but ultimately earned a unanimous decision victory over Glaico Franca. It was Vick’s first fight of 2016, but as he told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s The MMA Hour, hardly his last. He’s already accepted a short-notice fight against Evan Dunham at UFC 199 on June 4. While Vick asked for a bout against TUF: Live cast mate Michael Chiesa, Vick isn’t at all unhappy with the next challenge in front of him.
“I knew that I wasn’t getting Chiesa, anyway, in the next fight because he just came off such a big win the no. 8-ranked guy. I just feel blessed that I got into the top 15. I win this fight and I’m taking his spot at number 14. Evan Dunham is a solid veteran he’s been around a long time. It’s going to be a good fight,” Vick said.
“I definitely think I’m going to win. I think I’m going to win easily. I’m moving up fifteen spots in the rankings. I’m not disappointed at all. I’m thrilled to death.”
Vick has his reasons to be confident. In addition to being undefeated in MMA, his wins at these first and middle chapters of his career have come against veterans and rising prospects: Ramsey Nijem, Nick Hein and the rapidly-improving Jake Matthews. That, Vick argued, is why he’s entirely confident Dunham won’t stand a chance.
“Obviously I’m going to try to finish him,” he noted. “I’m going to go for the finish, but if it doesn’t present itself, I think I’m going to win this thing handily via decision. I think that all I gotta do is basically the same thing I did my last fight and he’s not going to be able to take me down. He’s not going to be able to hold me down. My jiu-jitsu’s good enough where I’m not really worried about any of these guys taking me down and I can get up pretty much anytime I want. You saw my last fight. The guy took me down, but was holding me. I landed more strikes from the bottom than he did from the top. There’s no way this guy is going to outstrike me, so I see myself either winning an easy unanimous decision or catching him with something and getting the finish.”
For Vick, the deciding factor is that, finally, he’s healthy. It’s not that Vick has been scheduled and pulled out of contests. Instead, he’s just infrequently available. He’s either suffering from surgeries or injuries just after surgeries that need time to heal. Now, Vick noted, he’s ready to keep the momentum from UFC 197 going.
“My goal at the start of the year was to get three fights and break into the top ten,” he claimed. “I think it’s about to happen. I’m going to win on June 4th and be no. 14 and hopefully by the end of the year, I’ll get another fight and get put in the top ten.
“I have a goal: in my mind, in the next two years I’ll be a world champion,” Vick declared. “Everything’s come together for me. It was a lot of hard times with the injuries and stuff, but the good thing is I wasn’t injured that whole time. I’ve had a lot of time in between fights, just a lot of bad timing with certain things where they kept me out of the ring longer, too. I’d have smaller injuries come up after a surgery or something. I’d pull my groin and have to wait another five or six weeks, but I progressed a lot in between the time period.
“Now I think my skill set is up to par and I can fight with anybody in the world and do good and win. It was a blessing and a curse at the same time, but I’m ready to go now and I think I can fight anybody in the world.”
It’s also been bittersweet to see his cast mates from TUF: Live move onto success inside the UFC. Names like Chiesa, Al Iaquinta, Myles Jury, Sam Sicilia and others have been active, some in high-profile bouts. Vick isn’t upset with their success, but does resent how circumstances put him behind the curve.
“It was frustrating,” he admitted. “I was really close to a lot of guys in the house, so I was happy for them. I’m definitely not a hater. But it was frustrating basically seeing all of these guys, knowing I could beat these guys and I’m over here broke, working a full-time job half of the time I’m in the UFC because I’m not healthy enough to fight and make money.
“Like we talked about in my interview after the fight, I believe it’s my destiny to be a world champion and my destiny can be delayed, but it can’t be stopped.”
As for those jobs, Vick said he’s done it all: teaching private lessons, coaching at a UFC Gym, even bouncing at strip clubs to help make ends meet.
That wasn’t as fun as it sounds. Vick, a lightweight, isn’t a typical candidate for club security, but it got the job done. Often, he said, he’d have to escort unruly patrons out of the facility and leg kick or pepper spray them into submission. By the time he earned a post-fight bonus after defeating Matthews in May of 2015, he did his best to stretch it out just so he wouldn’t have to do that sort of work anymore. “It got old,” Vick confessed.
“I didn’t make as much money on that Australia fight as people think,” he revealed. “They took $ 16,000 out of that bonus and then my purse wasn’t that great. I’ve recently got a better deal. I made about 50 Gs in that fight, but then you don’t fight for a year straight and then you gotta pay taxes, you gotta pay your coaches, you have to pay all this different stuff. Eleven and a half months of no fighting with no job. I’m very frugal with my money. I’m real cheap. I save my money, so it lasted me a whole year.
All of this took place while his sister was in serious medical distress. Doctors discovered a tumor growing behind her eyes and nose that required removal, but doing so presented a number of obstacles, both financial and medical.
“She had a tumor behind her skull that had completely eaten her sinus cavity,” Vick said. “It was going down to her eyes and they said it wasn’t going to make her blind if she didn’t get it taken out ASAP. She had insurance, but she had to pay a huge deductible because the surgery was expensive. They had to fly in a doctor all the way from, it was either Florida or maybe even a foreign country. I don’t remember.
“She had gotten it done here in Dallas and the neurologist, they didn’t want to do the surgery because they were scared where there were complications where they’d mess her brain up. It had completely eaten her sinus cavity and her skull. It was eroding through the bone.”
Vick said doctors had to essentially peel back her scalp, cut out old bone, put a titanimum plate in place, remove the tumor and sew her back up. The lightweight noted she still gets headaches, but has otherwise made a full recovery in the last 10 months.
For now, Vick doesn’t have to worry about the future as ‘what ifs?’, but as ‘what next?’ Dunham is first at UFC 199, but that’s just the beginning as far as he’s concerned. The title is the ultimate prize, but he hasn’t forgotten about his quest for redemption against Chiesa.
“I want it so bad,” he said of the fight with Chiesa. “That’s the only other fight that I would choose over him, is a title fight, for sure. I doubt after being ranked 14, when I win this fight, I doubt I’m getting a title shot.
“Stranger things have happened,” Vick noted with a smile.
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