Cage Warriors is one of the best and most proven tracks to the UFC. The UK based promotion has delivered many of it’s former champions to the octagonal circle, including Michael Bisping, Dan Hardy, and Conor McGregor. For young fighters, looking to further their career on the international stage, winning a title under their ranks is one of the biggest steps they can take towards the limelight. That’s certainly what James Brum is hoping for when he faces off against current CWFC bantamweight champion Brett Johns at Cage Warriors 67 on April 12th.
Brum carries an impressive 14-2 record into the cage as one of Europe’s top bantamweight prospects. He has wins over Ruslan Abiltarov and Martin McDonough among a slew of other names and battled current top 15 UFC bantamweight Erik Perez back in his BAMMA days. He’s undefeated since his Perez bout, and on an 8-fight winning streak as he steps in to Cage Warriors title contention. Currently he’s spending training camps at Team Alpha Male while still basing himself out of Gym01 in England. He sat down to talk with me about his road to MMA, vying for the Cage Warriors title, and his hopes for the future.
How did you get started in MMA?
Yeah, well actually I was at university in Portsmouth, England and I was doing a sports and kinetic sciences degree. And my whole theory of going to Portsmouth was to study how to do sports science as a backup in case I ever got injured or things didn’t work out. But, ever since I was little I wanted to be a professional wrestler. So, originally I was down there, I was learning how to wrestle. And, yeah, I was on the course with a few guys that had a Shotokan Karate background, they were looking for someone to train with, to keep up with their martial arts. But, they weren’t enjoying any of the actual, unique teams. They couldn’t find anywhere in the Portsmouth area.
It was about the same time we started, me and this other guy, started watching UFC DVDs and I was completely blown away. And it’s what I try and explain to people, that the sport is growing so much. That must be the same feeling people get when they tune in. The first time I put that DVD on and saw what a head kick was and figured out what’s a guillotine, I was just blown away. From then on it took over. I was like, “I don’t want to wrestle anymore, I want to do this.” So, you know, we found a place, and then… But it wasn’t until I graduated, I told myself I’d graduate first, which I did in June 2008. And then after that, that’s when I started training full time.
So did you do any catch, or was it all theatrical?
Yeah, more like the theatrical stuff, which is what I wanted to be. I mean, when I tell people that, they find it, it’s interesting. You know, because it’s different. But also, you do some catch stuff in that, but yeah a lot more if it’s all theatrical. And, you know, the biggest realization was for me, was I always thought that “I’m determined, I can make it, I can go as far as I want. I can make it to the WWF or the WWE,” but then it soon dawned on me that physical predetermined… I’m never going to be a 6′ 5″ giant, 280 lbs. So, there’s only so far that I could go unless I’m like the newest version of Rey Mysterio, do you know what I mean? And I knew that in MMA my limit was only me. If I was never that good, but at least if I put in as much and worked as hard, I’d get where I want to get. You know, there was no limit because of my size. If anything it’s the opposite, I’m dropping down weights.
What other jobs have you done outside of MMA?
I would have liked to continue with the sport and kinetic science. It’s such a broad coarse that I was looking in different areas, like the physiology side or the sports psychology side, because that’s an area that’s always interested me, even when I was at uni. Even now, we focus so much as fighters on the mental and physical side of things, but when you actually get in there it’s almost turned on it’s head and it’s like 90% mental and 10% physical, which is crazy. So, I’ve worked with sports psychologists, but all of those things, all the routes I looked at taking were taking me away from training, away from fighting, involved a lot of hours or extra courses, boxes to tick.
Yeah, so, I got bar jobs for… I had a bar job for my last year at uni and I carried that on for, like, another year. The manager was really cool with me because he did Taekwondo when he was younger and he could see how dedicated I was. So, he just put me on days, because also I was rubbish at nights. I was the slowest barman you’ve ever seen, so he put me on days. That was good, I was polite with customers, I was good at serving food. And that freed me up to train in the evenings.
And then once, before I went to go pro, I thought, I need a different job or something that frees me up so I can train more like a full time fighter, and so I started doing security. We call it door work back home, but you call it bouncering. And I’d do that a few nights a week and it helped me tick over. I’m not poor but I’m not rich. And that’s the sad thing about fighting is that I’ve got no savings. If anything I was better off before I went to university. And then now I’m just, yeah, I’m broke. And it allows me to do stuff like this. Like, I took a trip to Alpha Male from October to November, now I’m back here again, January through February, all the way to March.
