James Gray Victorious at XFCi 6, Looking for World Titles

James “The Phenom” Gray is a 26-year-old professional mixed martial artist with a 3-0 professional record.  James holds 15 pro/amateur wins, finishing every fight by submission in the first round. James is coming off of the biggest win of his career at XFC International 6, a first round triangle submission of Lucas “Treta”.  His preliminary fight can be watched here.  FightSportAsia was able to catch up with James following his big win to talk about the semi-finals and much more. 

Courtesy of XFC; James Gray puts Lucas "Treta" to sleep

Courtesy of XFC; James Gray puts Lucas “Treta” to sleep

 

Fight Sport Asia: James, You’re coming off a huge win this past weekend in the quarterfinals of the XFC Bantamweight GP. Tell us about the fight?

James Gray: It was an incredible experience to travel to my opponent’s home country and compete against someone who brought an excellent skill set to the table. I was able to pressure him and set a very high pace which lead to an early takedown in the fight. Once the fight hit the mat I was able to stay a slight step ahead and pass his guard then secure back mount within the first minute which in turn lead to the series which ended in a triangle choke and my first victory in the XFC Bantamweight Grand Prix.

 

 

FSA: This was the first time you fought outside of the United States. How was your experience traveling and competing in Brazil?

James: It was truly the greatest experience of my entire career which spans almost a decade. The Brazilian fans were extremely supportive of their own fighters however they always celebrated a great war or a fighter who left it all in the cage. I was uncertain of how the crowd would respond towards me immediately following the fight however I ended up taking pictures and celebrating in the stadium with the fans for the rest of the night.

 

 

FSA: How did it feel to have your hand raised, knowing you were moving on to the Semifinals?

James: You can’t put into words the emotions and feelings that hit you when fulfilling a dream like this. I have almost a full minute in which I can’t really remember what happened immediately after I realized I put him to sleep, I believe I ran around – yelled – fell down – got back up but it’s all a blur. You’re so overwhelmed with a feeling of accomplishment and relief, it’s an experience that no one can fully appreciate who hasn’t been in the same position.

 

 

FSA: You’re next fight will be on XFCi 7 this November 1st. How do you prepare yourself to fight again in just 5 weeks time?

James: I was initially worried about the short amount of time between fights however I didn’t take any damage in my fight and have already resumed normal training schedule. I know my next opponent is coming off a 3 round split decision war so he will have a much harder time in between fights.

 

 

FSA: You are slated to face Mexican kickboxer Edgar Garcia Cabello at XFCi 7. Have you had time to watch your opponent’s game?

James: I’m a very strange fighter in this respect in that I do not ever watch tape on my opponent. I feel that by watching their tapes I over complicate things. I begin to think about what my opponent is going to try to do and how I need to be careful for this or watch out for that. I find that I fight best when I just make sure I do everything necessary to succeed and impose my gameplan upon my opponent regardless of what they bring to the table.

 

 

FSA: You’re opponent is ranked as the #201 ranked bantamweight in the world on fight matrix. Do you believe a fight like this and a possible main card slot could propel you’re career forward?

James: I don’t really pay attention to rankings or what it says on paper, not to mention I feel that in the fight game so many styles match up differently that you can’t accurately rank except maybe the top 10. After reading this question I did my research and almost all of the fighters in this tournament aren’t even listed in this website and I can tell you right now some of them are rising stars who deserve much higher recognition.

 

 

FSA: How will you distinguish yourself as one of those rising stars?

James: I need to keep stepping up to any challenge that is presented and make sure to finish my fights without going to decision. I feel by always showing that I can get the submission it really solidifies my needing to continue climbing to the next level. If I was making it to the end of the fight and maybe outworking my opponent but only winning by decision, in my opinion, that means I’m fighting at my appropriate level and if I were to step up in competition, I may not be prepared for it.

 

Courtesy of XFC

 

 

FSA: Tell us about you’re training and how you got involved in martial arts?

James: I started training Jiu Jitsu in 2005 for about 3 months at a local academy and fell in love with the sport but felt I was learning at too slow of a pace, so I left the academy and began studying on my own via videos/online footage/tutorials/books. I’ve been self taught since that point and I became obsessed with Jiu Jitsu all through high school and many years after. That eventually lead to me taking an MMA fight because I was tired of all my friends saying, “In a real fight I would just ______” MMA became my way to test my Jiu Jitsu in as close to a real fight as possible. I feel that even as a Jiu Jitsu player who refuses to train stand up or wrestling, you’re defeating the concept of being a martial artist. If we’re supposed to be the most prepared for any situation, why only train on the ground or taking it to the ground? My mind has always been set on innovation and progression, so I felt the Gracie’s helped create one of the most incredible fight forms in the world but just like any other system, if you only rely on that you are limiting yourself and your full potential. I believe this is very evident in modern day MMA.

