An Interview With Brave FC Bantamweight Aidan James
By Arwen Louise
During the build up to his Brave CF London fight, I caught up with Welsh bantamweight Aidan James.
On July 25th James (4-0-0) will be stepping into the cage with England’s Cameron Else (7-4-0) in front of an invite only crowd.
Coming off a nine-fight winning streak, James has plenty of reasons to be confident. When we sat down last Friday, we talked about his road to Brave, mindfulness and self-belief in the face of adversity.
James is a fighter with combat in his DNA. Both of his maternal grandparents held black belts in Shotokan Karate, and his mother was a boxer. James and his brother were raised by a single mother. He was a hyper child, who slept little. He recounted stories of sneaking out of bed as a young child to watch UFC with his mom. This was clearly the birthplace of a lifelong passion for the Welshman.
Growing up in Wales, James didn’t have access to a local MMA or Jiu Jitsu gym. While he dabbled in karate and boxing, neither could draw him in the way MMA had.
When he was about 14 a gym did open in his hometown. Run by a kickboxer who had done a little bit of grappling, it was far from an elite training facility. The one thing James really lacked was training partners. Usually ending up sparring with his mother. As you can imagine, this did little for the teenager’s street cred!
“My mother would **** me up. My mam was way better than me. My mother would catch me in these chokes. Everyone would be like ‘what’s this crazy woman doing?’”
James continued with MMA during his teenage years, taking on some “no head shots” amateur fights, but with little success.
“During this time, I started developing a grit, a mindset. Turning up when things are going terrible. I would still show up on Monday to training, no matter what happened to me on Sunday, but I was going nowhere.”
Eventually the club James trained at fizzled out. Just weeks after his nineteenth birthday, he made the brave decision to move to Swansea and train full time.
Understanding that this was the only way to make his dream a reality. Under the tutelage of Chris Rees, things began to come together.
“I instantly knew he was the coach for me.”
After eight months of training at the Chris Rees Academy, James earned his blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Taking a fight on a week’s notice, James was to suffer his first amateur defeat at the hands of Sami Hashim.
“I got battered. I remember going home and sitting in the dark, thinking I can’t believe this has happened again. My first gym, I lost, the next gym I went to, I lost. I had moved to Swansea, trained full time and done everything right. I was thinking ‘is this for you?’”
Deflated but undeterred, James showed up for training on Monday. He was expecting to have a conversation with Chris. An in-depth post-mortem of his loss. What he got instead was a lesson in mindset.
Chris said “I know what you’re going to say. I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to talk about it. The fight’s done, it’s gone. You’re fighting in two weeks and that’s all that matters now.”
This turned out to be a pivotal moment in the Welshman’s career. His next fight was just a fortnight later, and James took a decisive TKO victory, 48 seconds into the very first round.
James went on to have 17 more amateur fights, being defeated just twice, before embarking on his professional career in 2017. His first professional fight saw him take on Ashley Williams in Adrenalin. James won this fight via TKO in the second minute of round three.
After his initial pro fight, James suffered a disc bulge, which kept him out of the cage for a year. When he came back from that injury, he struggled to get matched. Both James and his manager were getting in touch with promotions trying to secure a fight.
Just when he began to fear that he might not get another opportunity, James saw that Brave were putting on a European show.
Having approached Brave, they came back with a proposition. They asked him if he would be willing to move up a weight class to take a short notice fight at featherweight against Tommy Martin. This was no small ask for a fighter who had been side-lined for over a year.
“Beggars can’t be choosers. I seen Brave was a good show, and I needed a fight. Time was passing me by, and I was going to become irrelevant. So, I take the fight against Tommy and I just had a wicked performance”
James won that fight, with another third round TKO. This was to be the first fight of a three-fight contract with Brave. In his bout against Martin, James appeared in the first fight on the prelim card. He remembers sitting watching the Main event that evening Stephan Loman vs Frans Mlambo. Conor McGregor and Paddy Holohan also among the spectators.
Little did James know at that time, that he was to be taking on Frans in his very next fight.
“They then offered me Frans Mlambo, which is crazy. I had sat in the front row, next to Conor McGregor and Paddy Holohan, while they were cheering on Frans, fighting for a World Title. Not knowing three months down the line I would be fighting him myself.”
The fight against Mlambo brought another win for James. This time via rear naked choke in the first round.
Brave certainly don’t seem to protect their fighters. Favouring good match ups over coddling particular personalities.
“If I had all the money in the world and I was running a show, I would just put the best fights on and that’s kind of what’s happening with Brave.”
The final fight in James’s initial Brave contract saw him taking on Jalal Al Daaja in Jordan. James was the away fighter and experienced a lot of hositility from the home crowd. Far from going against him, this negative energy fuelled James. Sharpening his focus and ultimatley helping him to take victory via TKO in the final round.
At the tender age of twenty four, James comes across as an extremely mature professional, not easily fazed. James admits he has a tendancy to overthink.
When you consider how many possible outcomes each fight presents, it is easy to see how a fighter could end up spending to much time in his head.
James credits mindfulness and a daily meditation practice with helping him to stay grounded and present.
“I rein myself in. The big difference between my amatuer and pro (career) was using mindfulness and meditation. I was going into a spiral, which you see other fighters do, and it wasn’t healthy. So, I started looking into mindfulness and it was all about being present and enjoying the moment.”
James has signed a new four-fight contract with Brave and is looking forward to facing off against the Londoner in a couple of weeks’ time.
The MMA world is eagerly anticipating this showcase event. I asked James how he expects this unique show to play out.
“I don’t know what to expect. I am just going to embrace the whole experience. I am not going to wish it away or get caught up in the moment. Not many people have had the opportunity to do this. I am very interested to see who they invite, I am hoping Tom Hardy is there!”
Looking past the London show, James is expecting to fight once more before the curtain falls on 2019. He is a very exciting prospect, and we are looking forward to seeing how it all plays out for the young Welshman.
James wants to thank his sponsor Feel Supreme CBD. He maintains that Ashwaghanda, which combats stress and Lions Mane, which helps with focus are his “two keys.”