If I had a career or job that was outside of fighting, then I wouldn’t be able to do these sort of things. And initially I had the bar job and, do you know, I quit in November, December 2009. I went to see if this was actually what I really wanted to do, so I went to the Hit Squad because they were doing a three month camp, like $1000 for accommodation and training, just pay for your food. And that’s when it was owned by Coach Fury, Matt Hughes, and Robbie Lawler. So, I did that for three months and then I was like, “You know, this is what I want to do, what I want to be. I want to wake up, eat, sleep train.” And then I came back and pursued it.
How do you describe your fighting style?
For me, it’s always about… Obviously the winning is important, but I try to make it the most entertaining fight that’s possible. One time, one of the fights I never watched back is, it was the New Year’s Eve of 2012 going in to 2013. And that’s because I flew into Brazil a couple of months before, caught an eye infection and it completely messed up my weight cut. I was in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, training at Nova Uniao. And here I was, I couldn’t do a… The sun didn’t come out that whole week, so I was just stuck in a Hostel. And that ticked over, that was a week of training lost, which was a week of my weight cut lost and it sets you back. And that was one thing, because I would never have a boring fight, and I have never watched that fight back, because it’s almost like I lost the fight even though I still won. Because, it wasn’t me.
But, I try and go out there and entertain, I try and go out there all the time and finish the fight, whether it be stood up or on the ground. And my skills are now evolving, but it’s got to say because some of the opponents I’ve fought has been a grinding battle about wearing them down and beating them up. But, it’s constantly staying active, constantly being busy. For a long time it was unfortunate that, obviously the caliber of opponent that I was fighting in Europe meant that a lot of my fights went to a decision. But they’re good decisions if you look at them, a lot of them, I mean one or two of them they’re even, like, 30-25 or something stupid like that. It’s just, you know, dominating performances. In this day and age, when there’s so many fighters and stuff… Wins are important, but it’s not just enough to win now, you want to win excitingly to progress in your career. So, that’s the next step, not only win, but win excitingly, to go forward in my career.
You’ve been with cage warriors for a while now, how has that been working with one organization for a long stretch?
Oh, things are great, training with cage warriors. If anything, it’s given me such exposure, you know the opportunities to fight all over. The last time I fought in the UK, it was September 2011, so it’s over 2.5 years. It’s coming up to that, since I fought in the UK. You know, I’ve fought in the Ukraine, I’ve fought in Jordan, I fought in Dubai. I fought at crazy places like Chechnya, so it’s given me a lot of exposure. It’s getting used to traveling and fighting and doing weight cuts and, you know, performing far away from home. Not just, like, a few hours away, but somewhere where no one knows you and winning the crowd over. For me personally, I had a bad experience with BAMMA, so I would never want to fight for them again. But, I can’t say any bad things about Cage Warriors. The way they treat their fighters and the crew and everything, they’re all so great. So yeah, I love being part of the organization and fighting for them.
As a young fighter, fighting on the regional level, how much do you rely on sponsorship?
It’s weird, because it’s different in the UK to what it is here in the US. I mean, for me personally, there’s hardly any sponsorship at all. Sponsorship comes in terms of, like, “Here’s a little bit of training kit,” or “Here’s a few supplements,” and then you don’t see them for a while. It’s very hard for, especially in the UK, to get financial sponsors.
You know, I’m lucky that I’ve had one close friend at the gym, or two close friends at the gym, one of them has their own business. And they’ve been able to… They’ve seen how hard I’ve worked and how much I’ve sacrificed and they’ve given me some money now and again to help me when I go on these trips away. By paying for my flights or giving me some money towards the trip.
But yeah, much of the time it’s just keeping a balance. To come out here I had to extend my, I couldn’t get a loan, so I had to extend my overdraft. So, when I go back I’m, like, pretty much 2.5 grand into my overdraft and 500 pound left. So, I’ve got to recoup that by working. I’ll probably work four nights a week, but then maybe a week or two weeks out from the fight I’ll probably, again, either cut my shifts or cut them down to one or two, so I can get a good nights sleep. Get into the routine.
A few years ago you lost to Erik Perez, what have you changed since that fight?
I think, just generally… It’s crazy, I think you learn a lot more from your losses than you do when you win. With that fight, I took that when no one else would fight him, you know? All I knew at the time was, it was a massive opportunity for me and I was looking to move forward in my career and step up. And up ’til then I hadn’t fought on a huge show like BAMMA and Cage Warriors status. All I remember is my coach saying, “Look…” he showed me the footage. You know, he’s like, “This guy’s beatable.” And I looked to the footage, and I wouldn’t have taken it if I didn’t believe the same, and I went, “Yeah, he is very beatable.” You know, we watched a few things, didn’t know much about him, but knew that he was fighting out of Jackson’s and stuff and no one else wanted to fight him. And I said, “I’ll take it.”