 

 

FSA: What was the highest level of grappling you have competed on?

James: I’ve won over 10 National tournaments such as NAGA/Grappler’s Quest/etc at the expert level and recently won the ADCC regional trials submitting multiple black belts and earning my spot in the ADCC North American World Trials to which I ended up placing 3rd, 2 matches short of representing the USA in China for the ADCC Worlds.

 

 

FSA: You recently had a professional boxing bout, how did it feel fighting in a combat sport taking place solely on the feet?  Do you believe you will get to a point in your career, where you’re ground game will be only secondary?

James: I took the boxing match to challenge myself under those circumstances, I know there will be a point in my career where I’ll have to use every tool to secure a victory and I want to make sure I am prepared. I doubt my ground game will ever be secondary, I will most likely always remain a fighter who hunts for the submission but I would like to blend my striking, wrestling and jiu jitsu better in preparation for future challenges.

 

 

 

FSA: You have talked about an affinity for Asian MMA in the past. Who have been some of your past influences?

James: Hands down, without a doubt the reason I started to love MMA was because of Kazushi Sakuraba & Genki Sudo. To me, they were real life super heros and I wanted to inspire other people the way I had been inspired. The ability to put yourself on the line and compete in a sport so difficult mentally, physically and spiritually as MMA was incredible. I wanted to find out if I had the inner strength to test myself this way and wondered if I could handle the challenge or if it would break me down. In life, I believe, one of the most important aspects you can do for your own personal development is to have to face fear and deal with doubt, struggle and suffering. This is what I am able to do through MMA mainly because of fear.

 

 

FSA: What were your favorite moments from the careers of Sakuraba and Sudo?

James: In regards to Genki Sudo’s career I honestly admired his bravery, personality and accomplishments. He was a wrestling champion in High School, made it to ADCC for grappling, competed in K-1 for kickboxing and was able to fight for Dream, Pride and UFC. That is unbelievable as I understand how incredibly hard it is to compete at the elite level of MMA let alone be able to compete against some of the best in the world at their particular disciplines. I also loved how he was able to showcase much of his personality through his costume walk outs, banners, fight shorts, and competitions, he didn‘t look to just win, he wanted to win in an exciting fashion that fans would remember. I admire Genki Sudo as a fighter and as a human being and if there was one active athlete alive I was able to meet, I’d like to meet him. Sakuraba is also a living legend. My favorite moments from his career where the matches against the Gracie family that earned him the nickname The Gracie Hunter. Sakuraba brought a certain aura to the ring that made everyone want to pay attention and I’ve probably seen all of his fights 100 times.

 

 

 

FSA: Looking at the Asian MMA scene today, who would be one fighter you would like to fight in the future?

James: Shinya Aoki without question but I doubt I’ll ever compete at 145lbs, he’s an idol of mine and in my opinion one of the most successful grappling specialists in the history of MMA.

 

 

FSA: Tell us a little bit about your students and the atmosphere of your gym?

 

James: We run our gym, Team SFS, like a close-knit family. Although there is an extremely broad range of students I train from casual martial artists all the way up to full time professional athletes, everyone is treated as an equal. On a regular basis you’ll see some of my elite members holding mitts or rolling with the brand new members and we constantly have team events outside of the gym to strengthen the bond between the team. My thought has always been, the sport of MMA is hard enough, you don’t need to walk into an academy worrying about whether someone is going to try to injure you or walk all over you for their personal growth. We’ve created an atmosphere that is building successful athletes and yet still feels like hanging out with your friends, it’s incredible.

 

 

 

FSA: What are some of the goals you have set for yourself in your career?

James: I had 5 goals which have been written down since I started MMA. 1) Travel the world and compete in various countries 2) Win a World Championship Title 3) Inspire others as I had been inspired 4) Start my own team and coach someone to black belt level Jiu Jitsu 5) Have a student win a World Title.

 

 

FSA: James, Thank you for the talking with FSA. Is there anyone you would like to thank, fans, sponsors or training partners?

James: I want to thank everyone who has helped me throughout the years and especially those that have stuck by me and still train with me to this day. My fans mean the world to me and it inspires me to achieve the best version of myself. I have to give a huge shout out to my sponsors and the Team’s sponsors – Buffalo Wild Wings of Howell via Jen Kramer – Zygner Enterprieses via owner Darin Zygner – The Ford National UAW via V.P Jimmy Settles – Bite me Mouth guards – Steel Tattoo via owner Brad Bennett – Shi Lessner Photography – Al Low – Without these amazing companies and people I’m not sure SFS could have continued to grow and prosper and your support means the world to me and all of our members.

 

 

James Gray can be followed on Facebook, Twitter and his website.

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Categories: Featured, Interview, MMA

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