For most people, Valentine’s Day is spent in cosy restaurants or wrapped up in bed with their loved ones. James Webb, on the other hand, is in a cold gym in Dublin sleeping on a camp bed nearly 400 miles away from his home in Colchester.
It’s a world away from headlining Cage Warriors 102 at the O2 Arena but Webb knows this work ethic is what gave him the opportunity to fight for the middleweight belt — which could turn out to be his golden ticket to the UFC.
Not only does the title contender not have a regular home, he also doesn’t own a TV. Instead he channels all his dedication to his two passions in life, fighting and his girlfriend.
When asked about his journey so far, Webb said: “The last year of my life has just been completely different, everything is perfect and the way it is now seems like it’s set for life. There’s not one area of my life that’s struggling anymore.”
After his outing at the O2 last July where he defeated Pelu Adetola via rear-naked choke, Webb admitted that he wasn’t ready to challenge for the title yet. However, the former five-time national BJJ champion has always been adamant that he will challenge for the title eventually.
“When I found I was fighting Jason Radcliffe, I did start thinking, beating this guy could put me in title contention, just because he fought for the belt in the fight before that.”
The middleweight secured his first professional TKO stoppage inside the opening round against Radcliffe at Cage Warriors 97 in his hometown. It was a night of firsts for him, as it was also the first time he headlined a main card for the organisation.
Webb reflects: “My first MMA fight was five years ago — how mad is that?”
The 29-year-old took a while to find his calling though: “I was working for my dad’s roofing company, my brother owns that now and he’s one of my sponsors. I went to work with him when I was 15 and just hated it. As soon as I started competing in grappling I found that as a way to fund my competition in different countries.”
“I just got to the point when I sacked it all off and decided to do something with my life. I wanted to do something different.”
He recalls one coach in particular, who pushed him to see if he could pursue a professional career in combat sport: “He didn’t want me to just be in Colchester. In 2012 I went to Holland. I just booked my flight without anywhere to stay. Fortunately, I knew someone who was working there at the time who let me crash in his hotel.”
Eventually Webb was pushed to join SBG Swords in Ireland to work with coaches such as Chris Fields, Tom King and Ireland’s first ever MMA world champion — Aisling Daly.
Whilst training in Dublin, Webb has pieced together a 5-1 professional record, with three of his last four victories coming via rear-naked choke. Despite competing in hundreds of BJJ tournaments prior to competing in MMA, he never secured a win via the submission that has been successful for him in the octagon.
He thinks it’s a more of a natural progression: “That happens I find from punching people on the ground they turn over and give their back. It’s like the defence. No one really wants to sit there and gets punched.”
Undoubtedly, the years spent travelling across Europe put the fighter in a great position to propel his MMA career once he put the 4oz gloves.
“My only regret is that I possibly could have started MMA a little earlier but then I feel my skill set wouldn’t be as good. I can’t see how anyone can out-grapple me in MMA. I just feel my grappling and Jiu-Jitsu is too high.”
On Saturday evening, Webb comes up against a fighter of the same age who holds an impressive 7-1 professional record with six of those wins coming in the first round. Although, he hasn’t been analysing his opponent — Thomas Robertsen — in any great detail in preparation for the fight.
“Not because I’m arrogant. It’s just because I don’t like to focus on the opponent too much,” Webb said. “I just think focussing on him brings out more of his strengths and regardless of that, I can’t stop him doing whatever he’s going to do and I’m just going to do me.”
Robertsen is convinced his time has come to take the middleweight belt back to Scandinavia. The Norwegian’s only defeat in his professional career came against MMA veteran Craig White who most recently went five rounds with Diego Sanchez at UFC228.
However, Webb is enriched with the belief that this is his moment. He has illustrated a perfect balance of confidence and determination up until now and he carries that with him into the cage on Saturday night.
“I believe my skill set is far superior. I think I will be out of there before the second round.”
Featured photograph/James Webb