So, took it on, like, two weeks notice. But, going in, because I wasn’t so well rounded it was all about take it to the ground, take it to the ground, take it to the ground. And almost like I didn’t have this ability or belief in my striking, which you can probably see in the fight. I’m immediately charging at him and trying to take him down. But, I remember, there’s one moment in the fight where he hits me with, like, a right hand and I thought, “Wait a minute, I just took that.” In my mind I was, “Just stand with him, stand with him and trade. You know, just throw down.” But then the initiative was like, “No, go back to… The whole thing is take him down, take him down, take him down.” And that’s where it’s like, although I have gameplans in my fight, now it’s again, finding the balance between having a game plan and then fighting on instinct as well.
But definitely, I knew after that was one thing I need to work out, defending my back when someone’s got my back, because that was the second time I’d gone to sleep. And then the other thing, become more of a well rounded fighter. And then since then, Saville had my back, Pekov in my last fight had my back 2.5 minutes and they couldn’t. You know, it’s annoying that they got my back in the first place, but they weren’t able to capitalize and finish the fight. And since that fight my standup, as well as everything else, has improved to the stage where, before I used to be seen as a ground and pound and a ground guy and now I’m seen as a striker in Cage Warriors, which is just crazy. I’d love to get a rematch one day, that’d be the goal. Like, one of the goals: UFC, do well, he’s doing well, let’s have a proper fight without the… You know, have a proper camp, let’s do it.
So why did you start training with Team Alpha Male?
Apart from, obviously, they’ve had massive success this last year and everything. But, I knew I had to go somewhere to work on my wrestling. Each time for me it’s coming to the cage, the fight, with something new. So, whether the guy is prepared for me in one way or something I do, I bring something new to the table that they haven’t seen before. I knew I’d be fighting a lot of people that’d want to take me down, so I wanted to improve my wrestling defense as well as my offense. Then, if you’re gonna go somewhere, you wanna go where the best 135ers, 125ers, 145ers are. And it was this place. I had the opportunity, my coach got me the contacts, I contacted Dave Rowan, who runs the gym out here, and the opportunity came for me to come out here. So, I dropped everything and found myself here on the mats with the top guys, or some of the top fighters in the world.
Do you have a home camp then?
I’m constantly, I train at Gym01, back home. Fitness and martial arts under coach Bryan Adams. And it’s probably, for me, one of the best gyms in the UK, if not Europe. We’ve got Phil Harris in the UFC, top fighters coming up through the ranks in top ten in the UK and top ten in Europe in their divisions. But, I always think that I need to be pushed. Although I’m getting the right training there and the right coaching, I’ve got people that are constantly working me, I need to come into this environment, where people are going to put a beat down on me. Do you know what I mean, they’re going to out-wrestle me, they’re going to out-strike me. And it’s almost like, a lot of fighters wont put themselves in that position, they want to be the top dog in the gym. There’s only so far you can go with that.
So, I come out here and have hard spars and hard training sessions with the top fighters in the world. And not only does that grow me physically, but it gives something money can’t buy. That confidence that when I walk into the cage I know I’ve trained with the best in the world, I’ve done everything possible. So, I’m there to win. But, I’m settled on my home gym and then this being my gym away from home. It was great coming here a second time and everyone recognizing me and, you know, just sort of catching up where I left off before. My plan, it’s all finances dependent… My plan, I said to them last year, was to come out here two, three times a year. Like, four weeks at a time. This time I came out for six and if I could do that three times a year then I’m constantly improving.
You’re fighting Brett Johns for the Cage Warriors Bantamweight title on April 12th, are you doing anything special to prepare for this fight?
You know, I’m the more experienced fighter. But, one of the things, when I had the title shot coming up in December, because Brett Johns got injured a few weeks out from that. I came out here and prepared, trained with the best in the world, had them put it on me, and improved my offensive and defensive wrestling. But, a lot of work on the other aspects as well, in preparation for that fight. And obviously, the fight fell through, I thought it was very important to stay active and not just sit out over Christmas, so I then fought Marat Pekov in Jordan. Won that fight. And then, as soon as I can, I knew that it was only a matter of time before they were going to schedule me to fight again. I presumed it would be for the belt, as soon as Johns was ready.
So, I said, “Look, I need team Alpha Male. I need to constantly work on my wrestling, and working those scrambles and stuff like that.” And if I’m seeing there shots or I’m at least getting underhooks and defending there shots, then I’ll see Johns’ from a mile away. But it’s not just, I’ve not just been working on the wrestling. I’m working on the whole game while I’m out here, under the, you known, under coach “Bang”. Working that Bang Muay Thai System. So, I can’t wait to get in the cage and just unleash some of the combos that I’ve been learning and just take Brett Johns out in front of his home crowd.
Do you see a Cage Warriors title as a stepping stone to the UFC?
I think so. I mean, I try and set goals for each year with my coaches. The goal in 2012 was to have four fights, go unbeaten. We did that. Goal for last year was to have between three or four fights, remain unbeaten, and win the belt. So again, I got another three fights, remained unbeaten, but unfortunately the fight for the title fell through, because of an injury, which is part of the sport. It almost ruined my Christmas, but I got over that. No, I think that is the next step. I’m pretty much the number one, unsigned 135er in Europe. I’m on an 8 fight win streak. I know some of those have been decisions, but they’re against the top fighters in Europe, you know, in the top ten and I’ve knocked them out of there. So, those are the boxes I’m ticking. The next logical box for me to tick would be to have the belt around my waist. And not just any belt, but the Cage Warriors belt, which is a prestigious title.
I try not to think to much about things outside of Cage Warriors, like UFC for example. Only because, and I think a lot of young fighters probably echo this… Early, like say, over a year ago, 2012, I was thinking, “Oh, when I win this fight, the call is going to come straight away. Oh, when I win this next fight the call is going to come.” And then the call doesn’t come. And it’s almost like, you start getting beat down and depressed and thinking, “What do I have to do?”. So, now I don’t think about it any more. And when it comes I’ll be ready for it and it’ll come, so just let fate decide. I just know what I need to keep doing. I need to keep winning, win in exciting fashion and get that belt around my waist on April 12th.
Have you ever gotten an offer from Bellator? Would you consider one?
No, I haven’t. I haven’t had the call from them. But, you hear so many stories, you don’t know which are true or not. I just have to leave it up to my coach and my management. But, for me, it’s almost like, when I win the title and say I have to defend it or whatever happens and it carries on and they call, then I could be tempted. But, when you’re an NFL player, your a football player, you want to do the NFL, don’t you? Same way if you’re a hockey player, you want to do the NHL and so on and so forth. If you’re a soccer player in England, you want to play for the premiere league. My goal is to get into the UFC. I want to fight for the number one organization.
Would you consider trying out for the Ultimate Fighter? Or, have you already?
Actually, do you know what? My roomie, while I’m here… My first roommate was Pietro Menga, who’s just gone back to the UK a couple weeks back. And he’s one of England’s top flyweights, undefeated. So, I mean, that’s the great thing about coming to a place like Team Alpha Male, is not only do you got the great fighters that live here, train out of here, you’ve got great fighters coming from all over to train. So, you’ve always got constantly new sparring partners and training partners, so nothing’s ever the same. They’re keeping you sharp. But, I’m actually rooming with Josh Hill at the moment, from the last season, The Ultimate Fighter 18.
Actually, the last season, with the bantamweights and stuff, I remember I was actually, this is another place I went, I went to Coach Fury’s gym in Springfield, Illinois under the MMA clinic, before I got the Team Alpha Male contact. And that was in, I want to say 2012, may 2012. And he actually handed me the form to fill in and said, “Look, I think you should go in for this.” And I sent a call and I spoke to my coach back home, looked at when the tryout dates were and everything. But then, I was like, “I’m going to have to go in at 145,” because there’s no way I could cut, because I’m naturally a heavy bantam. I was like, “I’m not going to be able to cut this much weight three times on the show.” And we talked about that some more and then my coach was like, “Look, you’re on the verge of getting in to the UFC anyway,” this is what you think at the time, “you’re successful in Cage Warriors, you’re going for that belt. We don’t need this. We don’t need the ultimate fighter.” But, I guess if it came up again, the same like we talked about before. If I’m the title holder and this and that and defending the belt, no calls come in and the opportunity arises to do the 145er show, I think it’s probably an option I’d consider.
Do you have any MMA hot button issues that you feel strongly about?
I do think it’s interesting that finally the whole TRT thing is… Well, they’ve sort of resolved an issue in Nevada and so, let’s see what the other states do. And then obviously the UFC has gone and said, “No, it’s banned.” And now Vitor’s lost his shot for the time being. They needed to do something about it. I’m not saying there was people cheating because they were finding a legal way to do it. You know, it’s like a loophole. That’s out of the way now, but there’s always going to be people that are gonna try and get ’round the system. And obviously, you hear stories about how many people are on human growth hormone, which there’s no definitive test for. I think it’s probably one of those things, it’ll come out in a few years time, like the whole Lance Armstrong thing, I think.
Any final words?
I just want to say to the fans, man, make sure you tune in to Cage Warriors 67 from Swansea, Wales to see me win the belt.
Be sure to follow James Brum on Twitter @James_Brum